For every musician, having a reputable label give you a call to offer an international record deal is the kind of thing you can only dream about. Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker was so excited by getting his first offer from Modular that he famously turned his car around en route to his final university exam and headed home to kickstart his new career.
So what was the answer when Queensland-based Stepson received a call from American indie label SharpTone Records, offering to release their debut LP?
“Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Saying no to the first record deal we were handed was pretty hard. I was so scared that we were never going to see another one,” laughs bassist and vocalist Jayden Ridley when we caught up with him, ahead of the band’s forthcoming record Help Me, Help You.
“We made enough mistakes with our old bands with things like burning through money and other dumb shit…We learnt that there was no wrong or right way to do it, you just have to have a crack really.”
Thankfully, Stepson were able to negotiate a deal that suited them, making them the first band in Australia to sign exclusively with SharpTone.
“SharpTone pretty much kicked the door down and said they really wanted us and offered us the deal. We’ve been DIY the entire time, we’ve never had a manager, so it was quite scary inviting someone into this thing that we all hold so close,” says Jayden.
“There was a lot of back and forth trying to get the right deal that made sense for us. I reached out to anyone and everyone who was involved in the industry. We wanted to have everyone’s opinion, weigh it all up and work out what worked for us.
“The deal we signed was perfect for us. A lot of bands forget that it’s a two-way street. We can’t expect the world and have nothing go back to them…both SharpTone and us are gonna grow, so it’s a cool opportunity for both of us to be the flagship down under.”
It’s a massive step-up for the band, who are no strangers to the long grind, having cut their teeth on Australian roads for nearly six years in the lead up to this release, a time which has included multiple EPs and singles. Still, the process of doing a full LP was incredibly tough for the band, as Jayden recalls.
“I went in thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just like doing two EPs’, but this was so much harder. There is something special about a full-length album, and releasing a full-length was one of my biggest dreams.
“It captured the entire build-up from the last five years of Stepson. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t the same song ten or eleven times – we never want to pigeonhole ourselves into one genre.
“It’s eleven tracks, so it’s cool to have all that extra room to try different things that you’re limited by with EPs sometimes, but we also had to find a balance so it didn’t feel like you were listening to five different bands on the same record.”
With their unique blend of pop punk, hardcore and alternative rock, you’re never risking hearing more of the same when it comes to Stepson. However, even Jayden admits that things got pretty experimental at the start of the process.
“When I heard my scratch tracks without any production or fleshing it out or anything, I thought ‘Oh no, have we done goofed here?’
“It all sounded great though once it came together. Sometimes I didn’t know what the fuck I was listening too, but it’s definitely a Stepson record.”
It should be a moment to savour for Stepson, with their first record set for a worldwide release. Having said that, touring plans to accompany the issue have been on-and-off, with new dates scheduled now pencilled in for this May. Despite that, Jayden is upbeat and reports that the band are remaining productive.
“After we finished the album we were like, ‘Oh God, that was the hardest thing to do in the world,’ and then straight away we started sharing new riffs…It’s given us confidence to write a bit more.
“We’ve done one now, we can do another. We’re getting more confident with our writing all the time.”
Help Me, Help You drops on Friday, 26th March.
Stepson ‘Help Me, Help You’ Tour
Friday 28th May
Saturday 29th May
Saturday 5th June
Stay Gold, Melbourne
Friday 18th June
Lucy’s Love Shack, Perth