The mind of a creator can be complicated. The web of ideas and emotions that is spun making a record can take time to unravel, and this was the case with Steve St. Pierre‘s new album Stubborn Romance.
I’ve known Steve to be a wonderful artist, designer, musician, and person over the years. His work, no matter what form it takes, offers meaning through simplicity. He has the ability to boil down complex stories into a tangible message, a palatable serving for us to digest.
Stubborn Romance is a record that St. Pierre has been working on for seven years. A lot can happen in seven years. I’ve admired his candidness when discussing his struggles with mental health, as difficult as that can often be. The album delves into some of these struggles, but never without some of his dry humour and foul mouth poking through.
“…these songs. It needs to be said: they’re a bunch of assholes. They’re culled from over 400 voice memos I had lodged on my hard drive… That’s not meant to sound impressive. That’s mania.”
Stubborn Romance is gentle and devastating all at once. The album is an iceberg that requires a few listens to understand its true depth. There is no fancy production on this one. It’s rough, but honest. Ultimately, this album’s strength comes down to just that—truth. His unhindered exploration of his own struggles tell a story that many of us can relate with, navigating the tribulations that life inevitably hits us with.
Stubborn Romance was released back in September with an intimate performance at The Black Sheep Inn, and I chatted with St. Pierre about how it finally came to be. Have a read and stream Stubborn Romance below.
What was the impetus for Stubborn Romance? Can you take us through the back story a bit?
This record came out of both excitement and exhaustion. I was excited with how much I was writing, but I was exhausted with how much I was writing. I would record these half-baked ideas on my old iPhone and “My Recording 26” or whatever would get stashed away and I’d smoke another joint and write twelve more of those and forget about them in an hour.
I got frustrated with myself and called myself an asshole and decided to beat a record to death with a baseball bat. So I dug through the gross pile of demos and chose a bunch of guys that came and went and came and went and came and went until 13 decided to stick around and challenge me. And they did. But I came out on the other end with something I’m pretty proud of—particularly because I’ve never recorded a record on my own, but also because of the amount of honesty on there.
This album took you a long time to write. What made you take your time for this one?
I wish it felt like I took my time. There were too many periods of mania where I would sit and record 6-12 versions of each song. There was an entire record trashed because I was buried in the Barr Brothers for a minute and then realized I don’t have the talent or production skills to pull off the sounds I was hearing. Honestly, if I hadn’t booked my release show at the (Black) Sheep months ago, I’d still be working on this thing and I’d probably have my head permanently implanted in the desk in my studio.
I stopped when all the songs made sense. When I was finally able to understand the words that come out of my stream-of-consciousness/bullshit way of writing and form some lines that connected and made sense to me and what I was trying to get across. When the songs made sense, and with a few nudges and maybe even slightly terse words from my partner, I finally brought these 13 songs where they needed to be over a week and a half.
You’ve said that the songs are a product of over 400 voice memos and years of gathering your thoughts. How did you ultimately decide which songs made the cut onto Stubborn Romance?
The tracklist was the hardest part. There are so many fallen soldiers. So much so that there’s another release planned before the year is out. That’s besides the point. This album is a product of both too much time and procrastination—ultimately, the 13 are the ones that I felt best represented me and my place as a person and musician. I was able to find a whole lot of honesty in sorting out these tunes, and it feels good to stand behind each of them still, some as old as 10 years at this point, and still have context and understanding for where the root of the song came from. That sounds so convoluted. I’m so sorry.
Mental health is something you describe as a topic that circles the album like a vulture. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, let alone express through songs. How does mental health play into your songwriting process? And what do you hope others who are struggling take from Stubborn Romance?
I’ve always been a bit of a big mouth. I appreciate the art of talking shit. But after years of just glancing over my depression and issues with anxiety, I decided to finally kick the door down and try understand exactly why I feel like a bag of shit everyday. “Decided” might not be the right term. I think “it was imperative that I seek help” fits the bill a bit better. And with the help of some off-brand SNRIs, I’ve started to wade through the weeds and make sense of this sickness that has affected me in some way shape or form since I was six.
I can’t not bring that into my writing. It’s me. These songs wouldn’t be so fucking sad if I didn’t struggle with this horseshit ailment everyday, but I do, and so those lemons are gonna get squeezed. And I hope people understand that. And I hope those that suffer a) won’t get too bummed out by the record but b) that they can find a bit of themselves in there.
Now that Stubborn Romance is out into the world, what’s the next chapter in your story?
I mentioned an EP. That’ll be happening before the year is out. I don’t want to call them castaways from the record, they just didn’t fit the narrative. I think there might be some gems in there. But I’m excited to take my own pace with this. A mix of tortoise and hare. Music finally feels like its getting fun again, and I kinda want to bathe in that for a second.
Anything else you want to mention?
Supporting local isn’t a new idea, but I really want to encourage people to take in at least one live show a month. Date night with your partner. Solo night to have a beer and enjoy some good music. There is no shortage of talented, interesting artists in this city that, like you, just want to be a part of something a bit bigger than themselves. One night a month. Go.
This past Thursday, January 30, marked the second performance of the bimonthly I Can’t Believe It’s Not series. If you aren’t familiar with this series, it’s probably because it’s brand new, a concept that has taken Ottawa by storm over the past few months. To recap, the first installation of the ICBIN series took place on November 25th at The Manx, as a bunch of our best local musicians played The Strokes’ seminal debut album Is This It.
The organizers describe the concept as “Ottawa’s finest (or moderately mediocre) take one album and cover it with care from top to bottom with a slew of local singers taking turns at the mic”. It was a sweaty, cramped romp as we all gathered together in what must have been the busiest night of The Manx’s existence. In my previous post about that show, I gave a pretty detailed account of the night and also got some words from co-curator Rolf Klausener about the ICBIN series.