An Interview with Stellar Vector
Todd: Stellar Vector has been around for awhile. Could you tell me a little bit about the band’s history?
Charles Sadler: Stellar Vector was birthed from my solo project [space bar]. I was going through a sort of musical soul searching, where I had an idea for a particular musical style but wasn’t sure how to execute the process. I wrote a couple of really neat songs, but I didn’t sense that my passion was getting across in my solo efforts, so I asked Jamie Smith if he wanted to play guitar over some of the music. As Jamie started playing out his ideas, I had decided that Jonathan should program beats for the project (even six years ago Jonathan was the best beat programmer in town). Jonathan didn’t want to program drums though and so he started writing guitar parts as well, and then Don Carlson found me as I was putting this project together and asked me if he could play drums in something I was involved with.
We recorded a 3 song demo with Ev Olcott (formerly of 12 rods), who at the time was the guy I went to when I needed engineering work done. When I worked with him he had miraculous balance over when to take control and when to give control, I don’t imagine that’s changed at all. Around that same time I started to get into a fight with a band from Florida over the name Space Bar, I had no problems changing my name to Stellar Vector, especially after hearing the Florida rival’s music. So we became Stellar Vector, submitted a song into TC Electropunk Volume II, and kind of tried to develop some more songs based on some improvements I wanted to make after coming out of the studio with the demo.
Life started to get really difficult for Jamie Smith and so I asked Geoffrey Makousky to fill-in for Jamie while he tried to sort his life out. It quickly became apparent that Geoffrey was needed in a more permanent fashion and when Jamie came back Geoffrey took the position of bass player. We started working on tunes, but it quickly became apparent that the band was putting a lot of strain on Jamie’s life; so as his friend I let him go. At that time I had appointed Jonathan as producer of the band and me and him set out to find Daniel Auger.
You’re Not Included was recorded with Ev, 7 songs cut to 5. We decided we should always walk in with more and scale back. It’s even a principal rule in our writing style; start with a lot and cut back the fat. It was a grueling process, and a lot of things were happening internally with the band: My musical influences were shifting, Geoffrey’s main project – OBCT was really starting to flourish artistically, and Don was having tribulations. After the creation of the EP, I decided that it was best for all of us that I let Geoffrey and Don go and we try to find a new rhythm section.
We did find a new rhythm section and then I tried to create a genuine business model with them – the “right” business model. The line-up consisted of Mark Haider, Andy McClure, Daniel Auger, Jonathan and myself and – although there is a lot we don’t agree on – I think we would all agree that the business model is what crashed the line-up. After about a year of trying to make a go of it, I pulled the plug.
Jonathan didn’t want me to give it up; he was having fun on guitar and being the producer. So, Jonathan and I created a business model that applied support in all the areas where the previous model lacked and asked band Tasha’s Laughter if they wanted to write an album with us. They did, we did, and that brings us to today.
“February 14th” by: Stellar Vector
Todd: Could you tell me a little bit about your “business model”? I like the fact you acknowledge that a band is about more than just music.
Jonathan Ford: Charles and I became a business in the state of Minnesota with a tax ID and all that. From a functional band stand-point, our past experiences strongly suggest that band democracy does not work. If everyone in the band has an equal voice, each person suddenly has a personal investment in every decision. This is inherently stressful and played a large part in some of the comings and goings of past band members. Charles and I decided that the two of us would bear the responsibility of the decision making as well as the finances. That frees up the rest of our band to concentrate on music. It’s a benevolent dual-dictatorship. Of course, everyone still has an opinion that can be considered. However, there is freedom in not having an opinion if you don’t want to have one. It is less stressful for the band and puts the focus on the music.
It’s very similar to how we approach having an additional producer on our recordings. Giving one or two people the final say in any scenario simplifies the decision making process and facilitates progress.
Todd: What has been each of your own involvement in the Twin Cities music scene?
JF: I started volunteering for Radio K in the fall of 1995. I went on to co-host ‘The Descent’ from 1997 to 2003. We played all sorts of industrial, darkwave, gothic, new wave, post-punk, etc and did some DJing in local clubs as well. I played guitar in a new wave/dark pop group called Dies Irae (!US) from 1996 ‘til 1999. Our last show was at the 8. Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig Germany.
From 1999 ‘til 2001 I mainly DJ’d around town when I wasn’t working on various demos for aborted music projects. In 2001, I started Dissociate to scratch that itch for live electronica/noise.
