As we all know, it’s damn near impossible to blow up on the jamband scene, so don’t let Steez fool you. After releasing their first feature length debut this past August, Creepfunk Crusade, the funky Madison kids did crack their first issue of Relix; get named New Groove of the Month on Jambands, receive a nod as one of the ten most influential Madison bands of the decade; and are currently in the running studio album of the year on the Homegrown Music Network, but that all comes after six years of pounding the pavement. Finally reaping some spoils for their hard work, the Creepfunk Crusaders look poised to break through the “talented band on the festival side stage” glass ceiling an take their catalog of distinctive funk songs to a broader audience. Glide caught up with Steez bass player Chris Sell and guitarist Steve Neary to a little dig deeper in into the Creepfunk.

For those of us new to Steez- please give us a cliff notes version of the Steez story?
Matt, Chris, Drew (former drummer) and Steve all met through mutual friends during the spring/summer of 2003 while attending the University of WWisconsin – Madison.  Our circles ran together and we all played instruments, but hadn’t played in any sort of band while attending school here. The magic all happened one fateful summer night in the hot and sweaty confines of (keyboardist) Matt Williams’ bedroom, amongst piles of dirty laundry and a shelf full of star wars figurines.   We somehow fit a full drum kit and guitar/bass rigs alongside of matt’s ridiculously large Technics electric piano and had at it. It took us a while to settle on a name, and we spent some early mornings in Matt’s living room, naming off any random thing we could think of before Chris took a look at the floor and came up with Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Not long after a few summer jam sessions, we had our first gig performing on Halloween at a place called Madisons.  Madison gets pretty rowdy on Halloween, and this night was no exception.  We played to a full room and it was a blast.  To be honest, from a musical standpoint the show probably wasn’t very good but it was still a lot of fun to get up there on stage in our Nintendo themed costumes and play to a room full of our friends.  

We switched our band name to Steez when we were recording our first EP, “All Systems Bro” in December of 2004.  At that point, another band in town that we knew had almost gotten sued for their name, so we decided that the Nintendo Corporation wasn’t something we wanted to mess with.  After another series of latenight brainstorming sessions (you’d be amazed at how hard it is for five close friends to agree on a band name), we finally decided on Steez which is a slang term for style.  We thought this represented us pretty well, so we went with it.

With Matt taking a semester abroad, the future of Steez seemed bleak with Drew Brezinski deciding to leave the band to pursue life (and women) on the West Coast.  At this point, the stars aligned as Chris’ roomate at the time Rob Bessert had just became available due to the dismantling of his former band the Red Chemist.  The last puzzlepiece of Steez fell into place when Steve’s longtime friend Andrzej Benkowski moved to Madison to join the band full time.  At this point, we decided to rent a five bedroom house together and “try” to take the band seriously.  That experience which lasted two unbelievable years would probably have garnered quite the reality show, but in the end somehow our friendship survived and the music grew amongst constant parties, a possum infestation, Reggie Jackson and his crowbar, and the constant smell of cat piss.  Those days could rival Animal House … literally.    
Steez has been described – as a funk band, a jamband, a fusion band, a disco-fanged multi-beast, and a basket case – what do you feel is the most accurate description?
This question has to be the single most dreaded question for us to try to answer.  You’d be amazed at how many people have asked us over 5 years, ‘what kind of music do you play?’  ‘or what kind of band are you?’  which i guess comes with the territory when you pull up to a gas station in the middle of nowhere driving a 1981 poop colored school bus with grafitti on the side.  Even in Manhattan people gawk at us.  But regardles,s this question will always be dreaded, because we strive to make original music and having to generalize it often compromises it as well.  However, to answer the question, I guess I think we are a funk band first and foremost.  We like to lock into a deep pocket and layer different rhthyms.  I also think disco-fanged multi-beast is a pretty apt description because we definitely have a tendency to lock into a disco-funk groove when we are improvising, but if you tell that to a stranger next thing you know you are trapped in a 15 minute conversation that often ends in confusion.  Otherwise, we are pretty much some sarcastic and immature duders, so if you run into us and ask us that, I really can’t guarantee what kind of answer you would get.  
There’s been some talk about how Steez has used the synthesizer to help reinvent the sound of the funk band – were there any albums or bands that served as an inspiration for directing the Steez sound this way?
I don’t know if the synthesizer alone can re-invent funk music (although matt gets an A for effort in that department) and we definitely don’t claim to be trying to re-invent funk music, but if that’s what has been talked about than that’s extremely flattering.  Funk has had an influence on all of our lives in one way or another and its more about the energy behind funk music that we like to try to recreate.  The synth has been around for over 30 years and funk music has been around even longer, but I think any kind of re-invention can be attributed to our background as extremely eclectic music lovers and perhaps having lives outside of music. Although we all met at UW, none of us were music majors in the traditional sense and i think that makes us unique for a band that has gotten to this level.  There are many albums that have inspired us individually like the smooth grooves of Bob James or funk legends Zapp / the Dazz Band / Lakeside etc, but i think what sets us apart from the “general” funk sound is our ability to layer harmonies and melodies on top of a funk groove and be able to improvise with that in a way that a "jamband" would.   
Talk about your debut Creepfunk Crusade – is it essentially a live album recorded in the studio or is it more of a song-writing/studio recorded project?   What songs are you most proud of?
At this point we have about 40+ original songs which we’ve been performing live for 2-4 years.  Some songs we’ve probably played 200 times.  I think we could have definitely done this disc "live," but what we were most excited about when getting into the studio was being able to utilize everything the studio has to offer which we were only able to scratch the surface with on our previous EP.  We weren’t concerned with the songs not sounding the same live as they do on the album and actually embraced that mindset.  We were able to take a completely different creative approach to these songs and we hope that shows in the final product.  I think we are most proud of how the whole project came together, we really wanted to put out a good studio album from start to finish.  I would say we are most proud of the attention to detail and the amount of creativity each of us put into our parts. One of the goals of this album was to try to capture similar amounts of energy that we get out of our live shows and I think we did that.   
You’ve played at Rothbury and Summer Camp – are there any particular highlights that stand out from those appearances or any collaborations worth mentioning?
Well first and foremost, despite winning an online contest (based on fan votes) to play Rothbury we weren’t “selected” to play this fest.  We felt like we got hosed because, we lobbyed the shit out of our friends to vote for us and in the end I guess we didn’t read the fine print because the decision of who played was made by the corperate sponsors of the event who i’m sure had no idea who Steez was…  But no worries, we’ll see who’s still around in five years, Steez or… haha.

