[singlepic id=156 w=320 h=240 float=right]TIM STEWARD has released debut albums under local outfits Screamfeeder and The Whats as well as under his own name. MATT O’NEILL speaks to the Brisbane veteran about his latest band WE ALL WANT TO’s eponymous debut album.
“I guess it does feel the same way each time,” the singer-songwriter considers of releasing his fourth debut. “It’s always something of an open slate and anything can happen from it. That said, releasing the second or third album is always better because you have something to fall back on and you have a foundation. I actually won’t investigate a band until they a couple of albums under their belt.”
Until recently, Brisbane could easily have been described as the quintessential indie city. There have been few major musical communities throughout popular music’s development which have so consistently and naturally embodied the ideals championed by the original glut of independent labels of the 80s as did the Brisbane scene of the 90s and early-noughties.
Whereas most musical cultures are defined by the struggle for mainstream success and financial security, Brisbane has consistently been home to a significant contingent of accomplished and ambitious artists for whom mainstream success and financial security have never been anything other than unlooked-for possibilities in musical careers driven almost solely by passion.
Tim Steward is very much a product of this culture. The songwriter has been a vital component of the city’s musical culture since the early 90s with acclaimed ensembles like Screamfeeder and The Whats – but, Screamfeeder’s minor mid-90s dalliance with an overseas label aside, Steward has yet to so much as pursue anything even resembling mainstream success.
“You know, as long as I’m in a band with people I like and we can make good music, then it’s mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. This is what I do now and I’ve been doing it for such a long time so, if I can enjoy it, then I’m doing fine,” Steward reflects. “The fact that I’m still here is an accomplishment in and of itself.
“I don’t actually know of many musicians who have been doing this as long as I have,” the songwriter continues. “Back, say ten or 15 years ago, you were always so caught up in the moment that there was very little consideration given to your musical future but, since then, I’ve come to realise that this is what I do and I’m very grateful for that to be the case.”
The clue is in the graceful sense of whimsy that decorates the musician’s career. Quiet and articulate, Steward is not the kind of musician to spruik hyperbolic statements of rebellion and independence but, throughout the man’s lengthy career, there’s been a perpetual, almost lackadaisical, disregard for authority and convention.
If in need of evidence, one need look no further than the career of Steward’s most celebrated outfit Screamfeeder. One of Brisbane’s most enduring acts, Screamfeeder’s career has spanned six albums and nearly 20 years – during which time the band have delighted in confounding expectations through style shifts, hiatuses, reunion tours and spontaneous side-projects.
“I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Screamfeeder were always this rudderless ship,” Steward laughs. “We didn’t have any master plan or any massive guidance from outside so we always just did our own thing. We made some mistakes and pulled out some musical wildcards but the fans of the band have been very loyal over the years. We’ve never copped any shit for anything we’ve done.
“We haven’t broken up, though – but we’ve all been a bit lazy and a bit busy,” the guitarist qualifies. “We’re doing this bizarre thing of being in bands with other people. It’s like when you’re in a relationship and you suggest an open relationship. It’s all a bit weird for a while before everything sorts out. We may do something together again sometime but, for now, there isn’t a pressing need.”
It is this whimsical rebellion that makes Steward such a compelling artist. There is the genuine sense, throughout the entirety of his creative output, that the man operates completely without agenda – merely leaping from project to project and song to song as his muse requires. Steward-led two-piece The Whats, for example, was formed purely because Screamfeeder booked a gig they could not play.
“I don’t feel any obligation to do something new with any of my projects. It’s the birth of something new that usually leads to a project’s formation,” Steward explains. “I’ve pretty much always been a prolific songwriter. I’ve never had any years where I haven’t written any songs. I’ve always had enough to put out as many albums as I like.”
We All Want To, meanwhile, is perhaps the greatest example of Steward’s favourably-dispositioned anarchy one is likely to find throughout his entire career. Originally brought together as the backing band for Steward’s solo work, the band spontaneously evolved into a different project upon formation and are currently on the cusp of releasing their eponymous debut album.
“The band was originally put together to play my solo album live but, after we started writing new songs, we decided the band had really turned a corner,” Steward explains. “We actually took about six months to name the band. We had all these horrible meetings and, at one of them, my daughter misheard someone and went ‘We All Want To?’ and I went – ‘Yep; that’s the name’.
“Life in We All Want To is pretty exciting at the moment. We’re finally releasing the album and we’ve already got the majority of songs written and ready for the next one. We just took forever over recording this one – we did it in a lot of small sessions and that cost a lot of money – and, as a result, it’s full of songs with an age-range anywhere from one- to four-years-old.
“It’s actually been quite interesting, though,” Steward enthuses. “There’s always that thing when you record an album where, by the time you hold it in your hands, you’ve heard every song on it about a thousand times and you really don’t actually want to listen to it but, with that separation, I can actually go back and listen to it with a fresh set of ears and really appreciate it.”
The band’s music demonstrates the beauty of Steward’s unpretentious approaches as an artist – shimmering, clean-picked guitars punctuated by the occasional kiss of distortion and leftfield detour while Steward’s idiosyncratic, quasi-androgynous voice coasts effortlessly over the cacophony. There’s a youthful exuberance to the record that belies the age and experience of its members.
“I’m not really affected by Screamfeeder when I’m working on other material,” Steward explains. “The only problem I have is when I spend three hours writing a song before I realise that it’s a song I wrote on a Screamfeeder album back in 1999 and have to start all over again. I guess the big difference is that, with Screamfeeder, it was always about a great big dirty guitar sound.
“When we started working as We All Want To, though, I quite specifically wanted to work with cleaner guitar sounds and have people hear the individual notes and strums,” Steward explains. “And, by and large, we’ve maintained that on the record. There’s some distortion on the record but, for the most part, it’s a very different sound.”
WHO: We All Want To
WHAT: We All Want To (Plus One Records)
WHERE & WHEN: The Troubadour Friday Oct 15