We were fortunate enough to catch up with the brilliant musician Stuart Pearson following the release of his superb studio album ‘Mojave’. Enjoy the full interview now!
Hi Stuart, tell us about yourself?
Hi Kris! About me – I have no tattoos. I am the tattoo. I have nothing against tattoos; I just know that someday I’ll die by falling in a peat bog, only to have my body discovered in 5,000 years with my shrivelled skin intact. I don’t want those archaeologists thinking my tattoo of the Nike logo has some kind of religious significance.
What is your songwriting process?
The process changes all the time. I have been writing songs since I was tiny, so I know that if I want to write a song, I can sit down and write one. It might not be a GOOD song, but t will be a song. So that gives me some freedom. This might sound odd, but I like to first “see” the song.
Sometimes I’ll create an imaginary video I would like to make a song about. Other times it’s an emotion that I see. Then I make a one-bedroom apartment in my head and rent it to that video/emotion to sit and think about itself. Then I want an interesting title. If I get that title, I bring it to that room I made in my head, introduce it to my imaginary video and see if the title wants to sleep on the couch.
With any luck, the next time I knock on the door, the title opens the door with a new baby in its arms. I don’t need to know how that happened – it’s not my place to judge others. Then I play it for Hunter (my wife and music partner), and she tells me if the kid is ugly or not.
Tell us about your latest release, ‘Mojave’?
Mojave is my second collection of dark Americana/western gothic songs (the first is called “Stories and Songs”). There is a subtle theme of life in Southern California deserts – ruined buildings, abandoned cars, dilapidated towns, drifters, people who live “off the grid”. People that hate traffic lights. There is a beauty out there and also a sense of danger.
No one wants to be stranded in Death Valley. The desert is a metaphor for America right now – just as you look up and marvel at the desert sky, a snake bites you. There is a dark magic out there that wants to make you part of the food chain. “Mojave” is about the characters that end up there. It’s not a “concept” album; it’s more of a reaction to what we find driving outside of Los Angeles. However big you think the desert is, it’s bigger. And it’s hungry.
‘Mojave’ was recorded in quarantine; what was that like?
What was quarantine like? I’m a bit of a shut-in anyway, so it worked well for both of us. It allowed me to focus harder on what I wanted to wring out of “Mojave”. There are almost as many outtakes as there are final songs. “The Interstate” alone has four very different versions.
I have my own studio and record everything myself, whether playing the actual instruments or manipulating loops, so my workflow wasn’t much different from normal. And since we couldn’t travel anywhere by airplane, Hunter and I spent more time in the desert, taking photos and shooting footage for music videos. We have released three videos for “Mojave” so far and five for the previous album, “Stories and Songs”. More to come.
The album features a number of murder ballads; what draws you to write them?
We were just talking about that this morning! I’m not really sure – since most songs you hear on radio or streaming services are either about love or sex or dancing, I guess I just wanted to find a nice comfy recliner somewhere that didn’t have all that human body sweat on it. That recliner turned out to be murder ballads.
What makes it weird is I grew up listening to country music on my grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin during the summers and hard rock and punk where I lived in Long Island, NY. You put those two together, and they congeal into murder ballads.
I’ve told Hunter numerous times that if she ever gets writer’s block, just start writing a song about cannibalism – the ideas just fly out like fireworks. Then season to taste.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
I really hate the term “fan”. It sounds so lofty and distant, like something “below” someone’s social standing. If someone likes the music, that’s a humbling compliment! I prefer to think of them as friends with excellent taste!
It’s like the idea that not everyone is a musician, which I think is nonsense. If you can appreciate music, love music, if it moves you, then you ARE a musician. You happen to be a LISTENING musician. I know my material doesn’t fit into everyone’s microwave, so if someone really likes what I do, they are probably pretty interesting oddballs themselves! Why not have more friends?
As far as what my music conveys to people, I hope it conveys dramatically different things to each person who hears it! I want 94% of the people who hear it to love it. I want 6% to HATE what I do – absolutely LOATHE it. Call me names. Make me cry. It’s the only way I’ll learn how to be a better person.
Who are your musical influences?
My influences make up a pretty long list. They range from Cab Calloway, the Kinks, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince, Robyn Hitchcock, Angelo Badalamenti, Randy Newman, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, AM radio in the 1960s, New Wave of the early 1980s, Nick Cave, the Flaming Lips.
You probably don’t hear most of those artists in the Dark Americana material, but they’re all in there, buried in burlap, probably with gags in their mouths.
Who are your non-musical influences?
I’m a geek for surrealist art and the artists that lived in Europe and Paris in the early to mid 20th century. They are my “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” – my brain is full of trivia. What a period in history and in art! The stories of evading the nazis, the art made in protest, all of it is such a flame to my mind’s moth.
Max Ernst is an excellent artist to start with for anyone who might be curious. There seems to be a resurgence of Surrealism, mainly in digital art.
Mexico was always a breeding ground for Surrealism too. Hunter and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary in Paris and stayed at a small hotel in Montparnasse that was at the intersection where Le Dome, Le Select, La Rotonde are – three places the main surrealists used to meet every night for dinner/drinks and to share ideas. It was like a theme park for me. Yeah, I’m a geek.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
Self-inflicted wounds – dreaming of how it used to be from stories they read about the music industry in the past, expecting someone or some company to do all the work and invest all the money to make things happen for them, wanting to be famous instead of making true quality music. Making music everyone else is making because everyone else is making it. No one wants to wear someone else’s jockey shorts. Create your own jockey shorts.
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
Start young. If you’re solo, get really, really good at your chosen instrument. Then find a successful artist/band that needs what you offer. Learn the business on someone else’s dime, getting paid as a backing musician or singer. Make connections. Be excellent. Make trouble for no one. Be an asset. People will pay attention to all that because so many musicians are so messed up and hard to deal with. Opportunities to shine will come through all that. Learn to write great songs. Learn how to read contracts. Avoid drama.
If you’re a band and have someone in the band who is an emotional “weak link” or is prone to situations that deflate your confidence in the band, throw a bag over his/her head, hog tie them and leave them in the desert. Another musician either enhances you or diminishes you – anyone who tells you anything else falls into the “bag over the head” category. That said, make as many musical friends as you can and never loan a musician money.
What are your hopes for the next two years?
I hope we finally defeat the virus. Imagine back in 2019, hearing someone from the future say, “I hope the world can finally defeat the virus…” You would say (and I quote) “GOOD LORDEE !!!! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE WORLD?!?!? ARE THERE BUNKERS I CAN HIDE IN?!?!?”
As far as for my musical ambitions, I’m hoping to make a brief visit to parts of Europe soon, maybe in the next 6-12 months. I’m actively promoting “Mojave” in different countries now, seeing where there are pockets of people who might be willing to spend an hour or two hearing me celebrate my ego. Because my voice is a low register, I rehearse mainly early morning, before people wake up.
My studio used to be in an apartment, surrounded by mainly tolerant people. When I did the screaming vocal for “I Gave Her Coal”, it was 5:30 in the morning. I met new people that morning. They would not be considered “fans”.
FVMusicBlog February 2022