Today’s Feature – May 29-30: Steve Hefter

May 30, 2008 at 8:56 pm (Today's Feature)

Steve Hefter plays “music that makes you want to break up with your girlfriend, get locked up, and write heart-wrenching love letters to her from the inside” (in his own words). It’s the kind of line that shows just how passionate Hefter is about his craft, as well as showcases his clear sense of humor. After all, you need one when you audition for a scholarship to Peabody Prep and play your selected piece in the wrong octave…

Anyway, there’s a lot more than humor behind the melodies of Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends (which includes Mike Ward, Doug Keen, Pat Hughes, George French and Greta Thomas). Matter of fact, a lot of Steve’s songwriting requires he place himself in some unfortunate mindsets. For example; “Knowing you’re headed toward heartbreak or heartbreaking is, in my estimation, next to actually losing a loved one, the most sickening – but also the most human-feeling one can have.”

Just about every songwriter needs to place themselves in such a frame of mind at times to write music… problem is that not every songwriter is all that good when it comes to translating their feelings onto a piece of paper. Hefter and friends however excel – their tunes built out of honesty and accurate perspective mixed with the unique gift to see a situation from more than just a head-on angle. The band explores subject matter while attaching their own signature stitch.

The sophomore release, “Twist and Hold Til’ Morning” is quite the mix, including “some swelling, orchestral moments, and then some stripped-down, bare-bones folkiness… Some of its narrative, some poetic, some just plain nonsense.” No matter how you accept the collection, it’s clear you’ll get the message. The band has been fine-tuning their live performance so find a show and get to it – matter of fact; they’ll be playing with Caleb Stine and The Brakeman, Reed KD and the Armchair Aviators at The Golden West in Hampden on May 30th. Get on it and get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends – Steve Hefter

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends first came about. Was music something in your life that was there from the start?

Steve Hefter (SH): Music has definitely always been around me. My father was a music fanatic- he had an extensive, eclectic record collection and from the time I can remember anything, I remember Bebop, the Beatles, Bach and everything in between filling up our apartment. When we moved into a bigger place we inherited my grandmother’s piano and my dad played it for hours every day. My mother forced me to start taking piano lessons at four and my teacher recommended me for a scholarship to PeabodyPrep. At the audition, I played the piece in the wrong octave and, needless to say, ended up in public school.

PEV: You’ve said that you play, “Music that makes you want to break up with your girlfriend, get locked up, and write heart-wrenching love letters to her from the inside.” With that, where do you find the drive and motivation to write and perform music?

SH: I’m sure there are plenty of people who can relate to the age-old theme: being unwilling to let go of relationships we know are inevitably doomed. The moment that I, personally, realize a relationship- at least one I’ve been deeply invested in- has started to go down the toilet has almost always coincided with a sudden resumption of frenzied creativity for me, for better or worse. Knowing you’re headed toward heartbreak or heartbreaking is, in my estimation, next to actually losing a loved one, the most sickening- but also the most human- feeling one can have.

PEV: Growing up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, what kind of music were you listening to?

SH: Nothing specific to Baltimore- or at least I don’t think so. In middle school, lots of hip-hop mixed with Billy Joel and whatever else was popular in the early 90’s. I wasn’t really into grunge or anything that was actually cool, rock-wise. I did get heavily into some obscure indie-christian bands in high school that I still think made some of the best, relatively undiscovered, records out there. Mike Knott, Adam Again, The Lost Dogs- some really great stuff.

I didn’t really start properly digesting the Beatles and Dylan until I was 15 or 16. That kinda loosens the stones enough for the avalanche to begin.

PEV: What were those earlier days like for you in the music business? Like your first shows or open mics.

SH: My first few shows were amazing. It’s weird relating them to “the music business” but I guess they were, in essence. We had to book them, we fliered a bit, and we got paid for one of them- probably more than my band usually gets paid now, in fact.

The first show (with Catalyst- a Christian rap-rock band but not rap-rock like Kid Rock, just rap and rock) was as part of a talent show taking place in the basement of a methodist church in Boring, MD. Yeah. We brought a small AIWA stereo as our PA, a tiny Casio Keyboard, and a few Radio Shack Mics. If I’m not mistaken, we were sandwiched between ballerina girls and a magic show; we played to a packed room of toddlers, their parents and their grandparents, all of whom we didn’t know.

