Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Chopek introduces his innovative EP, Dweller, a six-track collection of tasty power-pop music. Dweller’s genesis occurred when Chopek came home from touring with Mike Doughty, the former frontman of Soul Coughing.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Stephen about an unheard New Wave song from the 80s, the creative muscle and the making of Dweller.
What was the moment you knew you were on to something?
I felt good about the songs as I was recording them in Memphis during 2020, but it wasn’t until mixing earlier this year in Atlanta that the music really came alive. The first song that I started to mix was “Empty Hands”, which set the tone for the rest of the EP. I was experimenting with drum sounds, and after a few calculated guesses, I arrived at a vibe that grabbed me. Specifically, I liked how the synthesizers worked with the rhythm section. It felt like a New Wave song from the 80s that I hadn’t heard before. That groove informed the direction of the other instruments and how the vocals sit in the mix. This was my eureka moment that guided me through the other songs.
How did this record come together?
Dweller started coming together in 2020, shortly after the pandemic forced everyone to isolate themselves from the outside world. I had just returned home to Memphis after a US tour in February, playing drums with Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing. I quickly realized that I was going to be inside for a while, so I shifted my focus from performing to recording. I had a lot of musical sketches and lyric ideas that were ready to be turned into songs. The fragments with the most promise were picked out and put through the paces. I spent a few weeks on each song, chipping away at them every day. Having the luxury of time on my side, I was able to approach the music with patience. Listening with fresh ears at the beginning of each session gave me the advantage of perspective. I allowed the songs to guide me along the writing process and see where they would take me.
How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?
The creative muscle needs to be exercised every day, so I always have a few projects going on at once. Practice routines are important, but so are designated times for uninhibited exploration. This can be applied to any number of creative endeavors. I’m always trying out new drum beats, guitar riffs, keyboard leads, chord progressions, vocal harmonies, etc., but there are other artistic avenues that I travel on. Photography is a big part of my life, as well as video art. I take lots of pictures and make my own music videos. Even though these are varied disciplines with different languages, they’re all part of the creative process, and they each inform the other’s development.
Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?
The chorus of “Start Over” repeats the phrase “hold on, it’s not too late, we can start over”. Within the song’s context, the lyrics tell the story of a couple beginning again when things seem like they’re falling apart. On another level, those words are also about not giving up and starting new every day. Two important ingredients for a fulfilling life are persistence and patience. Balancing those two can be a challenge, but it definitely keeps things interesting.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
These days, recording songs is easier than getting them heard. You don’t need a lot of gear to record music, and technological advancements are always making more user-friendly, affordable, and compact tools. You can set up your laptop or phone anywhere and just go for it. Whatever limitations you experience can be used to your advantage by finding interesting ways to work around them. Getting the music heard is another story. There are indeed more outlets than ever to share your songs online, but there are also many things out there competing for people’s attention. You have to really love the whole process and not get discouraged when others don’t think your music is as amazing as you do. Keep going and improving and sharing. Your songs will get better, and people will start to notice.
Recording music. What’s all the fun about?
My favorite aspect of recording music is making something out of nothing. That’s the part of the creative process that I find endlessly fascinating. You plant a seed and watch it grow. Of course, you need to take the initiative to get started and the motivation to continue, but there’s also a dance that goes on where you alternate taking the lead. Sometimes you guide the song, and sometimes the song guides you. This approach will take you in different directions than you originally planned and lead you to places better than you could have expected at the beginning of your journey.