Paddy Steer is a multi-instrumentalist who got into the habit of making his own synths more than half a decade ago. He uses them to produce his own brand of homebrewed danceable madness. Ahead of a slew of Irish gigs, Bit Thorn caught up with the dude to chat about the what’s and the whys of everything from touring some unusual places to being a lefty online.
Hi Paddy, so tell me, as someone who only heard of you the other day, who are you and what are you doing here?
At the moment I’m basically a post midlife crisis 51 year old who suffered an epiphany and now wears an increasingly pungent gold costume on stage and creates some sort of danceable mayhem with homemade synthesisers, wee drum kit, the ‘family’ glockenspiel electrified with hum-buckers and various other distractions.
You have 4 gigs coming up around the country in some unusual places like Leitrim and Tralee along with the standard Dublin & Cork, how did you go about booking this mini-tour?
I have a man on the inside acting as agent – Willie Spilly, from a band called Woven Skull who I met at a gig in Glasgow that threw 3 of them together and a guy called Keith found out and asked me to play Tralee. I’m agent free any other time, so I just go where I’m asked which is ok at the moment.
Your latest album, ‘Bifurcation Arrows Misleading Visuals’ came out earlier in the year, tell us a bit about that?
Recording and playing live for me are two totally different approaches (for me for now!), the album is months of procrastinating and playing with colour and unfeasible textures- like on one tune – a 10 man bassoon section of amateurs, something that you wouldn’t want to take on the road (I bought the bassoon last year… it hurts).
Melody is important.
I’ve also got some other great musicians and collaborators to play on various tunes -Rioghnach Connolly (currently signed to Real World with the Breath project) plays flute and as a none reader, her self determined transcription of the notes for the track called Omni Peanut Puppet Master looked stupendously archaic. Graham Massey, Manchester music pioneer who I’ve played with in several bands for over 30 years plays various bass-clarinets, clarinets and stuff.
Music readers – Ben Cashell is on Cello on there and an old band mate from our large ensemble ‘Homelife’ Matt Batty on violins.
It’s really hard to talk about making music… You sort of do it, just drive yourself mad working on it for hours and hours until you can’t take it any more and then you holler “Ahhh fuck off into the world… don’t let me hear you again you bastard”. I don’t hold much sway with seriousness – but think you can explore stuff that is emotionally rich, eye watering, lip trembling and absurd and fonky. The tunes, hopefully, all have their own intensity. Ultimately I’d like to manipulate folks so they can cry like babies while dancing, but in a good way, not like Monsanto or anything.
You create your own instruments, where do you get the inspiration for new sounds and how to you get all that stuff around on tour?
I’ve been making synthesisers for about 6 years and adapting bits of stuff for a while.
Sadly the designer of all the synths I’ve built- Ray Wilson of ‘music from outer space’ died last week.
I don’t think I’m inspired by ‘new’ sounds exactly. I think it’s about context and the grouping of sound – which many folks are doing.
So I guess I’d maybe hear bassoon and double bass on the Clangers music by Vernon Elliott and think… What would that sound like with an approximation of an afro-beat? Maybe with saucepans of water, and a banjo section…and a synth… I’ll spend time trying stuff… maybe keep or bin bits that I would have spent weeks on. I like to dabble with instruments I can’t play very well and record simple bits with them to build up melodies. Getting around with my live set up – a couple of months ago I cashed in a load of savings to buy a Peugeot partner to replace my defunct Kangoo. Already the Partner has gone voodoo on me, turning its lights and wipers on for no reason. Mainly I seem to do gigs to pay for a broken car… yes it’s in the garage today – anti-roll link doodahs… 100 quid wham!
But I can get all my gear in it and sleep on the back seat. I try and drive at night where possible so I can wind the windows down and scream obscenities and sing etc… It’s like a sort of therapy containment/ release valve cubicle… I guess that’s what all that extra cash spent on a car is for.
What were you up to before going it alone as a solo artist?
I’ve not exactly just gone it alone. I do still have friends. I was and still am a bassist/ multi-instrumentalist, I played two gigs last week in the Manchester Jazz Festival with Graham Massey’s Toolshed and also with poet saxophonist Alabaster DePlume. I’ve been in a few bands since the late 80s, various tours with a band called Yargo then tours with Justin Robertson’s Lionrock, before heading my own ‘Homelife’ large ensemble 12 piece band… We had a couple releases out on Ninja Tune and another 4 albums and did a couple of small tours over a few years. That took its toll though. The main difficultly was… trying to organise everyone to get to a rehearsal. This band fizzled from 12 to 7 then to 2! I’d started my midlife crisis by taking up the drums at age 40, and then entering the therapeutic world of building effects pedals and then synthesisers. I was 44 before I’d ever done a solo show. That was Graham Massey asking me to do a short set at a Moonlanding commemorative event.
What are your main musical influences?
My main musical influences form early on… initially punk rock then stuff like Joe Harriott and John Mayer, Charles Mingus, Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Sun Ra, Hermeto Pascoal, Moondog, Bootsy Collins, Silver Apples… Not really much in the way of ‘modern’ electronic stuff as lots of people expect… but Bruce Haack for his mix of kid friendly and sarcastic. This list is endless though…
I see from you “online presence” that you’re a bit of a lefty, how much influence does politics have on your music?
Ohhh Really! My mum thinks I overdo the politics. I don’t think it influences the music – hopefully right-wingers will enjoy it too. I’d prefer to engage a conversation and agree to disagree than not talk. It’s our modern problem of being in the feedback echo chamber thing. My girlfriends sick to death of me shouting at the telly though. She’s always mopping my brow with a hot flannel and giving me chamomile tea
Does your music have a political message?
No my music doesn’t have a political message. Although you could argue that the album ‘Bifurcation Arrows Misleading Visuals’ title, even though about road traffic safety layout design, is analogous with the pretty even division throughout all societies and the misinformation we are presented with…
But I prefer the road traffic thing.
Brexit or Brexshit?
My grandmother was Irish… so I will look at the Irish citizenship thing…. is that bad?
Have you played Ireland before? And if so, what kind of response have you received?
I’ve played Ireland with 808 state and Toolshed and Northern Ireland in the 1980s .
Our singer/boy racer driver sped through Belfast in our Salford Van Hire van we got fenced in by a few RUC landrovers.
I’ve never played solo before – so I’m looking forward to it.
Errrrrrrr…. I don’t think so…. probably…
You can catch Paddy at the following places on August 11th in Whelans, on the 12th in Gulp’d in Cork, Willy Spilly’s house in Leitrim on the 13th and finally in The Greyhound Bar in Tralee on the 14th. Check out his blog for more info.