The vulnerability you show as an artist should be a bridge that listeners can reach you by… If you can stand in front of the world and admit to your own powerlessness, it’s like a baptism in a way.Joe Stevens
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite a number of contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Joe Stevens of Peel Dream Magazine, a rock band based in New York. In our interview, Stevens tells me how his band’s music is a means of exploration for him, what standards he judges himself by as an artist, and which emerging artists he thinks are due more attention.
Are you guided by any essential philosophy in your creative expression?
That’s an interesting question. My creative philosophy changes from album to album as I drift in and out of phases, and that’s kind of the point for me. I guess maybe my essential philosophy is to just try and keep things fresh for myself – to isolate one general idea that feels exciting to me and drive it home as much as possible. I also try not to be a complete tool, to not seek “going viral” or being too cheeky. That has been a guiding thing for me with this band.
In what way is your music a means of reflection or exploration for you?
Hm. I don’t typically use my music creation as a vehicle for much lyrical exploration. Lyrics are important to me, but the stuff I’m most passionate about reflecting on or exploring is always melodic and aesthetical in nature. There’s a lot of importance to me in my songs as compositions, stuff that is incommunicable in a forum such as this. But the music is like a life force for me.
Maybe not the musical style always, but the songs themselves, they are extensions of myself. I’ve tried in the past to be this really deep lyricist but it never actually felt like I was exploring anything substantive in that regard. I kind of settled on this more simplistic approach to lyrics, although the new stuff I’m working on does get more personal than the Agitprop Alterna stuff.
What does it mean to you to be vulnerable as an artist?
I think it’s important to be vulnerable as an artist because it means you’re putting yourself out there. If you’re closed off or afraid of what everyone will think, then you become that band that puts out one album every 5 years and it sounds exactly like it’s supposed to, etc etc.
The vulnerability you show as an artist should be a bridge that listeners can reach you by. I didn’t always think that, but it’s something I’ve been ruminating on lately. If you can stand in front of the world and admit to your own powerlessness, it’s like a baptism in a way.
By what standards do you judge yourself as a musician?
I judge myself by whether I’m keeping something fresh. Like, “does the world need to hear this”? Agitprop Alterna was panned by many as being trite indie pop-redux, but even that record felt fresh for me at the time, and that’s what matters to me.
I don’t care at all about musicianship, like how well someone can play an instrument, and I don’t care much about singing well/being a powerful entertainer. I care about this very simple thing – does my 3 minute pop song feel unique and powerful to me in it’s own way right now?
Who are some emerging artists you think we should be paying more attention to?
Hm I’m honestly not so up on the emerging scene these days because I’ve become so insular during covid, which is probably really bad! But I have some friends in new bands that are excellent – Dummy are here in LA, they’re very exciting connoisseurs of loud experimental pop. Le Pain is another – a new band that has a really fresh take on melodic, smart indie pop.
Winter is a super talented retro dream pop songstress. My buddies Lunarette in NY as well – electronic-tinged Britpop vibes. I would also direct readers to a number of Chicago bands like Dehd, Deeper, and Cafe Racer, as well as the Born Yesterday imprint there.
If there were a piece of music that emulated your current experience of the world, what might it sound like?
Despite it being a global pandemic etc. I’ve personally been in a very expansive place personally. I left NY and I’ve kinda started a new life on the west coast, so despite all of the terrible things going on globally, there’s been some silver lining. If there’s a piece of music that emulates that feeling it could be Here Come the Rattling Trees by the High Llamas. It’s very “Flintstones” and wondrous. I associate it with Los Angeles, driving around going to Home Depot or something. It’s the midcentury orchestral pop wave that I’ve been on for some time. It definitely informs the new stuff I’m working on, which is more in the baroque pop realm.
Listen to more of Peel Dream Magazine’s work and keep up to date with upcoming shows: Bandcamp