For MCB Records recording artist Ted Stevens, the song is the beginning, but it's far from the end.
In the core of every pop blast Stevens writes-beneath the swagger of his first single, "Up to You, Down to Me," and behind the Motown tick-tock of "Waiting"-sure, there lives a folk song. But that's the same with all rock music. The fun part, Stevens says, is camping out in the studio, throwing everything he can think of at a song, and seeing what happens. Suddenly, a song goes from a few skeletal notes on a guitar or piano with some shreds of vocals hanging off of it to a living, breathing being wearing leather or denim, or maybe even sequins and a few smears of glitter across the cheekbones.
"The most exciting part of the recording process is knowing that I can record anything on a song. It's so easy to just do guitar-bass-drums and say, That's done," says Stevens. But what most artists strive for as their end product-a solid and energetic live take-is merely the starting point for Stevens. "With an arrangement, I'm on a quest to find the definitive version. What I like about, for example, Motown and the Beatles is that the arrangements are untouchable. You can't imagine those songs arranged any other way."
The soundscape explored in Stevens' impeccably arranged pop-rock drops hints at his heroes' identities-you may catch an essence of T. Rex in a snarling verse, of Talking Heads in a burbling synth line, or of Peter Gabriel in a heady chorus-but it's not some cold exercise in genre-cribbing for Stevens. It just happens. (When you've been recording music since you were 12 years old, you tend to build up a pretty deep catalogue of influences.)
But it's no wonder that they did. Because despite the intelligence and urgency of the music, the live Ted Stevens experience has almost nothing to do with a tidy arrangement, and instead finds its roots in that bygone era when musicians didn't just hunch over their instruments for 55 minutes, but tried to give the audience a show. "I've never been a guy that just wears his jeans onstage, that's for sure," Stevens says.
The past few years have seen Stevens developing an approach to performance in which the live show is not merely an inert backdrop for sound, but a full partner in tracing out a song's web of meanings. At every moment, Ted Stevens is thinking: We know what the song sounds like. What does it look like?
Answer the question for yourself: in addition to a string of future pop classics by Ted Stevens, MCB Records is excited to be releasing a video for "Up to You, Down to Me." And with Stevens coming off a UK tour, MCB is already at work booking a tour Stateside. So open your ears...and your eyes.
Photo Credit: Ken Koller