To me, it was more proof of enclaves of musicians, geeks,tapeheads having fun…that meant a lot to me. I was happy there was not only weirdo electronic freakery but also more traditional rock style because I like both and one did not exclude the other. People like Russ, Dino DiMuro, Ken Clinger, Ray Carmen, Kevyn Dymond, Michael J. Bowman, The Rudy Schwartz Project…they were the proof. Below, some various tape covers of solo projects by South Dakota’s own Russ Stedman.
His 1993 tape, “Looking Back At Nothing” was a collection of outtakes, instrumental goofs and one cover done for Kentucky Fried Royalty, a worldwide distribution service in the USA, Germany, England and for a short period of time, South America.
Even before the four track days and tape network Russ was banging out songs on his boombox and primitive recording devices as evidenced on “I Was A Teenage Slots!”, a collection that spanned 1982-87.
Stedman’s “Laughter In The Cabbage Patch Again” from 1992 that also features his local pal, Mike Myers on drums and backing vocals.
Before Russ called his label Jovial Milkman it was F.T. B. Music. Above, his 1993 outing “3”, that includes a long suite on side two.
In addition to his own music, Russ released a couple of compilation tapes. Above, “Where’s My Waitress” a collection of Frank Zappa songs played by various home tapers including, The Rudy Schwartz Project, Ken Clinger, Screamin’ Popeyes, M.O.T.O., Dino DiMuro, Tom Furgas, KD Schmitz, L’Edarps A Moth, Eric Hausmann, Michael Reeves and Don Campau.
There was also an absolute classic of bad taste, “The Worst Songs Of All Time”also done by a demented bunch of home tapers and glued together by solo vocal versions by Dan Fioretti.
If you look closely you may be to spot such classics as “Mandy” by Barry Manilow ( Dan Fioretti), “I’ll Melt With You” by Modern English ( Evan Peta), “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer ( Mother Inferior…another of Russ’ groups), “We Are The World” (Mike Myers & Friends), “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet ( Dino DiMuro), “I’ve Never Been To Me” by Olivia Newton John ( M.O.TO.), and my own bondage take on “Love Will Keep Us Together” by The Captain And Tenille ( Don Campau) and more.
The inner credits for “The Worst Songs Of All Time”. I haven’t really scratched the surface of Russ Stedman’s tapes much less his many, many CDs. I highly suggest you slide on over to www.russstedman.com and check it out. He offers ALL of his albums for free download. This is a true vein of gold.
It was the late 1980s when Russ Stedman and I first came into contact. I believe the first tape I got was “Someday I’ll Be Made Of Rubber” and right from the start I knew this was something special. The irreverence, the flat out rocking, the attempts at unusual styles and the I don’t give a shit attitude that defines much of his music. It’s hard to pick a favorite of Russ’ body of work but his 1991 masterpiece “Good Food, Fine Drinks” is right up there. He’s all over the place, it’s hilarious, his friends chip in with comments, there’s southern rock, lounge, weird instrumental ditties, covers…and the foldout cover suggests a grand sweeping gesture a la classic covers like Sgt Peppers or We’re Only In It For The Money.
How did you first hear about the tape scene? And what was your first involvement or trade?
I suppose I first became aware of the concept of people releasing home-produced music on cassette and considering them to be “releases” from reading Maximum Rock And Roll magazine. What I mean by that is, I had been writing and recording my own music for about 4 years, but would have never thought that there were people out there doing the same thing and then taking it a step further and creating album titles, artwork, and multiple copies of their recordings. Before that, this was something I just did for my own amusement in secret. I would have been horrified if anyone at school would have found out. Generally no one ever heard my tapes other than myself and one friend (drummer Mike Myers) who participated in my earliest recordings. It wasn’t until finding out about punk rock and then later encouragement from additional friends that I “released” a real tape. Over the next year or so, I sent a number of tapes to Maximum Rock And Roll, hoping to be reviewed. I’m guessing my tapes were ignored either because they were coming from an address in South Dakota, or that they weren’t “punk” enough, or maybe they just sucked. Either way, being ignored by Maximum Rock And Roll pushed me to look for other avenues…which led me to Sound Choice and Option…who also pretty much ignored me! Ha!
