Melodic-hardcore band Stepson are five boys hailing from Brisbane, and they’ve combined a true melting pot of influences into their music.
The group have developed their sound across three EPs, and have also toured rigorously with acts including Canadian hardcore heavyweights Counterparts, British metalcore band While She Sleeps, and Sydney-based group Hellions. 2020 was a big year for the guys, with the quintet being the first Australian band to sign to SharpTone Records.
Stepson are now gearing up for the release of their debut album, Help Me, Help You, out this Friday, March 26 (our review here) after originally being set for July last year. It’s a testament to the band battling through the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, and their commitment to releasing the record in its best form.
In our original chat, bassist/vocalist Jayden Ridley and guitarist Nick Bennett sat down in a Darlinghurst café to chat all about the band’s new album, their connection to Hellions and what touring in Australia realistically looks like. Since then, the five-piece have also reflected on having SharpTone in their corner, having to push back the record release and their recent music video for new single, ‘Deeper Sleep’.
It’s been over a year now since you guys signed to SharpTone Records. How would you reflect on your journey with them so far?
“It’s been awesome so far! They’ve been so supportive of us through the pandemic and have been really patient with us. We cancelled and postponed the album like three times due to uncertainties with COVID-19, not being able to get together to finish music videos. It definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing, but they’ve always remained in our corner of the ring, so we hope we can repay the faith by smashing this album! SharpTone has such a stellar roster and we’re stoked to be part of the family with some of the best bands in the scene. SharpTone on top, baby!”
At what point did you decide you had to push the record back, and what kinds of changes did you end up making to it, if any?
“We released ‘Run‘ the day before the Australia-wide lockdown came into effect. It was all a wait-and-see game for a while because there was no clear indication of how long this would last… two weeks, two months? Who knew!
Thankfully, SharpTone told us early in the piece that production of CDs, vinyl etcetera had ceased and that they wouldn’t be ready for our release date. At that point, we hadn’t actually announced a release date, so we made the tough call to postpone it. It didn’t feel right with our debut album – that we poured so much of ourselves into – to just throw it up on streaming services and be like ‘Yo here it is, grab a CD in maybe a year?’. Imagine writing a book and you say, ‘Hey you can get it on fucking Kindle and maybe a physical book in a year or something’.
“It just didn’t feel like it did our record the service it deserved. In hindsight, we’re glad we pushed it back as much as we didn’t want to and we hope fans will think it’s been worth the wait!”
You recently released a music clip for the lead single on the album, ‘Deeper Sleep’. With the song being about the lingering trauma from an abusive relationship, how did you go about conveying that in the video? Did it come together the way you expected it to?
“The video concept had to be stripped back a fair bit due to limitations with Covid. Members living across three different states with hard border closures definitely made it tricky, so we had to adapt and make do with our circumstances. You’ll notice all the band member shots were individual and it was actually shot by three different people in three different locations, and we did our best to make it all sync up. We had the idea of how anxiety can eat away at you and often causes you to project that onto others, we wanted the dancing to be really flow-y and natural, but then suddenly break and become disjointed to emphasise how much the mind can rule the body when you’re thinking like this. The masquerade theme was to instil that these feelings can come from anywhere and show that it isn’t really who you are, yet how you can become ‘your worst enemy’ and push away those trying to help.”
So I had a listen to the new record, and it’s really cohesive even though there’s a lot going on! It feels like a real mesh of different styles. Tell me how that melting pot of sounds came to be.
Nick: “I feel like over the first three releases we had, we were trying to start branching out into some dark pop stuff, so that when it came time to do the album, we had more licence to do whatever we wanted on it. Brock Conry [vocals] is into a lot of that dark pop stuff, and we all listen to a lot of Balance and Composure. Rob Suthern [guitar] is more into his hardcore and metal stuff.
“I feel like it’s a mix of the main songwriters, being me and Brock… It’s just something we’ve worked on overtime, for example developing Jayden’s voice so we can put more singing into it.”
It’s interesting to reflect on how artists write songs, because it’s different for everyone, right? Some people build them around the vocals and others put the instrumentals first.
Nick: “We’ve always written in a very weird way. With this album, it was more me and Rob sitting there with Guitar Pro open, writing stuff, laying it down and adding to it. With every other release, it was me going in with one chorus and then making up everything on the day, and then we didn’t change it. We were like, ‘Right, that’s the EP’. It was crazy.”
Jayden: “We’d just heard too many debut albums which to us sounded the same. You listen to it and go, ‘Did I just listen to three songs and then the same three again?’.
Let’s talk more about Help Me, Help You. I heard a few progressive elements on it as well, which is really interesting.
Jayden: “We definitely went into it wanting it to be a mixed bag. When we recorded all the music and listened to it from start to finish, we were like, ‘Maybe this is too all over the place and people won’t get it’.
