Today Is The Day’s latest album No Good To Anyone came out earlier this year via BMG and The End Records. Shortly after the release, Metal Contraband’s Chelsea spoke with Steve over the phone to get an update on the new record.
Hi Steve, how are you doing during these crazy times?
I’m good, I’m back home from the tour, just getting my equipment together to start writing some music and working on a couple things.
That’s good, already working on new music after the album just came out.
Yeah! I got so inspired by being on the tour and playing, that even though the tour had to be cut short with the COVID-19 thing going on, when I came home, I just felt way too inspired to not keep rocking, so I got all my gear set up here and just banging away at some new songs.
Awesome, keeping the flow going for Today Is The Day.
Got to do it.
So, of course, No Good to Anyone is the most recent thing we’ve heard from you guys, just released last month, so let’s start out with how you’re feeling now that the album’s officially out.
You know, it’s been really really eye-opening and pretty amazing, you know I worked on that thing for a long time, and during that time there was a lot of heavy stuff that was going on, and the worst part of that heavy stuff was being trapped in my house and not really being able to go anywhere and hardly do anything and so going back out and hitting the road feeling better than I ever have in my life, it was like a dream come true, just every day the challenge and trying to make the show better and better and pushing myself as hard as I could, it was just a really refreshing way of feeling.
And it’s an interesting parallel, you said about being trapped and not leaving the house, and now we’re all trapped and not leaving the house for a different reason, but you’re back into writing.
Yeah, it’s really funny. As you probably saw, a couple years ago, I started going through some problems with my hips where my hip socket got damaged, shattered, in a van accident, and then the left one got almost dislocated. So I was touring, going on the road for, I believe, around 3 or 4 years with it like that, and it got worse and worse, and then a year after that I got lyme disease, and I ended up having to be stuck in my house all the time. So when tour finally came and the record was released, it was like letting a wild horse out of the cage, I literally felt like I exploded out of my front door and onto the road. And now it is some funny irony that I’m back home, everybody’s back home, and then we’re all kind of stuck in the house. So, here we go, might as well start churning out records again!
Exactly, but from what you’re saying, it sounds like you’re, especially physically, in a much better condition than you were back then, so that’s the highlight of this.
Oh yeah, I tell you man, it’s like I can’t really put it into words, but at whatever point, I could barely walk and I couldn’t even go upstairs or anything and I was home kind of thinking I was going to die. There were a lot of questions about whether or not I’d ever be able to go on tour again, so when it all went down, I kind of had two different choices about the way that I dealt with it – one would be to let it become my existence, be kind of crunchy walking around, barely able to do much, even though I had all that stuff fixed, or I could capitalize on it and try to really physically get myself in even better condition than I had ever been in before. So I kind of took the movie Rocky with Drago as an inspiration, so loading wood in my house or tearing apart a jeep, lifting it and building it, doing as many physical activities that are natural ones that a person can do, and then riding an endurance bike about 10 miles a day. And so I did all that stuff on faith that this is the plan, and this is what we’re going to do, and when I get ready to rock, this is going to benefit me, and it’s going to be so much better. And I have to say for anybody that’s ever went through anything like this before, it’s worth it and it will make you better, and you will be shocked by the time you get through doing what you were doing because now it’s like, I wake up in the morning and my legs and my body feels tuned and I can get up and take on whatever challenge I want to. And when I went back to rocking, it was the same thing with that too, it was a little scary at first, but then immediately once I got rolling with it, it was like, this is so great. Because even though that was a horrific insane thing to go through, the upside of it was, it pushed me to really make some decisions about how I wanted my physical health to be, and for me, I wanted it to be the strongest it could be, and just limitless.
Wow, that is amazing and inspirational, and good for you, Steve, that’s really great.
Well, thank you.
It shows that you’ve got a lot of drive and positivity to be able to overcome that, because when you’re in that type of situation it can be easy to just say, “All right, give up, this is just how it is now”, but to push your limits and know that it will get better, and then you did make it better, and you’re out of it even stronger, very inspirational.
Oh hell yeah. I tell you, I can’t exaggerate this at all. Every freaking show on that tour, we did 17 of them, starting up in our hometown of Portland, Maine, and rocking it right down through New York, Providence, Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, there were so many magic moments of doing that and just bringing the music to life. And not that this stuff is the most important in the world, but a lot of the sideline things that have to do with the tour were pretty amazing too. We went into New York City and we performed a live broadcast deal with Paste Magazine, that was like an unplugged type of thing, I was nervous as hell, but that came out pretty awesome. And from there we just kept travelling and we stopped at the Moog factory, and we work with Moog, there’s a lot of Moog on the new Today Is The Day album, and we were guests at their factory. Just each stop along the way while we were travelling, besides the music part, was just so awesome and so great, and I can’t wait to reschedule the remaining shows that were after those 17. If some of them are going to be anything like the first 17, I don’t know, I just feel like we absolutely just destroyed everything through those first 17 shows.
