Luke Esterkyn - Stroke 9

December 6, 2004

You guys formed back in 1989.

Yeah, back in high school.

You guys put out five albums.

I think this our fifth or sixth even. This is our fifth compact disc. We started making albums before the compact disc was around so they would come out on cassette back then but those don't really count I suppose.

Yes, they do. I graduated from high school in 1985 so I remember them well.

You're with me then.

Yes, I'm with you on that one. You guys were with Universal.

We were for about two albums and what seemed like 10 years.

What made you decide to steer away from a major label?

It becomes obvious when it's time to do it because they stop giving you money and they stop promoting your record release and stuff like that. There comes a point where you're like "okay, we can only wait around for somebody else to help us for so long" and that doesn't usually last too long in the record business.

That's sad especially if you have people who make good music.

I agree but there's only room for so many artists to take so much money and so much attention. There's always a chance to come back to that I suppose someday but I think for now the best thing for us is to keep getting albums out. Getting them to the people who like our music and touring. Otherwise you just sit around and you become really stagnant and get frustrated and forget why you're doing what you're doing.

You shouldn't do that.

Nah, I wouldn't recommend that.

Some of your songs have been used in movies and TV shows such as Ed TV, Scrubs, Malcolm In The Middle, and The West Wing. How did you get hooked up there?

Yeah, a few. Those are things that mainly happened through being on a major label. They send the music out to people and who knows what they do. Who knows how that stuff gets in there. If somebody likes it or somebody receives some sort of payment. Who knows?

Y'all didn't receive any?

Nah, we received a little but somebody received something in order to get you on there. I'm not sure exactly what. I think it's a combination of things but obviously the music director of whatever show has to at least tolerate your music. Then they have to see what's in it for them. Whatever perks there are in it for them. I'm not sure what they are but one can imagine what they might be.

You guys have put out a new album called All In which came out November 9. You guys are experimenting a little bit on this one.

Yeah, on this one we basically had as much time as we wanted to work on it and we would just get together. We did it all at home so it wasn't like go to the studio and make music. It was like if you're in the mood, work on it. If you're not, don't. We would just fool around with whatever we were feeling that day. I think when you make records like the way we made our last two records, the songs were done pretty much. Worked out beforehand. You go into the studio and you record the songs that were worked out. The way I think a lot of bands are doing music now, you go to your computer, you sit down at whatever time. It might be four in the morning. You might have just gotten home from the bars. You might sit down and say something into a microphone or you might mess around with a keyboard or some sound you have and whatever gets down gets down. It's a little more of a creative way of working I think.

A little more relaxed.

Yeah, it's relaxed and you can hit it whenever you feel like it. As opposed to going to a studio from nine to five every day for two months and making an album where you're like "okay, we have to be done with this song by this day." You have to be a lot more prepared when you do that. This way the songs are written as you go along which makes it a little more exciting.

What kind of new instruments were you experimenting with?

Well, not really new instruments but there are all these synthesizers now on these recording programs that are on your computer. It's pretty easy to flip through a list of whatever organs or wind instruments or strings or whatever is on there. You can experiment and be like "oh, that sounds cool" and throw it down. All you really have to do is play it on the keyboard. You don't even really have to be able to play it on the keyboard. You can program it in on a little map on your computer so it plays itself. It's cool.

I guess that's the Pro-Tools M-Box.

Yeah, the Pro-Tools M-Box. It's a beautiful thing.

You can record it one way on that but how do you reproduce that when you do a live show?

When we do stuff live, we just basically play what we can on guitars. Most of that other stuff is just ear candy for people when you're sitting there listening on headphones or in your car. When you see a rock band, there is only so much you can really take in. Drums, bass, and electric guitars are pretty blaring instruments. You can't really hear the subtle moments with the strings and stuff. Although a lot of bands do that now. We've actually tried to play with synth sequencers and stuff like that. We did it for a few months and we just found it sort of pointless. It's too much work and there's nothing about playing along to anything. It takes away from the excitement of playing live. You have to play along to a click track and the drummer has to be able to sing to a click track and everything has to be in perfect tempo. It's just a pain. Once you get a live keyboard player, it's just an extra mouth to feed.

True and an extra bed.

Exactly, an extra hotel room. Although I do love it when I see a band and they pull all that stuff off live. It's pretty amazing but most of those bands are like Sting where you can afford to have a full orchestra with them on stage.

You see that with a lot of black metal bands too where they've got seven or eight people.

Yeah, my cousin's in a black metal band and he does keyboards. What he does, he plays string parts and shit on the keyboards. I can't even hear what he does. I've gone to his shows a million times. It's like "dude, I'm doing all this stuff" and I'm like "great, all I can hear is the guitar."

They must have a bad soundman.

Yeah, it seems like most of the clubs they play in aren't really the best for sound.

If there's a really good sound system and the sound guy is really good at what he does, you can hear all of that stuff.

