Posted: by The Editor
Steve. is just as simple as their name. And that’s not necessarily a pejorative – by not being convoluted, they’ve made their music frank and accessible. Their latest album, You Can Do This, Too, follows them through the ebbs and flows of life, like having an encounter with a frustratingly unwavering police officer or a friendship losing its spark. Their riffage is grating and prickly, with a little bit more grit than their typical pop-punk counterparts. I called the band during one of their practice sessions to speak with them about feeling indignant about music that’s devoid of diversity and striving to never become too much of a cliche.
How did you get your start in music?
Zach: I started playing guitar because my father played music as well. Eventually, I joined a band who needed a drummer, which is why I switched to that.
Nick: When I was about 12 or 13, my sister was dating a dude with a red mohawk who wore things like leopard-print pants and jean jackets. I wanted to do whatever he was doing because I thought he was cool. He was the king of DIY in southern New Jersey.
Eric: I grew up playing the tuba, but became fed up with being made fun of. I thought maybe I’d that’d change if I played bass.
Ky: I grew up going to punk gigs, but I never thought I could do something like that. But then I saw an East Asian guy playing and thought, okay, so I can do that. It took a little bit of representation for me, as a person of color.
Ky, that actually leads into what I wanted to ask about next – your album title. Does “you can do this too” reference the notion that music shouldn’t be gatekept?
Ky: It’s directed towards myself, but also to everyone else. If you listen to the record, you’ll see it’s nothing complicated: I play power chords throughout the whole thing. It’s a little self-deprecating because I’m saying anyone can make this sort of record.
Zach: You can play power chords and still be able to put out a record that you’re proud of. You can make whatever kind of music you want, whether it has a deeper meaning or not. You can have fun with it and make yourself laugh. Some people overthink a song, and sometimes it’s important to realize that less is more.
Nick: To add onto that, it is nice to be in a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. Some of us used to be in bands that tried really hard, and Steve. is a reaction to that. We just want an outlet to have fun and now here I am, writing one minute songs about silly things
I want to circle back to what Ky said about how representation stoked them to become a musician. I assume you think it’s pretty important.
Ky: Recently at a gig in Asbury Park, I used my phone to write “I’m the darkest person in the room” and showed it to Nick. I don’t want to think I’m being tokenized, but in order to avoid that, we have to get more non-white people and non-men on the bill, so it’s not just me.
I’ve heard that sometimes, it’s difficult to book bands with minorities because of extenuating circumstances, like them being unavailable – meaning it can be out of anyone’s control. Do you think that holds weight, or do you think that’s an excuse?
Ky: I think it depends on the area. I know where we live, New Jersey, there’s plenty of bands with people of color and women, but they’re not always getting booked. If we know bands in the area who have people of color or women, we try to get them on the bill as much as we can. If we’re heading out of town, we’re kind of at the mercy of whoever is putting that show together. I like to sign off emails when asking to do shows out of state with “the least amount of white boys as possible would be great.”
Has anyone ever taken issue with that closer? It seems like a blunt line.
Ky: Absolutely. Promoters don’t respond all the time. All of us have somewhat loud opinions, but I’m more vocal about representation because who wants to hear about it from a bunch of white guys? That’s why I’m talking to you about this right now. I’ve definitely lost friends ever since I’ve been more outspoken about it. A lot of people have not talked to me in a while. It’s not that they disagree with me, they just think I’m too vocal. But I feel that I have to be yelling in your face until I see something happen and so far, I’m not seeing much of a difference. I’m trying my best, though.
Your songwriting interests me because there’s often no questioning what the songs are about. Like “Hawwwwwt Dog Suit,” which is about eating a hot dog. What inspired you to write it?
Zach: I used to live with my close friends, but it wasn’t working out very well, so I decided to move out and stay with my parents for the time being. On my drive to their house, I stopped for a hot dog because I thought it’d make me feel better. It spilled on my brand new white shirt, which felt like a metaphor for what was going on in my life.
My favorite lyric of yours is from “Certified Cheez Whiz Banger”: “just another boy upset over a girl / and I’m so sorry / I know that y’all don’t care.” How did that line come about?
Zach: A lot of pop punk IS that. I love pop punk so much that it’s gross. I’ll hear a lyric about something like a woman and think, okay, there’s way more going on in the world. It’s corny to me, so I tried to try to make it ironic and call myself out. The ending “hurting hearts need some healing / take my hand with your glove of love,” references a bad love song from Simpsons.
So, to you, problems like romantic entanglements are relatively small?
Zach: I’m not trying to invalidate anyone, but at the same time, there’s a lot of bands in the world that have a big following and could do a lot with it, yet groups like Blink-182 just consist of 40-year-olds talking about college girls. It’s the same topic they’ve been talking about since 2001. They could use your voice for something more important than that.
I noticed a “65” in your social media handles. Does that mean anything?
Ky: It relates to our band name. I had a phase in college of wearing sports jerseys without even playing sports. I found a football jersey at a Goodwill that wasn’t for a specific team. It simply said “65” on the front and “Steve” with another “65” on the back. When we started playing together, I wore it. Then, we named our band “Steve” as a joke, but that was in 2015 and we’re still doing it years later, so it might not be as much of a joke now. I’ve been asked “so, which one of you is Steve?” at a show so many times. We didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for someone to find us online. There are three bands named “Steve” just in New Jersey.
Any closing thoughts?
Ky: The idea of a career in music seems silly, but every time you buy a record or merch, you’re helping a group live the dream a little longer.
Zach: We should be unionizing. And we should be making more than .006 cents per stream. Spotify can send me a Google Home for free, but they can’t pay me?
What’s your favorite dessert?
Ky: Chocolate lava cake. The one from Applebees is incredible.
Eric: Carrot cake.
Nick: I don’t like sweets.
Zach: Flan is delicious.
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