Unfortunately Steven took a well, unfortunate chapter in his life and spun it around. We talked about how music aided him therapeutically, mental health awareness, and just who may play the lead in ‘Groovy Avocado Disco’ if the concept album ever made it to Broadway. All of that and then some in this eye-opening back and forth exchange.
Kendra: ‘Groovy Avocado Disco’ is this elaborate concept album based around therapy and a therapy session. So did you plan to drop it in May, which so happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month, or was that all coincidental?
Unfortunately Steven: The universe lined that up naturally. I had a mental breakdown in the spring of 2016 that put me on this unfortunate journey. I was writing songs therapeutically and not leaving my house. I was losing my hair and hearing voices. You know, the normal stuff. I decided to lean into the trauma and anxiety and what resulted were uncomfortably dark and funny songs. I started recording the album in April 2019 with the goal to release it in May 2020. Covid happened. I retreated. Eventually, when I got back to the songs, the timing was perfect.
Kendra: You pulled from a very personal place here in order to not only create a record but to encourage others to head to therapy. Do you feel therapy should be a regular thing for everyone just like a dentist or a family doctor?
Unfortunately Steven: Absolutely. This can’t be stressed enough. Going to therapy doesn’t equate to being crazy. Not going to therapy, to me, is crazy. There’s no shame in talking to someone about your problems. Some problems are mild and some can be heavy burdens you never knew you were carrying. I fall in the “trauma lasagna” category. Just layer upon layer of saucy goodness. It really doesn’t matter if you came from a loving family or had a privileged life. We all have dark moments. We need checkups for our brains. One could argue, more so than a doctor or dentist.
Kendra: Now ‘Groovy Avocado Disco’ again, is long. Almost two dozen tracks of indie rock meets musical theater. Did you grow up with a theater background?
Unfortunately Steven: An entrance, 11 song tracks, 7 real therapy snippets, and an exit. It wasn’t an intentional choice to have a theater element, it just naturally felt that way. I needed those therapy sessions to connect the songs and really tell a story. The album is just one conversation.
I was in drama all through high school. I didn’t partake in musical theater but was always a fan of the storytelling and how there’s a clear start, middle, and end. Jonathon Larson was a huge inspiration. I don’t have his talent but I have depression. I would listen to musicals and see them at the Pantages when I could. ‘The Book of Mormon’ may have been a game-changer of creative possibilities. Unfortunately, I can’t write a full musical. I could barely write an album.
Kendra: If they just so happened to take this to Broadway, who would you want to be the protagonist? Perhaps Tom Hanks since there is a song named after him?
Unfortunately Steven: Perhaps off, off, off-broadway. That’s something hard to imagine. I know if it were to happen, it couldn’t take itself too seriously. It would have to take place in a therapy session that psychedelically expands to the corners of the client’s mind.
Unfortunately, I’m the protagonist and my brain is the antagonist. There are very serious dark themes but they are expressed in a self-deprecating comedic way. It’s a man losing his mind and not having any answers. He doesn’t want to live anymore but he doesn’t want to die. It’s that sweet awkwardness in between. There was a moment in time when I was obsessed with Andy Kaufman. His audience would be so confused and wouldn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or storm the stage. I love that form of art.
Kendra: So I think many are going to see “Life’s Too Expensive For Me” and instantly have to listen because um, same. From a therapy standpoint do you think enough effort has been made to make it affordable?
Unfortunately Steven: Not at all. I’m a strong advocate for universal healthcare and opposed to for-profit health institutions. I believe therapy should be easily accessible and available to everyone who needs it. There are a lot of people who want to take that next step but it’s too much of a financial burden. It shouldn’t be too expensive to live with basic human needs. Mental health issues are now more common in a post covid world. We all carry things that need releasing. Without a doubt, it saved my life and helped me ground myself into who I really am. It’s unfortunate the world caught up to the songs but I assure you, it can get better.
Kendra: Now you’ve noted, “As a society, we tend to shy away from dark thoughts or depressed feelings but they are simply a part of the human condition,’ but I think in terms of music – that’s been the underlying theme of so many records that have come through my email. Do you think the more the creative arts embrace mental health, the more it’ll be normalized in everyday life?
Unfortunately Steven: It’s always been a part of rock and roll at its core. It took someone feeling depressed to pick up an instrument and sort through their life. It’s all about being an outsider to society and figuring out whatever it is that makes you tick. To see it become so straightforward and more honest in 2022 gives my soul so much hope.
Billie Eilish and the grand messiah Bo Burnham kicked that door open for this album to be accepted. They did something so raw and groundbreaking. ‘INSIDE’ blew my mind and touched me in such a way that I felt seen for the first time. I’m hopeful I can supply that for just one person.
Kendra: Time for a side note…since April showers bring May flowers, I’d love to know what song makes you bloom with happiness and why?
Unfortunately Steven: That’s a tough one. In my current state, I would have to say “My Little Red Book” by LOVE. It’s an underestimated weird bop of a song that came out in 1966. LOVE was a legendary Los Angeles band. They were also the first interracial group in rock and roll. I recently learned that my third cousin, Don Conka, was the original drummer for the band but couldn’t get his drug addiction under control to show up for the gig. It’s very ahead of its time and makes me oh so happy.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Groovy Avocado Disco’ out on May 6th, what else can you let us in on? Are you touring this year?
Unfortunately Steven: I want to do a music video for “People are Stupid” next. The first single was a way to ease people in without slapping them in the face with harsh reality. For my second single, the gloves will be coming off. Touring is currently on the back burner but for sure a goal. Realistically, I’d like to do a west coast tour in the fall from Los Angeles to Vancouver. Just to test the waters. This is an album that will need to be performed front to back in its entirety. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m quite ready or able to perform them live. These are real dark moments in my life and I’m hopeful I can revisit them without breaking down again. I’m grateful to make it to the other side but it’s still a daily struggle. Time will tell.