Everything at Once – an interview with STELLAR YOUNG

Here’s another alternative rock / indie band from the States. Albany’s STELLAR YOUNG (ex-THIS CITY NEVER SLEEPS) are a group of passionate musicians bringing in melodic, catchy rock tunes in the vein of STRATA and the more rockish side of AS CITIES BURN. In their music you’ll find a lot of catchy guitar riffs, sombre synths, melodic bass lines and all elements necessary to take a rest from all the noisy stuff I usually serve you here :)

I caught up with STELLAR YOUNG to talk about their music, performing live, the digital age in music, crowdfunding campaigns and a lot of absorbing subjects.

Hey, guys! Whatʼs up? How are you? Have the emotions after the record release show settled down? :) Tell me about your intimate gig and the debut full-length itself.

John Glenn:
Thank you for having us! That’s a good question. I guess I’d say in some ways our emotions have settled, but in other ways we are more excited than ever. We just cut our first full-length under our new name, we had a really great time at the masquerade release show we threw at a little bar in Albany. And now we are looking forward to playing out and promoting the new record we put so much heart and energy into.

Dave Parker:
Yeah, the CD release went great! We had the door guy hand out Masquerade masks, everyone was dressed up. We had the actual paintings and drawings of the album artwork on display, as well as a cake with the album cover on it! We played 2 sets of music: one set of older material, and one set that was Everything at Once from front to back including live versions of some of the interludes on the record. It was the perfect end to a long chapter for the band, and of course it’s also the beginning of a new one. We started working on the record in June of last year by tracking drums at Applehead Studio in Woodstock NY. We recorded everything else on our own at our rehearsal/ home base apartment, then brought it back to Applehead for the mix. It was the best way to do it I think. We got to spend a lot of time with the songs outside of the studio and could really take our time experimenting a little bit and living with the takes in a way that you can’t when you’re paying for studio time. We did an online release through our bandcamp page on December 18th, 2012, but it didn’t feel final until we played our CD release party a few weeks ago.

Did you breathe a sigh of relief after all this pottering, maneuvering and setting your tunes to sound the best they can? Was it kind of a struggle to finally draw the curtain on the birth process of the album? :)

 Definitely a lot of pottering involved in the production. You know, very tedious, yet rewarding work… And now I’m not a dad or anything, but I’d have to say birthing an album is kinda like birthing a child. Haha! I guess what I mean is that when it’s out it’s all formed, it’s all made up and now we gotta direct it and throw it out in the world and hope it grows up big and strong. So I guess the answer is yeah, there was a brief sigh of relief followed by an immediate, “Oh shit, I’m a dad now!”

Ok, so tell me more about the recording time. Who produced the album and who were the other people that helped you out during the process?

Well, the list of people who helped us out with recording is actually pretty short. Erik (guitar and back up vocals) and I both went to school for Record Production and Music Industry so we were actually able to record most of the record ourselves in a quality way. I’m credited as the producer of the record. We had recorded our last EP, Madison, when we were still called THE CITY NEVER SLEEPS, but after recording and mixing that 8 song EP I realized that we were going to need some extra help if we were going to pull off a quality full length. We could do a pretty good job tracking most things in the band’s apartment, but I had limited mics and inputs and a small sounding drum room. When we started recording Everything At Once I decided right away that we would go to Applehead Studio (just outside of Woodstock, NY) for the extra help with drum tracking and mixing. The studio is run by Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner. They are more than some knob-turning engineers, they are more of a production team. We’ve worked together in the past on a hip hop project called WEERD SCIENCE, and from that experience I know that they really care about everything that comes through the studio. They always have great suggestions for the material which is just what I needed after spending so much time on the writing and recording process. They are probably best known for producing/recording the first 3 COHEED AND CAMBRIA records as well as the most recent 2 (Ascension and Descension). We went to Applehead in June of 2012 to record all the drums for the record and tracked everything else at the band’s apt throughout the summer and into the fall of 2012. Even though our recording set up is limited I think that in the end doing it this way was beneficial to the sound of the record because we were able to spend a lot of time with the songs getting the best takes and experimenting a little without the pricy studio hours adding up. We brought the final tracked record to Applehead in November to be mixed. It was a huge relief to have the record mixed by them at that point. I had spent so much time with the material that I don’t think I could have mixed it anyway! Haha! In the end we got exactly what we wanted and exactly what I had expected. We couldn’t be happier with the way Everything At Once sounds.

