Steve Rodgers, singer songwriter, has just completed recording his much anticipated album produced by Ken Nelson. His songs reflect his passion for life’s depth, mystery and wonder, recorded with his band of like-minded musicians. Critics compare his music to a mix of Jack Johnson, Paolo Nutini and Cat Stevens. He is the son of one of my musical heroes, Paul Rodgers (Free/Bad Company/Queen) but Steve is paving his own roads in this musical world, blessed with a great voice and insistent on carving out his own career. I interviewed him just before he took a trip back to the UK
Steve Rodgers: I go back to England, and when I come back here, everyone says my voice is a lot more English. A lot more Hugh Grant.
Ian Crombie: Haha. The foreign factor helps in the music business.
SR: I think it helps.
IC: Thanks for doing this interview.
SR: Very welcome.
IC: I’ve been running West Coast Songwriters for close to thirty years, so that's where my focus will be.
When did you first start writing songs?
SR: I remember starting writing when I was very young, probably around thirteen, on the piano and then I stopped for a bit, but they weren't really proper songs. They were just me playing around with song formations really. And then I think when I was probably 18 and I started to write songs just because I wanted to be a guitarist, like slash from Guns n Roses, and so I would create these songs on a four track just so I can have this really huge, terrible guitar solo in the middle, Then the songs started to take over and the solos got less and less and I just started writing songs.
IC: Tell me about your writing process. Is there a particular time of day you start writing?.
SR: I'm pretty good in the evenings when the whole world has gone to sleep, that's kind of when I wake up. It’s probably a typical musician thing. I was always like that even as a kid. I usually start with melodies. I would just sing and play piano or guitar and a feeling will come across, and that feeling would dictate the lyrics.
IC: Do you keep at it until it's done?
SR: There's lots of different ways that you can write a song, really. I normally do the melody first, and the emotion, and then I'll work on the lyric afterwards. Usually songs come pretty quickly to me. I've got loads and loads of half ideas for the songs, but I usually end up recording or playing live ones that I have finished. There have only been a couple of songs where I've just gone, “I really like the songs and I want to make sure I finish it” and had to work on them. You know when you're really in the moment and time just doesn't exist, that's when the song gets finished.
IC: Listening to it when you wake up the next morning, that's a barometer as to whether it's a good song or not. You get excited about it while you're writing it.
SR: Every song you write you think is the best song in the world and you do need time and to be a bit subjective about it. But yeah, I think the best thing to do is record it. I usually use my iPhone and I record it and I listen back to it and hey, you know, it wasn't just me late at night thinking it was OK.
IC: Isn't it fantastic now to have a phone to do that? It’s such an easy recording process. When I was growing up there wasn't all that stuff around to be able to, to grab ideas. You know, maybe you had a pencil and a piece of paper.
SR: Exactly. Only a few years ago I was still a bit behind the times and I was using a tape recorder. It’s only when I got my iPhone a couple of years ago I stopped using the tape recorder. With the tape recorder I would have to put a sticker across the cassette, and lines with a biro to where the song was so I could find it when I rewound it. I have tapes and tapes of material.
IC: Do you have a notebook where you hang on to lyrical ideas?
SR: I've tried that, but no, I don't. I did try a new way where I wrote the lyrics first and I found that really rewarding and really enjoyed that. As a songwriter it’s very personal I'm talking about stuff that's really a part of my life. I don't make up anything. It's something that means something to me and that's why I can play them again and again and again.
IC: There are shows like “The Voice” where the coaches tell the singers to connect with the song, but as a songwriter, you're already connected to the song. I made a lot of stuff up so it's harder to remember my own lyrics, but, like you say, if it's connected to something that you've gone through, then it's a little easier to remember.
SR: That’s the only way I can do it really. I grew up with my dad's music and his music reflects him. His integrity and his honesty and all the old school, that sort of stuff. And through osmosis I learned that; he's a great storyteller, There’s always a story going on and I took that onboard. I remember someone saying to me, why don't you do what David Bowie does and write like that. And I said, that's great, and I love David Bowie and it's just perfect for him, but it just doesn't fit me and how I write. It's original to him.
IC: What's your favorite song you've written and why?
SR: It is a tricky one because it tends to be the newest one. The newest one is the new craze for me. Then I go back to the old ones. I like them all for different reasons. There’s a song called “Walk On” which is very uplifting about a loss, and “I Will Grow” is about life, about adapting and life is always there and it's always going to push everyone's buttons no matter who you are, what color, creed, sex or whatever-life happens to everyone. And you have to find the lesson and move on and then “Head Up High” is really uplifting and is the new single. I've got ballads that are really from the heart and so they all mean something to me. I don't think I have a favorite, to be honest.
IC: It's great you feel that way for all your songs. It's easier, like you said, to connect with them when you perform, which means more to the audience.
SR: Yeah, absolutely.
IC: Tell me about your new record.
SR: I recorded it in Liverpool in the studio called Elevated Studios, which during the war was sort of gunpowder mill and before that it was a sausage factory or something. It's a really thin building and there's probably about four floors and the producer, Ken Nelson was on the top floor. We had to climb a ladder to get there, but it’s a really cool building with windows on each side, really narrow, brick and wood and steel, and just analog equipment, really old stuff. So, me and the band were having a field day with all the equipment that was there. Ken Nelson, obviously he's the producer of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Gomez and we just got really lucky with him. I said to my manager, let's just send the album demos to the greatest people that we know. And Ken was the first one we sent it to and the first one to come back and say, “Yeah, I'd love to”. And he got Adrian Bushby to mix it, who did Foo Fighters and Muse. Suddenly we had this great team behind us. We were in the studio for probably ten days and then I spent another further two to three weeks at Ken's house and that was it. So, it was a really short time. It's a really eclectic mix of songs which I love to do. Like I’ve said before how it's really the way the Beatles had their albums, Sergeant Pepper's, where every song was different. Obviously, the songwriters, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison - I just really love that sort of thing. You don't get bored. That’s what I wanted for this album. We just had different ways of recording - some were live, some were acoustic, some with just the grand piano and some were with the full band,. The only track that was recorded different was the second single “Head Up High”, which I recorded with Russ Ballard, who wrote songs like God Gave Rock and Roll To You, etc. My friend, Arno and Russ Ballard's son, Chris, and that's a bit more poppy.
