Stove’s new EP Is The Meat That Fell Out is out now via Exploding in Sound Records.
Steve Harlett seems like someone who might go on making music forever. His songs are simple and easily felt. Sonically, Hartlett can’t escape his influences of standard-fare 90’s favorites like MBV, Dinosaur Junior, Guided By Voices, Pavement, and Built to Spill, but Stove’s music has been becoming increasingly collaborative with its latest EPs, Is The Meat That Fell Out and Is A Toad In The Rain. Stove blends thick walls of distorted tremolo guitars with melodies that unfold over slow progressions with a pop flair.
I talked with primary songwriter Steve Hartlett over the phone about Stove and Ovlov’s upcoming full-lengths, songwriting, Todd-Rundgren, the Internet, and more.
Overblown: You guys just got out of the studio. You were recording last week right?
Steve: Yeah, we went to our friend’s barn in Vermont where I did the first stove album. It’s my friend Nick Dooley. He used to play drums in the band Flagland. I think it’s literally just called The Barn. It was supposed to be done within seven days, but I was sick the whole time so we only finished about 90% of it. There’s just vocals for three songs that I have to do.
O: In listening to Is Stupider and Is the Meat that Fell Out, I noticed that the arrangements changed. You started to move away from the whole hazy, tremolo-guitar, wall-of-sound thing. I think that’s still there, but I’ve noticed that your arrangements are getting more creative. Does that trend continue with the new record?
Steve: I would say that the new record is somewhere in between Is Stupider and those two EPs as far as dynamics go. The record is going to be full-band again so it is a little more ‘rock’.
O: I know that you collaborated with Devin McKnight (Speedy Ortiz, Grass Is Green, etc.), Tim Cheaney (IAN SWEET) and Damien Scalise (IAN SWEET, Sun Young) on those EPs. How do you know those people, through Exploding in Sound or just [visiting] Brooklyn?
Steve: I met Devin when he was playing in Grass is Green in 2010 or 2011 or so. Tim and Damien I became friends with within this year just doing band stuff. The people that did stuff on those songs on the EPs just happened to be at Alex’s house the day we were demoing stuff so we figured we’d have them do stuff over it and it all sounded really good so we kept it. Those EPs were just for fun. Devin wrote two of the songs, one on each EP, and he just didn’t have anything he wanted to use them for so he just gave them to us.
O: Going back to Is Stupider, I think the track listing on that album seems very deliberate, is that true?
Steve: Definitely. I was playing drums for this band from Switzerland called Disco Doom, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from them about what an album should be. They always described it to me, “lay it out like a movie.” Have the opening credits, that’s what I’d call the first two tracks ‘Stupider’ and ‘Stupid,’ then character development, then conflict-resolution and then closing credits, call that ‘Dumboy’ I guess. (The first Ovlov record) was the first time I tried that out. It didn’t feel like that as much as Is Stupider did, […] I was able to go up and down dynamically with Is Stupider a little easier.
O: How about with the new record? Do you think you’ve set up sort of a similar progression?
Steve: Absolutely. We’re still kind of fooling around with it, but I think we pretty much decided before we even started tracking songs how it was gonna play out.
O: What is the new record about?
Steve: My best friend passed away almost exactly a year ago next month, so most of the songs are about that. It’s called Favorite Friend. There’s a few others on there about relationship stuff, just typical whining.
O: I’m sorry about that, that’s tough man.
Steve: Oh, it’s all good. It helps.
O: There’s this thing you refer to in the Ovlov record and again in the Stove record that you call ‘the well’, then there’s also the imagery of a moth that comes up. Is there any symbolism behind these words?
Steve: ‘The well’ in particular is actually just a little well in my parent’s front yard. They got it because a family friend made it for their son as a wedding gift and I guess his wife didn’t like it so we ended up with it. I thought that was kind of a sad story. I feel like it kind of represents something that somebody worked really hard on that obviously meant a lot to them but once they were able to present it, it didn’t receive back the gratitude they were looking for.
I just kind of like moths in particular cause they’re [everywhere] like rats or squirrels, where they look so similar but there’s subtle differences. They’re not that appealing to people. You don’t get excited when you see a moth, but they’re in many ways just as beautiful as a butterfly.
O: My mom used to collect dead moths and she would keep them in this glass container. When I was little I used to find them in the garden and bring them to her, and I think to this day we have some 10-15 year old dead moths in our house somewhere.
Steve: That’s so awesome. Yeah, I just find them kind of interesting.
O: Musically, it seems like the songs you write are riff-oriented, like you find these grooves that you really like and almost organically flesh them out until there’s a song there. Is that accurate?
Steve: Absolutely. I would say 90 percent of them start with a guitar part and then I think of a melody after the fact. There’s times when I’ll think of the melody first and then write the guitar part to that, like the song ‘I’d Walk a Mile For A Camel.’ I was walking to get a pack of cigs here in Connecticut and I just wrote that humming in my head, then sang into my phone and came back and learned it on guitar. If you have the melody, the chord progression is already there. Like two birds with one stone.
O: Where do you draw from for your lyrical content?
Steve: Mostly observing. I know a lot of it sounds like it’s from my perspective. It’s just from personal experience, nothing specific, but then also just trying to sing it from the other side, or from what I assume is their side at least. When there’s a problem between two people, it’s never entirely one person’s fault, so I never wanna feel like I’m badmouthing anyone or complaining.
O: So how do you feel about ‘emo’ music?
Steve: I’m fine with people doing that themselves… it’s just depends on what they’re saying. It’s obviously fine to complain and to have your side of the story and stuff, as long as it’s not malicious. It’s weird when people can’t try and understand the other side cause then it usually never gets resolved in any way.
