The Steves is a lo-fi indifference-punk band from Regina, Saskatchewan. A lot of their social media would have you believe they are made up solely of “Steve,” but I know in reality that the band is comprised of singer/guitarist Piper Burns, guitarist Ethan Anderson, bassist Andy Biesel, and drummer Paul Bogdan. I’ve seen the Steves play live a few times, and I have always loved them. I was sold from the first minute I heard them and with them to the last. They have a raw quality that fits right in the groove between listenability and mayhem, without spending too much time in either camp, and their banter generally borders on the inappropriate but is never devoid of charm. Their music follows suit.
On February 16th, the Steves released two brand new tracks via Exclaim.ca. The tunes follow the sound set up by last year’s release, No Solos, which I have previously referred to as “lazily blistering.” Two words would do it, but I’ll elaborate so that no one thinks I’m slighting the Steves. There’s a heat and intensity in every stroke that insists the sound upon you without really pushing anything. Like a bucket of fireworks going off inside a van, you can tell there’s a hell of a thing going on but you have to actually open the doors to really listen to it. What separates this release from the last in terms of sound can likely be credited to their process. Instead of being recorded “in a couple of days in the basement of Steve’s parents” like No Solos, the Steves recorded these tracks at SoulSound Studio with Orion Paradis. However, instead of sacrificing their spastic, blasting sound in the name of hi fidelity, it appears as though the expert production only uncovers more of the grease and grime. Hammering rhythms and swimming, slimey, guitar bends galore. And in true Steves fashion, the lyrics to both songs are short and simple, each with enough intrigue to make me wonder a little more. “FaceOff” mentions Nicholas Cage and “Garage”references Lou Reed, both names seemingly out of place amongst the largely nonsensical shouting that accompanies them. But that’s one of the things that keeps me listening to the Steves. They leave things just unclear enough that I want to know the story. There’s plenty of bands whose lack of clarity alienates me, and there are some where it is intriguing. The Steves are in column B. I don’t understand it yet, but I’m going to keep listening.
The songs were released with accompanying videos directed by Sunny Adams. Instead of releasing both videos seperately, the boys decided to stick them together in a simple little package that clocks in at exactly three minutes. The whirlwind of experiences within those three minutes is substantial.
The video for “FaceOff” parallels the classic Nicholas Cage/John Travolta Action movie of the same name with a…. let’s call it an existential experience. Throughout the video Piper sings in an environment littered with psychedelic lights, vintage TV screens, hands that reach out to him from nowhere, and (my personal favourite) an abundance of dismembered baby dolls. The video does an exceptional job of drawing on the simplest of literal elements (such as the inclusion of the movie or bathtub referenced in the song’s lyrics) paired with slightly more abstract imagery (like doll parts and lampshade people,) and truly ridiculous features like figures shrouded in sheets taking a pyjama-clad Piper away into the darkness. Overall it spends just enough time in reality to keep you feeling safe but dips into the absurd enough to make you wonder. “Garage” begins in a similar style, with the Steves showing up one by one to jam in a garage, but all quickly goes awry when Piper passes out in a frenzy of lo-fi madness. Without spoiling any more of the delightful video narrative, I’ll say that in both these videos, “Garage” in particular, Sunny Adams and the Steves do a fantastic job of telling short, twisted little stories over a frantic garage-rock soundscape. You may laugh, you may even cry, but you’ll definitely wonder how all of that happened so quickly. The Steves have a real knack for conjuring up a sort of thrashy discomfort and then leaving quickly enough that it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, it’s kind of nice.
So, that’s what we’re left with. Waves of gritty thunder and shouty lyrics set against simultaneously dreamy and downright confusing video footage. I’d like to know more, but I’m not sure they want me too. Maybe they don’t even know. At the very least, I don’t think they care that I’m lost. But that’s the Steves. There’s a sort of indifferent comedy in their sound that just kills me. Layers of old stories and bad jokes coated in just enough I-don’t-give-a-shit that instead of tuning out, you turn up. A true gem of ambivalence.
By Dana Rempel