Great! I have lots of good associations while listening to this stuff, guys. I hear some HOPESFALL inspirations, am I right? :) What were you guys listening to when you were writing and recording these songs?

I have actually never heard of HOPESFALL, but I will definitely have to check them out now. It’s always really difficult forus to try and define our influences, especially because the writing of these songs span a couple years and each member of the band comes from a different background. I know Erik and I have been on a big BON IVER kick lately, and have grown up listening to a lot of alternative, pop rock and punk music like THE GET UP KIDS, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, BLINK 182, PENNYWISE.

Erik Flora:
As John said I was really into BON IVER’s latest album while we were tracking the album, but I’m really influenced by MONEEN, TAKING BACK SUNDAY, ACE ENDERS, FLEET FOXES, AKRON/FAMILY, and THE SHINS.

I’ve been influenced by a lot of heavier and or energetic stuff in the past, but when we were working on the record I had been listening to a lot of mellower, melodic stuff. I was probably rocking a lot of NADA SURF, AS TALL AS LIONS, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, THE SNAKE THE CROSS THE CROWN, and JOEY EPPARD from the band 3’s solo acoustic album from 2002 called Been to the Future (it’s awesome, you should check it out!)

Curt Mulick:
Spotify Radio and Pandora, I wish I could narrow it down.

Kyle Hatch:
Mostly just talk radio and our own music? The songs were written over too long of a span to really narrow it down.

Alright :) How did you release this record? What formats did you decide to use? Who has taken over the distribution duties for it?

At this point we are the sole publisher and distributor. Our focus has been primarily on a digital format, which allowed us to use the “pay what you want” model through our Bandcamp. I think that model allowed our music to fall into the hands of people that otherwise might not have heard it. We’ve put ourselves on other Internet music stores/music streaming services like iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. We’ve also put a lot of time into making a physical CD with interludes and album art that tells a story to loosely go along with the music. That way the fans that get the CD, get more of an experience, than solely the music. We’d like to get it pressed on vinyl. The songs are kind of ordered into two movements on the album for that reason.

How come you decided to put it out as a “pick what you pay” outing? You can name your own price for the album, even if that price is $0.00 :) I wonder if it’s good for bands to go with this well-known flow. Do you really feel this payment model?

We went with the “pick what you pay” model because let’s face it… people are gonna get your music one way or another, so why not offer the album for basically free at a high quality and without the risk of a virus but still offer the option to pay?  The music industry is very slow to make this change but in 30 years this will be a laughable matter. We figure the more people can get their hands on our music the better. The way to create actual value for physical CDs or vinyl is to create something special or unique to differentiate it from the download. Our physical copy has a lyric book with artwork throughout the album as well as the recordings including interludes which are not included in the digital download. So far this model has been working great. People have been showing their support by choosing what they pay and have been spreading the word much more than they have in the past. The more accessible the music the better.

Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store? :)

Yeah, I think record stores as we knew them are dead. But I do see a lot of small record stores popping up and being successful, that just specialize in vinyl recordings. And because of the shift to digital we really made an effort to make our physical release special, with well thought-out album artwork for the people who really like to hold and have an album. For the die hards.

Great! Do you think that the switch to the digital is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?

