Steve Stoeckel wrote 15 beautiful, thoughtful, and personal stories. The kind of songs that don’t need a big production to make an impact. The Power Of And will be released on February 24 by Big Stir Records.

Was doing a solo record the most natural thing to do right now?

Absolutely! After so many years composing and recording songs with the Spongetones, Jamie and Steve, and Pop Co-Op, I still found myself with lots of songs waiting, backed up in the queue, with little chance of all of them getting out. All those bands have strong songwriters, and we shared the space on each record. I had the songs and I had my studio, but the nuts and bolts of putting it all together and releasing it was too daunting.

And then I met Christina and Rex of Big Stir Music. A perfect fit. They not only knew how to do it but did it well. And, being recording artists themselves, they completely got the artist point of view. They liked my songs, and signed me up with a few singles, hinting I should take the leap. Thank goodness I did. It was a perfect moment all around.

How came The Power of And about?

After the singles, I made up my mind, just do it. I got a long list of songs, trimmed it down to 15, and started redoing a few old tunes (If/Then, Hummingbird, The Emerald Sea, for example) and then dived in and wrote. I have several very talented friends who were glad to step in on many songs: Pat Walters, Jamie Hoover, and Eric Willhem (my fellow Spongetones) played/sang on “Mod Girl,” along with Elena Rogers. Joel Tinnel (from Pop Co-Op ) played guitar on two songs. Bruce Gordon and Stacy Carson helped on some songs. Rick McClanahan and Keith Shamel played on a few also. David Harper played keys on two tunes. A good friend, Michael Mitsch played pennywhistle. Irene Pena co-wrote and played on “Why,” a duet. Some are all me.

Five of the fifteen recordings were mixed down at Old House Studio; I wanted real drums on those, which Eric played. The rest were all mixed here in my studio, with me playing the drum parts (and assorted keyboards, horn, strings, guitars).

You didn’t choose a bombastic production and you do not use unnecessarily debauched language, so I use the words ‘pure’ and, even, ‘vulnerable’ to describe the new songs.  Would you take that as a compliment?

Why yes, I do! While I sometimes do like complex arrangements and long songs with big intros and outros and slick production, I wanted simple, heartfelt pop tunes, each expressing something I felt, and in a short time. Most are less than 3 minutes, and some (“Birds,” for example) are very sparse. I also wanted the lyrics to be able to stand on their own. That’s hard to do, and not always necessary for a good song, but I aimed for that. “Vulnerable” is a good adjective when you get down to this level of simplicity.

The Emerald Sea is my favorite song and seems like an ode to Ireland.  Is that right?

Absolutely! There’s a story here. In the past, I’d often write birthday songs for my close friends. I’d think about their personalities and compose a song, then do a video with their pictures and post on Facebook on their birthday. It was a gift that always made them smile. Michael Mitsch, the aforementioned pennywhistle player, was of Czech descent, but married an Irish girl and fell in love with Ireland, visiting there on a regular basis, and learned to play Celtic music. I wrote “the Emerald Sea” and (without telling him it was his birthday song) sent the music bed to him and told him to just “improvise pennywhistle solos in the key of G. I’ll cut and paste them in the song.” Of course, when he heard it on his birthday, he was overwhelmed! It was such a good song, I took out the “happy birthday” part and tweaked it a bit, adding the verse about Trina, his wife. Thanks for noticing that—it’s a special one for me (and him!)

When the first The Spongetones records were released, the music industry was completely different than it is today.  How did you experience those changes?

I was lucky to get into digital recording early on, with the Spongetones records after the first 2 LP’s, which were done in a large, expensive studio with the label footing the bill. After that, it was Jamie Hoover recording us, first on tape in his studio, then in digital workstations. By the mid 90’s I had my own digital studio here in my house and we’d record things and send files back and forth, with Jamie doing the final mixes. That continued though the Jamie and Steve duo CD’s, and by the time Pop Co-Op came about (four guys composing and mixing),I had a complete system, capable of putting out quality recordings here. The freedom of that is enormous. I have complete control of my songs; this CD sounds just the way I want it to.

All I have to do is compose, record, and mix, which is my passion. I’m a lucky guy!

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