Interview with Steve Tulipana in Modern Fix

Season to Risk Poster

Bushman: I know this band. No, I don’t mean I’m claiming status with personal affiliation (although my guitarists old bands drummer tried out for them once and the singer spilled beer on me when they played in Eau Claire, WI a long time ago), I mean I have been listening to this band as an avid fan since 1993. They are from Kansas City. So you should listen to them. They have had many line-up changes, so even if you think you know Season To Risk, ‘The Shattering’ proves you don’t know Season To Risk. The first self-titled album was an abrasive exercise in guitar scrape and tonal highlights. The bands follow up was an exploration even further down the pummeling, stark and brutally clean ‘In A Perfect World’. There was another album (Men Are Monkeys – Robots Win), which I didn’t hear, but never saw a negative word in any review I read. And I read many. Members have changed to account for the shifts in sound and the bands reputation for writing a killer albums worth of material, touring for it once, then refusing to play those songs live ever again. So after a decade of following this path of Season to Risk, where are we? With an album you really should own, ‘The Shattering’. It rocks with that noisy rock of the Jesus Lizard, AM Rep and other cool Minneapolis/Chicago/(and OK, Kansas City) flair for getting distortion through running shitty amps really loud. Creating tension through actual song writing and structure and not just jumping the loud/quiet formula. Singer Steve Tulipana is as neurotic as he ever was with his distinctive sense of gritty melody. His style is a spoken/shout that traces with melodic intention, but comes off like your friend shouting in your ear to be heard above the din and crash surrounding the whole scene. One might say an almost Ian Mackaye (Fugazi) type feel, until you hear ‘Deserve’ and then you’d definitely say an Ian MacKaye influence. This album shows more melody and repetition on a hook and steers away from the tear off the scab and poke the wound tensions of previous works. Also is the foray into more experimental territory as evidenced by the electronic drone of the instrumental ‘Despair’. This is still edgy, but a more mature and produced edgy. And edgy that comes with knowledge and sense of experience. Both of which Season To Risk have always commanded even in their early works (seriously, their entire catalog is solid, and worthy of your listening time). ‘The Shattering’ makes me appreciate the fact this band never seems to catch on despite critical raves and a loyal following. It keeps them hungry. And with a band like Season To Risk, it’s that sense of desperation that drives their craft. And I get to listen to more killer music.

Bushman: How has coming from Kansas City shaped your sound and direction?

Steve: We had talked about moving to Chicago right before recording that first album. Before anybody had heard us outside of some local shows. We recorded the first album there. But it didn’t make any sense to move there. We could live whereever we wanted.

Your band has also been influenced by the Minneapolis music scene as well. (Red-Decibel release)

Steve: I think all the Midwest sound. Any of the post-hardcore stuff was a huge influence on us. Before this band, we were into straight up punk rock bands. 80’s hardcore punk rock or whatever. Most of those Minneapolis and Chicago, Big Black... any number of bands from back then were trying to do something different that totally influenced us and gave us that attitude that we could do it to. I won’t deny that we weren’t influenced by Skinyard and then hearing Soundgarden. Guys that were influenced by underground rock music weren’t afraid to bring another standard great rock element.

What is the musical climate there now? Any bands the pubic should be aware of?

Steve: There’s a ton of great bands here right now. There always has been. Back in the mid-nineties, people were throwing around this term, ‘The Kansas City Sound’ which I think completely denied a lot of great bands that were here at the time that had nothing to do with it. Tenderloin... any number of them. Some of them people are still making music. There’s a bunch of great records in that genre right now that are coming out of here. Some good noisy punk bands. There’s a lot of art rock.

I’ve noticed that the region always had a lot camaraderie with the bands. Molly Mcguire and Shiner seemed to be mentioned a lot in the same breath as Season To Risk, either through projects or touring.

Steve: It’s because we all grew up together. We’ve all been skateboarding and going to the same clubs. We’ve all been friends. So when opportunities come, we all just kinda talk about each other. Some people were pissed because us three bands got a lot of attention... because we always talked about each other. Probably to Season To Risks fault, I talk about other bands more than I talk about our own band.

What does Season To Risk offer the listener they cannot find anyplace else?

Steve: I don’t know... that’s a tough question. I think that we have elements of so many different kinds of music going on. It’s aggressive, heavy rock. But, particularly on the new record we’ve really achieved a good combination of heavy agro stuff, with some melodic hooks, and straight-ahead beats and plenty of math in there. But it’s not half the math rock that the second one was. That was our math-rock opus.

Define the perfect show for you.

Steve: I see a million shows. I worked in a bar.

It’s very interesting you interpreted that to mean someone else’s show. (Says something about your character). I was referring to a perfect Season To Risk show.