Both. I mean it’s a progression in that the switch to digital has allowed for people to send and receive music all over the world in a matter of seconds and it’s the same with digital video. But it’s a tragic loss in that digital doesn’t have the same quality of sound or the artwork to accompany it, it’s become less of a recreational activity and I think that’s why there’s this resurgence of vinyl happening now.

Do you know anyone who got caught for illegal downloading and faced a big fine because of it? Thereʼs been lots of cases like that here in Poland. By the way, do you justify illegal music downloads?

I personally don’t know anyone who got caught but I’ve heard of some cases. I support illegal downloading. I think it’s time we stop thinking of the recorded music as the product that can be stolen, and instead using it as a tool to reach people that it wouldn’t reach otherwise. That is the main reason we chose the pick what you pay model for our release.

What does DIY mean to you guys?

DIY to me means that: If you feel passionate about something, then do it but be prepared to work hard for it. We are so lucky to live in a time where we have all the tools easily accessible to make and share any kind of art or expression that we can think of, it just takes a lot of devotion. And it’s cool to see people from all over the world doing the same DIY thing. The way I see it- we’re living in a modern day renaissance, and it’s global.

How did you come up with the idea to start a Kickstarter campaign? Lots of DIY bands take it as an unfair way of “doing it yourself” and using fans to pay a salary.

I’ve honestly never heard that people think Kickstarter is “unfair” or “using fans for money” and I strongly disagree with that. If anything, it’s a chance to give fans even more power in what becomes of the art that they choose to support or not to support. It’s because we’re DIY and it’s because we don’t have a label backing us, that we needed to reach out to people. When we decided to run our campaign, we had just finished our first album, desperately needed a mode of transportation and had no funding at all. We were looking into getting loans or investors when we stumbled on Kickstarter- which we thought was a much better option because of how open it was. We also hoped it could be another way for people to discover us, which ended up being true. We made a lot of fans and met a lot of people through our campaign. It also took a lot of work; creating generous rewards for everyone’s contributions then mailing them out, messaging radio stations to help promote it, making funny videos. Yes I’ll admit I was afraid of coming across desperate, but it ended up being a great experience and it showed that people believed in what we were doing.

As much as people don’t want to talk about it: a band is a business. It costs money to operate and it’s run by people that also need to afford to live. At the stage we’re at its inevitable that we need funding from somewhere. We can’t fund this beast and our lives entirely on our own. Kickstarter allows us to remain a DIY band because we can say what we want to do with the money that comes through from crowd-funding. If we were to receive monetary support from some other place, say a label or management group, suddenly they have much more say over the direction of our band which entirely destroys the DIY attitude we love so much. I also think that for a band like us, which allows fans to download the album for free, that crowd funding and fan support is even more important. We don’t mind if fans don’t pay for our music, but if they truly like and support the music wouldn’t they want to see it live too? We asked for money for a bus. I think that is something that fans can wholeheartedly get behind. It allows us to bring our music to them. And if they truly support that music- a few dollars to help us get there is not a lot to ask, especially from a band that isn’t asking you to pay for the music itself.

And it’s not a salary, it’s a one-time fundraiser for a project that you need help with. All the money that was made went directly into the bus, not our pockets.

