What happens when synth pop meets complaint rock? What happens when electronic music becomes disaffected? What happens when the overproduced polish is stripped away and the malcontent mood of our generation starts seeping through?
Future grunge is what happens. Stefan Pruett—under the moniker Guidance—is at its helm, preparing to ride atop a burgeoning wave of what he sees as the next logical progression of music today. Putting the angst, anger and fed-up discontentment back in music is an understandable aim, and a possible answer to the genre monotony and politically-induced ambivalence that’s weighing heavily on our shoulders as we head into 2017. Rather than acting as a resistant move against the all-too-complicit culture of optimism, the past few years have instead seen an overflow of MDMA-induced positivity accompanied by lobotomized EDM and upbeat unce-unce anthems with delusions of changing the world one party at a time. “I didn’t want to do something really polished and clean”, as Stefan explains of his goals with Guidance. “I wanted to take the synth’s sound and make them sound like something they’re not, to be less synth-pop and more on this other side of the spectrum. Like a little fusion of synth-pop and grunge.”
When happy-go-lucky pop is the norm, going grungey or finding inspiration in the angst can be a lofty goal. But even though he’s issuing a rallying cry against complacency, getting real and refusing to simulate a feel-good, whatever-brah outlook doesn’t mean having a good time is cut from the picture. We caught up with Stefan during a brief intermission from his tour with Crystal Castles to talk more about this philosophical fusion and his future grunge journey.
How was it when you were here? I guess it was a whirlwind thing; last minute, all around Europe, and now you’ve just gotten back?
I really like Europe, from the bit I’ve experienced, and I certainly wish I was there right now instead of America because it’s scary as fuck right now. It’s crazy – like the protests in downtown Los Angeles and shit – I’d like to march, but I moved…it’s a long story. We were supposed to only tour the United States and Canada, but because that run went so well, Crystal Castles and Ethan, at the very last second, were like “just throw ’em on a bunch of shows in Europe!”
One thing I found to be interesting about Europe was that people could really like you or your show, but they’d be willing to be brutally honest with you too. In the US it seems like people at shows are either really bored or really enthusiastic, like “omg you’re amazing I love you!” or they’re just not going to talk to you. But on this European tour—especially in Germany, where they have so many amazing clubs—people would be like, “your show was amazing, you were great…but I’m sorry you were on such a shit soundsystem.” I appreciated that tactfulness and honesty. But generally, everything we did with Crystal Castles went over exceedingly well; it was surprising. I walked into it very skeptical, thinking that it could potentially backfire because we’re quite different than them. I wasn’t sure if audiences would take to it, but they really did. And there were certain songs that really seemed to translate well and kick people in the ass, and most of the time those were the newer ones.
It’s been a trip to do so much stuff in front of so many people without having a CD or something to physically latch onto. You’re getting up in front of thousands of people who have no fucking clue who you are, and it’s this really cool experience where you’re trying to connect to this brand new audience who hasn’t really heard any of your songs, because the songs aren’t out yet. We’re still working on our record – I have demos to finish in LA; I have stuff in the works with another producer; Ethan and I are planning to do some things together; so this whatever-record I’m making, it’s just gonna be a hodgepodge of a bunch of different types of songs with a lot of different people. But it’s gonna end up being really cohesive as well.
So how much have you recorded then, versus what you were playing?
Well we’ve recorded stuff, but we were playing different versions of those songs live. We did it purposefully; everyone who plays with me is ridiculously talented. I have a really great drummer–he’s a studio drummer–and he plays for lots of people; I have a DJ/live electronic dude who does keyboards and a lot of different things, and he’s kind of a producer in his own right–he writes and produces for lots of different labels and people. We would do slightly different versions of these songs and revamp them and switch them up. So we were kind of doing live versions of these songs that were close to the recorded versions, but different. It was a lot of fun.
Sounds like you don’t have much time now for recording and whatnot anyway, being so busy. Aren’t you doing another tour coming up now as well?
