Stephen Egerton (The Descendents, All)
Published Jul 26, 2010Stephen Egerton is vital to the world of punk rock. While the name rarely elicits more than vague familiarity, his body of work is legendary. As the guitarist for pioneering SoCal outfits the Descendents and All for the past quarter-century, Egerton's sharp distortion, expedient picking and overtly candied four-chord creations are almost single-handedly responsible for shaping the pop punk genre in its entirety. From Blink-182 to Green Day, NOFX to MxPx, every band has a soft spot for Egerton's work. Factor in that over the past 15 years, he has been producing/mixing some of those very same acts in his Tulsa, Oklahoma studio Armstrong Recording and it's no wonder that Egerton is an essential component to pop punk's past, present and future.
Yet while helming the board for other talents, Egerton has never stopped writing. Eventually growing frustrated with the increasing pile of unused material he's been hoarding for a decade and a half ― not to mention having all the equipment literally at his fingertips ― Egerton finally hunkered down to record his debut solo effort The Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton (Paper + Plastick), which was released this spring.
Asserting his inability to write lyrics, let alone sing, Egerton utilized the skills of close friends such as Rise Against's Tim McIlrath, All's Chad Price, Alkaline Trio's Dan Andriano, Milo Aukerman (Descendents), Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Chris DeMakes (Less Than Jake) and more to give The Seven Degrees... a voice. The result? Unsurprisingly, the album's 16 tracks are everything we'd expect: upbeat, enthusiastic bouts of coarse sugar that are as viral and peppy as they are reminiscent of Egerton's own invaluable contribution to the state of punk.
What finally prompted you to create a solo album after so many years?
Well, I moved down to Tulsa in 2003 and started a recording studio. That took me about a year to get together and I kept writing songs during downtime. Over many years, I ended up amassing this huge pile of songs that I've barely even gotten into with this album. I'm definitely not much of a singer/lyricist though. So these songs were stockpiling and I wanted to do something with them; move on and get into new territory. My wife suggested that rather than sit around and wait for words to come 10 years from now, I just ask some friends to come down and sing. That's exactly how it came together.
So what was the first step?
I recorded 26 songs, doing everything myself when the studio was quiet so it would be consistent sonically. Then when I decided to do the project this way, I started contacting friends asking, "Hey, do you wanna do one?" "Ok, sure." I really just asked my buddies if they wanted to take a crack at a tune. As I got the songs back, they were coming out excellently. Originally I figured I'd put it together, throw it up on iTunes and two people would buy it. No big deal. I just wanted them to be out there, get them off my plate and move on. But it ended up becoming such a cool record in the long run because of the contributions of these great guys that I wanted to do more. The label was into it and we put it out.
Sounds like you were motivated by wanting to "clean out the closet" so to speak.
Yeah. I've moved into a phase of life where I'm a father; a family guy. Touring doesn't make enough to warrant doing it with any regularity but I'm really strongly compelled to play music. That's never stopped for me, so it's nice to inadvertently create a situation where I could continue to make music to satisfy my need. It's selfish, 'cause I'm compelled to do it and can't stop.
It's your addiction!
Pretty much. It has taken over my life so I'm gonna do it for as long as I can. This worked out great, having these guys involved, making it so much better than I could have expected. It's funny to look at it and go, "Boy, I have some pretty amazing friends out there. They're talented." And this isn't even reaching too far out there. It's my immediate buddies that I've recorded, toured or played with. It was that simple. I'm a fan of these bands and it was cool that they were into it.
So this really went smoothly? Collaborative albums can be a nightmare for some people.
It did require a lot of work because I wrote the songs before I had any idea that I'd do the project with different singers. I had written most of the vocal melodies but words weren't coming. That was the real trick: giving these guys my vocal melody, saying use it if you want, and they'd have to write to that. Some had other ideas that were way better than mine though. But knowing how the songs already went, I had to figure out the key for some voices. I'd send them this arbitrary key and they'd say it was too high. Then I had to re-cut all the guitars in lower keys to make it work. The things you'd normally do in a practice room, we had to do from afar.
How did you pair up songs with people if these were written before you had vocalists in mind?
It was kind of fun. I could sit back and go, "How would this guy's voice sound on this song?" Usually something would just surface. I'd hear a spot that would be perfect for this or that guy. It was so important to pick the right music for the right guy.
There was a lot of pondering?
Yeah. It took quite a while to figure out. I might ask others in the future and probably should but generally the right person would kind of hit me for this project.
How hard was it for you to play everything on the album and record it simultaneously?
It was actually rather easy, though it was a lot of work having to record parts loosely, use them as reference while doing other tracks, redo the original and then fit it all together. Thankfully I've been playing drums for a long time and recording for a while so I could do it. The real problem was mixing.
All the sounds are the same because I got most of the drums at the same time but making sure everything fit together as a record was really important to me. I wanted it to feel and flow like a record, not like a compilation.
That is a risk when using a variety of singers.
Yeah, it's not hard for that to happen so I was trying really hard to match levels between songs. I'd listen back and forth, making sure the bass was the same level through each song. It took a while until I was comfortable with that. I've been primarily mixing for years now so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the process but when it's your own stuff, well, that's very different. I've found it way easier to be more objective about another band than with my own stuff. I'm way more critical and want to make sure the vocalists who did such a great job got deserved representation.
I'm guessing you had to just stop eventually?
I had to! I'd mixed it 30 times and could still keep tweaking or find some other thing to fix. I could be sitting there until I'm 50 so any improvements will have to happen with the next record.
That said, I'm guessing there won't be many live shows with this album?
I'd love for there to be, but under these circumstances it becomes prohibitively expensive to get so many people out to one show. When things work out... we do have a few shows coming up where a bunch of the guys will be there so we'll do some songs. I do enjoy playing live but it can't happen to the wide extent I'd like. I'm hoping it will happen because All have been doing four to six shows a year for the past while, which is fantastic for me, but those are songs I have muscle memory for. I rehearse hard for a couple of weeks before a show but somewhere in the back of my brain, I know those songs. These one have never been played outside of me recording them. I don't have those years of pounding them in on tour. Practising for this is challenging. That solo...how did I do that again? But sometimes that makes for the most fun. It keeps you on edge.