Interview: Stove

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Steve and Boner of Stove on the road. Photo by Steve Hartlett

Steve and Boner of Stove on the road. Photo by Steve Hartlett.

Steve Hartlett, formerly of Ovlov, began his first tour with new project, Stove, about a week ago.  After playing the Subterranean in Chicago with label-mates Dirty Dishes, we talked with Steve and his friend and bandmate, Boner, about their upcoming album, Is Stupider, the transition between bands, and the scene surrounding their label, Exploding In Sound.

Is Stupider is available for preorder at the Exploding In Sound bandcamp, and is due for release November 20th.

Tyler Durgan (Nahhhhh): The word “stupid” is a very apparent thematic choice on this record. What are you going for with that?

Steve Hartlett (guitar, vocals): It’s pretty ridiculous. I’m trying to embrace stupidity all over. There are a lot of people acting like they’re smarter than they are in the world. Most importantly, it’s a funny concept thing: “stupider” is what the rest of the Universe calls the Earth, but Earth just calls itself Earth because we don’t know where the rest of the Universe is. It’s a play on words.

TD: Is that a sense of humility, then?

SH: Yeah. It’s a means of finding inspiration in humility. The United States is to the rest of the world is to the rest of the Universe.

TD: As Stove is to Ovlov?

SH: Stove is just Steve and Ovlov combined as one word. That’s all it is, really.

Eric Holmes (Nahhhhh): Is the name a reference to drug-use at all?

SH: It’s whatever you want it to be. I was going to call it “Steve,” but I was like, “alright, that’s too ridiculous.” There’s a Lemonheads song called “Stove” which is one of my favorite songs of all time, so that’s part of it.

EH: Do you feel bound by Ovlov? You played a couple older songs and it seems like a lot of people came out for the Stove show because it’s basically Ovlov.

SH: I wanted it to seem like Stove was the next step for Ovlov, but not let it be Ovlov. There were so many other people involved with Ovlov, helping it become a thing, it was really unfair to them to keep doing it without them. That was a long-running problem in Ovlov since the moment we started. I wanted to be able to start from scratch and treat it like a real band. I wanted to fix all the problems and mistakes I made with Ovlov.

TD: As far as the relationship between Ovlov and Stove goes, the popularity of Ovlov and the final record, Am, there was already a lot of support for Stove before you’d even put out a single.

SH: Exactly. It was kind of unfair. It’s still the same intentions as Ovlov for me personally. It’s not Ovlov, but it is. It’s so hard for me to explain what I’m trying to say.

TD: What do you think it was about Ovlov and Am that resonated with people and compelled them to support Stove from so early on?

Mike “Boner” Hammond (guitar): Some of the Stove songs were Ovlov songs.

SH: Exactly. A lot of the Stove stuff we were playing in Ovlov before. I didn’t really know what I was doing when we recorded Am. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a record, or a couple EPs. We just recorded what we had. It turned out to be perfect for a full-length, so we turned it into a full-length. Things went from zero to one hundred. Overnight, things went from people not giving a shit to people I’d never met before knowing who I am because of Ovlov and Am. I have no idea what I did. I think it was an accident. This was not intentional.

TD: When you were starting Stove, did you anticipate a chunk of the following you had amassed as Ovlov to follow you to this project?

SH: I was hoping for that. At the same time, I wanted people to take it as a different thing. I definitely milked it a little bit as far as framing Stove as the next step for Ovlov.

Connor The Landlord: Stove is really just the fat cut out of Ovlov. Every time Ovlov played in Connecticut, there was a different lineup.

SH: I wanted to stop creating problems for people who were giving me a lot of their time and dedication by being a part of Ovlov. I wasn’t able to reciprocate. There was a lot of alcohol and that skewed what I actually wanted to do.

TD: So if Stove was an attempt to trim the fat from Ovlov, do you view Stove as a more individual venture? Is Stove a solo project?

SH: Initially, yes. I was very impatient after Ovlov broke up. I just wanted to get the new stuff recorded. When I went to record Is Stupider, I had no idea if I’d even play shows with it. Who knows if I get hit by a car tomorrow or something? I need to get everything out there. Then I realized I really liked playing this stuff and thought, “hey, I could actually make a band out of this.” It’s only going to be a solo thing for so long. When we go home, we already have a set lineup. There’s another album written that we’ll start working on once we get back. I’m trying to learn from everything I did wrong with Ovlov, and do it right with Stove this time around.