Around 2003, Charles and I started working on some remixes. Then the aforementioned [space bar]/Stellar Vector started up. I still do a little DJing here and there.
CS: I have worn many hats in the Twin Cities music scene. I see myself as the musical jack-of-all-trades. I’ve produced music, I’ve engineered music, some for other people some on my own. I think the only consistent element in the last 8 or 9 years of my musical career has been that I’ve found a way to work Jonathan into the things I do. Locally, I am most remembered for my project Little Tin Box and probably most well-known for my ability as a pianist.
Todd: You chose to release your last EP You’re Not Included online as a “pay-what-you-wish” MP3 download. As an indie band – how did you fare? Did it accomplish what you hoped it would?
JF: The pay-what-you-wish generated a little bit more buzz than we were expecting. We did get a little sympathy and received some very generous donations which really helped us as we tried to cover costs. Going Creative Commons and working with sites like Jamendo increased our profile abroad quite a bit.
CS: We didn’t save any money going Creative Commons. What we did do though was find out that for the most part, people want to support our band. There are so many ways to support the band other than monetary compensation. The “Pay-What-You-Wish” approach really opened up a discussion with people that we would’ve otherwise never heard. I’ve since learned to appreciate the noise of an audience rather than the noise of a paycheck; although I am still very much motivated by the idea of paying my bills someday. 🙂
What we did not expect was how far the album would travel. We have a lot of fans in France and Spain, and I’ve gotten phone calls from people in Kenya and other parts of the world. People who are really starved for new and interesting music. It is really nice to know that I was able to provide people with artistic expression on a limited budget. We owe our exposure to the Creative Commons website: Jamendo.com, and we encourage every artist to reach out to that community and experience what it’s like.
“Buffalo Jump” by: Stellar Vector
Todd: Will A Flock of Cowards be released the same way? I’m assuming there will be physical copies of the album as well?
JF: (For) the new album we are going a bit more ‘traditional’ in that we won’t be giving it away for free. We’ve got some physical copies and we’ll be selling online via iTunes and other outlets when the official release date rolls around.
CS: The story behind going Creative Commons and “Pay-What-You-Wish” is dirty, difficult to explain, and is still quite painful to tell. I will say that when we were looking at our options, our budget for You’re Not Included was quite different than our budget for A Flock of Cowards. The response from our EP was that people wanted more from us, more complexity, more vigor, more synths, and so our production values jumped as fast as the price of gas these days. So our intention is to release A Flock of Cowards on the traditional track and make a remix EP in the future that will cater to our Creative Commons friends. We’re even planning on including remix packs on that so that the community can adapt their own vision to these songs.
We did make a physical package for our music this time, and we embraced the fold out album cover and threw out the concept that plastic was cool. On April 2nd it will be immediately available on iTunes and several other download sites, our physical distribution for the time being will be via CDBaby. We are working at making it available in many record stores in town and across the U.S. outside of that, I have no clue where to begin. 😉
Todd: What was the process for writing and recording A Flock of Cowards? How did it differ from the writing and recording of You’re Not Included? What did the new band members bring to Stellar Vector’s sound?
CS: The process for writing and recording any Stellar Vector song is something that makes people look at me like I’m crazy, but we got it down to a science. It starts with me writing out synth lines, and then demoing songs to Jonathan, who listens and selects his favorites, and then it goes through a lengthy jamming/writing/rewriting process, and if the song’s done by the time we are ready to go into record… it gets recorded. From there, anything is possible, we’ve had several songs that have never gotten into the studio, we’ve had several songs that have not passed the studio floor. We like to rework songs that don’t make it. This is like the one process we’ve gotten right since day one, the only thing that’s changed between A Flock of Cowards and You’re Not Included is our attention to detail has improved as we have gotten used to the vigors of studio recording.
Ev was unavailable for this project, he was neck deep in music software development and so the other change was our outside ear. This time we went with Eric Lovold (The Alarmists) to engineer and David Daydodge for post production/mixing work. The development cycle was a lot more rigorous and methodical, David was pretty much obsessed with trying to capture every last little nuance that we bury in our work, and he even added some of his own to the pot. Eric Lovold was determined to get David exactly what he needed with surgical precision. Kevin, Stephan, and Mike were exactly what we needed for musicians. Their attitude was much like Dan Auger’s attitude throughout our stint with him, balanced, passionate, and willing to compromise. It made this session go much smoother as the pressure applied from our production team was much more intense. That was my perception anyway, but there was a lot more that needed to be done than there was for You’re Not Included as well, so it’s very possible that the project just needed more than we’ve ever needed in the past.
