On your website, you mention that one of your favorite guitarists, Eddie Van Halen, is the main inspiration for “There Was a Time.” What is your favorite memory of him? And why was he one of your favorite guitarists?
I was so upset when I heard the news of his passing. I began looking online at photos of him with Van Halen, and also photos of him and his former wife Valerie Bertinelli. I thought they were such a cool couple when I was young, and my respect for them had grown through the years after they divorced but remained close friends, devoted to raising their son. After looking at the pictures, the lyrics for my song came to me, and I could hear this massive chorus, as well. It all came together pretty fast. The lyrics are inspired by them but really have a much broader appeal – you can interpret them however you want. I wanted to create an upbeat, positive song and not dwell on unhappiness.
Eddie is one of my favorite guitarists because there is an absolute unique and unmistakable sound and style when you hear him play. There is just no one that sounds like him. He was one of the first guitar players that helped me understand the effect of the guitar in influencing the sound of a band. Andy Summers of The Police also did that for me.
When composing, preparing, and creating this song and video, how and why did you choose your team? (“Special guests on the track include Ira Elliot (Nada Surf, Bambi Kino) on drums and Bob Perry (Winter Hours) on guitars and bass.”)
Well, Bob Perry is my husband, so he and I are a package deal. Honestly though, if not for him, I would have no song. I only play the drums, so for every song I write, I have to sing it for him and try to convey what I’m hearing in my head. He translates it, and that is how we write every song. It’s a long process because I might hear one chord in my head, but he may hear something else as I’m singing it to him, and I have no way other than trial and error to have him pick the chord I intend. Bob also engineers, produces, plays guitar and bass, and co-mixes this song, and he did the same (except play bass) for my last full-length album “There Are Birds” from 2019.
Ira Elliot and I have known each other since the ’80s; we met at a club called Danceteria. He was in a band called The Fuzztones. We have remained in touch over the years, and I absolutely LOVE his band Nada Surf. I had a feeling in my gut that Ira would be perfect for my new single. I sent him demos and he loved the song. He sent us a bunch of takes to pick from, and as soon as I heard the one that made the final recording, I just knew it was THE one. It has such a vibe to it. I’m so thrilled with the results.
All of the other wonderful players on the song had also played on my last album, so we literally just got the band back together!
How would you compare the way of doing music when you first started to how the industry works now? What emotions, memories, or ideas come to mind?
Anyone can make music on their phone or on a computer now; you do not need a record label. We have a pretty intricate studio in our home, but you don’t necessarily need that. When I made my first album with The Aquanettas in 1989, there was no other way to make a record other than to be signed. But the downside of the present day is that you don’t have the full force of a label behind you, promoting your music with all of their resources. Still, if you have the drive and the will, you can get your music heard. I also have a background in music promotion – I used to work at record labels in the ’80s and ’90s – so although I’ve learned about all the new outlets for music on the internet, it’s still the same basic concept.
Any thoughts on how music has helped you and made a difference in your life going through the “new normal”?
It’s certainly given me a reason to think positively and have a goal to work toward, and I think that’s a good thing. We all know that “pandemic fatigue” is real, and it’s hard to be motivated sometimes. But creating and promoting music has been very beneficial to my state of mind in the last few years.
What is next for you? Any new music to be released or concerts in sight?
I do have an idea for another single already brewing in my head! So I hope to start this crazy process all over again with Bob very soon. As for gigs, I haven’t played out during the pandemic, but I hope to this year. Actually, I really only play gigs in other people’s bands as a backup singer. I’m not too keen anymore on playing my own music live or keeping a band together. It was great when I was younger and going on tour and everything, but I’m very content to record my own music at home, and if anyone needs me for a gig as a backup singer, that’s my preference.
Your bio/ website says: “In 1995, Stephanie joined Adam Roth’s wonderful four-part harmony pop band called Psychic Penguin. She says, “We all switched around on instruments.” Was this the first time you sang vocals? Was that the moment you realized you wanted to switch from drums to vocals? Or do you still like to “multitask” and use all your skills to create and play music?
Great question. Yes, this was the first band that I got out from behind the drum set for most of the time and sang backup vocals with a vengeance! I was the only backup singer in my first band, The Aquanettas, but the focus was definitely drums. In Psychic Penguin, even though I had a percussion setup that I could hide behind, I was still more out front. Sometimes I’d duet with Adam, but much of the time the band would sing in 4-part harmony, which was just incredible. We sounded great together, and we had a wonderful New York City fan base and did some gigs up and down the East coast too. From that point on, I knew I wanted to focus on singing rather than playing drums.
“By 1997, Stephanie had written an album’s worth of her own material. As Psychic Penguin waned, she formed her own band called Birdy, which is when when she became a lead singer.” How did it feel to be the lead singer of your own band? And releasing your first album?
I was sad when Psychic Penguin broke up – it was a like a fast-burning comet. But it had given me the experience and the drive to start Birdy, which was when I became a full-on lead singer, songwriter, and band leader. I wrote all the material, and we made two solid records that I’m still really proud of. It also was how I met my husband, because we, along with about four other people, started the indie label Cropduster Records. We all co-owned the label and we were also all the artists – we put out our records on the label, and we all functioned in different ways to promote and sell those records.
“Stephanie met her husband, Bob Perry (formerly of Winter Hours), who produced Birdy’s “Quarantine” and who would eventually produce her 2019 release “There Are Birds.” Can you share with us a little bit more about the creation of “There Are Birds” and the inspiration behind it?
It seems it was a moment in your life and career where you experienced and discovered much (love, bird watching passion, etc).
I had gotten into bird watching as a serious hobby in 2004, the year after Bob and I got married, and that slowly took over most of my spare time. I began making less music and going bird watching as much as I could. For about 7 or 8 years, I actually stopped playing music because I was so obsessed with birds (and I still am)! One day in 2018 I was sitting on my couch, and to my great surprise, the lyrics and melody for the song “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” came to me, and within about 45 minutes I had finished the song. I knew right then and there that I was going to combine my two great passions and make a rock and roll album about birds.
The songs were completed in a matter of months, as she explains: “It was as if they had to be written; they simply flowed out of my head onto paper.” By mid-2019, “There Are Birds” was released and garnered much acclaim. Deep Roots magazine called it “glorious, supremely engaging music.”
The songs created for “There Are Birds” have been so well received around the world. So looking back, it seems you were meant to reach this moment of creating “There Are Birds” and now your new single “There Was a Time.” What words of encouragement would you give to young, new musicians who may struggle with kicking off their career? Or anyone else who may feel their dream is stuck or fading away?
I am so fortunate that “There Are Birds” was so well received, not just in the vast birding community, but also by the general public. It inspired me to keep writing, and that’s why I created “There Was a Time.” I think it’s a big, new world out there now for aspiring musicians, artists, and any creative person. There are so many ways to get your music heard or your art seen because of the internet. It can work in your favor and it can work against you. I highly recommend not engaging in the negative feedback loop that people can get caught up in. Don’t listen to faceless criticism from someone who would never have the guts to say it to you in person. That’s not reality. It’s negativity for negativity’s sake. Stay positive and IGNORE that kind of stuff and keep doing your thing. It’s difficult to have a hard shell and not let words affect your feelings, but try to let it roll off. The more you practice that, the better you will become at it. Come from a place of kindness and you will receive kindness in return. If you need inspiration, go for a walk in nature, if you can. Get away from your phone or computer. Be by yourself and think your own thoughts, and open yourself up to what might spark an idea. Creativity can flow when your mind is uncluttered.