By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Being a touring musician for more than 25 years, engineer/producer Steve Drizos (Dexter Grove, Jerry Joseph And The Jackmormons) carefully observed the artists he was on the road with and took notes on exactly what and what not to do and applied it towards his own work.
When Drizos originally built a studio in his basement, it was intended to be a space where he could record himself and make his own album like he has wanted to for years. Later christened the “Panther,” his studio grew into something much larger, as he worked with numerous artists – everyone from Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers) and Chris Funk (The Decemberists) to Jerry Joseph and Scott McCaughey (R.E.M.).
The time finally came to put the spotlight on his own music, as he enlisted help from friends and his wife – The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee-Drizos – and he put together what’d become ‘Axiom,’ his debut solo full-length, released this past January via Cavity Search Records.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Drizos about ‘Axiom’ and more.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut solo album ‘Axiom’?
Steve Drizos – The process of making ‘Axiom’ was a years-long process. A majority of the songs on the record started to come into view around four years ago, though others had been floating around unfinished for much longer than that. It took me a long time to get to a place where I felt I had a collection of decent songs, a space where I could properly record them and the confidence to release something under my name, having spent my entire career being behind a drum kit supporting other front people.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Portland, Oregon to someone who has never been there before?
Steve Drizos – Portland seems like a complicated place lately, certainly a very different landscape than it was when I moved here in 2004. Our downtown remains bordered up, the homeless situation feels unsolvable and gun violence has been rampant the last few months. All that said, the people who make up the fabric of our city continue to be resilient and take matters into their own hands to make changes happen and clean up our neighborhoods and for me, the fact that such natural beauty exists all around us is what makes the area so special. Its reflected in people’s attitudes and in their creativity.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Steve Drizos – I was in a fortunate situation when making ‘Axiom’ because it was my first record, so there was nothing else to compare it to and I don’t necessarily have an audience that I need to be concerned about liking or not liking the material. I got to make this record one-hundred percent on my own terms and really with nothing to lose. I am a big fan of 90’s rock and that era of music remains a huge influence on me, that was the mark I was aiming for. It was very exciting for me to make that kind of a record.
Music Bugle – Which of your new songs were the hardest to write?
Steve Drizos – The final track on the record, “Liminal Space,” was the most challenging for me. It’s kind of two songs in one, two very distinctly different parts, so figuring out how to tie them together was a bit tricky and I wanted the last song of the album to be unapologetically epic, so figuring all those things out was like working out a puzzle. I’m pretty happy with the final results, though.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Steve Drizos – That’s a big question. I have been extremely fortunate that I didn’t lose anyone close to me to the disease. I was able to remain working for most of the pandemic. When touring came to a screeching halt, my studio business really flourished. At first, doing mostly remote recording and mixing projects and eventually, opening up to in-person recording sessions. Just because live gigs stopped didn’t mean that people’s creativity stopped, so I was able to work with artists and give them a space to be creative and it also gave me the time to finish my record.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Steve Drizos – I think in regards to independent musicians, social media does more good than harm. It’s an amazing resource for artists to reach a large audience, promote their music and merch and connect with fans in a way that wasn’t possible when I was first starting out in bands.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Steve Drizos – One quote that I constantly go back to is by Andy Warhol. “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Music Bugle – What advice would you give to a young musician just starting out?
Steve Drizos – Keep your motivations and intentions in check. There are lots of different reasons and ways to create music and start bands. Ask yourself why you’re doing it and stay as honest to that as you can.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Steve Drizos – A hike in the woods is the best medicine for me. I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. I also really like a hot beach.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Steve Drizos – There isn’t any one stand out for me right now. The last artist that I got really infatuated with is Samantha Crain out of Oklahoma. I have to be honest with my love of music streaming services. I am fully aware of their evils and arguably, I am someone getting screwed over by my lack of royalty payments, but having access to all that music at any given time has gotten me more excited about music and more inspired than any other time in recent memory. You should absolutely, one-hundred percent support the artists, especially independent, anyway you can. Buy the records, buy the merch, see them live. However, as a fan, it’s an amazing time to have access to all of that music and I’m a music fan above everything else.