• Radio Monash Journalism

Keeping Company with Stevie Dinner

Written by David Paicu

In 2015, Stevie Dinner - then a solo project - released their last album for the next five years.

That same year, Louise C. Hawkley and John P. Capitano released a study into the impacts of loneliness and isolation on the individual. They came to the conclusion that loneliness can lead to a wholly unfulfilling life, followed suit by an earlier death.

With this in mind, and given the year that has passed, it has become blatantly obvious that the company of others and interpersonal relationships are an imperative part of life.

And if there were any artist to take this inference and run with it, then it would have to be Stevie Dinner.

Following a five-year hiatus, Stevie Dinner has been resurrected as a duo fronted by Josh Hughes and Steph Rinzler. Their latest album, True Story, reinvented Stevie Dinner’s sound through the musical interactions of both creatives.

Radio Monash sat down with Stevie Dinner to chat about how, sometimes, companionship can be the best catalyst for innovation.

What have you been up to since Stevie Dinner's last relase five years ago?

J: "I’ve been recording the whole time since then. I’ve just been putting it under a different project name, full of preliminary demos and half-done stuff. Most are not-quite-actualised ideas, but we are currently trying to revisit those and build on them. That’s what I - and we - have been working on for the most part."

What were the inspirations behind the album you released last year, True Story?

J: "In terms of influences, there was definitely a lot of homage to funk and disco from the late 70s and early 80s. Lyrically, it is a very true-to-life portrayal."

S: "We’ve also definitely drawn a lot from Broadcast and Stereolab. Those are two big ones for us."

There is a quite Daniel Johnston-esque style in your sound in a lot of your songs. Do you relate to the sentiments of Daniel Johnston when you create music, almost feeling like that outsider?

J: "Definitely. A lot of the music was written during a period where I was a part of that fringe society. I was an outsider for sure."

When it comes to the production of your album, some of the songs have quite a distorted feel - where did that motif come from?

J: "It’s funny that you say that, considering I feel like it is one of the cleanest sounding records we’ve made."

Oh shit sorry sorry-

J: "No no, I don’t take any offence to it. I used to make music on shitty tape recorders, and then I got a four-track, and then an eight-track. A lot of that record was recorded on a four-track and we added parts later on computer. I also don’t think I’m that great of a singer, and-"

S: "That’s not true, you’re a great singer. I think with this album we definitely had more of a handle on producing. We were able to get more experimental with the digital production, as opposed to the previous records where it was just a matter of uploading it and it being done."

J: "This stuff is actually mastered - shout out to Ezra Pounds for that."

The previous work of Stevie Dinner is a mixture of different sounds creating something wholly unique, with this echoing effect where you are almost talking to yourself. How does it feel now as a duo, being able to have that conversation, musically, with somebody else?

S: "It’s kind of cool since a lot of our songs are about each other. Incorporating both of our voices into that adds more meaning to it. I think there is a lot more than you can do with two people. The way we just bounce ideas off of each other really builds the music. It’s interesting because sometimes we’ll the same idea at the same time. It’s really weird. We have this hive mind thing going on."

With songs such as 'Joy of Intervention', you seem to take quite the experimental approach in terms of delivering it mostly in instrumentals. How did that come about? Were you looking for an interlude of sorts?

J: "I’ve always been a fan of minimalist composers like Steve Reisch, Philip Bass, and Fela Kuti. A lot of jazz music has a lot of instrumental passages. It’s what I look up to. I feel like sometimes a singer can fuck a song up."

You mentioned your love for jazz, and previous Stevie Dinner albums have carried that similar chaotic sound. How much jazz influence made its way into the creation of your latest album, True Story? Did you try and build on those previous kinds of sounds, or was this album something different altogether?

J: "I’d say this one is less jazz influenced. That’s mainly because during the production of most of it, I didn’t have a drum kit at all. Having the drums is quite crucial to creating that style of music. We didn’t have any drums on this album… I think it was mainly drum machines. It was more influenced by dance and house music."

S: "Hopefully, we can get our hands on a drum kit for our next album."

With Josh having been a part of other projects such as TV Dinner and Warehouse and with Steph's former solo project, Plant Prophet, how do your previous music-making experiences inform the way you create your music now?

J: "You learn a lot from making music with people in the same way that you can learn a lot from making music on your own. With TV Dinner it was just my friend Sam and me, and it was much more of a small gig. With Warehouse, I learnt a lot of different guitar stuff that I ended up implementing later on."

S: "Even before Plant Prophet, I’d bounced around a few different projects with random bands that wouldn’t last long, but we’d jam together. It was fun, and I love the energy that comes from playing live with other people. In terms of what I gained from Plant Prophet, I think having a solo project teaches you to pinpoint a vision of your own and focus on it, and having that sort of creative space is really cool for experimentation."

Having met at a Plant Prophet gig, how did you guys get from there to establishing this new version of Stevie Dinner?

S: "Josh came to one of my shows and after my set, he came up to me and said, “You’re really talented, do you want to make music with me?”. The next day, I came over to the punk house he was living in (RIP Hallway House), and the first time we jammed something just clicked. We synced up pretty much immediately and began having the same ideas at the same time. Very quickly, our sound grew into this kind of weird niche punk aesthetic that we both love.

After that first day of jamming together, we knew we had to keep doing this. I’d never had such a deep musical connection with anyone, and especially not that quickly. I was visiting Atlanta for the holidays, since I now live and study in Boston, and we had limited time to create. Because of this we basically lived together during December and made music twenty-four hours a day. That’s how we ended up making True Story."

Given the way you guys met and grew closer creatively, what was the creative process for your song, 'Naturally'?

S: "After the month-long stretch when we were making True Story, I went to study abroad in London. I was there for around two months before being sent home because of Covid, and over those two months, I wrote a ton of love songs for Josh and played them all for him. The album was finished at the time, but he said we should add that one on there. We actually had a rougher acoustic demo that we made together and recorded in the woods. We might need to do a stripped-down version like that again one day."

J: "It was a great collaboration, for sure."

Josh, you've said before that your music is not necessarily you see people moshing to, but rather something they could dance to or even make love to. What exactly are you hoping people will get out of True Story?

J: "I think this one is more of a going for a walk."

S: "Or a midnight drive."

J: "More drawn out, less goofy. More mature."

S: "Less sassy and silly. There are also still some humorous tracks."

J: "Oh yes, but it’s still raw and honest. More sombre. I was a lot younger when I wrote my other stuff, I had less to worry about. Now I have more life experience that I’ve put into the songs. I reckon people could take something out of that, maybe."