IF you think you recognise the face of Glassmaps’ Joel Stein…
PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Weiss
then that’s because you do! He is the lead guitarist from the much-loved Howling Bells and, following four terrific albums with the band, the British-based Australian launches his solo endeavour. Stein wanted to push his sonic and creative ambitions further and, because of this desire, has crafted some exquisite in Glassmaps. I ask him how it was transitioning from band-mode to solo work. He talks to me about the single, Summer Rain – the debut, in fact. I get a glimpse into its themes, sound and importance. Stein talks about his forthcoming album, Addicted, and what it was like at The Killer’ Mark Storrmer’s home studio.
The Glassmaps brand was launched on the hallmarks of freedom and self-expression. Stein lets me into his world and whether he has many gigs lined up; whether touring can provide a stable diet (for a musician) and whether he followed the General Election – and what he thinks of our current Prime Minister.
Hi, Joel. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m good and well, thanks.
My week has been good and could get gooder (sic.) as I may buy a Spanish rescue dog.
Damn, it’s been hot!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
A bit about me, then…
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and moved to London some time ago with my band Howling Bells – where I co-write and play lead guitar.
I’m about to release my debut L.P. (titled), Strangely Addicted. It was recorded, mixed and produced by me in the back of my mate Mark Stoermer’s (bass player from The Killers) Las Vegas house – in a sound-proof room filled with glorious instruments.
Mark appears on some tracks singing B.Vs here and there – and he also played bass on Summer Rain. The awesome drums were played by Glenn Moule from Howling Bells.
Summer Rain is the debut single. What can you tell me about its origins and story?
Summer Rain was written in an old attic: the riff came first on an old acoustic guitar and the lyrics fell into place.
The song is about the personal battle of those negative thoughts that can sometimes follow you around, yet, these thoughts make you who you are: a necessary evil.
It is Garage-Rock but cinematic. Are there any particular artists that you were compelled by – that inspired that sound? Who are the artists you grew up listening to?
Some of the artists I grew up listening to were a lot of old Blues artists: Miles Davies (Sketches of Spain); ’60s and ’70s Rock/Pop and loads of Ravi Shankar. His album Farewell, My Friend was on repeat for almost a year.
Summer Rain’s influence was all these things mixed in with an old attic and a confused lad.
Strangely Addicted is the forthcoming album. What can you tell me about the ideas expressed on the album and what is the importance of that album title?
The album and name (Strangely Addicted) reflect personal growth, challenges and life’s journeys.
It was written on the road (off the road) in America, Australia and Europe. The main sound/idea behind the album was to emanate a sense of freedom and self-expression organically, musically and lyrically.
Having played in another band for some time, this kind of creative freedom was rare and new for me. Unexplored territory.
What is the idea behind the name ‘Glassmaps’? Does it have particular significance?
Perhaps the name Glassmaps has more subliminal meaning than I’m aware of. Sometimes we do things and, years later, see more relevance.
I do know, consciously, I invented the name Glassmaps because I wanted an email address that didn’t exist.
For me, a blank canvas is always an inspiring way to start something new.
Of course, many will recognise you from Howling Bells. Are you still playing with the band or committed to your solo work full-time?
At the moment, Howling Bells is on holiday.
My sister is also putting out an awesome solo album; so it’s a great time to concentrate solely on Glassmaps.
How would you say your own music differs from that you made with the band? Is it easier to write alone or more challenging?
I’ve always found it easier to write alone as I get distracted very easily.
I feel that I’m at my best when in isolation. When I write with others I feel that my sense of truth, depth and clarity gets easily lost.
In terms of the musical differences between Glassmaps and Howling Bells; I feel that Glassmaps is an apple and Howling Bells is an orange. Two completely different worlds, but, still, fruit.
Do songs come together on the road or do you set time aside to create them? Give me an insight into the creative process.
The hardest thing about being a creative is finding the balance/time between creating/writing and work life. When I come home from work I write; when I wake up before work I hunt ideas with what I’ve written the night before. It’s a never-ending journey. I tend to get obsessive as well.
Sometimes, a song can just fall like rain from the heavens and, sometimes, it’s like trying to get water out of a stone.
Once I have an idea or a song I tend to write all the parts, drums; bass, keys and guitar – and whatever else I hear the song calls for.
So, to answer your question I write when I can, where I can – as long as I have an instrument near.
There’s a song in everything if you’re open enough to hear it.
What was your reaction to the General Election result? Do you think it will be tougher for new musicians now?
I don’t dare to follow politics. I think it’s a broken system mainly run by lying narcissistic megalomaniacs. I don’t read or watch the news as I feel by the time the information has gotten to us it has been filtered, twisted and manipulated too many times to be truthful.
It angers me so fuc*ing much because no one knows who’s telling the truth. The fact of the matter is that it has always been tough for artists.
The very rare few that get through and actually make money off their art are the only ones we hear about – what about the other millions we don’t know about….?!
Is it harder for musicians to exist on a steady diet of gigs? How has the musical landscape changed in your opinion?
What is a steady diet of gigs?
When you start out with anything new, it is nearly impossible to survive so you have a day/night job. Gigs don’t pay until you’re someone in-demand. You have to bring a home-packed dinner to survive.
The musical landscape…. when I see the word’s landscape and music put together; I think of spaghetti being thrown into a fan. I think it’s a total mess.
The amount of easily accessible information out there now is ludicrous. On the other hand, anyone can be heard and seen at any time. Is this a good thing?
Streaming is unavoidable. I feel a massive difference between now and pre-’90s is that the manager, band and record label made large amounts of money – whereas now, it’s record label and streaming co-operations. Where’s the band?!
Can we expect to see you performing around the country this year?
Funny question after all my ranting.
Absolutely, Glassmaps will be playing the sold-out Hyde Park show with The Killers and Tears for Fears on July 8th. There will definitely be other shows to follow which I am excited to play.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
New for me?
I just discovered Margo Guryan.
The song, California Shake, pulled me in. Awesome tune.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most; which would they be and why?
Ravi Shankar’s Farewell, My Friend
Because it’s real and beautiful.
Radiohead’s OK Computer
Because it’s otherworldly and (just) brilliant.
Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.
Even though I de-mystified it by learning it on a trumpet (neighbors wanted to kill me); it still takes me far away. What an album.
What an album.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Packed lunches and a really good pair of boots.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Golden Brown by The Stranglers, please.