Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Interview with Stephen Mejias, Part 2

By Jim Teacher

JT: What are you listening to now?

SM: Through my job with Stereophile, I’m constantly introduced to new music and to people whose musical knowledge is far greater than my own. So, my taste in music and my desire to explore new forms has grown immensely. I listen to much more music these days than ever before, and it’s everything from classical to country to folk music from around the world to experimental – a perfect circle, really; it’s all connected.

This year, I count three very important personal music discoveries: John Prine, Delbert McClinton, and Robert Wyatt. With all three of these artists, I felt an immediate emotional connection, and it’s amazing to me that I lived 32 years without exposure to their music. Robert Wyatt’s new album, For the Ghosts Within, with Gilad Atzmon and Ros Stephen, is especially beautiful. It does one thing better than any other album in my experience: I can’t listen to it without falling deeper in love with life.


In addition to For the Ghosts Within, some of my favorite records from this year have been:
Four Tet: There Is Love in You
Roky Erickson: True Love Cast Out All Evil
Damien Jurado: Saint Bartlett
Julian Lynch: Mare
Grinderman: Grinderman 2
Sophie Hutchings: Becalmed
Daniel Higgs: Say God
Bushman’s Revenge: Jitterbug
Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
Mark McGuire: Living With Yourself
Sun City Girls: Funeral Mariachi
Gil Scot-Heron: I’m New Here
Hauschka: Foreign Landscapes

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Interview with Stephen Mejias, Part 1

By Jim Teacher

JT: What influenced your musical stylings?

SM: Well, early on, I listened to a lot of Top 40 stuff because that’s all my mom ever listened to. I spent lots of time in cars with my mom, so I heard a lot of Top 40 radio. I also remember spending many weekend mornings listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. I was into the stuff that was playing on Z100 and Hot 97. My dad’s family, being Puerto Rican, listened to a lot of salsa, and I can clearly remember the many awesome album covers from bands on the Fania label. Much later in life – just a couple of years ago – I gained a new appreciation for all of that NYC salsa, but I think aspects of the music (especially the choppy chord progressions, which are evident in the piano vamps of most salsa) are also evident in the MPS.

I think growing up in Newark, a very urban environment, also influenced my taste in music. Throughout most of my high school years, I listened, almost exclusively, to R&B and hip-hop. It’s sort of weird to think of now, but those were great times for hip-hop. You had Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, KRS-1, the Pharcyde, Digable Planets, De La Soul, and lots more.

The big transformation for me came during the summer before my senior year in high school. I spent a couple of weeks in Puerto Rico with my cousins, who were into a very different sort of culture, and I was happy to soak it all up. They introduced me to Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, the Pixies, Mercury Rev, and several other indie bands. The most influential of all was Sonic Youth. I don’t know why exactly, but Sonic Youth really touched me and I devoured everything I could. I guess I always had something of an outsider’s mentality, and Sonic Youth’s experimentations brought that aspect of my character to the fore.

In college, then, I met Maya Moksha and Todd Steponick. We played together in a band called Genie Boom, and created an independent study course in “experimental music.” We researched guys like John Cage, La Monte Young, the entire Fluxus movement, and we made lots of noise around campus. We were fortunate to have professors who allowed us to indulge our curiosity.

Also around this time, I got into Jon Spencer’s band, Pussy Galore. Through Pussy Galore, I got into Royal Trux and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Through the Blues Explosion, I got into RL Burnside. And through RL, I got into a lot of the old Delta Blues guys. Now, I think this bit was very important in defining my own guitar style, which is basically a combination of Delta Blues single-note riffage and Sonic Youth’s repetitive, phased-out melodies. Also, all of this music has deep grooves – it’s all dance music, ultimately – and I liked that a lot. I think you can hear a deep groove in much of the MPS.

It wasn’t until our final year in college that I really got to know Jim Teacher. Jim Teacher introduced me to Fuzzy and Dave, and we formed the MPS. For the next five years or so, my musical stylings were really formed around the band. I learned to play with other people. Fuzzy was a huge influence. Basically, I wanted to create stuff that he’d be able to use – I just wanted to hang the framework which would hold his masterstrokes. Similarly, hearing the words that Jim Teacher brought to our music was an incredible joy.

Much later, when Alan joined the band, I learned to do less and listen more, which I think is not only a huge part of being a good musician, but a huge part of being a good person.