Steven Wright-Mark – Wake Up (Q&A)



The songs that Steven Wright-Mark writes are often compared to the songs of Cliff Hillis, Michael Carpenter, Tommy Keene and Adam Schlesinger. Wake Up contains four of those songs. Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Steven about the EP but also about what it’s like to play in a country star’s band.



How did this record come together?


I had been a solo indie rock musician on the NYC scene for a few years, but recently spent most of my time on the road playing guitar and keyboards with country/rock artist Jessica Lynn. Although my music was always tightly arranged stuff with fuzzy guitars, bass, drums, and maybe some keys, playing with Jessica was a completely different animal. It was a 9-piece band with multiple guitarists, pedal steel, keyboards, sometimes fiddle, and I learned a lot about arranging tunes with more elements and complex textures.


After I stopped playing with Jessica last year, I went into the studio with some new songs and decided I wanted to take some of what I learned playing in her band to create a more layered and textured approach to the production. I play all the instruments on my recordings, and although it was a long process, it was a lot of fun to experiment with arrangements, layering different guitar tones, including much cleaner tones than I usually use, atmospheric keys, more vocals, vintage keys, and even a marimba! I think the result is a denser, more polished recording, yet one that has more space, and with some nice ear candy for those listening with good headphones.


Thematically, the songs address everything from how surreal life can be, to dealing with isolation, but many of the lyrics take on new meaning in light of the current worldwide health crisis, particularly the EP’s first single, “Underground.”





You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?


Oh man, just 3?  I’m sorry, but I’m not big on following the rules anyway, so I’m going to list a few more here.  And the reason I’ve picked these songwriters is that they not only know how to craft incredible music, but they also excel at telling stories, painting pictures, or just making you deeply feel something through their lyrics.  They represent superstar songwriters and under-appreciated ones as well, including John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Butch Walker, Michael Penn, Elvis Costello, Adam Schlesinger, Todd Rundgren. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve already overstayed my welcome with this question.



What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?


I’m dating myself with this one, and although I’ve had some amazing experiences playing at huge festivals opening for major artists, the most memorable gig was when my band was hired to be Chuck Berry’s backup band.  He was touring without a regular band, and rightfully realizing that everyone knew his songs, he would work with local musicians on each stop of his tour.


We never met Chuck before showtime.  We never had a rehearsal, or a soundcheck, or even a setlist.  Instead, we met in the wings right before the first show, and he said, “When I put my foot down, that means ’stop!’”  And on stage, we went.


It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But by the time we got to show #2, the bugs were worked out, and standing on stage next to this legend is something I’ll never forget.





Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?


There is nothing like the give-and-take between a band and a live audience. When an audience is really engaged with a performance, the band feels it and it fuels the performance, pushing the band further.  It creates moments that can only exist on stage, in that particular moment in time.  And, you really need to be in the room to truly feel it…It can’t be captured in a concert film or home concert live stream.  I think most musicians live for the opportunity to perform live because there’s nothing like it.  And that’s what makes this moment in history so difficult, in addition to the obvious economic loss.


Vinyl is back, Spotify is ruling, tickets for concerts are becoming more and more expensive, everybody can record songs, social media is the marketing tool, Coldplay stops touring … how will the music industry look like in 5 years?


The music business has always been constantly changing, with new trends, new technologies, new methods of music consumption, and yes, bands that embark on their 3rd retirement tours.  Ticket prices rise ever higher, often shutting real fans out of concerts they’d love to see but can’t afford to, yet most artists struggle to make ends meet because of paltry royalty rates from the industry’s biggest streaming platforms.


In an industry where change is a constant, I don’t think anyone can really predict where we’ll be in 5 years with any accuracy.  And, in light of how COVID-19 has so quickly impacted the music business, I don’t think anyone can tell you where we’ll be just TWO years from now.  I mean, when can you imagine we’ll be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a sweaty club again?


So at the moment, the future looks cloudy. But then again, music is a powerful force that brings us together, especially during times like these, and artists always have the uncanny ability to innovate and to push boundaries.  It’s a rough time for the business, but I’m confident we’ll get through this, and I’m excited to see what the future will bring. We’ll get there!




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