Following an exceptional review of Tundrastomper's For Steffen Only, Post-Trash is excited to share a supplemental interview between Thrin Vianale and Tundrastomper's Max Goldstein, who constructed the experimental behemoth of a release, and elaborated a bit more about the record.
by Thrin Vianale (@windedfl)
TV: Who is Steffen? What was his influence on this album, if any?
MG: Steffen is a fan from Germany who reached out last winter to tell us that he loves our music and to order literally every single piece of merch we have—i.e. CD and tape copies of each album. Sometime after that, he wrote us again and asked if we had anything else/if we could make him some kind of special, bonus piece. After tossing around a few concepts, we decided that we should consolidate our dozens of hours/gigabytes of random musical and nonmusical bits into some kind of B-sides & outtakes compilation. We instantly began brainstorming and compiling all of the soundbites from the last 5ish years that charmed us or were significant to us in some way. For some of the older or “rougher” cuts (read: embarrassingly bad jams or rightfully discarded songs), it definitely aided my confidence to imagine a forgiving European superfan who just wanted to hear more Tstomp music, for better or worse. Eventually, I whittled it down to one hour-long tape (30 min each side) and sent it over the ocean. We were so surprised and pleased with the result that we decided to release it as an album—although I removed some of the more damning parts and cut it down to ~30 mins for the “public” version.
I think before we had the idea for “the Steffen tape” we were aware of our massive backlog of non-album recordings (in part because much of it was demos or incomplete songs), but we had never considered it on the same plane as our “album music” (in some cases, we had never even revisited it!). But when we listened back to the original Steffen tape, the sequencing and pairing of these seemingly disparate fragments felt so cohesive. So in addition to inadvertently giving us the idea for the tape itself, Steffen has also influenced the way we listen, write, record, and even hang out. Now if I hear a cool sound out in the world, or we’re jamming on a decent idea, I’m eager to bust out the recorder in case it could work for our next bizarre mixtape!
TV: How was the editing process on these tracks? What made you decide to keep these certain clips?
MG: The initial pool of clips was nearly unmanageable! We usually begin every practice with ~40 minutes of random improvising, and most of those are recorded. Also, we accumulate many individual and group demos of a riff or whole song before we record the “real” version—and these are often deliberately more experimental or wacky. There are also clips of us messing around with audio software (making loops, chopping and screwing existing songs), and then snippets of found sound and casual dialogue. In addition to all that, there were full songs and truly miscellaneous bleeps and bloops that got cut from the original “Steffen” version.
It was simple enough to listen through all the jams and cull the most exciting or interactive moments, but I based most of the other selections on whether they had any emotional resonance with us. I was doing most of the editing myself, so one of my goals was to pick bits that we would all fondly recall together—like an audio scrapbook or ‘greatest hits’ of sonic memories. In fact, once I started to choose specific chunks, my imagined audience shifted from Steffen to my fellow bandmates. For example, the end of Side B is the first time we played at our house in western mass—our neighbor came over and knocked on the door.
I also selected clips based on whether they were related (however tenuously) to our album tracks. In considering various demos, I started to realize that many of the supposedly rougher versions were more exciting than their “finished” counterpart. For example, there’s a passage early in side A which is a “suite” of different interpretations of what eventually became “Or Something” (one is super slow textural, one has a busier drum part, and one features dense layers of acoustic guitars). When we were making O, it seemed necessary to centralize these divergent ideas into one thing, but now the contrast seems more complimentary—playing around an idea rather than stating it plainly and firmly. To that end, I also aimed to present a less refined version of our band. We’ve lived and regularly made music (good and bad) together for nearly 5 years, but most of that material doesn’t end up anywhere. For us, making an album has always felt like composing the magnum opus; it should be inspiring but it’s actually stifling and cumbersome because we end up censoring so much incidental experimentation. This process was meant to upcycle all of that content and effort, and to better represent our daily weirdness.
TV: Was the mixing process on this release a group effort/did you all work on it together?
MG: Once we hatched the concept for Steffen, it was basically implied that I would tackle this mission solo. I guess I’m the de facto band archivist because I already remembered so many of these chance recordings vividly, and I don’t think anyone else was as excited to listen to hours of our aimless jams. Also the timing of the unofficial Steffen tape and the eventual “For Steffen Only” tape coincided with being on tour for nearly all of March and May. So it was the perfect task to perform with headphones in the backseat of the van. When I had solid drafts of each side, we listened together and made notes a couple of times, but it was mostly my personal campaign.
In terms of mixing, the biggest challenge was trying to smooth the imbalances in fidelity. The recordings come from so many different spaces — our basement, my parent’s basement (our old practice space haha), our studio setup for O, bedroom demos, live sets, skipping CDs etc. To some extent I was hoping for the effect of channel switching, but even with compression and EQ it was always going to sound pretty unpolished. As always, I am extremely grateful that Skyler can expertly transform any audio clutter into actual music.