Not since the White Stripes have just two people made so much sound. Melissa McGinley and Chris Padgett are The StereoFidelics – an Asheville, NC based indie-rock band that delivers twice the sound, with half the personnel and with a precision and tightness to make a Swiss watchmaker jealous. Favoring a more organic (and multi-instrumental) approach, the band eschews using computers, loops, and other digital devices. Chris displays a technical prowess on the guitar with equal flash and substance, while stomping out groovin’ bass lines on a one- octave floor keyboard through a Moog Taurus. Melissa sits behind the drum kit and provides the funky, synchronistic beats, along with being able to shred on a 5-string electric violin. Oh yeah, and they both sing really well too. The StereoFidelics deliver a live show (around 200 live shows each year!) that could be summed up as “total satisfaction.”
I caught up with The StereoFidelics at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA and talked with Melissa about life on the road, their new album, some good advice, and various aspects of fried food on a stick.
Tom Tom Mag: What is your current kit setup?
I play a Gretsch Catalina Club with an 18″ kick. It’s actually what I call my “big girl kit” because I used to play a little cocktail kit with a 16″ kick drum! I love the James Brown-esque sound of a smaller kick with almost-floppy heads and the smaller size means I can carry my own gear in and out, every night. I think that’s important. I like to keep the kit as a whole pretty compact too, so I’ve just got one rack tom and one floor tom, the snare that came with the rest of the kit, a K Custom ride that I bought on eBay ages ago, a Sabian Hand-hammered crash-ride, and these really thick, dark Meinl Byzance hi-hats. I’m short, so my arms are short too, so I keep everything really close together so I can reach stuff. It’s always funny to see a stereotypical big drummer dude sit down at my kit; with my short throne and everything down low and so close together, he can hardly get his legs in there!
What’s in store for the StereoFidelics for the rest of 2012 and into 2013?
Driving, driving, driving… No, really, but since we finished up the first half of our summer tour, we’re home for almost a month to work on a video, finish album design, do laundry, and clean the van. Then we head back out on the road for another month, home for 2 weeks, then head back out for a month and a half. By then it’s after Thanksgiving! I believe we have a week jaunt into Florida in December, but then a little bit of winter break. Once we’ve recovered from the holidays, it’s back in the van and back to pounding the pavement to promote our new album, Dynamite Fist .
Did you approach this new album differently than previous ones and have your studio experiences changed over the years?
I think we’ve actually realized the whole less-is-more approach to recording an album. Whenever we listen back to our first studio release, while I find a lot of aspects of it that I’m still happy with, it feels like it’s almost cumbersome with the extra bits of “studio magic.” It’s like we got really excited that we could do all this extra stuff that we couldn’t do live, so we just went ahead and did it. Dynamite Fist was a far cry from that though. We recorded entire takes of the drums and guitar live, focusing on the feel and energy of the songs rather than on fancy sound effects. We did stack some vocal harmonies and added a few other things that we couldn’t reproduce live, but in general, this record is all about the songs and our performance of them.
How/when did you make the decision to become a professional musician?
I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a professional musician. I started playing violin when I was 4, and forever after that (with the exception of 6 months during first grade where I wanted to be an astronaut) playing music has been the only thing I could see myself doing.
What kind of obstacles have you encountered and how did you get past them?
I think one of the biggest obstacles that most people trying to pursue a creative career, (or, even a career that’s a little out of the ordinary) is that for a while, people keep asking you when you’re going to quit. There’s this expectation that you’re just out here playing shows as kind of an extended vacation and sooner or later, you’re going to go home and get a 9-5 with benefits. As we’ve kept doing this (we’ve been touring full-time for 3 and a half years now), most people have shut up about it! It’s just that same cliche thing about knowing you’re doing what’s right for you and sticking with it. You have to have a thick enough skin to be able to just let that kind of negative talk go in one ear and out the other. A lot of those people will come around as they realize your dedication and the hard work you continue to pour into it, and if they don’t, who cares?
What are the best and worst parts of being on the road so much?
It’s really great that we get to see so many areas of the country but with the schedule we have, we rarely get to see anything but interstates, rest areas, and truck stops. I love playing for new people every night, but I miss my kitchen. It’s always so exciting to me when we have a day off in a really calm, beautiful area and we can go camping–that pretty much gives me a chance to get reset and ready for the next batch of shows.
Your shows are very physically demanding. What do you do to stay energized while on tour?
I run as much as possible on the road; I think that being fit is a good way to give yourself an advantage against the total wreckage that the road tries to put on your body. It also helps me to be able to sing while keeping up some pretty fast, energetic beats. We also try to schedule our drives so that we don’t have to wake up to an alarm every day; we’re addicted to mass quantities of sleep when we’re on the road! And coffee. Lots of coffee. And gummy bear vitamins.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not touring or in the studio?
I enjoy hiking, running with one of the dogs (we tour with 2 pound hounds!) sewing (I design and make all of my dresses for tour), baking, and grocery shopping. Because that means we’ll be home for at least a couple weeks!
Any words of wisdom or advice for the next generation of musicians?
Be ready to play. Lots. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. Care about your performance, what you’re playing or singing about, or quit doing it. Rejoice in the small victories–that’s what keeps you going!
Will you be sampling the deep fried Oreos next year at Musikfest?
I was never allowed to have any of that deep fried festival food growing up, and then one time in 5th grade went to a festival with a friend and her folks. I ate an entire funnel cake and puked for a whole day. So, mmmmm, probably not. I can mail you a deep fried Oreo??? I bet it’s better a little stale anyway…
More on The StereoFidelics at: http://stereof.com/
Photos and words by David Shults