–by Quincy Tejani, Music Connoisseur–
Steve Coffey has been an integral part of the Alberta music scene for decades. On his latest LP, Coffey combines two of his favourite art mediums to create a singular piece of work, Paint Songs. We got a chance to talk to Steve about the new album as well as his creative process.
Quincy Tejani: I know that you create a variety of types of art. Would you say that you focus on a certain form of art a little more than others?
Steve Coffey: No, I give each world equal airtime. I have never seen any separation between the two disciplines other than the tools. It’s expression and it all comes from the same place. In many ways that was my intent with the book/CD Paint Songs- to blend the two vehicles of music and visual art. All that said, there are times of course that my painting studio is far more active than my sitting at a table writing a song and vice versa. What’s interesting is that a painting can inspire a song one week and the next the other way around. A constant back and forth that I feel real fortunate to be able to do. Many years of honing. And still far away from where I want to be. Always learning.
QT: Do you prefer to create music as a solo artist? Or do you miss the days of being in a band like “TalkLIKEJoe”?
SC: I write all my music in a solo setting. Always have. But I hear the band as I write and I’ve never been much for solo performing. In the early days it was me with a fella by the name of Jay Bigam and we worked as a duo called The Kitchen Boys then we went on to form the band TalkLIKEJoe. I’ve always had a band and still do. The Lokels (Russ Baker, Dave Bauer, Lance Loree) have been together since the recording of our first album East of East Coulee in 2001. Since then we’ve released six albums. This latest Paint Songs stepped away a bit but the core guys for the most part (we missed one due to farming issues and bad timing) are still there. My band is family.
QT: What kind of music do you like to listen to? Are there any notable influences on your music?
SC: Everything. I love Classical. Crazy for Jazz. Ray Condo Rockabilly. Always inspired by Mike Scott and the Waterboys. Just came off a night of spirit and ‘blast the windows out’ Zeppelin. I enjoy great radio like Laurie Brown’s ‘The Signal’..Allison Brock’s ‘Wide Cut Country’…Pete The Rocker up at CJSR in Edmonton is easily one of my favorite people and plays great eclectic music. I try and support local music because, well..there’s just so much amazing art by local artists. Incredible talent at the ‘around the corner’ Live Music Venues. My 16 year old daughter has me back listening to the Chili Peppers again. And what can I say.. I’m all in for a night of Captain Beefheart, The Talking Heads and Joe Strummer…with a sprinkle of Leonard Cohen, Queen, Tedeschi Trucks Band & Beck.
QT: Where did you get the production done for you new album Paint Songs?
SC: The producer for Paint Songs was David Mockford. He was the owner/operator of a great underground studio called Monster Tracks up in Edmonton back in the day…Produced Junior Gone Wild and the likes. He Actually worked with us back in the mid- Nineties on our TalkLIKEJoe album. So we connected again and thankfully he agreed to come on board. He put us in a great studio outside of Calgary called Audities with the brilliant engineer and owner David Kean who immediately had us going to 2″ tape with analogue gear. A strange wonderful experience.
QT: What was your process in creating the album artwork for the new LP?
SC: I essentially started writing the album while I was on a trip to Europe. I would write a bit and sketch the lyrics as a drawing in my brain. Didn’t use an actual sketchbook..just the mind’s eye really. The song Sundogs was a given. Had it painted way before any actual paint touched the canvas. My intent was to flip back and forth without the tools. No guitar, No canvas. So when I got home I had most of the album and book done mentally. And that was the springboard to finish it physically. Which wasn’t difficult. The key was to find a collaborator and that was David Mockford and my bandmate Dave Bauer had a hand in on the concept also. And the right musicians of course..Cedric Blary with his clarinet..Ron Dyck with his piano. This comes off the liners for the big book which explains a little bit I think- ‘This book derives from an ongoing conceptual desire to bridge my world as a songwriter to my world as a painter in one unique package. From the swirling light drifting through my home under the Canadian prairie sky and beyond, I have interpreted new songs in paint and interpreted new paintings in song resulting in the dancing narrative of music, poetry and pictures I call ‘Paint Songs’.
QT: Are you planning on touring any time soon?
SC: I don’t ‘tour’ in the musical sense of the word. I travel to openings at galleries that represent my work. As a matter of fact I’m off to Winnipeg in April and Regina in May to open new bodies of work. But touring is something I swore off once I had a family. I was raised by my Mom mainly because my Dad was too busy as a working musician on the road with his Honky Tonk bands. He was never there which eventually resulted in their divorce and my Mom hauling Five kids across the prairies to Alberta to set up shop. A single mom in the early 70’s..not easy. But it taught me a lot. I likely wouldn’t be a painter if I didn’t have my own daughters with my Ballerina wife who was on tour herself in their early lives. I became a home dad that needed to express himself so picked up the brush more and more. When my band does travel..it’s normally North and South in Alberta. We’re an Alberta band so it’s a given I figure.
QT: What’s the next step in your artistic career? Do you have any new projects that you’re working on?
SC: I’m really into short films. My pal Tom Funasaka and I are planning a few projects. I’m also looking to go into the studio with Leeroy Stagger as producer hopefully next year sometime. I like his music and his art sense. So I’ve started penning some new songs. I also hope to work with the great poet Sheri-D Wilson again. We put together a piece called ‘Tales From The Moonshine Room’ last year that combined spoken word and music. As a matter of fact we have part of an album in the can. And of course- keep painting. I’m working with two new galleries this year along with those that have represented me for years. And they like to have fresh work on occasion so it keeps me ‘head down’ in the studio. My day ‘job’. It’s all about progression and I just want to get better. I will always have much to learn when it comes to capturing light.
QT: If you had to take only three albums with you to a desert island, what would they be?
SC: The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues, Led Zeppelin lll and Bob Dylan’s Desire
QT: Would you rather meet John Lennon or Mahatma Gandhi?
SC: Both..in the same room.