Nick: “That’s why it’s important we did that three-track EP [The Beautiful Lie, released in 2016], so that we could do some more weird stuff. There are two songs right in the middle that are full pop, and then the song after that’s pretty R&B-ish. I’ve being saying that if you show the album to everyone in the world, you could hate 10 songs but you’ll at least like one, because there’s R&B, pop, punk and everything in between.”
It’s this really cool mesh! Hellions do a similar thing with hip hop.
Nick: “Hellions are sick too! They were definitely one of the bands that – when they were starting out – I was frothing. They write a lot of cool stuff with chords and octaves, which we do a lot of as well… I’d say they were one of our main influences when we first started.”
Now let’s talk about touring. Being out on the road with other bands, especially in your local scene, you get a feel for what the community in every state’s like, right? Each one’s different.
Nick: “For sure! The Brisbane crowds are different to the Sydney crowds, and Perth’s a different story. We haven’t done Perth in a while”.
Jayden: “We’ll come back after the album’s out. We’ve explored the options, and it just costs so much money to get there.”
Nick: “Let’s use this opportunity to explain to people why you can’t just go to Perth every time. It pisses me off when people complain and the band will cop the flak for it. If anyone’s booked a flight before, they would know that they’re expensive. Imagine trying to book five people return flights and make money… When you’re a band of our size, it’s so hard logistically, you have to get two shows [in that state] to make it worthwhile.”
Jayden: “In the music scene, everything’s a risk. So you just shoot to break even… The east coast shows pay for Perth, and you still risk going backwards in money. It’s hard. All five of us still work day jobs to keep this going, and they’re not career-building ones. Brock’s very lucky – he’s a tattoo artist, and he’s incredible at what he does. The rest of us just work jobs that won’t fire us for going on tour and sometime’s even that’s a bit sketchy (laughs).”
“I’ve always been super critical of any music my name’s ever been attached to. Even with songs that are good, I’m always thinking about things, thinking, ‘I could’ve probably done that better’. This album’s the first time I feel like I’ve listened back and been really stoked with it. It all comes in waves, though. I’ll go through two weeks of crippling self-doubt, and then I won’t listen to it for a little bit. Then I listen to it and I go, ‘This slaps. This should do well’.”
Nick: “As weird as this sounds, we are my favourite band. I listen to our album every day – I brush my teeth to it (laughs).”
Yeah! I think that’s how you can get a sense of whether an album is actually good, if you feel rejuvenated listening to it.
Nick: “We listened to it over and over again, and you have the danger of one song being a skull drag, and you think, ‘Okay, maybe that song’s not as good as we thought’. I haven’t had any of those moments yet. I know Brock hates one song on it, ‘The Shift, The Blur’, because he hates the lyrics. I really like it though for dynamic, because it’s the only song with a classic Stepson clean bit…
“Our first two EPs had some pretty standard melodic hardcore chord structures, whereas every song on this album has a different root note, chord progression or key. Nothing really doubles up, and that’s one of my favourite things about it.”
I found listening to the new record that you really get the feel for why one track’s shorter or longer than another. It’s got good pace.
Nick: “Yeah! Even though Brock doesn’t really like ‘The Shift, The Blur’, that song was very specifically there. With the last song ‘Say Something’, it just had that anthemic feel, and the way the outro comes in is a really cool way to end the album. But the reason I wanted to put ‘The Shift, The Blur’ second last is because it’s kind of in two parts. It’s got the real balls-to-the-wall breakdown riffs, but then it goes to a swing-y 6/8 clean bit. I remember the first time I heard Tragedy Will Find Us by Counterparts (we were on tour and I was listening to it with my eyes closed), I thought ‘Drown’ was the last song because it had that vibe to it. All of a sudden, another song came in. I was like, ‘I want to do that’, where the 10th song feels like the last one.”
Jayden: “I feel like compared to all of our previous releases, this one was a lot better thought out. Everything on there is quite deliberate, rather than a fluke in the studio… We spent so long on the tracklisting. There were so many different drafts and arguments, but I feel like we nailed it in the end.”
Nick: “On our headline tour the year before last year, one night we were in Melbourne, and it was our job to name the songs. So we came up with the tracklist, and I’ve just gone to the guys, ‘What if we make a fake tracklist with fake names to tell Rob, just to see if he’s a pushover and settles for it?’. It was the funniest thing ever, coming up with all the names.”
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Interview by Genevieve Gao
Help Me, Help You is out Friday, March 26th via SharpTone Records
Stepson – Help Me, Help You tracklisting
1. Learning To Let Go
3. Deeper Sleep
4. Who Are We
5. The Entire History Of You
6. I Wish
8. Come With Me
9. Hush ft. Zach Britt
10. The Shift, The Blur
11. Say Something