THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: STEVE WARD

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 Twister? 

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.

That 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 Twister 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 new album? 

Hmmm...I don't know.  I really haven't gotten much new music in a while.  I have a satellite dish, and if Im home and doing the laundry or something, Ill 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, fantastic contributions.   

At Home with Cherry Twister was released by Not Lame -- what made you decide to release Opening Night yourself? 

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.  I'm learning. 

At Home with Cherry Twister 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? 

I'll definitely 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 Night? 

Tough question, since Im 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