ATH Interview: Andrew Stevens
Over the last year or so, I’ve had several conversations with people in town about the community aspect of the Austin music landscape. I realize, of course, this isn’t always the most important question to ask, but it’s still a great conversation to have, especially when one considers the varying opinions. I caught up with the hard-working Andrew Stevens while he was out on tour with Jess Williamson (just one of his many projects, as you’ll see below). Read on for Andrew’s insightful comments about the way he sees things working in Austin.
ATH: Give us a little background on yourself, as a little introduction. Musical background, current projects, day job, etc.
AS: Well, I’m Andrew. I grew up in Austin. I was raised by musicians and I played in school and rock bands growing up. Over this last 5-6 years I’ve ramped up my commitment to playing and recording music and touring and im now in bands that range from strictly recording projects to bands that tour and play shows regularly. Currently I play guitar in TAFT, bass in Little Lo, and drums with Jess Williamson, Linen Closet, The Loblolly Boy, Greg Mullen and The Cosmic American Band, Jason Anderson, and Alex Napping. I also have a solo project that called Battle Bend, but I rarely play out. I’m also involved with Punctum Records as a creative manager and I co-run Accrue Cassettes with Adam Hilton from Linen Closet.
So yeah, most of these bands are ‘active’ in that we play at least one show every 2 months. I tend to play 4-10 shows a month and spend a few dozen hours recording. I’d say I make anywhere between $50 and $200 a month doing music, depending on which combination of bands I play with: most of the projects use all of the money we make at shows to put towards recording, but a few are operated by the singer songwriter and we get paid out from the door/guarantee.
Needless to say, I find it necessary to have a couple of part-time jobs year round. It is a challenge to find a job that is willing to deal with my show schedule, and it can be disheartening to bandleaders when I am unable to schedule shows due to job obligations. It’s a mess sometimes.
ATH: As of 2013, how would you rate the current music scene in Austin. A, B, etc?
AS: Austin has a truly amazing and diverse amount of talent. In truth, I see Austin as a collection of scenes/communities, and within each community, a different set of musical/economical traits, and even within those smaller networks, the scale that assigns value to these traits is impossible to define due to the fact that individuals inherently have a differing set of values from the people around them.
So in attempt to answer your question, I would give Austin an A for talent, diversity and potential for musical cross-pollination, an A for accessibility of a platform for expression, and an A for having something for everyone in terms of like-minded individuals and musicians.
The rating would immediately be dragged down though, if you start taking into account the side effects of over-saturation of the creative/economic market that exists because of our city’s excellent reputation. Ethical treatment of musicians is pretty low in the rock and pop community, as is the assigned value of our work.
ATH: What’s the biggest struggle for an artist in this city? How do you think the music fans in town can help to curb that issue?
AS: I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but my biggest struggle has been finding an acceptable balance of creative output and feeling valued as an artist, critically and financially. Some people value the assigned financial worth of their work, and some people never ask for money and are only asking for an audience. I like to think I’m right in the middle, generally. for me it’s a personal struggle, and is more focused on how the specific group of people involved in every show/session, from the booking agents to the musicians, treat the event.
In my opinion, fans just need to show up in order to spread the music around and make sure everyone gets paid in whatever form of currency they value the highest. By assigning whatever sort of value you desire to your performance/art, you advocate for yourself as a professional in a field with no pre-defined concrete value. I think people should be willing to pay $10 for a local bill and that they should be able to expect a level of performance in line with that. Free shows can be a blast for everyone involved, and the crowd can be bigger/drunker because it’s a free show, but people in Austin expect everything to be free AND awesome, because of things like sxsw, free week, and the fact that getting ‘on the list’ is so easy. Even the festivals are laughably easy to attend. In the minds of potential audience members, the norm is getting hooked up, and people balk at $5 covers, and don’t buy records, even if they’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars a month in clubs for booze.
ATH: In your opinion, what’s the biggest mistake being made by musicians in Austin? This can be in regards to releasing music, promotions, booking.
AS: Not assigning a value, intellectual or monetary, to your own art marginalizes your potential to realize your goals. Due to the fact that there are so many bands in Austin, its easy to find people willing to play shows on off nights, or the dreaded ‘4th band’ slot, for nearly no money, simply because people are looking for the opportunity to present their art. And, when there are hundreds of bands with no self assigned value playing Tuesday nights and not asking for fair pay or for the venue to promote the show effectively, you instill in the community the very characteristics that inhibit us all from having a satisfying career, regardless of whether you value money or creation or expression over all else.
ATH: What’s the biggest issue you think no one here is talking about?
AS: We often forget we have the right to ask for things from venues. You won’t be blacklisted for asking for a guarantee, a better slot or for turning down a gig because you have another one the same week. The opposite might happen: they may actually give you what you want if you live up to your end of the bargain and bring rad fans and good music to a club.
ATH: On a more light-hearted note…What do you hope to accomplish this year as a musician?
AS: This year I’m hoping to become and endorser of some drum related equipment companies to offset the expense of keeping my gear playable and relevant to my gigs. I also hope to continue making better and better music and to keep an objective viewpoint about how much work I put into something vs. how good my work actually is. I want to start making some sort of living as a musician, even if its only a quarter of what I need to make per month, so that I can actually set time aside for music, instead of constantly struggling to balance work and shows.
ATH: Best band to look out for in 2014.
AS: Milezo. They’ve been the best band to look out for for years, but they self release 2-3 records a year and they keep getting better. I’m also excited about RF Shannon, who also back up Jess Williamson with me. They are amazing.