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Flashback Friday: An '80s Conversation with Super Stereo

Super Stereo
Super Stereo

Where we're going, we don't need roads; just a synthesizer, eyeliner, and a touch of androgyny. Welcome to Flashback Friday.

Local future-pop rockers Super Stereo are marking their triumphant return to the stage with a super-sweet lineup tomorrow night at Crescent Ballroom.

After a brief hiatus from performing, the five-piece Tempe band are dusting off the old keyboards and amps and are ready to unveil some of the new material they've been working on.

Super Stereo will be playing along with fellow locals Factories, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, and TABS on Saturday, June 9. But before then, we caught up with bandmates Lo and Statz to talk about some of their favorite '80s bands and songs.

Statz: One of my favorite bands -- actually they're kind of how we got our name -- is the Talking Heads.

I was reading a book about the Talking Heads, because I'm a nerd and I like to read, but I guess when the drummer and the bass player got married, there was something about the music being provided by a stereo, and it was super -- something to that effect. But it stuck in my head. So I guess that makes them indirectly responsible for our name.

But I've always liked them ever since I first heard them. Obviously, all of the '80s music I came into happened at a later time; because during the '80s I was like five. So I didn't quite have that musical taste back then.

One of the things that I always liked about the Talking Heads -- what really influenced me was that they weren't really musicians. They were just creative people. For most of them, music was not their primary creative outlet. They came to music to find a new medium to communicate something. And that really comes across in their music because they're not really focused on the machismo that comes with playing an actual instrument. They really cared more about getting their message across.

One of my favorite songs of theirs is "Naïve Melody." The song is simple and understated and that couldn't have happened if they were really [proficient] musicians. It's just the perfect culmination of creative ideas.

 

Up on the Sun: I think coming into '80s music at a later age is kind of the case for a lot of us. I was just a kid then too, but my dad was a DJ during that time, so I was exposed to a lot of disco, new wave and all of this synth pop at an early age, but to really appreciate it -- for sure that didn't happen until later for me.

Statz: I think at a certain age you always kind of identify with the sentimentality of some of those songs; especially new wave. It was a lot more nuanced. It tread a much wider range of emotion, but still in a raw punk rock way.

Definitely. Do you remember how you stumbled onto the Talking Heads?

I think my brother gave me one of their CDs and I just loved it from the get go. Speaking in Tongues was the name of the album. I jumped on it right away and really liked it.

What about you Lo?

Lo: I, too, was a child of the '80s, so I was pretty young during that period of time, but kind of like you, Anthony, my dad was a music critic. Actually he was the music editor at New Times in the '80s. So I was exposed to the albums he was reviewing and also my mom taught aerobics, so as she was watching me, I'd basically sit in on her aerobics classroom and watch her dance around instructing other people. What she would do was take existing songs -- this was before they made specific music for aerobics -- but she would take these late-'70s disco songs and she would speed up the BPM. In my mind, now that I've been thinking about it, that's where '80s synth pop came from. In that it took the danceability of disco and took away the bell-bottoms and swapped them out for spandex and kicked the BPM up a little bit.

That's funny you mention that. I remember my dad would do the same thing with some of his records. Stuff that was normally played at 33 1/3, he'd kick up to 45 BPMs but lower the pitch control, so it didn't sound like a chipmunk song.

Lo: So much of it is tied to culture, too. Music, fashion; I think everything kind of evolved in the '80s to a point where they came up with a formula to make people dance. A lot of songs that were pop, had this desire to be sort of epic or anthemic and make people want to sing along. Which is kind of what our band tries to do now.

One of the things I really liked about the '80s, is that there were bands like Queen and ELO which were pretty much at the end of their peak, but made two of my favorite songs. Queen doing the theme song to Flash Gordon -- which I think is part of the tie between movies and music in the '80s; that's when the MTV generation made music more visual -- and ELO doing the theme song to Xanadu. Those two songs are just so epic to me.

 

I think movies like Fame and Flashdance took disco music and walked us into the '80s. Songs like "Maniac," and of course my favorite '80s soundtrack of all time, Footloose . Every track on that album is a gem. It's got "Footloose," "Holding Out for a Hero," and "Let's Hear it for the Boys."

