IAN C STEWART
When did you first become aware/ interested in sound in general and what do you remember of your earliest ‘hearing ‘experiences whether musical or not?
I think, when I got my first portable tape recorder, that was the first time I became aware of sounds. That was probably around my 8th birthday, which would be 1980. Eventually the thrill of listening was surpassed by the greater thrill of recording every single thing I could find. Listening was not as much fun. It’s easy to forget that in those days, everything you experienced was transient and, once it was done, it was done. Of course now it’s the opposite extreme, everything is documented. I have tapes from 1984, when I was learning to play the guitar. You hear ten minutes of room noise followed by some naff guitar playing, followed quickly by whatever I was watching on TV at the time. The act itself of recording was the main thing. Which is pathetic, I sound like a total caveman.
First instrument/sound making thing of any kind you played/owned? Did it come to you or did you go looking for it?
There was always music around, just not much good stuff. Both of my grandfathers were guitar players, active in the local country music scenes in the late 1960s. My one grandfather was more into the churchy gospel side of country, I think he worked with the Jordainaires, who were with Elvis Presley at various times. My other grandfather was into the hard-living, hard-drinking, (I can’t believe I’m going to use this expression) honky tonk, and he still sings Hank Williams, etc. onstage. My parents were both very young when I was born, so I absorbed, rejected and reabsorbed their baby-boomer music obsessions like the Beatles. My dad played guitar in a few bands, though not for very long. My mom took guitar lessons when she was a kid, her brother was a drummer. I grew up a KISS fan from about age 3 or 4. We had a Gibson acoustic guitar around the house, but even though the KISS albums specifically mentioned Gibson as being the best, I knew it wasn’t cool, I knew it wasn’t what Ace Frehley played. My first electric guitar was a pawnshop piece of crap that I hated and fought with until I finally smashed it out in the street one New Years’ Eve. My first “real” guitar was a Tokai star, with a VIBRATO BAR. That was 1985.
So did you take instrument lessons of any kind or did you just go off and learn to play yourself? And what about your earliest ‘jams’ with other people?
I started taking guitar lessons when I was 12. I stuck with them until I was 18. I got accepted to a music school but wasn’t good enough to earn a scholarship, so had to pay tuition all by myself, out of pocket. My college days were very late and didn’t last very long. I played guitar and wrote songs at home, I also played drums in Devilcake, which was formed in 1991. 20 years ago! I was lucky to have a jam room in the basement at home, so I became more sociable as a musician, always up for a jam or to record on my 4-track. A coule of friends and I would spend hours jamming, learning how to play together, listening to each other, interacting and working on dynamics. There are MP3s here: http://iancstewartarchive.blogspot.com/search/label/emerson%20lilly%20and%20quaffer This was a couple of years after we formed our first punk band, The Uncultured.
THE UNCULTURED – FOR HER, 1988
How did you approach forming your first bands? mates in the garage kinda thing or advertising for players etc? And when did you do this, how early did you get band stuff going?
It was just friends from school, which is still the case. We were lucky to be into the same types of music, and we all wanted to be rock stars. That would’ve been 1988, I was 16. I played guitar. Our band played a lot of songs I wrote, which were pretty juvenile. We didn’t play out much, maybe a couple of times a year, but it was always a big deal to us!
DEVILCAKE – PIE, HAIR PIE 2001
KISS was the biggest influence, I always wanted to be Ace Frehley. I carried a guitar around the house at all times, only learning to play the thing much later. I was probably about 14 before I was able to write lyrics and music and record an entire song of my own. Performing other peoples’ material never interested me, that’s why I suck at playing covers.
To me, the whole point of music, of art, the whole point of life is create your own thing, write your own song. Playing other peoples’ songs is wack! American Idol and that type of thing do not interest me.
Once I was able to write, record, play and put more thought into it, I became influenced by people like David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Andy Partridge, later a bit of Bryan Ferry. I admire serious songwriting.
EVIL BREAD – DONUTS, 1991
I was wholly unsuccessful as a tape-trading artist. No one wanted my tapes, no one was prepared for what they heard, bearing in mind that my first five releases were all very different from each other. I received a few very negative reactions at a time when I needed a few pointers. I was immature, even if someone had been able to take me aside, in about 1991 or so and just say “dude…..you need to tighten this up and lose this and do this but don’t do that”, that kind of thing, I doubt that it would’ve helped.
But, um, I was aware of John Cage, so I knew that any sound could be music, or art. But the first few noise tapes I heard, I have to be honest, they all went over my head. I went around asking the artists if they also wrote songs, or if all of their tapes were wank. To this day, my own music and noise remains too obscure for human consumption. I have a parallel discography of unreleased pieces, noise, I guess. Of which I have many. I probably wrote two hundred songs or more, and there are just as many bits of fluff.
How about other forms of art…whether doing it yourself or as a fan or both, writing, painting, drawing, reading etc When & how did you get into these things, what influenced you in other creative fields aside from music & sound?