Well, hopefully we’re able to move past all this and get everybody out on the road sometime soon. But, you mentioned the Moog factory, and that is cool you incorporate Moogs into the music, I find it interesting because there’s not exactly a lot of metal bands that are using Moogs. People give you guys a lot of titles, “Avant Garde Metal”, “Noise Rock”, “Noise Metal”, you get a lot of different labels, but what do you feel best describes what you guys do musically?
If I had to give a simple, short phrase of what it is that I do, it would simply be heavy metal. And the reason why I say that is, you can add the other quantifiers on there like “experimental heavy metal” or “psychedelic heavy metal” or “heavy metal noise”, but really if you think about it, the origins of music and so forth…Pink Floyd are considered heavy metal, and Black Sabbath is considered heavy metal. I think that’s because that phrase, before it got all the other ones added to it, it was pretty all-encompassing, and what heavy metal means to me is that the music brings about some pretty heavy feelings and then overall there’s elements of metallic music, stuff that has a metal or a heavy type of sound to it. So, most of the time, I think even on our Facebook page, it might say “experimental heavy metal”, but really if you’re doing it right, everybody that’s playing heavy metal should be experimental, meaning trying something new, trying something different, and trying to go somewhere that nobody’s gone before. So for me, our new album, No Good To Anyone, it’s a heavy metal album but you could probably say it’s experimental, but I just don’t look at it like that, I look at it like my job is to do something brand-new that’s never been done every time I go to do it, and then the genre of music that I play would just be in the umbrella of heavy metal.
I like that description, especially what you said about everything should be experimental, because that can be a thing for artists too, to get stuck in a certain pattern and just say, “This is our sound and we’re going to stick to it”, which does work for a lot of them, especially more commercial artists, but to have that experimental mindset of, “I’m always trying something new” is a good perspective for a band.
Yeah, and you’ve got to do that, because if you think about different classic songs that blow your mind, like for instance, “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath, that sounds almost like performance art or something. Because it’s got minor chorded, almost symphonic orchestral-type of music being played with this guy talking and singing and so forth over the music and back in the day when that song came out and those guys were playing, most people were like, “Oh, that’s a heavy metal band”, but think about it, the concept of the type of song “Black Sabbath” is, is not really normal. To me, that’s an element of music that is just so important for everybody to always think of, because we live in a day and age where retro is what everybody’s trying to sell to people, it’s throwbacks, like, “Remember the beginning of the thrash era, remember the beginning of the doom era, remember the beginning of this and that”, and all this shit, and the bottom line is, it’s cool to reflect on music that have been made from the past, because obviously you can see and hear a lot of inspiration from stuff like that. But at the same time, it’s like, music is art and art is music and the bottom line is that we all are searching for answers, and we all are searching for different things to inspire us or make us think, and almost like seeing a movie that you’ve already seen before where you know what happens next, I feel like for me, as a music creator, it’s my job to let myself be true to myself to make different songs that come out naturally different from each other, and at the same time, have a little quality control in there where if I feel like I’m playing something that’s even remotely like something else that I’ve heard before, I usually try to run away from it as quickly as possible, and the reason why is, we can’t keep retreading music that’s already been done before. And the easiest way to make something brand new is not to act different or do something really weird or something, the easiest way is to just truly be yourself, let the music that’s inside you come out, and you’ll be able to find your sonic fingerprint that’s in it, because it’s going to be something totally different that nobody’s heard before, if you’ll let yourself do that.
I like that you refer to yourself as a music creator, because beyond the scope of Today Is The Day, you also do a lot of recording, engineering, producing, and I also want to ask you about Austin Enterprise Recording and Mastering, more about the company itself, and how you actually got started in the production direction beyond being a musician.
You know, I think that the whole thing with that and me as a person, it all started when I was around 13 or 14 years old because I was stuck, kind of like I am now, I was stuck at my parents’ house — except I’m not in my parents’ house now, I’m in my own house ‘cause I’m a grown-up…but, back then, I was just a kid stuck at my parents’ house in the basement and I really didn’t have a lot of friends because my family moved around a whole lot, and I didn’t really look like the most popular person you’d want as your friend, I was a little fat kid, kind of dark kid that wasn’t really happy, and so in the middle of learning how to play an instrument, which was guitar and piano, I wanted a way to be able to jam with other people, so I saw an ad for a four-track recorder by Fostex, that was a cassette one, and I read up a little bit on it and it was saying you could record four different things and mix them together and make your own songs and whatnot, and so I talked to my dad about it, and my dad who, from me being really young, if I said I wanted to do anything that had to do with music, he would jump on it immediately and try to help me do it. So, he bought me that first four track recorder and then I got a little roll-in Dr. Rhythm drum machine, and I had a bass and a guitar, and I’d go down in the basement and sit there by myself trying to make up songs that I could relate to, and this went on, long hours, lots of time put into it, throughout being a teenager. And eventually when I started Today Is The Day, and we were now making demos, I had a little bit bigger of a rig, I had an eight track reel-to-reel, and then it kept evolving and by the time we got to our self-titled album in 1996, there was a lot of talk about how this band called Primus had went and bought recorders and put them in their house and made a home studio, and ended up recording the album that’s got “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” on it. So a lot of talk in music magazines and so forth was about, “Wow, this is so crazy” because Primus, who had already had hit records and stuff, who could have recorded with anyone, they chose to get the gear and put it in their own pads, and start recording. And even though I wouldn’t have called myself the biggest Primus fan, I was always respectful obviously, of Les Claypool’s talents and the band, they’re really great, but it was more their ideology that inspired me, so I ended up, instead of going somewhere to record the self-titled album, I took out a loan and bought a bunch of gear, microphones, compressors, and I ended up recording the first album. From there, other bands that had heard that recording, and then the first two albums, I co-engineered them anyway, people heard Willpower and Super Nova, people started calling me and asking about recording, and it was what I liked to do anyway. So it was taking what I had been doing the whole time since Today Is The Day started, which was recording ourselves, and then getting a little more professional gear to get started with and so forth.