The first person I ever traded tapes with was Paul Caporino of M.O.T.O. I dug his stuff because it had a comedic flavor, and he seemed to like some of my stuff, too. We became pretty good mail friends, and have even met in person a couple of times.
What year did your first tape appear?
Mike Myers and I were making tapes as early as 1982 under the band name MINOR 2049er, but they were not “released”. There were only ever 2 copies made. One for each of us. MINOR 2049er dissolved after Mike and I became confident enough to seek out a bass player, at which point, we dropped all the original songs (that we would have been embarrassed to play) and became a hard rock/metal cover band called STAINLESS STEEL. We played KISS, ZZ TOP, and whatever other stuff that was popular at the time and that we could manage to play with our limited chops. Attempts at the more complicated stuff like IRON MAIDEN or DEF LEPPARD usually ended in frustration, mainly because none of us could sing that high. STAINLESS STEEL lasted for a couple of years, and all the while, I was still recording my secret originals. In 1985, I started discovering punk rock, thanks to NEVER MIND THE BULLOCKS and the REPO MAN soundtrack. By 1986, I began releasing tapes under the “fake band” name TEENAGE SLOTS. This eventually spawned a live band that played a couple of shows, but it was mainly just me and a drum machine on the tapes. The TEENAGE SLOTS moniker lasted a couple years. By then I was fully into “releasing” tapes, and briefly went by the name “RBS” before dropping the “band” ruse altogether and just started putting my real name on stuff.
Give us a quick rundown of the evolution of your recording gear up until the present.
1982-1987 was ping-pong recording. Usually recording myself playing a guitar part along with a Matel Synsonic drum machine (ordered out of the Sears catalog), then playing that tape through a little mixer and overdubbing other parts onto a second tape deck. In 1987 I bought a Tascam Portaone 4-track. In 1995, I moved up to 8-track cassette. Around 2000, I had to sell a whole bunch of my recording stuff due to monetary problems. A couple years later, I started having some shoulder problems to the point where I could barely bend my left arm around a guitar neck anymore. I was pretty convinced around 2003 or so that I was done recording forever. Eventually my shoulders got better and I started messing around with software recording. I had bootlegged copies of Cakewalk home studio and Sonic Foundry’s ACID. My computer didn’t have enough power to record audio in Cakewalk, so I developed a system where I would create basic midi tracks in Cakewalk, mix them down, import them into ACID and do the audio recording there. This became a pretty decent system, and gave me the inspiration to start recording again. In 2008, I got an Mbox 2 and Pro Tools LE and have been using that ever since.
Do you remember getting your first guitar?
It was a nylon string classical guitar. My original musical inclination was that I wanted to play banjo, because I was a huge Steve Martin fan. My mom took me to the music store and they told her “well, if he wants to play banjo, he should really learn how to play guitar first.” I’m guessing they probably didn’t even have a banjo for sale, much less anyone to teach me. So guitar it was. I was okay with that…after all, KISS didn’t have a banjo player. The next thing they told my mom was that I should start with an acoustic guitar. “Wait,” I thought, “Ace Frehley doesn’t play one of these…he plays one of the cool ones!” It was no use. I was saddled with the classical guitar and the evil Mel Bay book. Learning to site-read “Down In The Valley” didn’t last very long before I demanded an electric guitar. I don’t remember the exact details, but my first electric guitar was a Les Paul copy made by Lotus. Shortly after that, I learned what a power chord was, and gave up on lessons in favor of writing and recording songs with Mike.
I’ve always considered Zappa and KISS to be your main influences but is this actually the case? Who else and why?
