THE STEPFORD FIVE: The Art of Self-Defense
The Art of Self-Defense is a more than apt title for the Stepford Five's latest album. Essentially, it also describes the band's thick skinned, do-it-yourself approach to releasing albums and self-promotion. It seems to be an art-form that they have perfected: looking inward for inspiration, defending themselves amidst an apathetic musical landscape and against outsiders who have tried to pigeonhole their music.
"We are just trying to get as far as we can, and we've had to do most of the work on our own. I guess that just makes us take things more seriously than other bands." - Vocalist, guitarist Keith Jenkins.
That seriousness has pushed the Columbus foursome to release 2 full-length albums in less than 2 years, which is impressive by any standard. The debut release, Mesh (2/00), was a raucous coming-out party that drew comparisons to the bands many influences: Dinosaur Jr., Afghan Whigs, Catherine Wheel, etc. The latest release is an 11-track mantra that blurs the lines between pop & post-modern, and fully defines what drummer Mark Kovitya describes as the "Stepford Sound, so to speak."
The Art of Self-Defense showcases all four members equally, starting with Jason Dziak's non-linear guitar work and his vintage sounding keyboards. Kovitya's drumming induces panic. His rhythms are both murderous and beautiful, somehow seasoning a John Bonham-like attack with jazzy syncopation and a hint of math rock. Tim Minneci is the enumerative bass player and self-proclaimed "noise antagonist." He is responsible for the album's dense texture of random sounds, including sleigh bells and vibraphone. Finally, Jenkins pens giant vocal hooks to accompany his cynically abrasive pop sensibility to the band's diverse styles and influences.
With the help of producer Neal Schmitt, The Art of Self-Defense celebrates the maturation of a rock band that is growing up very fast and defining their own unique sound. Aggressive tracks like "Foot Soldier" and "Pretty Exit" could easily be radio hits. "Continental Drift" and "Expectations" are shoe-gazing gems, proving the band has a reflective side. "Mend," featuring evil carnival keys and a jazzy snare, is a refreshingly obscure anthem.
Together, the four members of The Stepford Five write great rock songs. Jenkins and Dziak have been friends since middle school, and have been writing songs together for almost as long. They met Minneci, a hack keyboard player, while seeking degrees at Bowling Green State University. In 1998 they formed the band 10Watt, based on a series of 4-track recordings that Jenkins and Dziak produced in the latter's apartment. After graduation and day jobs found all three relocating to Columbus, they recruited Kovitya (a rocket science major at Ohio State) to play the drums and moved Minneci to bass. A new city, a new rhythm section, and a new band: The Stepford Five were born in the first month of 1999.
Within months of forming, they began recording their debut album, Mesh, at Workbook Studio (also with Neal Schmitt). Positive press from local, regional and national outlets followed as the band hit the road to play shows throughout the Midwest before heading back into the studio at the end of 2000 to begin work on The Art of Self-Defense. Throughout the recording process, the band kept an on-line journal of each and every session, chronicling the in's and out's of an independent band in the studio. From self-inflicted criticisms over guitar tones and vocal harmonies, to the painstaking process of mixing, the reality, blemishes and all, was placed on the web for dedicated fans and curious on-lookers to digest. Local media even took interest in the studio journal, intensifying the entire process to a whole other level of on-lookers.
With the weight of a well received debut album and a follow-up recorded under the watchful eye of fans and media, it's time to cut the proverbial crap. The Stepford Five always return you to the simple premise that creating rock music today is not for the meek or the unmotivated. There is only this piece of advice - sit back, put on the headphones, think back to being sixteen years old in your parents suburban basement, putting that needle down on the vinyl, and get ready for the paint to peel off the walls. Rock music is alive and well.
- bio by Billy Peake & David Cloverleaf
Check out the artist's website:
1. Art of Self-Defense
2. Pretty Exit
3. Continental Drift
4. Foot Soldier
7. Presidential Suite
8. Aquarium Blues
9. The Fall
11. Showing Through