Steve Gustafson, the bassist and a founding member of 10,000 Maniacs is currently the Tech-ni-cal Director of the Sharmann Theater, and an adjunct professor at Jamestown Community College where he teaches Theater Production and The Business of Music.
Married in 1987, Steven lives with his wife and two children in a house he designed and built on 70 acres of land in the countryside of Southern Chautauqua County.
In the week leading up to the August 6, 10,000 Maniacs performance at the McCauley Mountain Music Festival, I had the opportunity to conduct the following interview with Gustafson.
DA: Have you spent any time in the Adirondacks or in Old Forge?
SG: We haven’t spent much time in the Adirondacks, besides driving through them. I’ve never been to Old Forge.
DA: I have been reading some very favorable reviews about your sold out City Winery shows including a review by Dave Astor in the Huffington Post where he makes a plea to have 10,000 Maniacs inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What are your thoughts on this? Is this something that the band has been aiming for over the past 30 years?
SG: It was nice of Dave to write that. I was more excited about his review of our new songs. Quite honestly, we don’t give the Hall of Fame much thought.
The past 30 years has been a riot and we always enjoy playing our music, but our aim is to write good songs, make good recordings, play well at our shows, and laugh a lot.
DA: After 30 years of making music, does it ever get repetitive and/or tedious? Or is it always something new for you?
SG: Traveling can get tedious. Have you been to an airport lately? I enjoy visiting other cities and cultures.
A wonderful side effect of being in a successful band is the places you go.
I’ve been to 19 countries around the world and to 46 of the 50 United States. After 30 years we’ve almost seen it all.
DA: You have recently posted some songs from your new album on reverbnation.com, can you tell me a bit about the creative process with this album?
SG: The creative process doesn’t change much. When writing a song, you’re looking for melody, rhythm and words that people can relate to.
The basic recording process hasn’t changed much though the equipment is a little different.
Still, the most important part of the process is having a good song and using good microphones.
For this new album, we recorded the basic tracks to 13 songs over four days in a theater in Jamestown.
We did the overdubs at our rehearsal studio in an old furniture factory and we’re mixing it at a small studio our sound engineer owns.
It’s a lot like the first records we recorded way back in 1982-83. Cheap and fast.
DA: What was the band striving for? What is your favorite new song to play, and why?
SG: We strive to be in time and in tune, then capture the emotion.
We’ve been playing 3 to 4 of the new songs in the set. I enjoy playing them all.
There are some unfinished songs that I look forward to playing live.
DA: When and where will listeners be able to purchase the new album?
SG: No decision has been made as to when the album will be released. We’re still working it. This summer tour got in the way of recording. For the time being, listeners will have accept free streams.
DA: Your songs have always crossed over multiple musical genres, and you essentially pioneered college and alternative rock, which—besides each other—musicians have helped to inspire you to make and continue to make such ground-breaking music?
SG: We each take influence from different places. When our band started in 1981 we were listening to The Clash, Bob Marley, The Cure, Talking Heads, stuff like that. One of my favorite albums from that time is The Gang of Four’s Entertainment. It changed my life.
DA: Which songs do you consider to be the most technically difficult to play, and why?
SG: If it’s difficult, I don’t play it.
DA: Over the past 30 years, the way music has been produced and marketed has obviously changed drastically, what do you feel has been one of the largest changes in the music industry, and do you feel that the change has been for the better?
SG: Record companies thought they were pretty smart in 1985 when they started using the new digital format and printing CDs. Everyone went out and bought all their favorite albums again and the companies made a lot of money from it, but they shot themselves in the foot while they were looting the store. P2P file sharing crashed their model. The companies are no longer the purveyors of good taste. Youtube is.
DA: Could you offer some advice to aspiring musicians on what it takes to have a decades-spanning multi-platinum career?
SG: Wanting to be famous is for freaks. You should want to be good at what you do. You have to work very hard, sacrifice everything and get lucky. You have to write good songs and be willing to sleep on floors and sell your plasma to eat. We did.
DA: I have always been curious to find out about embarrassing on-stage moments. Would you be willing to share an embarrassing on-stage moment with the readers?
SG: Have you seen me perform on stage? Total embarrassment.