KISS was the first band I ever listened to. I was quite precocious : I bought ROCK AND ROLL OVER the week it came out, and I was 7 years old at the time! All the neighborhood kids were into them, and when you’re 7, what’s better than a band that breathes fire, spits blood, smashes stuff, and look like monsters? For the next few years I mostly got KISS albums and radio singles. I used to listen to Kasey Kasem religiously every Sunday afternoon and bought a lot of 45s. The next band I got into huge was DEVO. I didn’t get into Zappa until a few years later after seeing some live footage on “Night Flight” on the USA network. In 1983, I bought my first Zappa album, which was “Man From Utopia”. Not the greatest introduction, but it was the latest release at the time. It was, however, weird enough that I was instantly hooked. I went and found all the Zappa I could after that, which wasn’t much at the time, because the older albums were all out of print and CDs hadn’t kicked in yet. It took me years before I had finally heard all of Frank’s albums. Some other bands I consider really important as far as influencing the sound of my own music were THE BEATLES, BLACK FLAG, BUTTHOLE SURFERS, HUSKER DU, WEEN, and THE RESIDENTS…so many more. I have a tendency to cop sounds sometimes…so I could totally point to countless things I’ve recorded over the years and say “Oh…that’s me ripping off GUIDED BY VOICES” or “Oh…that’s my PRINCE song.”
Jovial Milkman was your label in the early days. You did some compilations, notably, ”Where’s My Waitress”: a tribute to Frank Zappa, but did you ever release any music by other artists?
Technicly no. There were other names on the roster, but they were all just different things that Evan Peta and I did together in 1992 & 1993. Bands like MOTHER INFERIOR, THE MICHAEL KENYON SEZIURE, and ELVIS HATED STEREO were just me & Evan fucking around. At the time, I was heavily inspired by the WHEELCHAIR FULL OF OLD MEN label, which was the home of `SOCKEYE, plus about a hundred other bands which I think were mainly just the same people. I got the impression that those guys just got together and recorded a new album once a week.
You have had several band projects even since the beginning of your own “solo” work. Did you ever tour or play out of the local area?
After moving to Sioux Falls in 1994, Mike Myers & I reunited musically and formed a band called TEN CENTER which was kind of like TEENAGE SLOTS part 2, in the fact that it was my originals and some covers. We played a lot of shows in Sioux Falls and surrounding towns that were rarely attended by anyone. There was quite an active local music scene here in the mid-90’s…but a lot of it was of the WILCO/UNCLE TUPELO country-rock vein, and we quickly found that no one was interested in a band that played weird, loud, distorted originals and BUTTHOLE SURFERS covers. It was a real let-down in that respect, but still the best band I was ever in. After that I ended up joining two different bands that were already established before I came in. I’ve actually played two “solo” shows in the past. One with MP3 backing and the other backed by a Drum/Bass box.
You have become the curator for the work of late home taper, Scott Johnson, also known as Love, Calvin. How did that happen? What is it about his music that appealed to you?
A few years before Scott died, I asked him if he would consider gathering together all his 4-track masters and lending them to me so that I could digitally remaster all his old releases for CD. He agreed and brought me a box of tapes around 2001 or so. I started slowly going through them to find the masters of the songs he had released on the Love,Calvin tapes….the key word being slowly. My original idea was that I was going to mix down every song he ever recorded. This was a daunting task, and when I would run into the songs that were actually on the albums, I started becoming pretty frustrated that I wasn’t able to mix them to end up sounding like they did when he had originally mixed them. I eventually slowed to a halt, and the box sat in my closet for a number of years. In 2007, something made me pick up the project again, and again I quickly realized that no matter what I did, Scott’s original mixes sounded better. probably because I had heard them so many times that they just sounded weird re-mixed. I still wanted to get all his old albums out on CD, so what I ended up doing is just mainly using his original mixes for 90% of the stuff. I cleaned them up the best I could, and they finally all came out on CD. Bryan Baker gets credit for the remaster of “Mr. Joy”. He had at some point transferred that one to digital and put it up on his website…and he did a great job, so I just downloaded and used his versions. I’m not sure if I even told him that, so, thanks Bryan! You are an official part of the history of your favorite Love,Calvin album! I finally finished all this in late 2007. In April of 2008, I finally got Scott’s box of masters back to him. He died a month later.
