THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW:
An unknown legend in his own time, Pennsylvanian Steve Ward has already got pop savvy Brit journos gushing over his Cherry Twister material, to wit – “… possess an indefinable magic ingredient that puts them ahead…” Well, with his debut solo Opening Night, Ward has confirmed the promise of that Cherry Twister masterpiece (At Home With Cherry Twister). Ward is an amiable, down to earth chap who just loves to record music, and the pop world is that much more richer because of it!
Why isn't Opening Night a Cherry Twister album?
There's no concrete answer - I think it just felt like the right thing to do, based on the way the songs were written and "created." Some of the material just didn't seem right under the Cherry Twister "umbrella."
What then are the
differences in approach, in the writing, in the performances, from your
perspective, between Opening Night and At Home With Cherry
I feel that the songs on "Opening Night" are much more mature. Stronger lyrics and better vocals, in my opinion. Most of the songs were written on an acoustic guitar. The approach to recording wasn't a lot different - I'm a big overdubbing fan. I like methodically building tracks from the ground up. I love getting to the point in the process where the skeleton of the arrangement is happening (drums, bass, vox, basic guitar, etc), and then the fun begins! Like adding that single toy piano note - or burying layers of toy piano, then distorting them! Whatever. Lucky for me I got to work with Michael Giblin (bass) and a couple of great drummers! Michael is such a great, melodic player.
I understand that
both At Home and Opening Night were recorded at your home
- without getting too technical, how is your home studio set up and what
is the process like doing it at home?
I record mostly in a
small room on the third floor of my house.
Sometimes I'll record something out on the hallway for ambient
reasons, or in the next room for ergonomic reasons, but generally
everything is tracked with headphones in my little room. The process
really depends on the track. Sometimes
we'll track drums first, sometimes not.
Some of the tracks on the album have layers of percussion, as
opposed to a drummer playing a complete kit.
A few of the songs began with me tracking an acoustic guitar to a
metronome track, then overlaying drums.
It really varies from song to song. I really like the freedom of
having all the time in the world to realize a recording.
said, did you have a good idea of how a particular song would be treated
when you wrote it or would arrangements be worked out later, say during
the recording process? If you could, could you give examples?
When I finish with writing a song, and it's time to start tracking, I generally have a pretty good idea of how it'll sound in the end. Some of the minute overdubs are invented in the heat of the moment, of course. I never work those out - that would take all the fun and adventure out of the latter stages of the recording process (my favorite part!). Sometimes, though, bringing in outside musicians can really take a song in a different direction. A good example is the first song on Opening Night, I Missed The Mark. That cool organ intro happened by accident, and redefined the song for me. As soon as that organ part was done, I knew that it had to be the first song. Matt Thomas added his Hammond to several songs, and I'm very lucky to also have him in the new group!
Could you give us
some examples of when a song reflected what was going on in your
personal life, maybe I Missed The Mark for example?
Skipping the details, Wings is one of those. Western Skies and I Missed the Mark, as you can probably tell, have 'geographical separation' themes - done a million times before, but good lyrical fodder. There's a bunch of them, actually.
Come to think of
that, the album has a great sense that a crossroads has been reached,
that life-altering changes have been made, this is reflected by the
general direction of the album and some songs like California. Was that
a conscious decision on your part?
It wasn't really a
conscious thing, it was just a case where something would happen, and
I'd write a song under that thing's influence.
I suppose when you pull enough of those together, it becomes a
theme or concept.
At Home With Cherry
evokes strongly the early 60s Beatles and Beach Boys pop sound whilst Opening
Night delves into the "back-to-basics" rock approach of
the late sixties, what music would you say influenced the making of the
Hmmm...I don't know. I really haven't gotten much new music in a while. I have a satellite dish, and if I’m home and doing the laundry or something, I’ll often listen to the Big Band Era station. Very evocative music. I definitely need to be turned on to some new music! A few of my modern-day favorites are Rufus Wainwright, Elliott Smith, Joe Marcs Brother, Quasi, Ron Sexsmith, and Radiohead... Then there's always Sinatra's Capitol Years Box Set. Patsy Cline. The list goes on.
But you must have had some musical
reference points when you recorded Opening Night? How did you convey the
feel or mood or tone of a song to the players?
I honestly don't recall pointing to particular songs or artists while working in the studio with the other musicians. OK, I did try to cop the drum feel of an Indigo Girls song for Western Skies. But that doesn't count, does it? I think that subconsciously I'm probably often making associations with songs and artists that I admire, but I'm not one to intentionally try to capture a particular artist's "feeling."
How much contribution to the songs would
you say the other musicians had?
I'm lucky to have
some excellent musician friends who added great flavors to the record.
Matt Thomas on the Hammond on four songs; Michael Giblin on bass;
Paul Murr, Jason Hoffheins and Ross Sackler on drums, etc.
A local luthier named Rob Zwally (who played on two tracks on At
Home With) came through with some fantastic playing on Western
Skies. The horns on Turn
It Around. Yes,
At Home with Cherry
was released by Not Lame -- what made you decide to release Opening
I just wanted to give
it a try and see what happens! I
do have goals for the album, but I just thought it would be nice to
start very grass roots and see how well it goes.
At Home with Cherry
has been receiving great press in the British rock press; do you feel
that the UK will be equally receptive to Opening Night? And do
you have any plans to promote yourself there?
distribute and promote Opening Night in the UK as soon as it
makes sense to do so. Right
now, the focus is on At Home. I'm not sure when, but I'm eager to get it out there.
What are your plans to promote Opening
Tough question, since
I’m working it out as I go along.
But this is just Phase 1 of the release.
Phase 2 has not yet been identified.
in the meantime, I drive my car through random neighborhoods,
screaming acapella versions out the window.
Who are the people coming to your gigs? Do
you play Cherry Twister songs?
Honestly, there's no
real trend. All ages and
many different sexes. It depends where we play, I suppose. Right now
we're playing a few CT songs - Don't Forget Your Man, Black
Summer, Leila - maybe more in the future.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve with
Opening Night and how would you know if you've met those goals?
I'm not sure.
That's part of Phase II :)
Who do you love more - Beatles or Beach
Boys and WHY?
The Beatles, by a hundred miles. Cause they're better!
Opening Night is available at www.SteveWard.org