Indie rockers Stems has described its sound as “future past,” or what one would hear on an oldies station decades from now. Or, perhaps, if they hopped in a DeLorean back in the 1980s and imagined what they perceived music of the 2000s to sound like.
It’s fitting, then, that members Justin Seeker, Joshua Weiss, Michael Voris and Joel McAdams decided to debut their new release, "Your Sullen Ways are Getting Boring", on cassette tape.
While many of today’s bands are choosing to release their records on vinyl, Stems lead singer and guitarist Seeker explained that format can be costly.
“You can release an LP if you have the money and a label behind it; if you don’t, it’s fairly expensive,” Seeker said. “We want to eventually see if anybody would want to put it out [on vinyl], but as for now, it’s a less expensive, unique way to do it.”
The cassette will be released through Akron-based tape label Imperial Emporium Sound Options, which is run by Jeff France.
Seeker said the band’s new songs will also be available to stream, as well as download via a code included with the physical release, but the cassette serves as a piece of nostalgia.
It’s also a tangible object that listeners can hold in their hands or place on their shelves to admire.
“Our music friends still have tape players, and they're coming back into the scene in small ways,” Seeker said.
A highly anticipated album
The band’s album, which contains nine original tracks, took three years to finally emerge.
Seeker said some songs were written in 2015, while others came to fruition just before the release was recorded and turned in.
Weiss, who plays drums and lends vocals to the group, said the delay in releasing songs the band had in its back pocket over the last few years was due to their desire to get the sound just right.
“We tend to obsess over things and multitrack things, and we do a lot of like vocal harmonizing,” Weiss said. “And, yeah, you realize there’s a lot that goes into it to get it done and get it how you want it to sound. Other than your performances, there’s tons of mixing and mastering.”
Stems previously put out two EPs: a self-titled release in 2013 and “Identity Believer” in 2015.
“It gets a little easier as the time goes on,” Seeker said. “You put one out and listen to it and see what you did and grow from there.”
The songwriting process
“Your Sullen Ways are Getting Boring” is the band’s first release to include McAdams, who lends guitar and vocals to the group. He has since become a significant collaborator in Stems’ songwriting process.
The new full-length album contains tracks that fit seamlessly together but each have a distinct sound. The band also added keyboard as a new element and began performing live with the instrument this year.
Seeker said the songs don’t fit a particular genre because he and his bandmates do not write that way.
“We're a band of songwriters, so we all have a certain style and perspective that we draw from, and it works,” Seeker said. “The songs come quickly, depending on a certain guitar or bass line during practice that we latch onto and ride it until it's a song.”
He said the ocean and nature’s elements have become common, coincidental themes in the band’s lyrics.
The temperature of the space in which they practice has influenced the pace of the songs and writing process, with warmer nights resulting in slower tunes, and freezing temps resulting in quicker songs as the musicians hustle to write.
Branching out from their roots
Seeker and Weiss began playing music together in a Buddy Holly cover band prior to forming Stems.
Deciding to continue on together with a new musical endeavor, albeit void of covers this time, Voris joined on bass. With the addition of McAdams, the band felt complete and had found its original sound.
Seeker, Weiss and Voris have been playing together as Stems for approximately seven years, with McAdams a more recent addition.
Seeker said Stems is gaining momentum, and material for an upcoming record is already being written.
The bandmates will head to the studio soon to record and anticipate releasing the finished product early next year.
Stems will have cassette copies of “Your Sullen Ways are Getting Boring” available at the season’s final Live at Lock 4 event Thursday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. The lineup includes Red Rose Panic and Actual Form.
“I’m really happy with it. It turned out well. I mean, it did take a long time,” Seeker said. “It’s been a good ride, and I don’t want to do another three-year wait. We’re not stopping.”