Interview with TIM STEWARD of Screamfeeder
If you were involved in the Brisbane music scene in the 90s and early 2000s, chances are you knew who Screamfeeder was. The globally-recognised band are “Old school and proud of it”, with six albums and many tour under their belt. Now, after a ten-year break from the studio, Screamfeeder are back with a new album, Pop Guilt. Caitlin chatted with Tim Steward, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, about the album, their upcoming tour, and the many shenanigans that Screamfeeder have experienced along the way.
Caitlin: How’s your week been so far?
Tim: Actually, my week has been one of those crazy weeks where you find yourself busy the whole time but you feel like you never really got anything accomplished.
So, I’m curious, the name Screamfeeder… whose idea was that, and where did that come from?
That’s actually a really old and boring story… back in the early nineties, when we were hunting around for band names, we spent hours and days and weeks poring over library books and any kind of source we could imagine for a band name because we really wanted a change at the point. I actually used to go fishing a lot as a kid and we had a device called a Swimfeeder, which is this little plastic tube that you put your bait in, and it attracts the fish in the surrounding area… we were so desperate we were thinking of fishing tackle items. So someone suggested we change Swimfeeder to Screamfeeder, so that’s how that came about.
Yeah, it’s pretty weird, huh?
So you guys started performing as a band again after a bit of a break in 2013. What fuelled that decision to get back together?
I guess I’d better give you some background on why we stopped playing originally, in around 2005. Our drummer was moving overseas, and he was feeling a bit disillusioned with the whole band, and the returns to all effort we were putting in were becoming a little bit less. We were all just feeling like we’d tried as hard as we could as a band, and the returns were getting less. So the drummer went overseas for a few years, and then he came back. We got offered one or two random shows he or there, so we played on and off— sort of once or twice a year— and in the end, we all looked at each other and went, “Dude, we still really enjoy this, we should do it because it’s something we’ve spent so much of our lives doing, it’s so much a part of us, and there’s no real reason to stop doing it.”
What were you doing in that gap between now and those quiet years for Screamfeeder?
I actually went ahead and formed a new band, which was kind of a weird and amazing experience, because after having played with Screamfeeder for so long, I was really used to the dynamic of the three of us, and I took it for granted that I knew how to operate in that band so efficiently. So when I went to this new band— and it was a slightly bigger band, a five-piece lineup— it was so bizarre, trying to learn how to play with new people and negotiate the dynamics of not only different instrumentation and people, but different personalities as well. So it was all difficult and weird, but it was great in its own way because it took me outside of myself a little. That band was called WE ALL WANT TO, and in the years between 2007 and 2013, we’ve got three albums out already, so we’ve been working pretty hard.
That’s awesome! Also, very belated congratulations on your 2007 Q Song of the Year.
How did that one feel?
That one felt pretty amazing, but it was really unexpected. My band got invited to play at the ceremony, and I had no idea that I was gonna win or anything like that, so we all got really drunk after we played, and suddenly I heard my name being called over the PA, and I was like, “Oh my God”, and I had to go up there and try and pretend to be sober… well, a little bit more sober than I was, and make up something to say on the spot. I floundered pretty bad, like, I couldn’t really think of anything to say. It was like a long walk of silence, but I think it was pretty cool.
With Screamfeeder’s new record, the first record in ten years, has working in the studio with Screamfeeder changed?
It hasn’t really changed that much, because we know how to make a record together— this is our seventh album, so we’ve been around the studio many times. The only thing that’s really changed is that in the past we always would rehearse and then go somewhere together as a band to a studio out of town and spend three or four weeks recording and mixing and it was this “project in a bubble” kind of thing. Whereas this time, we recorded it in a studio at our friend’s place in Brisbane, where we live, and it was very much a pop-in, pop-out kind of affair. We were working and doing all the bulls*** that you gotta do every day. If anything, it was a little less concentrated and intense, but there’s really no way around that. Everyone’s always super busy as they get older.
The new record is called Pop Guilt. It’s not a name of any of the songs on the record, so it’s gotta mean something, right? Why’d you decide on that name?
It’s a funny story because originally we were gonna call the album “Sciatic Heart”, which is A, the name of one of the songs, and B, a line that shows up in another of the songs. But not everyone in the band was as into it as some of the other members, so we had to be democratic about it. We were fishing around for some other titles and didn’t really come up with anything until the last minute when we had to submit the artwork. I happened across the phrase “Punk Guilt”— I was listening to an interview of a guy from a band called Against Me— and said, “That’s pretty cool,” and I thought I could superimpose that onto Pop Guilt. It really feels right because for us, we look back on our back catalogue of albums, and at the time we might have been trying to be this or be that, but underneath, we were always so obviously just a pop band concerned with writing good hooks and great melodies and things like that.
The members of Screamfeeder have been involved in many musical projects over the past couple years. Do we get to see any of those new influences coming into the record?
