Interview: S.T.U.N.

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S.T.U.N.
interview by mary ellen gustafson

One of the newer Punk bands to join the WARPED Tour, have a debut album drop (on Geffen yet – nothing like bypassing smaller labels and going right to a major!) and cause ripples in the music community (they’re already listed as one of MTV’s Top Ten Bands to Watch and the album isn’t even out yet), has done a great job of making everything old seem new again – and they don’t even know they’ve done it!

The members of S.T.U.N. (Christiane J. – lead vocalist; Neil Spies – songwriter / lyricist / guitarist / vocalist; Nick S. – bassist; Bobby Alt – drummer) are described as having “ . . .the lyrical integrity of The Clash combined with . . . the fearless punk sensibilities of The Sex Pistols, empowered with . . . soundscapes of bands such as The Pixies and S.E.A. . . [and they] bring music back to its essence with volume, reason and movement. . .it’s punk circa 2003.” And that’s just in the first paragraph of their press material. I hear shades of Black Flag and Rancid myself, but when I actually talked to Christiane J. (lead vocalist and band spokesperson) his response to comparisons to these punk legends was rather surprising. “Yeah, people tell us that a lot, but I’ve never really heard any of these bands, so I’m not sure what they’re talking about. It’s cool to hear that, but we were really influenced by Jane’s Addiction.” I then asked why they chose to go in this particular musical direction, since they weren’t trying for the old school punk sound, and his reply: “That’s just the tempo it came out and it feels comfortable to us.”

Before I go on, I should make a note here. Due to circumstances beyond my control, my live interview with Christiane J. was cut short and I have to make do with what little information I was able to get from him during that time. My solution to this problem is to combine the “official” quotes from all the band members that were provided in the press materials I received with the advance of the album at the very beginning of May, with the “live” conversation I had with Christiane 06/13/03 while he was in Minneapolis, MN on tour with Dredge. I’ll do my best to blend the quotes, but the serious material presented in their press kit is SO different from guy I talked to, I think I get to present a more well rounded look at the band than I would have relying on just the live interview.

To continue the saga of S.T.U.N., which stands for “Scream Toward the Uprising of Non-Conformity,” their debut album, “Evolution Of Energy,” was created to deliver their message through both their lyrics and music. Some of the topics: “ … Government’s growing control of the globe through lies and deception, the healing power in finding your own answers, the warning of the trap of blind compliance, the cowardice and effect of judgment, and the celebration of love and chaos until equality is accomplished.” Neil Spies, guitarist and songwriter/lyricist says, “Our music is a call for unity and awareness. When I grew up, every effort was used to force me to comply with the thought process that whoever was in authority was right – and that’s rarely the truth. We’re here to prove that if you are brave enough to fight adversity for what you believe in that you will have your own message to send that will enlighten the world.”

“We’re not pushing opinions on anyone – everyone should question everything and make decisions for themselves,” Spies continues. “We feel that we have a responsibility, though. When I was a kid, music saved and taught me you can’t feel more alive than when you are part of revolution. When we talk to the kids, they really seem to be starving for a band to fight the ‘play it safe,’ fabricated passion state of the music industry right now. We are playing for them.”

Okay, even to me this all sounds pretty heavy handed, so I’m going to switch to “live” mode for a few minutes. After reading all this (and there’s plenty more), I expected to be talking to someone spouting political proclamations or anti-everything platitudes. Instead, the guy on the phone, Christiane, sounded like an excited kid on his first trip to Disneyworld who asked ME if I wanted to know what he’d been doing that day. I said sure and he proceeded to tell me about some fans they made on a previous trip through the area, when S.T.U.N. was one of the bands opening for Jane’s Addiction, that tracked him down and took him out to show him around their city. They took him to their favorite record store, to get a Falafel and to introduce him to one of their favorite local bands. He was absolutely thrilled by it all. He said he loved to listen to the kids’ stories and the Mix CDs they made and gave him and just to have a chance to meet the people. By the way, Christiane is a genuinely nice guy and so opposite of what I expected after reading the press material. This sounded promising, so I thought I’d ask about their audiences.

“The lyrics in most of your songs are very rebellious. Who is your target audience? Do you consider yourselves leaders in getting people off their butts to pay attention to what’s going on around them? His reply, “Everybody is our audience, from somebody at the mall to gutter punks to an old lady. Our lyrics are not about personal things, they’re about world type things. They relate to people in their jobs or school or just their life.”

“Then what’s your average fan like?”

