by Alex Teitz
Howling Bells had 4 albums between 2005 and 2014 and attracted international attention. Formed by siblings Juanita and Joel Stein, they had a country goth flavor. Their last album was Heartstrings in 2014.
Now Juanita Stein is releasing her solo album America on Nude Records. America is inspired by the darker heart of America found in depression era photos, to the music of Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline mixed with idealism of the 50’s. In making this album, Stein worked with Gus Seyffert who recently worked with Haim and Michelle Branch on their albums. FEMMUSIC was honored to interview Stein. For info visit http://www.juanitastein.com/
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
JS: Sporadic, highly inspirational. I’ve never approached song writing with a work horse mentality. I need to be struck with a melody or lyrical idea to carve something out.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making America?
JS: I suppose distinguishing myself and my music from the band I was in for so long. Finding my own voice.
FEMMUSIC: Were there any experiences that stood out in the studio making the album?
JS: Being in the vocal booth and doing that first vocal take of Cold Comfort, hearing the sublime country stylings of guitar legend Smokey Hormel. That felt pretty special, like i was doing something I’d truly always dreamed of doing. Listening back to Black Winds for the first time stands out to me, it gave me goosebumps!
FEMMUSIC: Why did you choose Gus Seyffert as producer? How did you meet? How was he to work with?
JS: We were connected through mutual friends. He’s a wonderful musician, his playing is sensitive and intuitive and he was completely locked into the type of record and sound I wanted/needed to make.
FEMMUSIC: Why did you sign with Nude Records for this release?
JS: Nude were completely committed to the record from day 1. I feel like they get what kind of artist I am and want to be and that counts for everything.
FEMMUSIC: I love the theme of the album, an America not as the ideal, but the grittier, shadier side. I was curious about how this came about in pre-production, and how you came to that vision as a non native.
JS: Honestly, it was not something I’d planned conceptually, the coming together of the album was entirely organic. It was only afterwards that I came to realize that every song on some level was directly inspired by American culture.
FEMMUSIC: How was the approach to doing this album different from a Howling Bells album?
JS: I mean, naturally, creating something independently is very different than doing so with a group. In equal parts it is liberating and frightening. So from that perspective, I had to approach things very differently. Straight off the bat, it’s the first record I made where I didn’t know the musicians playing on the record before hand (bar a couple) so that already makes for a different experience. Also, I tried to approach the vocals in a different way, perhaps treat the songs with a little more sensitivity.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to tour with or collaborate with?
JS: I recently played a festival at Hyde Park along with Tom petty and Stevie Nicks, so that’s a dream team right there!
Otherwise, I think it’d be amazing to play/write with AIR, Mac DeMarco or a film composer like Yann Tiersen or Gabriel Yared. I’m a sucker for French music all round.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
JS: I mean, in small doses. When I was younger there was definitely that “can i help you little girl?” thing that definitely does not happen to guys.
It’s assumed you need assistance in every possible situation. I’ve had to tell a few dudes where to go. But otherwise, it’s been OK. I think if you assert yourself from the get go it makes things easier. But heck, ain’t that how it goes in every Goddam industry.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
JS: We’ve arrived at a place where musicians are at the bottom of the food chain. The last to get paid, the first to be exploited. Especially if you’re attempting to establish any kind of notoriety in the start. If I could change one thing it would be that there were stronger guidelines in place for how much music you could exploit without the artist getting paid. There’s only so much you can prostitute yourself without any return!