I had seen several of my friends in bands run successful Kickstarter campaigns in 2010 and 2011 (WEERD SCIENCE, EMILY LONG, MC LARS and others) and was inspired by their success. I liked the way the website worked and knew  that we should try one at some point in the future. The idea to do a Kickstarter was hatched about a year before we actually did it. Our current lineup was brand new at that time and we had just started over in Albany so doing a Kickstarter around 2010 was a little too early. I had learned a lot from watching my friends run successful KS campaigns and knew that it was all about the timing for us. We needed to get the ball rolling in our local area and build a bigger fan base before we launched one. So we played through the summer and into the fall as much as we could, and put up some recordings that eventually became our Madison EP (which got a decent amount of press and radio play in our local area). By the time fall 2011 rolled around I felt like it might be time to start planning doing a Kickstarter. Most bands that do a Kickstarter are asking for money for recording (since it’s usually very expensive and offering the album as a Kickstarter reward is a very easy thing to set up, it kind of ends up being a pre-order). Our situation was different, we already had recordings and a CD. What we really needed was a vehicle to travel in and get out of the area. Not many bands do this and it makes the Kickstarter a little more challenging. We really did our homework on this one. We knew we just couldn’t ask someoutrageous price because that’s what we needed for a vehicle, and we didn’t want to ask a small price because that’s what we thought we would get. We had to balance out what we thought we could actually get and how much we thought we might be able to get a vehicle for, even if we had to front some extra money to actually get it and put it on the road. We ended up asking for $5,000 and getting just over $6,000, and didn’t need to come out of pocket to get the bus and put it on the road. We did the Kickstarter in December 2011 and promoted it like crazy both on the internet and in our local area in press, radio and at shows. Everyone was really happy with our rewards and was glad to see us able to travel around the Northeast and play shows for them. I’d say it worked out pretty great!

Oh and we set up the Kickstarter to end on Christmas day. So we had some family and friends donate as Christmas
presents. Best Christmas present ever!

Youʼve got the point there, guys. No doubt about it. I guess people are jealous of PROTEST THE HERO having pulled out $341,146 from their $125,000 goal Indiegogo campaign :D
Are there any labels and rosters youʼd like to join, having in mind the strong need to stay DIY?

I wouldn’t say that we have a strong need to stay DIY as much as we’re just proud of all the work we’ve done on our own so far, and the response we’ve been getting from it. Labels do have a lot to offer a band like us. They have connections and established teams of people that work just as hard as we do to get music out there. So though we aren’t shopping out to labels right now, I think a good label for us would be an independent label like Equal Vision or XL.

Would you appreciate a labelʼs help in booking shows, too? How do you deal with your live appearances planning now?

[laughs] Well that’s part of it. Labels usually try to set their bands up with a booking agent or put them on tour with other bands on their label. Right now Kyle (guitarist) is our booking guy and he’s always working hard getting contacts and messaging bands and venues. It’s a lot of work.

Our live shows come together from a combination of us seeking them out and weeding through the show offers we get on a pretty regular basis. I absolutely think booking help is crucial for a band like us trying to get off the ground, though that doesn’t necessarily have to come through a label. A lot of labels outsource that work to booking agencies anyway, but the important part is just getting the help. As someone in the band it is difficult to send out an email to somewhere far from home basically saying “hey, can you book my band please?” Without an established connection to those places most of them will just ignore the email, or never get back to you. I can’t entirely blame them for that either, we do it all the time to other bands that email us looking for shows in Albany. There’s just too much coming through to help out every band that asks. Without knowing the person asking you for a  show it’s a huge risk taking that band on. How many people will they bring out? Will they do their part in promoting the show? Will they even be able to make it there? Can we afford to pay out an out of town band that doesn’t have a fan base here and therefore won’t bring a lot of people to the show? These are all legitimate questions that an existing relationship can essentially eliminate. There is a huge difference between doing a favor for some guy you’ve never met and helping out someone you’ve worked with in the past. Having a booking agency getting shows for you makes those relationships happen for you.
Booking is also extremely time consuming. I would say close to 80% of the emails I send out we don’t even get a response to, those that do respond don’t always work out. When I finally do find a venue from out of town that may be able to book us I then need to try and coordinate that venues schedule with the schedules of 5 individual band members. Pair that with making sure we don’t already have a show that day and making sure if we have a show a few days before or after they are generally in the same direction from home and the process starts to get complicated. I don’t want to book a show 3 hours south of us and the next day have us driving 3 hours north, that’s just not cost effective booking. Once I can get schedules boiled down to the shows we’re going to play there is that final step of finalizing details for that show. Is there a contract/tax forms we need to fill out? What time does the band have to be at the venue? How long is our set? etc. Doing all of that leaves little time for other things a band needs to do like playing music (or doing interviews [smiles]). So in short, yes, having help on a booking and touring front is a massive help to start up a band.

