The Stepkids, on tour with the Horrors, talk Stones Throw debut
On a U.S. tour with British Goth rock outfit the Horrors, the Connecticut-based Stepkids are a sunny yin to the headliners’ haunting yang. Live, they offer a wave of cosmic visuals, in much the same way that three-part harmonies crash over soul and gospel-inspired funk on their forthcoming self-titled debut, due Sep. 26.
Fans at recent shows at the Glasshouse in Pomona and the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa took in the band’s tightness in sound, vocals and aesthetics as a welcome form of sensory overload -- enhanced by their all-white outfits, which acted as a 3-D spill canvas for their custom-made projection show created by friend and artist Jesse Mann.
"What’s interesting for us is we’d finish playing and people are tripping out instead of going crazy because there’s so much to look at," bassist Dan Edinberg said.
You can trace their knack for technical tightness and spectacle back to their days as both jazz men and pop sidemen. Classical and jazz musicians by trade and training, bassist Edinberg, guitarist Jeff Gitelman and drummer Tim Walsh went from working in classical and jazz groups to touring with a deluge of original and nationally known acts. The most notable has been Gitelman’s guitar work for 50 Cent, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.
"I definitely acquired a certain discipline to pop music almost the same as a classical music art form," Gitelman said. "Everything has to be precise, everything has to be perfect all the time."
You can hear a lot of that precision in the Stepkids. Lush, focused harmonies and taut, loping chords on songs like their single "Legend in My Own Mind" are intensely detail oriented. Brief, sparkly flashes of violin and synth seem puzzled into place while the band croons with Bee Gee-esque clarity.
The Stepkids, though, represent more than an opportunity to mash up their various influences of soul, funk and gospel. The band is probably their first real chance at total creative control.
"We weren’t really seeking to be individual leaders," Walsh said. "We wanted to go for the aesthetic of a group together and not have one lead singer. And that translates all the way through the writing as well as the recording process."
Before the Stepkids formed about a year ago, the trio was balancing their various sideman gigs, including a husband and wife team on the East Coast. Brief though it was, that interaction eventually led Edinberg, Gitelman and Walsh to form their own project based on the music they loved.
"Part of the reason that we call ourselves the Stepkids is that we did break off from that family," Edinberg said. "After we finished the album with them, the three of us just felt an overwhelming urge to keep experimenting in the studio together.”
With their first album recorded, a mutual friend put it in the hands of L.A. DJ Scotty Coats, who enthusiastically shopped it to various labels. When the record got to Peanut Butter Wolf, owner of Highland Park label Stones Throw Records, he wanted to sign them almost immediately, Wolf told Pop & Hiss earlier this year.
The record deal with Stones Throw was preceded by an initiation show at record producing plant Capsule Laboratories for Stones Throws "Direct-to Disc" series, which spawned a number of cross-country tour dates and the stint with the Horrors. As they prepare to take the stage at the El Rey on Thursday, Edinberg says he and his posse of schooled former sidemen have no problem bringing their bright, shiny psychedelic light side to this tour, especially since their music on the tour is finally all their own.
"The three of us all came up with it together," Edinberg said. "And we feel that every time we get on stage that it’s an open book. It’s supreme artistic comfort."
The Stepkids, "Legend in My Own Mind"
The Stepkids perform with the Horrors on Thursday at the El Rey Theatre. 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 936-6400. 8 p.m. All ages. $22.
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: The Stepkids (left to right): Jeff Gitelman, Dan Edinberg and Tim Walsh. Credit: Matthew Bologna and Jesse Mann