JF: Writing A Flock of Cowards was a lot of fun in that the five of us developed excellent chemistry early on and embraced the new songs. The songs were relatively fresh for everyone unlike You’re Not Included. We had written several of the You’re Not Included songs with other band members and had to adjust and rehash a bit. Kevin, Stephan and Mike are very talented and fit in really well. Excellent sense of melody. Excellent workmanship and vocal skills.
Todd: Do you feel it’s important to always have an outside producer (Ev Olcott, David Daydodge) involved in Stellar Vector recordings?
CS: With our sound, it is really important to have someone on the outside looking in. It’s a quality assurance buffer, and it keeps our vision strong and consistent.
Todd: What do you think makes a “good” song?
CS: The song is good when it fits in with the vision for a particular project. I don’t rate or decide my pieces based on quality. Everything I bother to write is a piece of me; I leave the accolades/complaints to the critics.
Todd: How do you decide what to keep and what to discard?
CS: A song makes it on the album if the performance of the piece is parallel to what we think our ability is and if the mix that is presented coincides with the overall vision of the body of work it is being considered for.
Todd: Are there any particular highlights or favorites on A Flock of Cowards?
CS: This is a really tough question because I love all of my “children” in their own way. One important highlight for me is the subject matter of the CD and the way it is playing out in the musical world even before it’s officially released. I am getting all kinds of emails from painters, filmmakers, other musicians who show me their take on the same subject; and a lot of them haven’t even heard the record. It’s magical to see that our artistic wavelengths are all parallel to each other in this moment.
Todd: It’s obvious that you always put a lot of thought and care into the concepts behind your musical output – could you tell me a little bit about the title and concept behind A Flock of Cowards?
CS: A Flock of Cowards started when someone told me during the Bush/Kerry election that if I voted for Kerry America would become a communist country, and she firmly believed this. It caused me to spend a good year focusing on the social relationship with fear. Then I decided that the problem is not with the people who lead us, but more the people who blindly follow with no regard to the facts. I decided that I needed to try to reach out to these people and see if I couldn’t shake their paradigm in a positive way.
Todd: As a musician who has recorded both at home and in professional studios – which do you prefer?
CS: I prefer not to record at home, the satellite studio doesn’t need to be a professional one, just as long as there is someone else in the room sharing the responsibilities so that I can focus on transferring my energy to the music.
Todd: You use to organize a local electronic music night called “Electro-Tank”? What happened to this evening and have you given any thought to bringing it back? What’s either of your opinions on the local music scene?
JF: Electro-Tank was a once-a-month night at Station 4 in St Paul. We did the last Sunday of every month and featured one or more bands playing short cameo sets throughout the night. The idea was to have a social night featuring local electronic-influenced music and help a live band get some exposure. We also featured guest DJs and a videographer running projections.
Eventually, the night petered out. It was a challenging model to sustain given its somewhat odd schedule and format. We’d also have a lot of variance in attendance and interest depending on what bands were playing.
Some people absolutely loved that they could be exposed to a band in small doses amidst DJ sets and excellent beverages. If they enjoyed them, they’d have time to reflect between sets and even interact with the artists. On the flip-side, if you didn’t like the live act, they were done in a few minutes and you were back to the DJ sets.
Some of the artists didn’t like the idea of breaking up their set. Sometimes it is challenging to break up the norm and try something different. Other bands really bought into the idea, brought a lot of people, and put on a great show.
I don’t know if I’d ever want to run a night again. It requires a lot of elements to fall into place. I wouldn’t mind doing guest appearances, though.
Todd: I realize releasing A Flock of Cowards is your next big step, but what does the future hold for Stellar Vector? How much do you plan ahead?
JF: The future is always yet to be determined. We have some musical ideas for the next recording, but first we really have to see how this record does. What happens if it’s an abject failure? Not that I think it will be, but artists need to possess an ability to change and live fluidly. We could be a new band with a new name and a new focus this time next year. I really don’t know for sure. Plans and reality don’t always go hand in hand. However, as far as planning ahead, we’ve made 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals for this band. Charles is always an album ahead in the writing process. We’ve got the next recording project figured out. We’ll see what happens.
Editor’s Note: Todd Millenacker performs in the local electronic band Avenpitch and writes about the TC Electropunk music scene in Minnesota. He can be contacted at avenpitch[at]avenpitch[dot]com.