Friday, August 5, 2011

Chicago band The Steepwater Band storms ahead with raw energy on new CD


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The raw energy that Chicago band The Steepwater Band, www.steepwater.com, delivers comes through in full force on its new CD, "Clava."

In celebration of the new CD, which will be released on Aug. 16, The Steepwater Band will perform Aug. 12 and 13 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, www.beatkitchen.com.

The shows start at 10 p.m., and tickets are $12, or $20 for a two-day pass, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Jeff Massey about the new CD.

Q - Your new CD, "Clava," is already getting good reviews. Jambase.com is calling it one of the best rock albums of 2011.

Yeah, that's not going to hurt anything.

Q - One thing that I noticed listening to this CD and listening to your previous album, "Live At The Double Door," it seemed liked you really carried the live vibe over to this album. Would you say that was one of your goals?

Yeah, I think so. Obviously, when we're in a studio, we're not afraid to put extra guitars on there, and percussion and keys. 

But the core of the record is still us playing in a room together. We definitely wanted that live feel in there. We wanted it to sound like us.


Q - How is it playing these new songs live?

Most of them feel really natural. We are really at home with the blues, so the bluesier ones come natural.

Q - And of course, it was recorded at Clava Studios in Chicago. What was it like recording at that studio?

I love that studio. It's not a huge studio. It's kind of an intimate place, but it's got one of those vibes where it makes us want to work.

It was comfortable, but it wasn't too comfortable where you get lazy. It was a great sounding live room. 

As soon as we started playing, we said, "Oh, yeah, this is going to be good." That's key, as opposed to a stuffy studio sound, where you are not really getting the sound you are looking for.

Q - I see that the new record was produced by Colin Sipos, who has worked bands like Iron & Wine and Califone, and they recorded there.

Yeah, they're involved with that studio quite a bit. It's mainly Califone's home base. We were considering a self-produced record, but we gave Colin a producer credit just because it kind of gave him free reign to say, hey, that sucks, or that's great, or try this.

It was great to work with him. He also mixed our live album, and a couple of songs on our "The Stars Look Good Tonight" EP.

Q - So he's good at giving advice.

I think he knows where we come from. He comes to see the band live. I think he gets the direction about what we are all about. So we're on the same page most of the time.

We didn't clash very much. It's definitely a good working relationship. We trust him and he trusts us, so it just works out.


Q - With this record, were you trying to make it more of a blues record? It sounds like the blues are in the forefront on this record.

Maybe not consciously. We started out as a blues band, basically. That blues core is always there.

I think that definitely some of the tunes were a little on the darker, bluesier side. Once we wrote a couple like that, I think a couple more came into play, and it's kind of the vibe we set.

Q - I suppose you guys get compared a lot to the North Mississippi Allstars.

Yeah, and The Black Crowes, and bands like that, which is fine with us. I take all of that as a compliment.

Q - Would you call yourselves a blues rock band?

Yeah, I suppose so. But that is such a big term. 

But I can't deny that the blues is the main influence that started the band, and it's still there. Blues rock could be anything from Freddie King to The Black Keys.

For a lot of people, you say blues rock and they think you are a Stevie Ray Vaughan cover band.

I think it sounds like us, no matter what we do. Obviously you can hear the influences, but I think we've got our own personality along with it.

Q - What attracted you to the blues?

I think the freedom of expression with the music, just the whole attitude of it, especially from a guitar player's point of view.

All my favorite bands build off that blues core. There's so much you can do with it. 

You can take all these left turns and right turns and you can twist it around, and come full circle, and still play the blues.

Q - Speaking of the blues, you guys played with Little Milton back in 2005, and then he died a few months later. How was it just playing with him?

It was kind of a nerve-wracking experience with his band sitting there watching us, but it was cool. I would like to get the video of it up on YouTube eventually.

Q - Did you get to talk to him at all?

Oh, yeah. We talked, and we rehearsed quite a bit into the wee hours. It was quite a experience. 

Q - Did you learn anything from the experience, like what keeps these guys going? Pinetop Perkins was still playing music when he died at age 97 earlier this year.

I just don't think they know anything else. It's their lifestyle, and they still have enough people that want to see them. 

If you're at that age and can still do it, why not? 


Q - You guys have been around since 1998. What was the goal in forming the band?

The goal was to make the kind of music we wanted to make, and actually making a living doing it.

We seem to be pulling that off. And we still like playing together.

Q - You guys play an average of 125 shows a year. Is that where you think the band is in its element on stage?

Absolutely. We love making records, but on stage is where we feel at home.