The Stepkids

Neo-Soul Narrative

Oct 11, 2013 Issue #47 - September/October 2013 - MGMT
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With its unusual blend of funk, soul, and trippy jazz, the self-titled debut from Connecticut's The Stepkids was one of the most offbeat records to make Under the Radar's 2011 Best Albums of the Year list.

"With the first album, I think we were able to identify a stylistic gap in the modern culture," says guitarist Jeff Gitelman. "Nobody was mixing indie with R&B. Nobody was mixing The Strokes with Mary J. Blige. We saw that gap and we wanted to fill it. We didn't want to do the same lo-fi psychedelic sound again, so we made the new album more influenced by modern sounds like techno and hip-hop."

With their second album, Troubadour, The StepkidsGitelman, bassist/keyboardist Dan Edinberg, and drummer Tim Walsh, all of whom share vocal dutieshave brought back several of the danceable jazz-funk arrangements we came to expect from their debut. (Their memorable video for "The Lottery" features male strippers busting Magic Mike-inspired moves to their music.) Because they're also dabbling with new techniques such as hip-hop sampling ("Bitter Bug") and simpler, three-chord progression ("Troubadour"), The Stepkids present an even more varied sound on their sophomore effort.

"We experimented until our heads fell off for this album," Gitelman says. "We experimented so much that we had to pull it back some. Sonically, this album sounds different; lyrically, it's different; conceptually, there's something connecting all of the songs."

Troubadour is their first concept record, with the intention that it should be listened to all the way through in a single sitting.

"Rather than three-and-a-half minute pop songs piled up against each other, we really wanted to tell a bigger narrative," Gitelman says. "A lot of the songs deal with the same subject matter, and the way the songs are constructed, there is a plot: a coming-of-age, a rise, a fall, a crash, and a resolve." 

The album's title, Troubadour, refers to its central character. It tracks a musician's struggle to balance his dream of making music with making a living, and is partially drawn from the band's own experiences leaving steady jobs as session artists and backing musicians to start The Stepkids.

"We really sacrificed a lot so that we'd be able to pursue making this music that we're so happy creating," Gitelman explains. "We weren't right out of college with nothing to lose; we had everything to lose. I had a full-time job with Alicia [Keys] that I had to quit. We were very happy playing our music, but found we had no money. Those were the struggles and the gambles of the business we were writing about."

Troubadour isn't a dark album; the record details the high moments of being a working musician as well as the low. The band's own gamble paid off: their debut was very warmly received, and a growing number of fans are coming out to their shows.

"We're at a really exciting time," says Gitelman, and laughs. "But that's for the next album, to describe how well we're living."

There's a message to be taken away from Troubadour's narrative, even by non-musicians.

"It's about living for your dream, and the ups and downs of following your heart when pragmatically or logically something doesn't make sense," he says. "We all have our emotional sides, and a lot of people are really afraid to trust their emotions because sometimes you get cut by them. It can relate to anybody who's ever taken a risk. Or anyone who's ever fallen in love."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2013 print issue.] 

 



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