So what was your biggest screw up in terms of booking and playing shows in general? :)

There are two big screw ups that immediately come to my mind. First is when we were playing a show, I completely forgot the lyrics to one of our songs. So being embarrassed I tried to make it seem like my mic wasn’t working. After the show I told the sound guy what happened and had a good laugh about it. The other time was we had this woman come up to us in the middle of our set to tell us that her friend was getting married, and asked us to dedicate a song to the couple. So I dedicated the next song to them… forgetting that the next song in our set was our song called “Mistakes,” which is all about doing stupid things. It is probably the worst possible song you
could dedicate to someone who is getting married.

As far as booking screw ups I don’t think we’ve had many. Obviously we’ve booked some crappy shows, but every band does that. It’s just part of paying your dues to move up within the scene. The next worse thing I can think of was that we had to back out of a show recently. We booked 2 shows too close together and had to take the better show of the 2. We did give the promoter for the show we couldn’t play close to a month’s notice so it left them plenty of time to reschedule. To my knowledge that is the only show we’ve ever missed/canceled/backed out of so I think we have a decent track record with that.

Alright, guys. A few more before we finish. Tell me, what’s the story behind changing your name?

When we were THE CITY NEVER SLEEPS we had a lot of trouble getting people to find us. There were bands with similar names, and people would often make variations of it. Plus since Kyle and Dave joined the sound has gotten more rich and complex so we thought it was time for a name change. A fresh slate. So we created a private forum between all of us to submit different name ideas and we voted on the ones we liked the best. STELLAR YOUNG ended up winning. A name that just fits our energy.

Ok, and one more before I let you go. Something I simply canʼt miss… your local scene :) I truly believe they are highly important and vital elements of our culture. Tell me about Albany :)

The scene in Albany feels like it’s stronger than ever at the moment. Despite some venues closing down in the area, the community of musicians is really tight knit and is full of some healthy competition. It feels that every group will pick and choose what they like from one another and make it their own to push each other to the next level. As far as types of music, Albany kinda covers them all. Shows in this area tend to be eclectic and well received by audiences. Albany is really great place to develop. There are a ton of open mics to help break into the scene as well as a lot of local radio support willing to give any act a chance. You just have to earn your keep by doing your time and really put in the leg work by flyering the town, making any contacts you can, and just hustle your butt off. We’ve gotten to the point where we are trying to play out of Albany more and more so not being too far from places like NYC and Boston it is a good home base to branch out of. All in all the local scene is very populated, eclectic, and supportive.

All pros and no cons? :)

Well the cons are: as we mentioned a lot of the venues have shut down and it’s not a mega city like New York City or Paris that allows more artistic growth. But yeah I mean Albany is very good to us, very supportive and it’s a hub between a lot of the biggest cities in the northeastern United States like Boston and New York City so the cons haven’t really affected us too much.

Allright, boys. Letʼs wrap it up, shall we?
What shows do you have lined up for the rest of the year?
Also, feel free to add anything I might have missed. Thanks so much for your time!

8/30 – New York, NY – Pianos w/ Cosmonaut & The Grape and The Grain
8/31 – Albany, NY – McGearyʼs
9/28 – Albany, NY – Pearl Palooza 2013 w/ Portugal. The Man, Crystal Fighters, Said The Whale, Cayucas, Gentlemen
Hall, Eastbound Jesus, Wild Adriatic, and Titanics
Remember, all of our music is for “pay what you want (even nothing)” at http://stellaryoungmusic.bandcamp.com
Our physical merchandise (t-shirts, sunglasses, CDs, live DVD) is available at http://stellaryoungmusic.bandcamp.com/

STELLAR YOUNG official website
[email protected]

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