Anyway, we’ve played Summercamp the last two years because we have won local battle of the bands, and thanks to our good friend Yoni Reisman and his desire to push Steez, we had the great opportunity to play the 10,000 Lakes Festival this year.  I would say the atmosphere is always awesome at festivals.  The free backstage tickets and free meals are an awesome perk (ha) and being able to brush shoulders with some awesome musicians is definitely a treat.

I’d say playing Summer Camp in 2008 was probably the single best festival moment for us.  It was our first bigger festival appearance and we had just purchased our bus two weeks prior, so it was our first roadtrip in Big Brown.  Our slot was on Sunday night and from the opening notes of Robot Rock the entire camping stage area was packed with people getting down for the rest of our set.  It was one of those “goosebump” moments as the entire crowd was dancing like it was going out of style.  We played a solid show and I think that won us over quite a few new fans.  We had burned 200 promo CD’s and they were gone literally five minutes after we finished playing.
Steez has played covers ranging from Madonna to Human League –  what other songs are you hoping to break out live?                                                                    
Hmmm… That’s a good question.  We just debuted a few covers at our last show, 1000 Cigarettes by MSTRKRFT and “I Need You Tonight” by Punkin Machine.  Our covers are pretty much all over the place and we try to give everyone a chance to suggest songs, so it depends on the person I guess.  Our covers are usually decided during breaks (a.k.a youtube sessions) at practice, so its hard to say what we’ll learn next.  Although you can bet it will be something random, and probably something that hasn’t been covered by other bands in our scene.
What’s the biggest challenge for a young band like Steez starting out and being tossed into the “jamband” category?  Do you feel it helps you by immediately giving you a fan base who are comfortable with the term or do you feel it might hinder you into taking it to the next/bigger level?
I think the biggest challenge of being labeled a “jamband” is similar to any band that gets pigeonholed into one category.  Its hard to attract fans of other genres because they already have a preconception of what that music is going to sound like before they even hear it.  I’d venture to say that we don’t sound a whole lot like Phish or The Dead, although we do have appreciation for those bands.  

However, if you told someone we were a jamband I could almost guarantee you that the person would have those bands in mind.  While we are a jamband, and have our roots in the jamband scene, that’s not the only thing we do.  We do adhere to some principles of the jam scene, such as grassroots marketing techniques, different setlists for shows, and a tendency to jam out some of our songs.  That’s where we came from and that’s always going to be a part of our M.O.  However, you wont catch us covering “Scarlet > Fire” and we definitely have other influences outside of the jam scene.  We try to stay away from long meandering jams that slow down a crowd and don’t go anywhere.  

Our music is always on the move and one of our main goals is to keep people dancing and having a good time.  And seeing people out in the crowd dancing having a good time with their friends is what makes this worth it.  We’ve played shows where there are 40 something year old soccer mom’s getting down on a sunday night in Cincinnati… and we’ve played shows where there are a bunch of extremely uncoordinated little toddlers convulsing their little bodies on a Thursday afternoon at a street festival in Rochester, MN.  Either way, its a treat to see all types of people not care, get out of their seat and dust off those dance moves.  And their lack of embarrasment while doing so will always put a smile on your face.  
What’s next for Steezy in 2010?
That’s a good question.  Well, 2009 was pretty busy with album deadlines and a summer tour, jobs, girlfriends, (i.e. real life), so we’ve taken it pretty easy this fall.  We’d like to set up another tour for the spring and try to hit some spots in the southeast, like Nashville, Asheville, Knoxville, etc.  Come to think of it, We’re only going to book shows in cities that end in “ville”.  That would be hilarious.  

We’ve also had talk of releasing another album on Mason Jar Records.  This time, we’d like to try a live album.  Andrew LaValley (recorded Creepfunk Crusade) is also a phenomenal live sound engineer and we’ve got some great live recordings from him in the past so we’ll have him record this album as well.  If I had to guess, it will feature a mix of new and old material that didn’t make it on the studio album and probably thrown in some classic Steez covers.

Finally, we hope to have another big summer like we had this year.  We’d like to hit as many festivals as possible.  It would be a treat to make it back to Summer Camp for a 3rd year in a row, and we’d love to play some new festivals like Wakarusa, Camp Bisco, All Good, etc.  Festivals are a great place to showcase our music to a large group of fans that might not get the chance to see us outside of that arena.  Its always a treat to turn people onto creepfunk.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide