I took a moment to digest the last hour – the band entering the building to salutations and hugs all around, Steven’s easy going demeanor and his ever-present smile and the always curious eyes of a man following his life’s path. An hour so well spent.
Steven Delopoulos of Burlap to Cashmere - Interview
Cup ‘O Joy music venue, Green Bay, Wisconsin
July 3, 2015
It had been roughly one year since I last interviewed Steven Delopolous, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Burlap To Cashmere (B2C). As the band setup for their sound check we sat in the artist lounge of the Cup ‘O Joy music venue talking of events over the past year, B2C’s new album (see review in this month's Phantom Tollbooth) and the future.
Phantom Tollbooth - Steven, I will begin with a very, very personal question. Is it true Mark Ruffalo is your long lost twin? (Laughs all around.)
Steven Delopoulos – Yes, it was quite a shock. (Laughs and related stories continue.)
PT – What has life been like the past year?
SD – Well, we just put out a new record and have been working on this project for a quite a while. Also, Johnny (Philippidis, lead guitarist, cousin and long-time collaborator) and I have been playing gigs together on the side doing some of our older stuff and some covers, Simon & Garfunkel and others. Our family is good; we have a close extended family. A big Greek family, all good.
PT – You’ve mentioned Simon & Garfunkel covers. Those who have attended B2C concerts know B2C has covered their song “The Boxer”. Is there a thought to covering another Paul Simon tune? Whenever I her Simon’s “Armistice Day” I can see B2C covering it. Along with Johnny cutting lose on the acoustic guitar as Simon did on this tune.
SD – That’s a great tune! (Steven sings a few lyrics of the song sounding much like Simon’s vocal tone.) ”Johnny could easily play that groove. “
PT – Let’s switch gears to Freedom Souls. Congrats on fan contributions thorough Pledge Music. The last I heard the total contribution was 139% of goal.
SD – Thank you. We do have very loyal fans and they’re much appreciated.
PT - What caused the delayed release of Freedom Souls? (Originally scheduled for mid-December, 2014 release, actual digital release June 23, 2015.)
SD - Technical difficulties. We made this album on our own with no producer for the first time. This can be good artistically but bad if you’re not a technical guy. Our recording system broke down a number of times, occasionally resulting in having to reproduce entire songs. Budget issues also contributed. The money brought in wasn’t enough to pay for studio time so we were ‘home studioing.' Eventually, we went to different studios for two or three days to record one or two songs then bring in a engineer to make sense of it. Recording is difficult when not knowing where we will record next and losing material due to system crashes. When we figured out what we had to work with, we found we also had a dysfunctional time in making the record. But, some good people around us helped out. We needed an engineer and Chris Montgomery came in to help. Seth VanPaulus came in to mix. Johnny stepped up adding pads. Lost tracks we had worked on for months we had to redo, but in the process we tried some different things resulting in the final product. Mainly technical issues resulting in many redos.
PT – I hear a heavier emphasis on keyboards in Freedom Souls compared to B2C’s previous two albums. What lead to keys having a more prominent role in this record?
SD – Andrew Ybanez, Johnny and Todd Koblow added keys to this album. Musically, the material has less happening than our previous albums. Our second record was sparser; the first was a fuller, more colorful record. We added dynamics with pads to the sound. Freedom Souls occasionally has an element of Sade’s music, pads mimic that. This is layering of songs, experimenting to see what works for a song.
PT – Why did the band decide to add songs played previously only in concert, specifically Tonilou and Dialing God - Dialing God / Instrumental?
SD – I was recording a solo effort prior to Freedom Souls. Writing songs for the band is totally different than writing for myself. I had no material. I went to my collection of songs from my past 20 years. The first was “‘I Will Follow” which I wrote when I was 17 or 18 and played for Johnny (then 14). At that time he said, ‘ I hate it… it’s heartless’. Twenty years later I played the song for the band and he remembered the song and he all liked it! So I said, ‘Now you think it’s great? Twenty years ago you trashed the song’ (laughs)! So I rewrote the song and lyrics and the day after we recorded it. “Freedom Souls” and “16 Miles” were written while I was in college. This is not unusual; many artists dig into their past writing for material, their archives.
I wrote “Passover” four years ago; it is one of my favorites. It is a ballad; every album needs one. Our last album had “Love Reclaims the Atmosphere”, a Simon & Garfunkel-like tune as its ballad. Every record needs a center, a reflection, needs some depth to it. To me as a listener, “Passover” has a center, a depth, a core and message, and a philosophy.
