Remember those giant alien costumes from the otherworldly flash mob a few years ago? The extraterrestrial props are a product of BIG NAZO, a Providence-based art group, and it turns out they’re good not just for Spring Weekend shenanigans. The mutant puppet-creatures and robots feature prominently in a newly released music video —“Sweet Salvation” by the Stepkids, an up-and-coming neo-psychedelic soul three-piece based in Bridgeport, CT, whose self-titled debut came out last September.
The Stepkids have yet another connection close to home: bassist/keyboardist Dan Edinberg, who now lives in Brooklyn, graduated from Brown in 2002. The band played in Boston last week, opening for Kimbra on her Vows tour, and because my older sister is dating the drummer Tim Walsh, I was invited as a special guest got to tag along as a music journalist merch girl. I’ve seen them twice before, last year also in Boston on the Saturday night of Spring Weekend and this summer in New York City, but this time they outdid themselves. In addition to performing new songs, Dan casually busted out a violin for a cover of “Heart-Shaped Box” and the band wowed the audience with their live-projected kaleidoscopic light show.
As I vicariously lived the rocker lifestyle folded shirts and distributed stickers, I chatted about Brown with Dan for a bit, in between his posing for pictures with tweeting fan girls. A music concentrator, he reminisced about Grant, Orwig, and his senior year house on Williams. Currently living in Young O but not especially musically talented, unless you count Intermediate Level Piano Duets, I contributed to the conversation by commenting on how I “Um, really dig the Orwig steps.” Smooth.
Dan’s been involved in music his entire life, inspired by his pianist dad. As he explained to “like, totally impressed” concert attendees, “jazz is everything” in terms of his background, though his various influences range from Prince and Steely Dan (“the American Beatles”) to Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd to Radiohead and Portishead. Whew.
Before the Stepkids, he joined Providence indierock/underground-reggae DIY outfit Zox, whose members also included fellow Brown classmates Eli Miller ’02 (now in law) and namesake John Zox ’02 (now in business). Zox signed to SideOneDummy Records, released three well-selling and favorably reviewed albums, toured internationally for several years including at SXSW and on the Warped Tour, and performed a 10th anniversary reunion show at Lupo’s last August after going on hiatus in 2008.
It’s been interesting for Dan to compare that experience with his current Stepkids involvement. He’s explained in an interview: “My last band was that type of band where every person has a different musical background, but in this case we all share a lot of the same influences and it felt very kinetic.” Touring with the Stepkids is a lot busier because of their visual component, but that work also makes it more satisfying.
The other two Stepkids are also musically accomplished: guitarist Jeff Gitelman was Alicia Keys’s touring guitarist before quitting to focus on the band, and Tim studied jazz and built his own recording studio, where the Stepkids were born out of natural association. Jeff is a longtime friend of both Dan and Tim. The three formed the group in 2010 and are signed to Stones Throw Records, the home for acts like MF Doom, Strong Arm Steady, and Madvillainy. All three band members are singers and songwriters, so the creative process is completely collaborative and focused on the whole — there’s no one frontman of the band. Dan’s girlfriend Clara Schuhmacher ’06, a Brooklyn-based artist who concentrated in ethnomusicology and co-founded Brown Opera Productions, occasionally provides backing vocals. The couple also makes empanadas on the side — talk about some classic multitalented alums.
With Dan repping Brown, the versatile trio has been touring around the world and played at SXSW. They’re friends with Janelle Monáe’s band, and their own fans include Thom Yorke and Tyler, The Creator. Check out their music if you like experimental, eclectic, genre-bending (how Brown is that?) fusions of retro and futuristic sound inspired by diverse phases of exploration into R&B, pop, funk, gospel, 20th century classical, 1960s folk, punk, classic rock, and so on, of different eras.
Their second LP drops in early 2013, and who knows, maybe Dan will come back to campus as a part of the groovy triumvirate to play a show. In the meantime, you know whom to ask if you want a Stepkids sticker! #imwiththeband