The second show was for a church youth group in a field behind the church. We brought two enormous, ancient mixing consoles and ran extension cords like 50 feet out from the church. There was some kind of problem grounding everything (we kept shocking the shit out of ourselves) and then an electrical storm moved in. All very rock and roll.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that you wanted music was going to become more than just a hobby?

SH: It always was. Hobbies don’t make you cry or get you laid. Well, music’s definitely made me cry at least.

PEV: Who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

SH: Hmm. In Baltimore, I’ve always wanted to collaborate in some fashion with a guy named Adam Fisher from the band Good Guise. He’s “out there” in the best kind of way. Fantasy-wise, Emmylou Harris or Neko Case singing backup on a song would be real nice.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

SH: I mean NYC is great if you’re resourceful and strong-minded enough to hang. Nashville’s great if you’re going the country route. But I haven’t spent enough time in enough places to say with any certainty.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

SH: We’re all workings stiffs so we’ve done the weekend tours- they’re fun though a bit hectic, and definitely not the actual “tour experience.” We’ve done NYC a few times, North Carolina, Philly, Pittsburgh. We did do a 5 show stint recently in California that was more like the real deal- constant travel, crashing on random floors- it was pretty great but sort of a tease- we all knew we were coming back to the grind, all-too-soon. I’m in the process of freeing myself of the things that make that kind of lifestyle impossible- mortgages, debts, etc. I’m getting closer every day, I’d like to think.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends performance?

SH: I’m really proud of the quality of our set. We’ve figured out which songs really work live- that’s to say we’ve learned to play to our strengths as it were, as well we should have after 2 years. It’s a dynamic- alternately sparse and lush- set that I think really caters to fans of smart, structured indie/ folky pop tunes.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

SH: The Felice Brothers were my latest find but I’m honestly always a step behind. Wasn’t supposed to rhyme. Don’t drop a dime.

PEV: What can fans expect from the band’s sophomore album, “Twist and Hold Til’ Morning”?

SH: It’s very eclectic, for sure. There’s some swelling, orchestral moments, and then some stripped-down, bare-bones folkiness. It ranges from flamboyantly rock-operaesque to subtle- almost conversational. There’s shredding and then there’s pickin’. Some of it’s narrative, some poetic, some just plain nonsense; but I think- well, at least to me- it still feels cohesive, like an album. I’m pretty biased though.

PEV: How has your work on this album differ from your previous works?

SH: Our first album was definitely less collaborative. And this one took longer than anything else I’ve ever been involved with- over a year- but that had mostly to do with some strange misunderstandings with regard to who’d mix it and other boring stuff.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Steve Hefter?

SH: I scored 45 points in a basketball game in high school (doesn’t matter that it was JV). I like to make that known whenever possible.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

SH: Varies. I like to write or come up with ideas in the car a lot. I’ll record them on my phone- I’ve even left them on friends’ voicemails in a pinch. I also like to pace around my house or on my porch- I’m sure I look like a nut to my neighbors, singing to myself with a blanket draped around me. I guess I feel more inspired- or I can stay in that inspired moment more easily- while I’m sorta on the move.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

SH: For the most part, they’ve all always been incredibly supportive. In high school, I definitely hit a point where I couldn’t relate to the guys I grew up with anymore, and there was an awkward transitional period. They became kind of antagonistic and made fun a little- they definitely weren’t supportive- but I was beginning to hang out, almost exclusively, with people I played music with anyway. I’m sure a lot of people who’ve become passionate about any number of things go through similar experiences. In hindsight, none of it was malicious- they’ve popped back up in the past few years on myspace or facebook, and had real nice things to say.

My family has always been incredibly supportive.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

SH: Right now I’m catching up on The Office pretty obsessively.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is just go out there and perform?

SH: If a few people show up that I don’t want to see, I get real anxious, act weird, and make people uncomfortable.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

SH: A long time ago, my old band- Sons of Buford- had a show in Dundalk somewhere. I should mention the stage area in this establishment was separated from the bar proper, but the bar patrons could definitely hear whatever we were doing, loud and clear. I was blathering between songs about gay bikers when the sound guy shut the the volume down, walked to the stage, and informed me it was a biker bar.

PEV: In one word, describe Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends.

SH: Sporting.

PEV: So, what is next for Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends?

SH: We’re on a stellar bill May 30th with Caleb Stine and the Brakemen and a great band from California, Reed KD and the Armchair Aviators, at The Golden West in Hampden. We played with Reed while we were out in California and he’s a can’t-miss talent.

For more information on Steve Hefter, check out www.myspace.com/hefterandfriends

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