Steve: When there are enough people there, it doesn’t have to be a massive amount of people, but the right amount of people. And the right amount of people interested in sharing the energy of the show. 7 out of 10 of those smaller shows... the energy is there more focused. And it translates into how we are performing our songs. Everyone of our songs isn’t just a song, there’s a lot more going on. There’s just an energy and history about each one. And when you go out and perform them, it’s just an extension of that. So for me, a perfect show is when it IS that. And it’s not just going through the motions. You get that when you get the right... something happens... the right amount of focus... it’s hard to describe. It can be on the shittiest PA or it can be on the greatest thing. Over the past ten years, we have had every combination there of, from playing in somebody’s garage to playing on a huge stage in front of several thousand people.

Through the history of Season To Risk, themes of solace, paranoia, and loneliness are common in Season To Risk - Almost a sense of continual loss. Please explain.

Steve: Sometimes I go back and look at everyone one of the records. This is the first record that someone else helped write some of the lyrics. Billy (the bassplayer) helped write some of the lyrics on some of the songs. It was interesting. I liked it. Each album had talked about solace and loss, but in different ways. I’ve always thought of each album as suite of songs that were connected. Similar themes anyway. I don’t want to make it really simple and say, ‘oh this was the album about THE girl. And this was the album about loss of health and being inebriated.’ I don’t want to oversimplify these things. The Shattering is a continuation of the Men are Monkeys album. because I don’t think that album was released properly. It was a time when it just didn’t get out there. We had a hard time getting it distributed. We weren’t touring as much. We didn’t have a publicist on that record who was calling the writers and saying ‘Hey, this band still exists after they got dropped from the major label’. Once you get dropped from a major and are on an independent label, sometimes its really hard. The kids are like, “Well, I don’t want to talk to them.” I mean, the label has got it there and anybody who wants it can get it, but they are not working it.
You and Duane Trower are the only two solid, original members that breathed the life into Season To Risk since 1989. Please offer some insight into your working relationship with Duane.

Steve: Duane and I are both, and sometimes to our discredit, are really mellow easygoing people. We care about it, and I think that’s some of the frustration of why some people have left at certain points because we aren’t like, “Go go go go go.” To us its art and not work. And once it becomes work, we kinda kick back. Not to talk badly about anyone, but I think that’s why have continued working together and keep finding people who are down with that. Not that our work ethic is lazy.

You moved to New York to record, ‘In a Perfect World’ with Martin Bisi at B.C. Studios which was the environment that was producing Cop Shoot Cop and Unsane. That album definitely reflects the climate.

Steve: We had an opportunity to record with Martin Bisi, and we had an almost unlimited budget for that record. But we weren’t the kind of people who go, “Let’s get Bob Rock.” So we had the opportunity to work with Bisi and we just wanted to make it right. None of us had jobs at the time so we just kinda moved into the studio. We were there for two months, we left for a month, and then came back for a month. For that album we were ready to do something really heavy, and something different. Columbia was asking for the first album. They wanted an album full of ‘Mine Eyes’. They wanted it slicker and they wanted it bigger. They had us actually re-record the songs ‘Mine Eyes’ and 'Snakes' for the second album. We said no, and they kinda let us be the artists we wanted to be.

Why don’t you play songs from the old albums much live?

Steve: There’s just so much material.

What about the obligation to the fans?

Steve: There have been so many years between albums, we really want to turn them onto the new stuff. On an underground level like this, you have to keep it fresh. No offense to anybody whose been there since the beginning, but we’re playing to 80% new people everytime.

Why do you seem to continually shifting? Both members and crowds?

Steve: Attention Deficit Disorder. And the fact that all four albums had different people.

The cover of ‘The Shattering’ has a picture of a sun?

Steve: David, the drummer, came across a NASA website. Every day you can go look at pictures of the sun. It tracks solar flares. He’s completely enamored with it. An idea throughout that record is... The idea of the Shattering... it’s not really a ‘concept’ album but there are characters that made up this album. It’s the most non-personal album for us. There are personal ideas and feelings that you can identify with these characters. But these are the most ‘story’ songs I’ve ever tried to do. I don’t want to compare it to a cult leader, but someone like that. Someone who is hyper-intelligent, paranoid, and completely over-read, too much knowledge, has taken in every conspiracy theory, every scientific fact and theory about what makes it all exist and where’s its going. And the whole doomsday cult stuff. There has to be an end all to end all. Just like the shit that’s going on right now. The prophecies about the end of the world. People manifest that. It’s been written so they are gonna make it happen. Otherwise they have lived a lie. So that’s the idea of the Shevirah, The Shattering. There are facets of like say a diamond. And some divine light was shot through it and all those facets became the world. Like the big bang. So I was trying to layer all these different ideas to that. So this person thinks that at some point, the facets become so many, like when you look at that picture of the sun, it’s just so massive with all those little sizzling points of light, and you know at some point, that energy, that divine light that shoots through there to create it all, runs out. The hydrogen of the sun runs out and it collapses on itself and it implodes. And that’s just the end of one segment. So the idea is there are all these things in our world, all these different cultures that are butting heads so hard, it’s going to collapse. If you listen to Art Bell, he calls it ‘The Quickening’. That’s another aspect of all that.