“There really isn’t an average fan. There are people into the message, people that like the music and don’t have a clue about the political part, a lot of young boys and girls and then a lot of the over 30 crowd who saw us when we played with Jane’s Addiction and Bad Religion.”

“Since you’re on the second time around in many cities, has word of mouth affected the size of your audience?”

“Absolutely! We’re seeing way more people this time. We gave away a two song sampler before (with the songs “Movement” and “Annihilation Of The Generations” on it) and the people in the audience now know those songs and sing along.”

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Returning to the “official” version of the story of S.T.U.N., they were influenced equally by Jane’s Addiction, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and David Bowie. “We believe in melody, but these don’t feel like traditional melodies to me,” says singer Christiane J., understating one of the many distinctive elements of the band’s incendiary music.

The album, “Evolution Of Intensity” was produced by Sean Slade (Radiohead, Hole, The Cure) and “ . . .is a record that runs on both adrenaline and free-moving intensity.” The band itself was formed less than three years ago in L.A. around the “ . . .uncompromising music and liberating message of Spies, the group’s members found themselves experiencing a process like creative osmosis.”

“There was a chemistry between us from the moment we met,” continues Christiane J. “The Challenge was to build on that and take to the next level.”

“We played where we could and every chance we got,” says drummer Bobby Alt. “We played parties, local clubs, and eventually, record company showcases. It was a quick but natural progression, and what meant most to us was the music seemed to make an immediate connection with all different types of music fans.”

“We chose Sean Slade [as producer] because he had a real understanding of the bands that influenced us and how those influences came out in our music,” continues bassist Nick S. “Evolution Of Energy” took shape quickly and decisively. “We came in totally prepared, mentally and physically,” says Spies. “The focus was on capturing as much of the sensory overload from our live shows as we could, while still using studio technology to bring out new aspects of music. Slade allowed just the right amount of improvisation and experimenting which I think is lacking in records these days.”

“It’s chaos with a reason,” Spies continues. “It’s chaos that creates love and unity. I don’t write about myself right now. I did everything I could to write about what everyone in the world is going through and could relate to. There’s so much that I’ve learned. There’s so much I’ve come to understand, I got bruised going against the grain and not accepting things I knew were lies – but I also found a beauty and an urgency in life from it, and that’s what S.T.U.N. is about. Living in the moment.”

I decided to ask Christiane some general questions about music to get a handle on the band’s mind set in this regard and once again he totally surprised me.

“Since your band is set on going in a different direction, what bothers you about the state of music in general right now?”

“Nothing! Music is music – from a nursery rhyme to rock to metal to whatever. There does seem to be more OF a music scene now than there has been lately though.”

Moving on to another controversial (I thought) subject, I asked “What do you think about music piracy?”
“I’m all for it. Come record the live show, I don’t care. Any way you can get it for free, grab it.”

This threw me more than a little and I asked if he was kidding. “No, I’m totally serious. Music should be available to anybody that wants it any way they can get it.” O-kay!

Just for the heck of it, I asked him about places like ITunes to buy individual songs on the net and how much it cost – as in how much did he think a S.T.U.N. song was worth. First, he wasn’t aware that type of service was available, but once I explained how these services work, his reply:
“ Oh, well that’s a pretty cool idea. I honestly don’t have any idea about the money part of our music.”

I told him the cost was about 79 cents and he said “That’s cool. That seems pretty fair. I wouldn’t want it to be any more than that and probably less.”

My last question was the standard “Did I forget anything, do you have anything to add?
“Just get out and buy the record. It comes out on June 24th and CATCH OUR LIVE SHOW!!! You’ll love it! I have a reputation for getting really crazy during a performance. On stage, I’m in freefall. I’ve never jumped out of a plane without a parachute, but that’s how I would explain the feeling I get when I’m performing. I have 10 stitches in my head right now from our last performance. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I had my head down and didn’t see it coming and ran right into the tuner knob on the bass guitar.”

I just got a press release that he sent Bobby Alt to the E.R. in Boise last week after diving into the drum kit at the end of their set, causing Alt to have a deep bruise of the chest wall. Just surface blood and cuts for Christiane. He’s proud of his own battle scars.

When we wrapped things up, he emphasized once again, “You just HAVE to come to our live show! We really get crazy out there and it can’t be described. You have to see it!”

I explained I’d love to, but not in the middle of July at an outdoor venue for the WARPED Tour in Phoenix when it’s 110 degrees!