EH: Going forward, will you keep the Stove moniker?

SH: Absolutely. It’s kind of worked itself out. Ovlov breaking up weeded out a lot of people that weren’t truly invested in it. The band made itself out of people who were already helping us. It slowly developed itself.

TD: Now that people know who you are, as you mentioned earlier, is there a sense of celebrity? Is there a pressure to be a certain person and be Steve Hartlett, the guy from Ovlov?

SH: Okay, so there’s maybe one person in each state that thinks of me that way. Then they talk to me for about ten minutes and they’re like, “oh.”

BH: And then there are people like us, who are like, “ah, fuckin’ Steve.”

SH: Yeah, exactly. It’s really nice having old friends at shows like this because then I can just relax and be myself.

CTL: That’s such a thing for so many of the Exploding In Sound bands, though. It’s a really camaraderous scene.

BH: A lot of the people who are superfans and think Steve is something end up becoming really good friends of ours. They like us and they’re nice, we become friends, and then we see them again 8 months later when we’re back on tour.

TD: There’s a line in “Wet Food” where you go, “Steve, where’d you go?” Can you tell me what you were getting at with that? Is that a response to the superfans in some regard?

SH: I’ll just say, right off the bat, it’s not what you think. I had a cat named Steve. The “Steve” in that line isn’t me, it’s Steve, Jr.

CTL: You wrote another fucking song about that?

SH: “The Well” is about the same cat, the same thing that happened. The cat’s a piece of shit. He disappeared for a month. I mourned his death. But the whole time, he was just down the street at a neighbor’s house, eating better food that I couldn’t afford. He sucks. Fuck him. When they go on vacation, he comes crawling back.

BH: So what the fans are really wondering is, how are things between Steve and Steve, Jr.?

SH: It’s kind of like if I had a son who was all, “fuck you, dad! I’m doing it on my own now.”

CTL: His stepdad can afford appetizers.

SH: [Pulling two dime bags out of his pocket] Does anyone have a bowl for this? Any sort of paraphernalia?

BH: That should be title of this interview: Does Anyone Have A Bowl For This?

TD: How involved is weed in your creative process?

SH: I wouldn’t say it’s part of the process. Boner and I just smoke weed from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, so that’s part of our lifestyle. I don’t have to get stoned to write something – I have to get stoned to live life.

EH: So, it seems like Exploding In Sound is a pretty tight-knit scene.

SH: It is and it isn’t. Just about all the bands Dan [Goldin, co-founder of Exploding In Sound Records] has put out and worked with, including us, were all good friends and knew each other pretty well before he started the label. Dan was already in all the bands, given how much he cared about them, and he invested in all of us. I can’t really tell you where we’d all be without that. It’s comforting.

EH: Do you feel like all the bands inform one another’s sound?

SH: Definitely. When we all first met, we all had our own thing. Not that we all sound the same now, but we have learned a lot from each other along the way.

BH: When we were first starting with Exploding In Sound, the bands on the label became the only bands I listened to for the next eight to ten months.

SH: Because we were friends with them, we genuinely loved the music. And that’s really how we became friends, because we loved their music first.

TD: I’m getting the impression that you don’t view Stove as a big deal within the scene, or among Exploding In Sound acts or whatever.

SH: No, definitely not.

TD: Did you see Ovlov in that way?

SH: At times. It depended on where we were, what shows we were playing, who we were playing with. Little things like coming to Chicago for the first time and meeting people who had already heard the record. That stuff really puts it all into perspective. For a while, even after Am came out, it still kind of felt like the majority, if not all, the people listening were people I had met previously. It was hard to judge whether the people liking it were biased or not. Meeting total strangers who were already familiar with the album, it kind of hit me, like, “whoa, this is something real.”

TD: It lends some objective credibility.

SH: There’s no sense of celebrity, as you phrased it before. There’s no sense of self-importance, other than the feeling that this is all that I can do and all that I love doing. I’m very cynical. I try to keep myself modest. I hate people with big heads. I don’t ever want to have a big head. Call it the Dave Grohl syndrome – everyone around you is constantly reaffirming you, telling you how great you are, and that doesn’t do good for anybody. If they’re overly validated, people slack off. Personally, I feel like I need to impress every time I write a song.

TD: Like you’re starting from square one?