The way we recorded with Ken was really organic. No auto-tune, hate that. And just really pure.
IC: You only hate it because your voice is on pitch. If you were all over the place you’d need it. it's great though that you have that kind of voice, you know?
SR: Yeah. I don't know why you'd sing and then have to autotune it. But I can understand using it as an effect, you know, in dance, it sounds cool and that's what you do. But I won't get into that.
IC: When you listen to records, you can hear it. And the thing is there’s a certain sound that people are used to hearing which also makes it sound current, I'm glad you're able to do it without.
Do you have a band you work with all the time or are these studio musicians?
SR: They're an English band. I'm going to go over to England tomorrow. We've been together for about five, six years, something like that.
IC: How great.
SR: We're going to go to the UK and we're doing a lot of press, a little BBC radio and then doing a showcase. It’s going to be a lot of fun over there.
IC: Obviously you’re bouncing between the UK and USA . Are there more performance opportunities in the UK or in the USA, do you think for you?
SR: I think they're equally as good and that's why I came over here. I've done a lot of gigs in the UK, up and down the country, for a couple of years and I just wanted to see what I could do in the US. I'm starting to do more and more over here. I'm just really enjoying over here. Plus, the weather's pretty good!
IC: In the UK, it’s trying to load into a venue when it's pouring down rain
SR: As expats. Do you miss the weather? Although you're in San Francisco.
IC: I'm looking outside. We've got blue skies, it's cold a bit today, but it's a blue sky. I just remember as a kid my dad would say, oh, we're going on holiday tomorrow. You get your stuff in your case ready and then he’d hear it’s going to be pouring down rain, and so the trip was cancelled. But I guess, you get used to it as well, so you kind of work around it,
SR: You expect that if you have a holiday in Wales though.
IC: At least here, you can plan something and do it.
SR: Yeah. It's really true. I mean, I'm in Palm Springs and it's way too hot. I've actually been really missing the UK. I don't know why I brought my family over here as it's just crazy hot.
IC: It’s the desert there.
SR: Yes. It's desert.
IC: They built on a desert.
SR: Exactly. I mean, I mean it's, it's insane really. I do miss going back to the UK every once in a while and just getting that weather especially in autumn. But to wake up to blue skies every day is pretty cool.
IC: We'll have to get your foot into the bay area too.
SR: Love to. Absolutely love to. Yeah, I love it up there. That's great.
IC: I’ve seen a lot of your videos and, there's no denying the similarities between Your voice and your dad's voice. You have the same big soulful voice, it's great to see that you put your own musical stamp on things and are forging your own career.
SR: Thank you. I appreciate it. I mean obviously my dad is to me so good. He's on a slightly different planet, in a different universe and he does what he does, rock and blues and soul so well. I want to do my own thing.
IC: You have to have your own voice. What’s your ultimate goal in music?
SR: I just want to get the music out there. I'm a songwriter. The new songs I've got to me are great. Even better than the last songs and that's just how it should be. It should evolve as you grow. I would just want to record those over here and just keep putting the music out there and connecting with people because that's what it's all about really.
IC: It's pretty amazing that you did the recording in ten days. I’ve spent hours and hours in studios. I get fed up of working on the songs, you know what I mean? Having somebody like Ken, knowing what he's doing and also having the songs and band together you can go in and do it in a short time, so it's not drawn out. I think that way you capture the initial energy of the song as well.
SR: I might spend a little more time the next time round. But, it was definitely an experience.
IC: Do you spend much time rewriting? That’s where most songwriters spend time and also is my own experiences. Sometimes songs pop straight out, which is unusual but it does happen. But then the other ones you have to kind of labor over. Do you spend much time going back over your songs?
SR: No, Maybe I should, but, like I said, I've got tapes and tapes and on my iPhone I've got hundreds of half ideas which, which are pretty reasonably good and I could work on them, but I tend to just go with what I finish in the moment.
IC: I interviewed Imogen Heap and I asked, “Do you have a book of lyrics?” She said “No, because by the time I'd find what I’d written down, I'll be better off just writing something new.” I think we're all different but you have to find out what works for you as a songwriter.
SR: I think you can try all the different things as well. With “Walk On”, I wrote it in the dark for some reason. I was in the UK and I thought I'm just going to write a song in the dark and, obviously, I couldn't play very well and so it was really simple and then I just came up with these lyrics and it worked.
IC: I wish you well with your career stuff. I've been messaging with your manager and we’re trying to get you up here.
SR: That'd be great. I'd love to play in the Bay Area
IC: So much musical history here in San Francisco.
SR: It's just an exciting place. You know, I kind of passed through there in the last year and I just thought, Oh man, I want to spend some time and it just looks pretty cool.
IC: San Francisco is only seven square miles and there's a lot crammed into that seven square miles.
Is your record out for sale right now?
SR: Go to itunes or wherever, or to steverodgersmusic.com and you can listen and buy online there.
IC: Thanks again for the interview.