Steve Lambke – Veteran Talk

Interview by Tamara Lindeman with illustration by Kristian Bauthus

You are about to make a new record, or already have. I hear tell it’s called Bone Soldiers. Say more. At length.

Dog Weather was an incredibly cohesive work, lyrically and musically, with many recurring themes and metaphors. How does this come about in your songwriting process? How does this record compare? Themes and thoughts?

I’m glad that Dog Weather comes across that way…the songs were written over a fairly long period of time and with very little intent towards being part of a whole. Some of the reoccurring images happened quite accidentally – dogs, public radio, bad weather – and without any metaphoric duties being asked of them. They were just meant to be images of the real physical world. Except for the slobbering dogs in Haybale Song, I’d defend the rest as being real dogs. “Broken Bones” was a reoccurring phrase that I was a bit more conscious (self-conscious?) of, and one that I tried to use as being suggestive of some other idea, but even saying that, I did break a lot of bones and they were real images from physical life. But I never personally came to the conclusion that particular song arrives at towards the end.

I feel that’s something that I learned through that record, that I could use reoccurring images or lyrical touchstones to link or unify or make the small bits (the songs) part of something bigger (the album). That it was one way to place the songs into dialogue with one another, to make them converse with each other. And conversations are cool because they can, at their best, lead somewhere unexpected. So at a certain point other ideas are coming up that weren’t intended. (I feel like I’m giving away all my secrets and tricks here!)

With Bone Soldiers I wrote with that in mind to some extent. This time it’s teeth and the military and… some sort of prophetic or visionary reality. I’m unsure how to explain that part of it. There are appeals made to higher powers. There’s also lots of talk about men and women. When I was writing these songs I had a conversation with Simone from One Hundred Dollars and she told me that their record was going to be called “Songs of Man”. I said “Me too!”

Musically, it’s pretty boisterous for much of it, very tender for some of it, and there’s lots of guitars, there’s some shouting and yelling and some beautiful male singing. I’m really happy with the band on it; Ian Kehoe on drums, Nick Ferrio on bass, Spencer Burton on guitar, and Will Kidman on lead. We toured for a few weeks together then went in and played it live. We worked really fast. We just finished and I’m not sure how much perspective I have on it. I haven’t worked out the sequence yet. It’s a rock and roll record made the way rock and roll records used to be made. We took no grants and ask for no forgiveness.

Sorry, you asked about songwriting. I’d say this one is more about internal matters, but also very direct. Maybe bloody heart on a bloody sleeve at moments.

I have oft overheard or witnessed conversations along the lines of ‘Steve Lambke should write a book of poetry’. Have you ever thought that Steve Lambke should or would do such a thing?

It’s a nice thing to hear on one hand, obviously. It’s also a little bit back handed. I know that people are not often stoked on my singing voice. But, these are songs, you know? I wrote them as songs, I like the form of songs, and fuck it I’m going to sing them as songs. That’s the punk rock kid in me talking. Music is not only for the beautiful and the sweet of voice! I want to wrestle down those gatekeepers!

Sometimes I write a verse and it feels really complete, but a song needs 3 verses, right? So you’re forced to get it together and push through and figure out what happens next, and how that all might relate to a chorus or a title or whatever. That’s what I mean by the form. I like it and it pushes me further. I need some kind of structure.

All that being said, yeah, I’ve thought about it, words without songs….it’s a whole different thing to figure out.

As a sage musician with a big body of work behind you, how do you feel about your earlier records these days?

Oh boy. A mix of embarrassment and….forgiveness? There’s a few good songs on the first couple Baby Eagle records, but they were big learning experiences. I wish in many ways they weren’t public at all. Maybe I’d be more comfortable with Dog Weather as a debut record.

With the Cons records, I was a part of this much bigger 5 headed beast, and though it’s starting to feel very long ago, I can mostly feel pretty positive about it, and hear what’s good and true in them. There’s definitely a few recordings that I love and am proud to have been a part of.

You’ve been an incredible guitar player for a long, long time. You also play everything else. How are you feeling about that instrument these days, or others?

This recording we just did, we played 3 electric guitars, bass and drums and I loved every second of it. I love playing an instrument as part of an ensemble. I’m not a soloist of any kind. That’s what I love about Rock and Roll, that it’s something that you have to do together. I’d really love to play bass in a band. There is a lot of things in our world that isolate people, and very few that can bring them together and give them a common purpose. That’s another thing I’d say in relation to the poetry question; it seems a lonesome road. I love the writing process very much, but I love taking the thing in the end and making a big loud racket (or nice quiet tender racket) with my friends.

I might even go so far as saying that that’s an important subtext to all the songs – that they are going to be performed with people. I’ll go that far today, anyways.

Press folk and bloggers constantly comment on both the strength and cohesion of the YC catalogue, despite the fact that the music released falls into many different genres. What in your mind makes a YC record a YC record? Do you think of it that way?

Right now, the records are all made by a relatively small circle of people. We’re all pals, and maybe share certain thoughts or perspectives on what it means to make music, here and now, and how that’s done or can be done. Beyond being stoked on the music, we have to be excited about the idea of the working with the people involved, too. Everyone on the label is really, really self-directed and has to take responsibility for the business side of their projects. It’s the only way we can operate right now. And those are the kind of people I get excited about working with. We only put out a few records a year, so it’s growing slowly, but I like that the circle is growing. When I think about all of you that we work with I get inspired – like “we can do this!”

Any new musical crushes these days? Old loves on your mind and in the van stereo?

Deloro! I love that record so much. It floors me. 5 amazing musicians, everybody writing tunes and singing. Strange, wonderful voices. Amazing. Joy Joy, Years, Travellin’ Man. So many great tunes. A great, mysterious record.

Playing with Will again sent me back to his Woolly Leaves record from a few years back. There was a huge snowstorm in Sackville last night and I went on a headphones walk and listened to a bunch of his demos we had dumped to my computer years ago. So good. I just want to see him finish another record!

Care to talk about some of your favorite musicians, ones to play with, witness or know?
What about favorite humans?

The band that made this record…I feel so lucky to be playing music with these guys. They are all such good players, and every single one of them is a great songwriter, so everybody was always thinking about the song as primary. It’s a real pleasure.