‘Deserve’ sounds like a Fugazi song on the chorus. Why is that? (I had to check credits to see if Ian came in for backup vocals).

Steve: We just played a benefit for the WTC with a bunch of bands, Shiner played and this new great band called Onward Crispin Glover. We played a real short set of like 8 songs. We played ‘Mine Eyes’ and one other from Men Are Monkeys and the rest from the new album. I didn’t realize, because I’m really bad about listening to our material after it’s recorded. And this new one, before it got manufactured, I listened to quite a bit because I was just so stoked on the recorded quality. Livermore did just a brilliant job. I didn’t really pay attention to how many sing-a-long choruses’ there are on this record. But I don’t know if I’d call it a Fugazi influence. Although we are all fans of Fugazi. That’s cool though, I think that’s great. It was really random how that chorus fit. They had the music for it, and that line, I had written down for a long time. A couple of summers ago were on tour in Houston, and we were opening for ALL, and some guy was so stoked to see us, it made us feel great. But he was like, “Man, you guys are the shit. I’ve followed you since your first record. You guys deserve to be exactly where you are.” And to us, we had just got dropped from a major label, the studio we put all our money into got flooded, we are in the last van we bought that we still owe money on with a blown engine, we were sleeping on peoples floors. We were between records and didn’t know O & O was going to put the record out, we were just talking to them about doing it. Then we had lost our bass player and we hadn’t even started writing songs with the new one. So to us, it was kinda, “What did we do to deserve to be here?” But it fit perfectly into the time signature when they were writing it. The other parts where there except for that chorus so I was like, “That’s the line!”

When you break into a more narrative spoken style of lyrical delivery, do you see that as more first person, autobiographical sections, or are you speaking ‘through’ your subject?

Steve: It comes from the fact that 7 out of 10 times, I write the lyrics to the music. The times when it’s spoken, it’s almost always stuff that’s been written without music in mind. And then it’s been formed to fit the meter. So they are more stories that I wrote, for myself, dealing with a situation that just made it’s way there. Say on, ‘Deserve’ it was just an idea about people dealing with each other. It’s most poetry oriented than it is song oriented I guess. It’s a lot easier for me to use descriptive language when you deliver it like that, than if you just try to sing them.

Everyone has vocal credits and everyone has synthesizer credits on ‘The Shattering’.

Solar Flare

Steve: Basically we had a bunch of stuff lying around the studio. This record was done in the least amount of time of any one of our records, but there were still experimental elements. We were there 12 to 15 hours a day working on it. Someone would be like that needs a, “ping ping ping”. Or like, ‘Despair’ that was completely improvised in the studio. We threw all this percussion and metal stuff in the tracking room and put up a couple of mics. And then everyone went in there and made random noise. Then we went in and edited it, made a loop of it and slowed it down. That main noise you hear in that song is some nails inside a lunch box that was pitched down and edited down. And all the cacophony you hear behind that is the main track. Then we added the layers of keyboards on it. There was a lot of freedom to do a lot of different things. We were only a four piece and have been for years. I wrote the main riffs onguitar for over half of the material in the songs. We got in the studio and I’m a horrible guitar player. I picked it up out of necessity because I wanted to write songs with the bass player at the time. So when we got into the studio this time, I was just sucking and taking too long. So Duane did a lot of guitars, I think only one of my guitar tracks made it on there. After I got home, I really liked the two guitar sound. So we hired, (‘hired’ like we are paying him - heh) we got our buddy Wade to come in and perform live.

How did you guys cross paths with artist Derek Hess? (The artist who did the cover of, ‘In a Perfect World’ and tour posters)

Steve: We played at a venue he worked at (Euclid Tavern, Cleveland!). And he was booking the shows there and doing the hand drawn flyers. Same kind of subject matter. So we always just kind of stayed in touch.

You were also involved with Frank Kozik (another reputable artist) on your first full length (he did the cover). It seems your desire to work with him was to the point it delayed the release of your album.

Steve: Most of us went to art school. We read Juxtapoz and stay on top of art. Very interested in it. We really wanted Shepard Fairey (Andre the Giant Has a Posse stuff) but we never followed up on it. But then we got thinking it was kind of predictable working with these known poster artists. We were trying to keep our eye out for something different. We actually had a local artist in town wanting to do this last one. I was all about it until David brought that picture and I just really thought it made the match better.

Messages to the masses?

Steve: There needs to be people who seek out culture and art and not just buy what’s easy to get. If you care about modern culture, you are going to have to seek it out if it has any worth or value. There is stuff everywhere, but the majority of things with serious or lasting value, is going to inspire you or make you remember it 20 years from now. You have to look for that stuff.

And when are people going to get to see your band?

Steve: West coast will be in February (2002). We are touring the Midwest in November. We are trying to do a 2-3 week run every 4-6 weeks.

Find the album. Find the band. Find the show and join the Shattering.

live photos: JD Nilknarf & Karen Novak