Jazzy Indie Combo Stellacutta Took Its Time With Its Debut LP -- It Was Worth It
It took three whole years for Stellacutta to finish its self-titled debut album, which finally saw the sweet monitor glow of their Bandcamp page in January. The record is a pristine showcase of the Tempe outfit's bombastic, jazz-inflected indie rock -- the melodic heights reached within it show that the toil paid off -- but the members absolutely did not intend for it to take so damn long.
Though they had to work around the busy schedule of album producer and local flamenco musician Monte Perrault, guitarist/singer Max Knouse admits the main slowdown was the band's uninhibited experimenting, which got drastically pruned in the year-long mixing process. "There was a session where we collected leaves and sticks and rocks and made noise with it," he says. "We had all the time in the world, which was sort of the downside of it."
Keyboardist/singer Greg Diarra recalled spending the night in the studio on several occasions. The kaleidoscopic interlude "Seminary," which functions as a pleasantly disorienting palate cleanser before the album makes its final ascent, was one late-night concoction that survived the cutting process. However, he says the band already had culled a heap of new material before the album was finished. "It took so unbelievably long that, naturally, we started to move on to other work," Diarra says.
Before it starts to sound like griping, know that the band is rightfully proud of its labor. Knouse is the first to backpedal on the collective sighing. "People are gonna be like, 'They hate their album,'" he laughs.
Diarra chuckles, too. "It was very special, the biggest learning experience of my life," he says.
I like to hear both of those elements: a super-controlled form, but then also have room for a hook, or something really simple and visceral. --Max Knouse
The experience hasn't halted the band's tendency to always think big. They've spent the last couple of weeks prepping a horn and string section for a show this weekend at Crescent Ballroom celebrating the album's release on CD. The entire ensemble is swilling beers and devouring burritos, having a post-rehearsal hangout in the backyard of their Tempe headquarters where several members live and orchestrate practices for their multitude of music projects.
Diarra, Knouse, and lead vocalist Meredith Minne take my questions while the rest of the crew throws a Frisbee around on the lawn. It's just after nightfall and the patio light doesn't have much breadth, so the plastic disc occasionally pelts the support beams of the porch awning by our heads.
When I ask Diarra how his jazz piano performance studies at Arizona State inform his playing in Stellacutta, he says he doesn't think about it too much, that his jazz training is just one part of his musical intuition. However, Knouse, an ASU guitar performance graduate, sees his formal schooling as an opportunity to have an understanding of the classic American songbook alongside the riffs and hooks of modern pop.
"You can have a song that's just one idea, like Joy Division," he says. "Then you go back and hear a song by Rodgers and Hart, where it's this Greek proportion of music, where all the contrasts are super-controlled. In Stella, I like to hear both of those elements: a super-controlled form but then also have room for a hook or something really simple and visceral."