We called up Steve on a stormy day last week and took up some of his tennis-watching time to talk Sappy, poetry, the mechanics of a “Big Deal” reunion, and how it feels to come back home.
In a lot of ways, we’re going back to our roots this year. Sappy’s always been a family gathering, but this year features a lot of big reunions and returns. What do you think about the theme, Bring it on Home: does it feel like more of a homecoming than usual?
I’m glad to be included in those roots and to be thought of in that way. I’ve been to every SappyFest and volunteered a lot when I was in Sackville, I was on the Sappy board, and I’ve played a bunch of shows. I’m glad to be thought of as part of the theme: that’s how Sappy feels, like going home.
I remember we [The Constantines] played Sappy 2 way back when. We played at George's, and there was no big mainstage then. Things have changed a lot in the interim, but Sappy’s up for grabs in the sense that you can do whatever you want with it. It’s good to know the history and roots, and traditions are empowering, but traditions shouldn’t be burdens, they should be empowering.
Best Sappy memory or favourite Sappy year?
I’ve been to all of them, and loved them all in their own peculiar ways. I don’t know if I feel comfortable choosing a favourite. Well, actually, Charles Bradley and Arcade Fire: that was maybe the best festival that’s happened anywhere, ever. There have been different charms every year, and they’ve all been undeniably magical, but they’ve blended in my mind a little.
I had the most fun at Sappy last year, because I didn’t pull my weight. I was just enjoying being there, and it was fucking awesome. There’s always a lot of stuff going on in the background of everybody’s life, but what’s beautiful and important is that we’re there and bring it together each year.
There’s obviously a lot of excitement surrounding the Constantines’ show and reunion. You’ve already played at Field Trip in Toronto, how was that? Why did you guys want to come all the way down here?
When we talked about doing shows again this year, we decided it would be fun to play Sappy. A lot of the other tour decisions were based around bus schedules and that weekend.
We actually did a kind-of-secret show in Guelph a couple days before Field Trip in Toronto. It was at Kazoo! Fest, a small grassroots festival. It was great, it was the kind of context we’re comfortable playing in, like Sappy. It’s neat to see other festivals following suit. Sappy’s a bit of a trailblazer for festivals like Arboretum and Field Trip.
What can you say about your book, which is a collection of your lyrics? Do you feel weird about seeing lyrics as poetry or poetics instead of as lyrics? They’re the same words, obviously, but putting them on the page separates from the context of music and live performance, and I imagine that affects how you and others read them.
It’s a collection from the past few records. It’s concrete and done, I’m looking at a box of them right now. It came about through a friend’s small press, and I’m incredibly nervous about the fact that I’ve done it. I was dragging my heels on finishing my manuscript. If I had to do it all by myself I wouldn’t have had the nerves; it’s liberating and necessary to have someone else believe in something enough for you to do it.
It was an interesting project and process to think about songs in that context of poetry. This was kind of a learning project, and it’s really exciting to have done it, even though it’s all work that’s come out before. The process of taking lyrics from a song and putting them on a page is an interesting one: even though they’ve already existed as songs, they’re also poetry when you write them down.
In some ways the idea and structure of a song gives you a framework that’s easier to work with. When I write poems it’s hard to know when it’s done or finished, but with songs it’s done when it’s over, you know? Whereas on the page, obviously there are forms and structures to consider, it seems like it’s a lot more concrete. Playing with form, whether with music or art or writing, seems to be popular these days. It’s like, is that all there is? Only form? I don’t get it, I’m way too invested in living in the world and talking with people and stuff. Exciting things happened when we talk to each other. Communication is not isolated. And with songs in particular, I can use as many specific things from my life as I want, but at a certain point the only thing that matters is finishing is the song… It doesn’t matter if it’s a perfect reflection of my life or what I’m doing. Maybe 90 percent of the lyrics are from my life, but sometimes the voice of the song arrives at a conclusion or ending that I didn’t have or didn’t actually happen to me. I think songs have to have their own integrity separate from life.
Playing songs as musicians, we get to do it over and over again. Poetry doesn’t have the same frequency in my experience. I really like the idea of live performance and creating a work that can be reinterpreted and be a kind of living thing that you get to revisit and re-enact. And there’s not those apparent equivalences of being a folk singer or being punk rock if you’re a poet, it’s harder to do it on your own.
All this to say, I’m terrified of putting the book out.
What show are you most excited to see this year?
COOL. I put out a record for Apollo Ghosts, and I’m super excited to see them play. They don’t leave Vancouver very often. I also want to see Ought, who I haven’t seen before. And then there’s the usual faves: getting to see pals and stuff.
Steve hits the Vogue as Baby Eagle, Sunday at 5:00PM, and again with the Constantines on the mainstage at 11:00PM.
Baby Eagle performing Rebel Crimes in St. Johns, NL.