Yeah, I agree. I've seen bands in really nice rooms with good sound systems and it does make a difference there. The percentage of time you actually play in a room like that is not high when you're touring. At least for us it's not. We've played with a lot of shitty sound systems but if you can hear the vocals a little bit, that's good enough.

I guess your first single was "How Am I Going To Know" which you co-wrote with Butch Walker.

Yeah, it's a song Butch and I worked out. One day I was over at his house in Atlanta. We're friends and he'd actually recorded a song for us on our last album called "Do It Again". He's just a really cool guy to work with. He's chill and a good musician. So we were like "yeah, let's write a song" so we wrote that song and then it was sitting around for a while. When we went to finish this album, we decided to try that song out and it was a cool song so we just recorded it. We liked how it turned out so we put it on there.

He's worked with a wide variety of bands like Marvelous 3, Avril Lavigne, The Donnas, and Sevendust.

Yeah, he's doing well.

I'd say. He doesn't stick with just one kind of sound.

No, he's versatile.

Tell me a bit about the new album All In.

Well, I think it's one of those albums that you will put in and the first few listens, you'll look a little confused. I think a lot of the songs are pretty diverse sounding. It doesn't really sound like just one band. After a few listens, I think it starts to come together a little bit. I find myself putting it in and really enjoying it from start to finish lately. I've listened to it now maybe like a thousand times so it may take that many listens to actually start to like it. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I think it's a good thing with an album.

You wake up the listener because each song is so different from the other one. You don't start to get bored with it.

Yeah, I think I like that in music. I don't like hearing a band where every song sounds like a different version of their hit single.

Exactly. It doesn't go into a certain groove. You wrote a song about a former baseball player.

Yeah, "Rod Beck". That sort of came about as kind of a joke in the naming. It was a working title. We were calling it "Beck". Rod Beck was a pitcher for the Giants for years and then he moved around a little bit. We always thought he was a fine looking guy. He has this huge mustache and a mullet. He's just one of those guys. He's a bigger dude. He's got a beer belly. He just kind of looks like one of those real manly man type baseball players that you would see in the '70s. I always thought he was a cool guy and then I decided to call the song "Rod Beck". Then we started reading a little bit more and it turned out he had all these personal problems. It kind of fit in with the whole theme of the song. It's funny. This guy from ESPN called and wanted to do an interview with me. He said he was doing an interview with me and then he was going to give the song to Rod Beck and do an interview with him. I'm not sure if it ever happened but it's kind of a random little story.

Well, he did the interview with you didn't he?

He did yeah. This was just a week ago so I'm not sure if it happened with Rod Beck but I'm kind of curious to find out.

I hope you do find out because that would be cool.

Yeah I thought that was the coolest thing that's ever happened.

You guys have been doing a little bit of touring.

Yeah, we have. We've been touring a pretty good amount.

You've toured from September 22 to October 9 with Vertical Horizons.

Yeah, we did. It was good. We've toured with them a bunch of times in the past. They're friends of ours so we just did another little run. It was good. The shows were fun. We hit a lot of places we haven't been and we've got two weeks coming up in January and then we've got three weeks we're going out with a band called Sister Hazel. That's in February and March. I don't know what's happening after that.

It sounds like you have a lot of stuff coming up.

Yeah, keeping busy. Keeping it going.

Where will you be touring?

The Sister Hazel tour I think starts in Oklahoma and kind of works it way West. We'll do a lot of West coast cities which will be fun.

Any European dates?

No, unfortunately not. I'd love to. We went to Europe I guess it was in 2000 and it was awesome. It was a great time. We haven't been back. It's really expensive to get there. We probably should try to hit that again.

You guys have toured Canada too.

Yeah, we've done Canada, Europe, and that's it. We were going to go to Australia a couple of years ago but it fell through which would have been amazing. I want to go there bad.

You get to actually see these places. I think one of the sad things when I talk to musicians is they've been to Japan and Europe and all these places, and they tell me they only saw their hotel rooms and the venues. They never go out and see shit.

It's exhausting being on the road. A lot of times you just feel like sitting on the bed and watching TV.

I'm such a curious person, I'd be going all over the place.

Yeah, I do that too for a while on and off when I get bursts of energy. You just don't sleep that much and then you get to the point where you realize you have a bed so you're going to sleep for a little while. It's tough to deal with both.

You did the majority of your record at John McDermott's house.

Yeah, pretty much all of it. I did a little bit at my house. I actually did a lot of the singing at my house but we did a lot of the music at John's house.

I think it's cool how you can email each other music and have people do their stuff and email it back.

Yeah, it's really great. You don't ever have to see anybody in the band which is perfect.

That way you guys can't strangle each other.

Exactly.

Have you guys pretty much kept the same lineup?

Yeah, pretty much. We have a new bass player now. This guy named Jenz who is an old friend of ours because our last bass player just had a baby and he doesn't want to tour so we've got a new guy. Other than that, it's the same. The drummer, John, and I.

A lot of bands are together for a couple of years and want to practically murder each other.

We have a pretty good relationship.

Any other thoughts or comments?

Thank you.

Stroke 9