Everyone had an unconventional go of it back in 2020 but Joe Stevens, from the psychedelic dream pop act Peel Dream Magazine, did it his own way.
Stevens began his new album Pad, which just came out on Oct. 7, by way of Slumberland Records. While that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, moving across the country was when he made the trek from New York City to his current city of Los Angeles that summer. That unconventionality and what comes with it is an underlying theme of his latest release. Stevens will be playing a few songs from it on Wednesday at the State House in New Haven on November 2.
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Stevens and I talked about the making of Pad, recording and producing it all from home, getting involved with the Los Angeles music scene, his side gig in advertising and what he hopes people take from the album after listening to it.
RD: Pad has an introspective concept interwoven within the music about a person losing themselves when all they have is themselves. Did the height of the COVID pandemic and the isolation that came with it contribute to this concept or was it something else?
JS: It was definitely in large part inspired by the pandemic. At its inception, I started writing songs about that theme of isolation but not directly about COVID per say. As I wrote more songs, it coalesced into a concept more or less but it wasn’t something that I set out to do, it was more of a theme that I nudged into a concept over time as I was building it.
RD: With this concept encompassing the album, how was the experience making Pad in its entirety? Did you handle all of the writing, recording and production yourself?
JS: I did it all myself at home. I recorded the album over a long period of time, it took around a year and a half starting in March of 2020 all through that year and then I moved to Los Angeles the following August to continue working on it there. I’m a home recordist so I’m always writing songs, recording at home and stuff. Over time, I decided to do more and more of it myself just because I find it hard to work with other people and it can be hard to get it to sound exactly how I want it to.
RD: Before you moved to Los Angeles, you were living in New York City, right?
RD: How has it been living in L.A. versus living in the Big Apple over these past two years?
JS: It’s really different. I was really sick of New York, I lived there for 10 years and I still love parts of the city so I kind of have mixed feelings about it I guess. I was really ready for a change for a long time and I feel like I have a better sense of the music scene in L.A. than I did in New York. I’ve met a lot of great musicians there who play a lot of music that inspires me and stuff. It’s funny because I had written Pad mostly in New York but once I had moved to L.A. I think there was an influence on the sound when it came to the vibe or something.
RD: New York City is always known for the hustle and bustle and things being very fast-paced, so with living in L.A. do you find the city to be a bit more relaxed? Are people more chilled out?
JS: Yeah, I think so. I think people in L.A. are a lot cooler, a lot nicer and more normal than people in New York. It’s hard to place why but they’re just better adjusted people, the experience of feeling that more relaxed vibe and living a more normal life is a bit shocking in a good way. It’s definitely more relaxed.
RD: It must be refreshing in a sense.
JS: Yeah, it is.
RD: Along with this music project, you also compose advertisement scores as a side gig. How did you get into that profession and does it take any adjustment for you when it comes to making music for a commercial versus writing a song for Peel Dream Magazine?
JS: It depends, I think at its basic level it’s kind of the same. Anytime I write anything, I approach it as I’m accessing a part of my brain that keeps things very simple. I like to play around with melody, chords and stuff like that. All the freelance work I’ve ever done is sort of song-based so I can still use the same muscles that I use for Peel Dream Magazine. To me, Peel Dream Magazine is an ongoing artistic statement so I think about what I’ve done, what I am doing and what I want to do next.
All of that forms this jumble of decision making about what kind of instruments I want to use or what kind of influences I want to use. There’s an intimate, personal passion element to the stuff that I write and it’s very mysterious, it comes to me in batches and I jot it down as fast as I can. When I’m doing advertising stuff or any custom music, it’s a lot more cut and dry. For example, I’ll need to make something that sounds like a Western in two hours and I have a harmonica so I’ll put it in there. It’s more about playing, it doesn’t have the personal weight of my own music.
RD: With the advertisements it seems like you’re following an aesthetic or a motif that’s already planned out for you while with Peel Dream Magazine you’re dealing with your own imagination.
JS: Yeah, but I guess part of my point is that there is a curated part of Peel Dream Magazine too where I don’t just do whatever I want. I have specific things that I’m trying to do and I think vice versa with advertising it’s not as cut and dry as it seems. I think I still pour a lot of my kind of random, frivolous musicality into it as well.
RD: Pad has only been out for a few weeks so far, so what do you hope people take from the album after they listen to it if they haven’t listened to it already?
JS: I guess I want people to listen to it and absorb it to some degree as an album of music in an open-minded way. It’s not a rock album, it’s a pop record but it’s not like archetypal pop. I think the thing I’m hoping for is that people approach it with a blank slate, just appreciate it for what it is and not measure it up to the vibe or tempo of my previous music or albums some of my peers are making. It’s a weird record and it requires a little bit more of an open mind.