SH: I wouldn’t say square one. If I met myself when I was 14 right now, he’d be like, “you’re doing it! Good job! Thank you!” This is everything I dreamt of doing, but anything more than this starts to seem weird. As soon as the dollar is involved, all intentions change within yourself. I’ve just been trying to revert back to before any of that ever happened. There are times when I’m writing and I’ll tell myself, you know, “this isn’t as good as the Ovlov stuff” or “this isn’t single-worthy.” I have to constantly remind myself that if I like it, that should be enough. If the friends I’m playing the songs with like it, that’s way more than enough.

TD: That kind of sounds like the feeling Drake describes in “From Time” – “I want to take it back to when I was that kid in the basement.”

SH: Oh, shit. Hell yes, dude. That’s brilliant and perfect. That sums it up. Thank you, Drake.

TD: What do you think it was about Ovlov and Am that got people excited enough to follow Stove before you had put out a single? Is there some element you can identify in the music that people relate to enough to come out to shows like this?

SH: I think a big part of it is the fact that it’s an Exploding In Sound release. That helps a lot. We’ve met a lot of people along the way who didn’t know that Stove and Ovlov were connected. That was very cool and reassuring to hear. Before this album came out, I was constantly worried that everyone would compare it to Ovlov and realize it’s not Ovlov. I did everything I could to avoid the comparison while also making sure the people who were interested in Ovlov knew about Stove. That’s kind of what I mean when I say Stove is the next step for Ovlov, but it’s not Ovlov.

TD: How do you see Stove as different from Ovlov?

BH: I play guitar now.

SH: Boner plays guitar now. For me, when I was writing songs before, if something sounded too light or flowery, as I would put it, I would avoid that because I was trying to have some sort of edge or whatever. With this Stove record, it was like I didn’t have to sound like whatever band I was obsessed with at the time. I’m just writing songs I like. I was very obsessed with Dinosaur, Jr. and The Pixies when I was doing Ovlov. All those bands taught me a lot, but it only ever got compared to that. That was my own fault. I was pretty blatantly going for that.

EH: When you’re writing, where do you start from?

SH: It’s either a vocal melody, and I’ll go off of that, or it’s just fucking around on a guitar and building around that. I’ve always had a big problem starting with words. I feel like I don’t put much thought into it while I’m writing the words and then afterwards I realize that I said something I didn’t mean to but I really like. It’s always different, but it’s mostly noodling around until something sounds good to me.

EH: I noticed you only used a couple pedals for the show tonight.

SH: I left one of the most important things in my life at the bar we played at last night: it’s a RAT Distortion pedal, built by the guitarist from Built to Spill and given to me as a gift by Disco Doom because I played drums in Disco Doom for a while. It’s sitting in Michigan right now and I’m freaking out. I could have left my fucking guitar there and I wouldn’t have given a shit, but it’s got a lot of sentimental value. And it’s also the best distortion pedal I’ve ever used. That’s all I’ve been using for Stove – distortion and clean. With Ovlov, there was distortion, delay, and a Big Muff for boost. It got to be too much. All we did with Ovlov was crank it, and it got to be too loud. It was fun to do that, but I’m trying to make things sound good with this.

BH: Ben Grigg, the guitarist from Geronimo!, he made three different pedals that I use when I play live. Steve used one of them for Is Stupider. There are two different RATs on the record, actually, one built by the Built to Spill dude and another built by Ben.

SH: Same circuitry, but they sound totally different.

BH: One’s brighter, one’s darker and heavier. They’re both clones of the original RAT Distortion. So there’s that, there’s a fuzz pedal, and there’s a fun delay pedal that Ben was so kind to build for me.

SH: He can build us any kind of pedal we want for 40 dollars. He just loves doing it. It’s the cost of parts pretty much.

TD: Where do you see Stove going from here? What’s the size or scope of your goals?

SH: Japan. That’s mine and Boner’s goal. We just want to go to Japan. I’m obviously just joking, there’s a little more to it, but that’s the only goal that comes to mind.

BH: As Ovlov, we never even made it to the west coast. Chicago is really the furthest we’ve ever been on tour. It would be amazing to go over there and do the Stove stuff, do the Ovlov stuff – just a lot fun for everyone, I think.

SH: To play for as many people who genuinely care about this as possible. I would ideally like to know everyone that likes Stove personally. That’s probably unrealistic, but I know the way that I feel when I hear something I really love and I want to get to know the person that creates it. It totally changes the music once you do know that, so that’s another reassurance thing – if they still like my music after meeting me, it’s a plus.



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