I’ll leave the second part of that question as a teaser for the upcoming print issue of Gajoob. I’ve written a feature article on the subject which will appear there.
Who are some of your other favorite home tapers?
This is the part where I forget someone and they feel bad. M.O.T.O., Love,Calvin, Evan Peta, Dino DiMuro, Don Campau, The Rudy Schwartz Project, Wayne Butane, Barbara Lard, Aric Pringle, Sockeye, Kevyn Dymond, Tom Furgas, Eric Hausmann, Ken Clinger, The Screamin’ Popeyes…I’m trying to jog my memory to “the old days”…but that’s the best I can do right now. Oh…who could forget Alvaro the Chilean with the Singing Nose? I also fondly remember some other band, who’s name escapes me, but the name of the album was “Preparation H. It takes 10 minutes to eat and 10 hours to vomit. Why Can’t it be the other way around?”
Your music is energized and sometimes complex, with lots of power, humor and sarcasm to me. Do you have a good idea of what you want a song to sound like before you begin? Are you a perfectionist?
Sometimes I have an idea of what something will sound like, but a lot of times I just sit down in front of the recording equipment and start something with no pre-planning. I did sooooooo much recording between say 1985 and 1990 that I really doubt a day went by when I didn’t write and record a song. Or even more than one. Of course a lot of it was crap, but it was just what I did. I’m definitely not a perfectionist…I quite often leave mistakes in recordings. Sometimes If I’m recording a guitar or bass part and make a mistake, I will try to make the same mistake again when that particular figure cycles around the next time, to make it sound like I meant to do it the first time.
Do you write a score for your complicated keyboard pieces? Do you do them with computer software?
I wrote a lot of scores on paper from 1991-1995. I pretty much gave it up at that point until getting Pro Tools recently. My earliest scores I would mail to people like Tom Furgas or Ken Clinger, who both had the keyboard equipment to be able to reproduce them. I flirted with it briefly in 1994 when I bought an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler/sequencer…which I traded in the next year for an 8-Track recorder. I recently discovered that there is no trace left of the 90’s scores. I probably threw them in the trash at some point, thinking “well, I’ll never need THIS again”. That kind of thing starts to happen when you move a lot. After getting Pro Tools and learning how to use it, I started writing on paper again occasionally. The step recording process in Pro Tools is the best thing that’s happened to me technologically since buying my first four track. I can now write any kind of wacky poly-rhythms and tuplets on paper that I can conceive, and then be able to easily program them into midi form. I’ve been having a lot of fun with that feature, and my next CD will feature a lot of weird instrumental scores.
You have made all of your music available for free. What’s the URL for that?
What have you learned about yourself from recording your own songs?
One thing I’ve noticed about myself over the past 10 years or so is that I’m much more in love with production than songwriting. I think I’m kind of burned out as a traditional chords/lyrics songwriter. The real fun in making music for me these days is the actual recording process more than the actual writing. I guess that’s why I always tend to record a lot of covers. I enjoy recording much more than writing. I’m so relieved to have a decent idea, because then the REAL fun begins! I get to RECORD it!
What inspires you now?
I think what has always inspired me to record so much music is to be able to listen to it when it’s finished. I’ve never understood the attitude some music people have of “oh…I never listen to my stuff once I’m done with it” – I listen to my music all the time! There are some things I’ve done that I’m not very interested in hearing again, but most of it I’m proud of. So I guess my main inspiration is my own entertainment.
What’s the next project for you?
At this very moment, the following things are forming…who knows if/when they will be finished ; 1. Re-recording a collection of TEENAGE SLOTS songs for their 25th anniversary this year, 2. My heavy-duty, music-head, written scores/guitar freak-out, tentatively titled “Blowing Chunks Of Theory”, 3. A collaboration album with Dino DiMuro.