PT – “Brain Fog” is a darker song than you have written in the past. What was the motivation behind this song?
SD – “Brain Fog” was written during our recording sessions. I wrote it in my bedroom with my guitar and recorder. It is difficult to write, it is always a big accomplishment. The next day I played it for band and we included it on the album. The song’s rhythm is Greek”. (Delopoulos vocalizes the beats while clicking his fingers to project the Greek rhythm.)
PT – “Freedom Souls” and “Dialing God” have an earthy quality, mellow and true. Do you consider songs such as these to be the bedrock of the B2C sound?
SD – These songs were written in college and have not changed over time. For us they are nostalgic, as if we are still kids playing at Josie’s coffee shop, they bring us back.
PT – Previously, you mentioned working on a solo effort prior to writing for Freedom Souls. Do you have another solo effort in your future?
SD - I have four songs ready. There is a flavor of Paul Simon’s on the songs. I have a band working on the songs with me; Johnny plays on bass for a lot of it. I am trying new things. My solo stuff focuses on my lyrics and a melody, which is interesting for me. Also, it will include more of my higher falsetto voice. I am excited for this solo. It will be eight or nine months before I can release it.
I will continue to promote our new record while writing for my solo. One of the things that really interest me now is videography. Recently, I purchased a camera and am making the video for “Brain Fog” (video posted July 28, 2015). It might be pretty creepy, not sure how fans will like it (laughs). I like the idea of writing, recording, then creating visuals for the project and posting it. This activity satisfies me.
(While scheduling the interview, we had hoped to include Johnny Philippidis, lead guitar, percussion and backing vocals. Unfortunately, Johnny was needed for setup and initial sound check during the interview.)
PT – Steven, since Johnny is unable to attend, I hope you can answer a few questions I had for him. Johnny is a great guitarist and is very musically gifted. Has he considered a solo career?
SD – He certainly could. Johnny is a good writer and a virtuoso guitarist. He is an incredible arranger in my opinion. He should be producing records. Johnny has done studio work. I can’t speak for him, but in my opinion he could certainly do this. Johnny expresses himself so well through his guitar. Johnny is so talented; he could easily do a record if he wanted to.
I am lucky to have him as family and play with him all these years, to be by my side and make my songs come alive. I can’t ask for any more than to have such a creative singer and guitarist with me than Johnny. Teddy (Pagano, percussion) is fantastic. Our entire band has great players. I am very fortunate.
PT – Johnny’s guitar play is very emotional, what inspires his play?
SD – Like all musicians, there is a need for acceptance. This drives us.
PT - What gave Johnny such a great ear for tone? Watching Johnny during sound checks, he hears the exact tone and balance he’s looking for. What gives him this gift?
SD – Johnny has been an alien that way since he was a kid. He’ll tune my guitar by ear which is difficult to do. He has always had an ear for tuning. His father was like that. It is in our family. My Dad was a virtuoso. My Mom, Dad and Grandfather played guitar, piano and sang.
PT – Yesterday B2C played in Chicago. Tonight you play the Cup and tomorrow
B2C will be performing at Escape To The Lake. Will B2C have larger venues this tour? What would be B2C’s favorite type of venue?
SD - What works financially while on tour is our favorite. While promoting our first album we were on tour for five straight years building our base. That’s why we took a break. Now we’re rebuilding. Playing venues familiar with our past work and are willing to pay us to come play. We are playing more shows now while rebuilding and promoting Freedom Souls. People are realizing we are back together.
PT – Any last thoughts?
SD - We’ve been playing together for 30 years. Exploring with the tools we have. If we change something while performing we look at each other and giggle – that’s the fun of making and playing music. We find something new that works, exploration. This is why we do this. The feeling of being alive, you hear yourself and see yourself in a new and different weird way, I’m alive.
Life is good, yeah, it’s real good.
With the sound check about to begin Steven left for the band and I left to complete my notes prior to the concert. I took a moment to digest the last hour – the band’s entering the building to salutations and hugs all around, Steven’s easy going demeanor and his ever-present smile and the ever-curious eyes of a man following his life’s path. An hour so well spent.
See the Freedom Souls album review and Freedom Souls concert review in this August, 2015 edition of Phantom Tollbooth.
Scott S Mertens