I was introduced to mail art by Terry Burke. I had recently begun painting canvases, just pushing colors around in an abstract way, a pretentious way, I guess. Terry would occasionally send flyers with lists of mail artists, and the deal was you had to send a piece of art to the top name on the list, and then cross off their name, add your own to the bottom, and pass your flyer along. But I would send tapes to all of the names on the list, whatever my latest creation was. If it was the edgy, noise ambient, c-60 “black and white”, or 60 minutes of my latest songs, I always enjoyed making the tapes and sending them out. The demise of my band Samarkand neatly coincided with starting AUTOreverse, which was a much easier way of connecting with others.
What role, if any, have various ‘altered states of consciousness’ whether it be drugs, sleep deprivation, belief in bizarre powers etc played in your musical life, as listener or creator?
For me, that would be zero. I’ve been full-on straight-edge for as long as anyone can remember. I’ve never been drunk or high in my entire life, so I don’t see the value in recreational stuff. Also I’m an atheist, so for me, music and art is about being sober, being aware, making a conscious decision to create something new. That’s why, in bands, I jam with my head up, when everyone else is staring at the floor and “getting into it,” or whatever. I like to be ready for when the moment comes, because, it IS coming. The moment is coming, we’re all going to slam into it together. And you didn’t even know beforehand that that’s what was going to happen. We just rocked out.
DEVILCAKE – SOFT BATCH MAMA, 1992
Equipment, instruments, sound gadgets, home recording gear etc can you list and/or tell us a bit about different things you’ve used over the years, favorites you’ve had?
Boys and their gadgets, eh? Girls want makeup and perfume, boys want gadgets. I’ve always been drawn to the weird or cool (viewed negatively, “gimmicky”) and unusual instrumentation. I mean, I was never going to be a Les Paul-through-a-Marshall-stack kind of guy, I just didn’t have the money for one thing.
But even when I got older, I always wanted a different guitar to what everyone else has. That’s probably still true , no one ever has the same sh1t as me. I had a normal 5-piece drum set, but always tried to mount the toms in different ways, or set them up left-handed, or just anything to be different. I mounted a small sawblade on a cymbal stand and used it for percussive effect, it sounded like a a very dark ride cymbal bell. I never got into messing around with the guitar too much, apart from maybe odd tunings. I still prefer a normal guitar, set up nicely. In the early 2000s I was on a hot streak of owning weird guitars. I had a friend who kept buying these things and then he’d sell them to me a few months later for great prices. Baldwin 12-string, uhhhh the best was the red Roland GR-707 guitar synth and the floor module. That was state of the art 1985, I loved that thing. I always loved cheesy 80s synths anyway, I owned a Casio SK-5, and Synsonics electronic drum thing. I sold it all to buy a Chapman Stick, which I owned for a couple of years. I’ve also owned a fretless bass, which I enjoyed very muchly. I had the Steinberger bass and the guitar, those little black box things, which I loved. The guitar did look like a black ukelele on me, but the bass looked and sounded great, and was fun to play. It’s funny, when I was younger I was very uptight about not wanting to be seen with any guitars I considered cheesy or substandard. I think I’m over that now. I’ll play anything. But I try not to play other peoples’ instruments anymore because I bash the fuck out of everything. I’m so clumsy, it’s not even cool or funny. I drop things constantly. It’s been so long since I even touched a guitar, let alone y’know, did anything creative. It sucks, but I’m using that energy toward AUTOreverse again. So… my misery fuels all of us talking like this now. Haaah.
DEVILCAKE – CHICKEN NUGGETS OF SIN unplugged, 2007
Can you list (and tell us a little about) all the bands you’ve been a member of and any releases or performances you’ve done solo or played a part in some way over the years?
I have a blog just for this purpose, pretty much every band I’ve ever been in and everything else. http://iancstewartarchive.blogspot.com which was recently replaced by http://bizarredepiction.wordpress.com
1988 – THE UNCULTURED I played guitar and wrote most of the songs – punk rock BS somewhere between Anthrax and The Dead Milkmen
1988 – got my 4-track, the world has never forgiven me
1989 – formed (in Parentheses) which was a metal band, I played guitar and wrote a few songs.
1990 – Irreligion – the one-off 4-track project that refused to die
April, 1991 – formed EVIL BREAD, a grindcore band that sang about food.
November, 1991 – EVIL BREAD morphed into DEVILCAKE
1992 – Devilcake stopped, and I played drums with EARWIG briefly before I fucked off to Boston to go to Berklee. Formed SAMARKAND, a guitar-pop band that played my songs
1993 – Fucked back on to Ohio after going broke paying for college. Formed new version of SAMARKAND with a drum machine. Started my tape label BIZARRE DEPICTON. The first release was the white tape by SAMARKAND.
1994 – SAMARKAND stops playing live but I continue to release tapes under that name
1995 – First bit of national press with SAMARKAND tapes reviewed in Jim Santo’s ‘demorandum’ coumn of alternative press. Started AUTOreverse after thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to have an entire magazine of stuff like ‘demorandum’.”
1996 – possibly 97, the first AUTOreverse website was launched
2000 – DEVILCAKE reforms, opens for GWAR and LAMB OF GOD
2003 – ambient internet supergroup DRONE FOREST made many albums
2005 – I was with DECO HALO for about a year, playing guitar
2011 – This, now
SAMARKAND – BEAUTIFUL KISS, 2007
Thank you, Skot!