I’m going to hopefully get into the studio at least a little bit before we take off again… I found out that one of the guys I’ve been working with–he used to be in a band called Shiny Toy Guns, his name’s Jeremy and he’s a fantastic producer–I’ve finished one song with him, and we may go back and make some changes, it’s hard to say, I may bring it to some other people to have them do some stuff, I dunno yet. But we finished one song and I really like it, it’s really good. We planned to do three tracks, and I gave him the files for the third track, but we haven’t tracked the vocals for it yet. So there’s stuff to do… I just have a bunch of shit sitting around that needs to be worked on–there’s so many songs in the works. But they’re good, and that’s why I’m taking my time with them.
Long story short, this whole thing started as a solo venture effort. It was under my own name, and I hated that so much. I kicked and screamed my way to getting Guidance as the name, but it wasn’t until Ethan stepped in—when he had first offered the Crystal Castles tour, he was like, “is he attached to his human name?” And I was like no way, I want to change it, and I know the name I want. I told him I wanted to change it to Guidance and he said “oh, that’s a great name” and I was like, yeah I told you. So that’s how that whole thing came about.
So I got to LA and started working with producers; we produced essentially a full album, and it wasn’t poorly executed, but it was really rushed. It was almost like “we just gotta get this done, we gotta crank out these songs.” I hated it. Probably only three or four of those were any good, and I’m going to get them reworked, and then I also have all these new songs. But because of that experience, I know I don’t want to spend time rushing through things. I mean, if you can finish a song in 20 or 30 minutes because it’s just that good of an idea, or you’re just that on your game or in the zone or whatever, I get that. There’s magical moments where things come flying out and happen really quickly and all of a sudden you have a song done and it’s really good. Sometimes the best songs and the biggest hits are written really quickly. But even if these become separate bodies of work or if I do multiple EPs or a full album or whatever, I don’t want it to be something that you walk away from going like, “man, that was really underwhelming.”
Well, yeah, of course.
But that happens so much with new bands, y’know? It’s like they put out either the greatest thing they’ve ever made, or the worst thing, right off the bat. Or they put out one or two great songs and the rest of their album is just blah, because they can’t follow it up. I just want to do it right, and not potentially look back later and wonder why I just rushed through it.
I got sick of hearing electronic music turn into the new pop music. Everything was starting to sound the same; if you remember those bands circa the early ‘00s, like emo bands, everyone just started to sound exactly the same. And dubstep is the same, too. Those were cool ideas—synthesizing guitars and making metal music sound like dance music—and kind of a new sect of r&b came out of that too. But it’s gotten so similar now. I was thinking about what the next step for electronic music might be, and thinking about what I really like when it comes down to influences, and I’ve been heavily influenced by grunge music. As far as the next logical progression, I feel like when rock makes a comeback, it’s going to be grunge music. There’s so many great songs, and those bands are becoming so legendary; people talk about Nirvana like people talk about The Beatles, in a way. Whether you like that stuff or not, or whether it’s for you or not, I think a fusion of electronic-based instruments with that kind of grunge-style songwriting—especially now, the angst part of it is going to play a role because people are becoming angry and are starting to get pissed off because stupid shit is going down and we have a fucking reality star as a president—I think that angst is naturally going to start finding a way back into music, and people are going to stop being complacent, or acting like some guys who smoked a bunch of weed and just want to “Netflix and chill.”
But what about the fine line between a more “legit” kind of angst, like grunge-angst, versus something like emo-angst?
See, I think we’ve been dealing with emo-angst for years now. I think the grunge-angst and the I-wanna-see-a-change, I-don’t-wanna-put-up-with-bullshit…I think that is going to come back into the picture more in terms of the way people write, whether it’s a conscious effort or not. I want to bring some of that energy into electronic music landscape somehow, so that’s why I call what I do “future grunge.” I didn’t invent that, but when I looked into it, it’s a way more mellow segment of electronic music than you’d expect. And I was like, where’s the fuckin’ noise? Where’s the angst? Where’s the loudness? Where’s the I-wanna-make-something-sound-like-guitar-without-playing-guitar, or the I-wanna-make-something-sound-like-broken-drums-without-having-to-record-drums-for-a-day-and-spend-a-shit-ton-of-money? So that’s kind of the approach I want to go for, and that’s why I’m taking my time to get there.
Woah, wait… WHAT are you wearing?
Isn’t it great? I have cool pants too.
You look like a ninja turtle.
I told you I was cute.
Article: By Kati