Juanita Stein’s Unlikely Decisions

Interview with Juanita Stein: For her first LP away from The Howling Bells, singer

Northern Transmissions: Why did you decide you wanted to record something outside of Howling Bells and what did going solo offer you that the band didn’t?

Juanita Stein: It was a very natural progression. Anyone who’s musically curious has to venture outside of their limitations. For me the band provided a home for a decade and I think it got to the point where I was getting very musically curious and was gearing towards doing music on my own. So far it’s been a really wonderful inspiring feeling being on my own and having control. There’s more creative control and on a spiritual level there’s something really satisfying about exploring different genres and topics in music. I think when you’re in a band, and you have been for so long, you have to stay in the realm of what that band has become. I felt like I was being unfaithful or untrue if I’d done something different, so I’m finding that aspect really satisfying.

NT: What did Gus Seyffert bring to the recording as a producer and what did he bring out of you?

JS: He’s an incredibly talented and intuitive musician. What he brought to the process was a gentleness that I’ve not really explored. Everyone I’ve worked with up until this point has wanted to bring out the ballsiness and the rock ‘n’ roll in the music, which is fine because that was a big aspect of the Howling Bells. Gus not really knowing that or having worked with me in band capacity, highlighted what he felt were the strongest aspects. He saw a sensitivity that he tried to highlight. He did a good job, he played a lot of instruments on the record, so he played a great deal to how the record sounded.

NT: What made you decide to focus this outing so much on America?

JS: It wasn’t conscious going into it at all. There was no conceptual thing going on there, the most important thing was choosing the strongest songs and finding the truest way to record them. Once they were all recorded and I’d listened back to them all, it dawned on me that each song in some capacity was either about America or heavily culturally influenced by America and it became really obvious to me that I wanted to highlight that and try and focus on that.

NT: Did you pull anything from your time working backup vocals with other artists all around?

JS: I can’t say anyone specifically but the collective experience of working with other people gives you a confidence and strength. That’s really important to take into the studio with you. I think the experience of the band plus all the side projects and experiences all culminate in a confidence that may or may not work. In the first place it gave me the confidence to get on a plane and go record in the studio with someone I’ve never met. You need a certain cockiness for that I suppose.

NT: Did your time off influence you towards this solo project or was it more a lyrical inspiration to the record?

JS: Having the time off has really focused me. It’s brought to my attention what’s important, and what needs to happen. Having a child really focuses you, I always thought it would be the opposite. It’s taken the pressure off in a profound way but it’s also focused me in a profound way. I think a combination of the two has played a large part in making this solo record.

NT: Starting to learn music a such a young age, what lessons are you still taking the most from now?

JS: I guess because my father was a musician and having watched him play in bands, and taking us to gigs, the lesson of tenacity and persistence has always stayed with me. This idea that if you’re going to find what success is, you’re not going to fail that easily. This lesson of just keep going, from a young age has stuck with me, especially post-Howling Bells. I hope to keep applying that because you really need it.

NT: I understand your father is also a part of this solo record?

JS: It was accidental. He’s written songs on the first and fourth Howling Bells record, so he’s been unintentionally involved throughout the process. It’s more a matter of him playing songs for me to get an opinion. He came to me with this song called “Comfort” and said “What do you think?” and I just immediately fell in love with it, the aesthetic of it. It was one of the demos I sent to Gus and it went from there.

Words by Owen Maxwell