Right on. Are there any other bands from the '80s you guys want to talk about?

Statz: Oh, yeah, I like talking about music; I'm a bigger fan than I am anything else.

I also wanted to talk about The Smiths. I love the humor and tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of really sad lyrics and really beautiful, happy music. Like "Girlfriend in a Coma" or "Cemetery Gates." They were just so clever and oddly funny in a weird way; that kind of resonates with me and my sense of humor, and even the humor of the band I think. Like in the song "Panic" he has a children's choir singing, "hang the DJ." It's little things like that.

I love the craftsmanship and Morrissey's words. It's like he's talking about what's happening around him directly, which you wouldn't think would translate to a lot of people, but it kind of does.

 

And there's also Zapp and Roger . They used a lot of electronic sounds like a lot of people in the '80s, but they used them in an emotionally expressive way. Like the voice box. Before it was used to add texture, but they really used it in a way that was really expressive. Like in, "I Wanna Be Your Man," the way the vocals come off in that line -- if he had sung that without any of the electronic effects, it wouldn't have resonated as much.

Yeah, it definitely wouldn't have had the same gusto.

Statz: Exactly.

And then there's Stevie Wonder. He's my favorite, ever. I actually saw him recently.

Where at?

Statz: It was at Jobing.com Arena. I guess it was really random because he hadn't toured in like 25 years and tickets were really expensive, but my brother and I were thinking, "when's the next time we'll be able to see him."

I went in there expecting a legacy act but the guys is amazing. A lifetime on stage coupled with just being a musical genius, it was like he was talking directly to you. He was making blind jokes the whole time. There was just not one moment that you weren't really engaged. It was really amazing.

"Ribbons in the Sky" was so beautiful when he played it live.

Lo: Speaking of live shows. Cyndi Lauper and her first album in 1983 is a favorite of mine. You wouldn't think that, "Time After Time," and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" were on the same album, but they were.

I bring it up because, I was having a conversation with my dad the other day and I asked him, "Is there anything that you reviewed, that came out at the time, that you changed your mind about?"

He told me that he trashed Cyndi Lauper's first album. He thought it was horrible and he thought she was a joke. And here she is still touring. I saw her a few years ago, and she's become such an icon. "True Colors" has become such an anthem for the gay community and everyone everywhere. So I really like what she did in the '80s. She was poppy but still indie at the same time with her crazy hair and fun music videos.

 

Very cool. And now you guys are back from hiatus.

Statz: Yeah we played Pride recently. That was kind of like a comeback. We played that because we love the cause but our first real comeback show is Saturday. It's the first show that we're putting on ourselves and that we've planned out.

But, even though we weren't playing we were still interacting with people.

Lo: We weren't playing live, but we were still practicing twice a week and writing new songs. So we weren't really on hiatus, but the shows were.

Statz: It's tough to be ambidextrous in a band. To be both focused on playing live and making new material. Sometimes there comes a tipping point where you just want to push forward and that's tough when you have a lot of obligations in a live realm. All of us have day jobs and things like that, so it's hard to dedicate time to everything.

What else does the immediate future hold for you guys?

Statz: We're working on a new album and new songs. Those are coming along really well. We're really liking all of the songs that we're making right now. And a little bit of touring over the summer. So those are kind of our plans at the moment. Make more content and just get out there.

Lo: Yeah, we're lucky enough to have a couple more shows scheduled at the Crescent already. We're doing a benefit show on July 11 at the Crescent that's going to be hosted by the mayor, and then I think another one in August.

So now that we've relaunched we're definitely going to be playing out more. And you can hear all of the new songs that will hopefully be on the album at the shows.

The band that's influencing me the most while working on this new album right now is Erasure. Specifically, their 1987 album, The Innocents. So "A Little Respect," "Chains of Love," and "Ship of Fools," is really what I'm into right now.

Cool. We'll have to keep an ear out to see if we can spot that in the new album.

Lo: I think you will.

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Crescent Ballroom

308 N. 2nd Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

602-716-2222

www.crescentphx.com


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