Honestly, probably not really. When we get together, Kellie and I especially, to write, we’ve been doing it a long time, so we’ve got this groove we fall into, and we gravitate toward certain styles of writing songs, certain ways of playing our instruments together, certain melodic things, even certain chords structures or types of tunes. It’s very apparent that that’s what the Screamfeeder thing is. It’s a combination of mine and Kellie’s writing. So pretty much no, we went straight back to the basic guts of what Screamfeeder’s really like.
The record has been mixed by multiple different producers. What brought you guys to deciding on that?
Originally we decided on that because we wanted the record mixed quickly. What sometimes can happen if one guy’s got the job of mixing the whole record, he’ll start sending mixes back to the band and everyone’s like, “Oh, that mix is a bit this or a bit that or the snare drum’s too loud or the guitar’s too soft,” or whichever it might be, and you end up backwards-and-forwards-ing for weeks, and there are all these mixes and it gets crazy. So we thought that if we divided the mixes up, it would be simpler, and it was…but then the difficulty came in trying to assess someone’s mix against what someone else might have done with a different song, and seeing how they stand up together. So it was kind of weird, but it was a good experiment.
Does the record have a consistent theme? What sort of concepts were you exploring and considering while you were writing?
Sonically, the record ended up reasonably well tied together, so there were no great discrepancies in the mixing. Kellie writes in a very different way to me, she writes in an abstract, poetic kind of way, which is a bit more stream-of-consciousness. Her songs are more like you can work out what it’s about when you finish writing it and you might have been listening to it for a couple of months. As for me, I tend to write way more literal, so I kind of have a loose story or idea in mind when I’m writing the song. The bulk of the Screamfeeder back catalogue are just stories, personal little anecdotes, or personal feelings, or stories about, like most bands, lost love or regretting things, or problems we might have had or overcome. So really, it’s quite personal, in the end.
As of this month, Screamfeeder is touring, right? Particularly for big tours, what’s the secret to not losing your mind or completely wiping yourself out?
We’re pretty seasoned, so we know how to go on tour and strike a balance between having a great time and being able to put in good shows. Having done it so many times, you learn when you should go to bed, and how many beers you should drink. We love our friends who put us up on sofas, but we usually go for a hotel, because it means that we go to bed and we can sleep and there’s a pillow and all that basic stuff. Apart from that, we’re pretty good at touring. Touring’s not difficult. You just gotta make sure you overcome the boring hours of the day and make sure that your get some sleep, and after that, it’s pretty easy.
Have there been any standout acts that you’ve performed alongside with while touring?
Let me think… we’ve pretty much played with most bands in Australia from the era of 1995 to 2005. We’ve played with tons of overseas bands as well. We played with The Breeders, they were pretty great, and we played with Swervedriver a couple years back. I’ll tell you one that does stand out— we played with Pavement back when they first toured Australia and we did about six gigs with them and it was really cool, because they were just mega-casual, chilled out guys, and they were just a fantastic band who were so much fun every night. It was a really memorable tour because it was just great fun and easy, just great times for us.
You guys have stuck around Brisbane and are pretty proudly a Brisbane band. What do you think is particularly characteristic about the music scene in this part of Australia?
You know, I can’t really say for now, because I don’t go out to so many gigs in Brisbane anymore, and I’m kind of out of touch with a lot of young bands around here. But I can say that, back in the 90s and early 2000s, I think what it was that back then, Brisbane was really cheap to live— it’s not any more, but back then, rent was cheap, so you could live on the dole or not work full-time, so you had plenty of time to go to band practice or go on tour. Back in the 90s, no one really remembers this, but it was pretty boring, and there wasn’t that much to do. That’s another reason that people were thrown together into bands, and they were just creating some fun and something to do. So there was time in people’s day to do stuff like that.
There have been some really successful artists coming out of Brisbane in the past little while, like Violent Soho, Sheppard, and Ball Park Music. If you could offer these up-and-coming Australian artists any advice, what advice would you offer?
Well, those bands seem to have a pretty good handle on what they’re doing, so for every one of those bands, there’s going to be thirty, forty, even fifty bands who struggling or not getting a grip on how they want to progress or not getting much success. So more for those bands, I’d say keep working as hard as you can, keep concentrating on what you’re doing, keep trying to make great art, and just never stop. Don’t give up, don’t get put off by little upsets or hitches, just keep going and don’t ever think about stopping.
One final question; what’s the plan for Screamfeeder over the next few years?
I don’t really know. We’re gonna promote the record and go on tour, but after that, we’ll just have to see how it comes and see if we get to the point where we fancy writing another album together. It’s probably too early say for sure.
So it’s too early to tell.
At this stage, yeah. It’s not like we plan to stop or anything, but people have already asked us, “do you plan to record another album after this?” and I’m like, “hang on, we just released this, just give us a little bit of time to get our heads around it.
Tim, thank you so very much for time. Best of luck with album and the tour, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your week.
Thank you, Caitlin, you too. Cheers.