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Q&A: The Steepwater Band’s Jeff Massey

4/30/2014

The Steepwater Band was formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1998.Their signature sound is a nod to early British blues, combined with a modern, raw and gutsy musical approach. Jeff Massey is the vocalist/guitarist of the band who talked to Cityview’s Mark Skaar prior to the band’s May 2 show at The Gas Lamp.

CV: Your latest album, “Live & Humble,” was recorded just over a year ago, correct?

Jeff Massey: You are on top of it! You are correct. It came out in November but was recorded on April 20, 2013. We recorded it at a place called the Ace Bar. 

CV: I know you guys have been pounding the road and are returning to Des Moines to play at The Gas Lamp on May 2. What are your impressions of the Des Moines music scene?

Massey: Well, it’s been pretty good for us. It seems like the last few times we’ve played The Gas Lamp we’ve had good turnouts and people are into the music. Last time we were there we opened for Johnny Winter down the street and then came over and did a late show at The Gas Lamp afterward, and it was great. To us, it’s been nothing but a good impression.

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CV: I first became aware of The Steepwater Band as you were releasing your first live album “Live At The Double Door” in 2010. I was actually a fan of a band called Healing Sixes and noticed that your two bands were doing shows together so I decided to check your band out and became a fan then and there. 

Massey: That’s awesome! Now we have a member of Healing Sixes in our band! 

CV: That leads me to my next question. I know you were pretty much a trio until Healing Sixes disbanded and guitarist Eric Saylors joined the band. Was there any apprehension about bringing in a “new guy” after being a trio for so long?

J.M.: This was actually the second time we’ve had two guitarists.  There were two records where we had a fourth member, “Dharmakaya” and “Back To The Bottle.” Long story short, he ended up leaving the band, and we went back to being a trio again for a few years. It was kind of a different situation (with Eric). We were out

playing as a trio, and we were doing shows with Healing Sixes, and we would jam together, but when Eric would sit in with us, he already knew our songs. I don’t think Healing Sixes were working as much as he wanted to work, and I think he just really liked our music and actually liked it enough to sit at home and actually learn the songs. So after a few times of coming out to gigs and hanging out and jamming, we were like, “Why don’t you get in the van and try it out for awhile?” Next thing you know we were like, “Why don’t you just join the band?”   There wasn’t really any apprehension. It was just a natural thing

that kind of happened. Because it happened so naturally, nobody gave it a second thought.  Now we’re over two years in with Eric being in the band, and it’s going great.

CV: In between “Live At The Double Door” and “Live And Humble” there was a studio album called “Clava.” That was your last studio album. Was Eric involved in that?

Massey: No, that’s all before Eric joined. The only actual recording with Eric on it is “Live And Humble,” but he’ll obviously be involved with the next studio record. We’re already trying to get some ideas together for that. But if you listen to “Clava,” the cool thing is there’s a lot of second guitar parts that I added, so with Eric coming into the band he was able to not only do his own thing where there was a second lead guitar, but he was able to do all those parts from our studio records now live, which is cool. 

CV: There doesn’t seem to be a lot of song duplication between the two live albums, which is good since they were released only a few years apart.

Massey: It was just a no-brainer. We’ve been playing gigs so much that we thought for now it would be easiest just to try and do a live record rather than try to get in the studio right now because we’ve got all these opportunities, playing festivals and playing gigs that we just haven’t found the time to pass up anything. So we figured a live album would be perfect. 

CV: I know the night “Live And Humble” was recorded it was also filmed. Some of that footage is on your website (www.thesteepwaterband.com). Was there an intention to release a DVD?

Massey: Yeah, we were originally going to do a DVD, and we ran into some technical snags that kind of slowed it up, and that’s why we kind of released three or four videos on YouTube for now. There is more footage but I can’t say whether we’ll put out a DVD of it. You might see a few more videos show up on the website or YouTube or some format like that. 

M.S.: The centerpiece of “Live And Humble” is a 16-minute version of John Lee Hooker going into Led Zeppelin.

Massey: Yeah, that’s another thing that just kind of happened one night. We just kind of went into it, and we were like, “Wow, these are the same feel, this blends pretty good, let’s get this recorded.”

M.S.: Do you do any songwriting on the road?

Massey: A little bit. I mean, we do a lot of jamming at sound checks and try and grab our phone and record it real quick while the moment is there so all of our phones probably have a million riffs on them.  But really, the songs don’t come together until we put the pressure on. Like, we’re recording this month, and we get in a room together and that’s when you really get a chance to concentrate on getting the material done. The ideas are there for the next one already, so I’m not really worried about it. 

M.S.: I assume you’re the main lyricist?

Massey: Yeah, I write the lyrics. As far as the music, that can vary.  We all share the credit on everything because Todd (Bowers-bass) writes music, I write music. Sometimes the music revolves around a beat (provided by drummer Joseph Winters) and now Eric writes, too, so the music could be any of us, or it could be a group of us.

M.S.: I’m sure with that new wrinkle of having another guitar player it’s kind of exciting right now…

Massey: Yeah. We can’t wait to do another record. We’ve just gotta figure out who we’re going to do it with, where we’re going to record it and when.

M.S.: Do you do the majority of your recording in Chicago?

Massey: Not necessarily.  We did “Clava” in Chicago on the South side and the one prior, “Grace And Melody,” we did in California because (of) Marc Ford from The Black Crowes and Ben Harper.  He made an offer to produce our record at his buddies’ studio out in Long Beach. The one before that, “Revalation Sunday,” we did out in Miller Beach, Indiana, and we did one in Boston. It just depends on what opportunities arise, so I don’t even know where the next one is going to be recorded yet.

M.S.: Can you believe you’ve been doing this for as long as you have?

Massey: It goes by quick! We’re in a good spot right now. We’ve been on the road since mid February and went to Spain and Italy and Slovenia and then we were home for two days and then started in Colorado and worked our way to Florida. That’s what we want to be doing, so things are good right now.

The Steepwater Band will play at The Gas Lamp on Friday, May 2. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10. Special thanks to Angela Prazza Winters of Prazza PR and Jeff Massey of The Steepwater Band.

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