Started with your own stuff and just expanded from there. And you’ve had production work with Lamb of God, Converge, other bands, and then of course, you’re still producing your own records, too, right?
I mean, I’ve been really, really lucky throughout the years that a lot of what I would say would be the upper-tier — like Converge, the guys in Lamb of God, Jello Biafra, a lot of different people gravitated towards me. The self-titled was in 1996, and I think it was about a year and a half after that I started working with Burn The Priest [on their debut album], also to write lyrics on it and sing on a couple of tracks, and that ended up making the relationship with those guys. Also, the New American Gospel album, I continued producing, recording, and engineering, and then also writing lyrics and singing on different tracks of that one as well, but to me recording has always been something that went hand-in-hand with playing music. Because you can play music all you want to in your room and hear it played back in real time while you’re playing it, but to me, a lot of the creativity part that I had taught myself of “What happens if you do this, what happens if you do that, what would it be like if you did this”, it’s like, that’s where it opens up the possibilities of experimentation and you do something and see what happens, and you can go back and study it, and go, “Okay, so if I play the heavy guitars on this track, but then I’ve got these tracks playing that same melody at the same time, what happens if I turn them down a little bit lower, what that will do” – and if you’ve got multitrack recording, where you can sit there and experiment and do that, a lot of times, you can come up with some pretty far-out music, because it just gives you a way to look back at what you did. So I’ve always been fascinated about it from that standpoint, as a creative tool, and then working on other people’s music, it’s the same thing. I see people who are doing something really cool, they come to me like, “Hey, Steve, I want to make a record with you, this is what I’m doing”, and my approach to it is a lot like writing music, which is, I want the artist to be themselves like 100%, and when they come into the studio ready to make something, we’re going to make the best thing possible by having them have 100% freedom about playing what they want to play, being themselves, and then in the middle of all that, I try to be the technical ringmaster that makes sure that everything’s going for the proper type of gear for it to be tracked, and the right type of sounds are being recorded and so forth, and hopefully when we get to mixdown phase, we’ve got everything in the right place to destroy your mind.
It sounds like it’s creativity mixed with curiosity, and that’s what sparks the experimental, and that sounds like that applies to your own personal writing and producing, whether it’s for yourself or for others.
I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment, because I just always like the unknown. Like, in my own personal life, the hobbies that I’m into, are like four-wheeling and rock-crawling with a Jeep, and there’s nothing more exciting than taking off into some lonely trail, and you don’t know where it goes to, and you don’t know what you’re going to find, you might find danger, you might find it to be easy, you might find shit that somebody has left out in the woods or a mountain for a hundred years. All of that unknown is just super fascinating to me, and I have a boat too, that’s a 1968 Evinrude Sportsman, it was a speedboat back then, and it’s a pretty cool boat, and sometimes we’ll take the boat to remote islands that are off the coast of Maine, and some of these islands, people haven’t lived for a hundred years, like there was a colony of people that lived on the island may a hundred or two hundred people, and then for whatever reason, they picked up and moved, so you’ve got these placed you can go to where there was a civilization of people that lived in all this shit, and there’s all these little houses and buildings, and shit that they left behind. All that stuff is just fascinating and it’s just eye-opening to do, and something to break away from the normal reality that we all walk in all the time. So I’m always just looking for adventure and new places and things that I’ve never been to or seen before.
Awesome. Well, keep exploring, keep experimenting, and keep making awesome music – thank you for the interview.
Hey, thank you so much, I truly appreciate you wanting to talk today. I just applaud anybody out there that’s pushing heavy metal music and exposing it to people and so forth, and I can say if you’re looking for something to comfort you, inspire you, push you, or maybe even understand yourself a little bit better, go out and grab No Good To Anyone on BMG Records, and turn off all the lights, put some headphones on, and get ready for a wild ride.