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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Feature - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No... it's Brain Ninja. The mad, mad world of The Stepkids

Talking psychedelia, jazz and soul with LA’s latest hot talent.
JON ‘MOJO’ MILLS learns what makes THE STEPKIDS tick.

“We were fans of Curtis and Shugie Otis for years,” The Stepkids say in unison when I quiz them on that early ’70s stone cold harmony-psych-soul sound that they have mastered so goddamn well. “The ironic thing is that after playing with Alicia [Keyes], Jeff [Gittlemen] was looking to work on music in different genres but it was the other guys that rekindled the desire to play soul music because they were coming from a different place with it.”

So were the harmony-laden soul and psych influences your intention or something that came about subconsciously? “I'm sure this has shaped the sound a lot subconsciously. Because a lot of what we we're doing is providing an alternative to 'pop'. And how can you know the opposite of something unless you know exactly what the thing itself is?” A cryptic answer to say the least, but then anyone who has witnessed the mind-melting genius of The Stepkids will get where the band are coming from.

“I think it's safe to assume that psychedelia found us early on. There's nothing more psychedelic than childhood,” they once again say in a Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum fashion, spookily prosaic from the minds that penned such a twisted piece of childish fantasy as ‘Brain Ninja’.

“There are a lot of influences that we have from jazz. All different schools of jazz. Ragtime, swing, bebop, free jazz, modal, electric fusion etc. That alone is a fountain of American gold. The thing that we all have in common is that we all had that as a platform and then moved away from it towards pop music, then took a break from pop music to come back to the art. And so on,” they explain. That is something you get the sense of in Spirit, Traffic, Chicago and all of the other great ’60s bands that went beyond the strict boundaries of pop.

Talking of ‘Brain Ninja’ I just could not help but think of Zappa. Certain that he in his jazz inspired madness was an influence on their vision. “Though we have a lot of respect for Zappa we weren't really intentionally listening or referencing his music during the recording of the album. ‘Brain Ninja’ was the first song we recorded as a band, so it was like seeing the first light of day. Very exciting to watch it develop itself.” And from crazed things an album grew.

“We're super proud and excited over the album.” When told The Stepkids is intended to be listened to as one continuous play I was most pleased, and got where they were coming from. As you would do with Dr Sardonicus, Maggot Brain or Electric Ladyland this is a record that progresses and comes to a natural conclusion. No bloody iPod shuffle malarky for this crafted gem!

The Stepkids will be coming to England to do a few shows including the big chill fest in early august – and when they say how they are looking forward to performing their majestic music in Europe I have a very strong the feeling that our very different countries will all take to them and their summery brand of psychedelic soul.

For anyone who adores Stone Throw’s old psychedelic reissues The Stepkids are the next step.

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