O: Are there any artists you could list as being big influences on you as a guitar player or lyricist or songwriter?
Steve: Throughout my life in general? Well from the beginning, my father and my grandfather are both musicians and songwriters, so it was always around in a big way. They both tried to push me to not get too deep into it cause they know how it can turn out-getting your hopes up and all, but… I ignored ‘em. Now I’m here, so I see what they were saying.
My dad was somewhere between late 70’s early 80’s pop and synth rock. My grandfather played accordion but he was really into Broadway music. That’s probably a bigger influence on melodies than anything.
O: You do have very catchy, earworm-type melodies, stuff that sticks in your head.
Steve: Hell yeah, thank you. That’s good to hear.
O: When you made that Facebook post about Ovlov’s breakup you had said that Ovlov was existing under “circumstances that were selfish and unrealistic.” Could you elaborate on that a bit for me?
Steve: I guess mostly what I meant was that I was asking too much of everyone that was playing in Ovlov at the time. Whether or not I was writing all the songs, there was still a great amount that everyone was doing for the band in all aspects, and it felt like every time we got some sort of recognition, it was my name up there […] It’s not like there was any bad blood between anyone. I wanted to be able to share everything with them rather than just take them along for the ride or something. We just finished demoing out what’s going to be the second Ovlov album and I feel like we all have a lot more say in what’s going on rather than just me trying to call the shots.
O: Would you say that that relates to the advice that your Dad and your Grandfather had given you?
Steve: Absolutely, yeah. Just seeing how real bands operated, like Pile, how Rick does all the writing, but the importance of all the other members layering on top of that writing opened my eyes a bit more. It’s not like you can just do that with any other three people.
O: How did you first get involved with Exploding in Sound?
Steve: Before it was ever even a label, Dan [Goldin] had a blog called Exploding in Sound, which a bunch of my friends had been reading. […] I went to see Ringo Deathstarr at Shea Stadium in 2009 or 10 and Dan Goldin posted online saying he was going to be there wearing a Dinosaur Jr. shirt so I introduced myself and we’ve been friends ever since.
O: What are some bands from EIS that you’re stoked about right now?
Steve: I mean, all of them. I’ve been especially in love with the last J&L Defer record lately.
O: Any other bands you’re stoked on right now?
Steve: The Ian Sweet record (Shapeshifter) is probably my favorite of last year. There’s another band from Philly called Blue Smiley that I think might be my favorite new band at the moment. It kinda sounds like what I wish I was doing. This band isn’t new but I’ve been listening to Land of Talk, this Saddle Creek band. I think they broke up but they’ve become my favorite band. I’m always too late with whatever becomes my favorite.
O: Do people ever say wack shit online?
Steve: A lot of the time I’ll see people say they either love Stove or Ovlov but think they both need a new singer. It’s funny, I think singing is the thing I work least on, which I’ve been wanting to change. It seems to be what most people are listening to at first.
O: I guess so, I think at least for pop music, but I think it fits the genre. Bob Pollard or J Mascis and other people who make rock or grunge don’t have good voices. I’m not saying your voice is bad…
Steve: Even my brothers and my father said that once I started listening to Dinosaur Jr. I started singing differently.
O: And you’re a big Dinosaur Jr. fan?
Steve: Hell yeah, ‘been one of my favorite for a long time. […] But as far as comments go, there’s been some weird ones on the video for ‘Blank’, just a bunch of boys saying unnecessary shit. [Jordan] kind of finds it funny, but I myself would be like “Fuck off.”
O: Do people ever compare you to bands you’d never listened to?
Steve: That’s actually how I started listening to a bunch of the bands I listen to now. I don’t know why I haven’t checked them out yet, but Ovlov’s been compared to Duster forever.
O: I was thinking the other day while listening to Is the Meat, I was hearing some Neil Young in there. Do you like his music?
Steve: Hell yeah, of course. There’s a lot of things like Neil Young or Carole King or Todd Rundgren that I would call a huge part of my influences, but they don’t really show. When I’m asked about influences I don’t always go to say those cause I’m not sure if that’s sounding conceited or not, you know?
O: I love Todd Rundgren!
Steve: Hell yeah, he’s a genius.
O: The first record I heard by him was A Wizard, A True Star and it blew me away.
Steve: Oh fuck yeah. That’s a weird one to start with, but I guess they’re all pretty weird to start with. My dad showed me the album Todd, and I was just like, “what the fuck is this?” I feel like Todd Rundgren was probably my biggest influence on those two EPs as far as working on each song individually until that song’s done then moving onto the next one so that they all have their own sounds.
O: I have time for one more question before I go to class, so I wanted to ask, why do you make music, if you could say that summarily?
Steve: I’d say 50% of that is because it’s one of the only things I felt I was really good at.. The other half, I feel like I’m constantly searching for my favorite song and if I can’t find it I’ll just try and write it. The downside to that is once I write it, it’s not going to be my favorite song cause I wrote it. Haha, it’s kind of a vicious cycle.
O: Does Stove have tour dates set up?
Steve: Stove doesn’t, but Ovlov is touring down to SXSW starting on March 9 with Ian Sweet. On our way back we’re gonna tour back with Jackal [Onasis] and since everyone in stove will be in the car anyway, we’ll probably end up playing a few of those shows. Nothing’s set in stone right now, which is kind of stupid, cause it’s a month away. Do you hear those crows?
O: Haha, yes
Steve: They’re all chasing a hawk right now
O: Hell yeah, go crows.
Steve: Haha, sorry, I’m easily distracted.
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