New project STEMS has created a style and sound with influences of shoegaze/alternative/90’s indie rock roots while creating melodies and song structures that are easily consumable. After years of playing in other bands and living in separate parts of the US, Ryan Reesey and Kevin Sullivan met back in Maryland in 2015 and started writing songs together again.
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you born and where are you now?
I was born in Baltimore and have been back in that area around 5 years now.
How many years have you been playing music and what instruments have you learned?
I’ve been playing music in general around 27ish years now. I come from a pretty musical family. A few generations of drummers on my dad’s side and my mom is a great singer. My first instrument was the drums, for obvious reasons. I didn’t get too serious though until I picked up guitar, which has been my main deal ever since. I always keep a synthesizer near by in my arsenal as well. When I’m in a studio it’s always fun figuring out a melody for a song that we’re working on using a random bizarre instrument.
Ryan, the first time we met was during the glorious 2000’s in Hollywood. What were you doing out there at that time?
Ahh yes! My Hollywood days. Well, I went out there in my early 20’s basically just very hungry and eager to play music. Also to be wild and get some life experience too. I certainly did that there. I cut my teeth in the LA electronic scene playing with an awesome band called Protection. After about a year, I left for a short stint in Seattle, then settled in NYC for the next 9 years. In New York I co-founded the post punk band Me You Us Them with the very talented Ian Ljungquist. Now I’m full circle and very excited about this new release!
How does it feel to release your very 1st album?
Well, actually for me it’s technically my second record. Me You Us Them released the album “post-data” back in 2010. But, in a lot of ways this stems album feels like a first to me. I really feel I put myself out there with the vocals and emotional content. It’s a pretty honest depiction of who we are, not just musically but also on a personal level. Of course with those things in mind I was a little apprehensive and nervous to let it go. But, ultimately very excited for people to hear it.
You’ve grown incredibly as a musician and your new album just blew my mind. How long did it take to put it together and where did you record?
It took 3 years from start to finish. We recorded with Alex Lakis at Killer Penguin Productions in Annapolis MD. I certainly do not intend on taking that long on a project ever again…But, it was just one of those things where we knew exactly what we wanted and were willing to push ourselves as far as it would have to take to get it. Plus ya know, life stuff happens along the way too.
Yourself and Kevin Sullivan co-piloted this project together on instruments, was this a big challenge in the recording studio?
For the most part tracking the album was a total joy. Kevin does his bass in like 1 to 2 takes pretty much every time. He’s so proficient on bass it’s just stupid. I’m pretty quick on guitars but I often go down rabbit holes with overdub ideas. The most challenging part for me recording wise was definitely doing drums. I’m not a seasoned drummer straight off of tour. I just knew that somewhere deep down I could articulate what these songs needed. Alex and Kevin trusted me to do so. That being said , I luckily have zero drummer ego and after a bunch of failed attempts at tracking “Just in Case” Alex called up his buddy Josh Bolyard. Josh came in and banged that song out like a pro in 2 takes. As for Kevin , I think I can go ahead and speak for him in saying that his biggest challenge was most likely just dealing with me, lol.
Any plans on your 1st music video and what would the song be?
With the current covid-19 crisis going on there aren’t any plans to get together at all. We’re doing our part in practicing social distancing. In fact, we were already social distancing from each other anyways, before it was cool! Ya know, 3 years is a long time but when things clear up, doing a video is a project that interests us very much . I think the opening song “When You Get To” would be a prime candidate for that. It was written for two very beautiful and talented friends of mine who’ve passed away, Christo Buffam and Anna Blunk. So, it’s very close to my heart and I’d like to further express that somehow.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next 2 years?
On tour overseas, standing 6 ft away from my band mates and the audience of course!
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Dark Beauty is pretty much how I would describe all the music, films, art and fashion that I like. The same is very true for this record, it’s very dark in emotional tone but the energy and melodies are enticing. I enjoy contrasts a lot. In no way whatsoever am I attempting to compare myself here, but case and point would be a song like “what a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong. It’s got such beautiful string arrangements and lyrics about hope, but that one minor chord change in the progression brings all the sadness of the world to focus for a moment. I live for things like that!