By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
You'd think that the arduous process of writing and recording an album would make a musician at least the slightest bit tired of his bandmates, tired of his material and tired of the sound of his own voice.
That's not the case with guitarist/vocalist Andrew Schmidt of local-band-made-good Stir, which just released its sophomore album, Holy Dogs (Capitol), and will celebrate that fact with a show at Mississippi Nights on Thursday, March 16.
"I love it; I love every bit of it," Schmidt gushes about Holy Dogs. "I've listened to it a million times now, and I still can't shake it. Now we're getting ready to go play it every night."
Calling from a crackly cell phone as he and bandmates Brad Booker (drums) and Kevin Gagnepain (bass) prepare to head south for a few warmup gigs before the album's release, Schmidt admits that there was a time when he wasn't so sure things would work out as well as they have for Stir. In the current climate of the music industry, if a new band isn't a complete smash, the group is often dropped by its record label or put in some sort of contractual limbo from which it seldom emerges intact. Stir's debut did moderately well, with airplay for several tracks, including "Looking For," "Stale" and "One Angel." But it wasn't huge in the way records by, say, Third Eye Blind or Matchbox 20 were, and that was enough to give pause to both the label and the band.
"There was a period of time that we were totally under the radar at Capitol," Schmidt says. "And we paid attention to what was going on. If by chance we were going to get dropped, we had an alternative. We were checking into other labels, talking to other people. We were prepared for what was to come. We thought for sure we'd be dropped, right up until we handed them the record.
When they heard it, Schmidt says, the label went "head over heels about it."
As well they should have. Now that rock is beginning to emerge once more from the recent preponderance of hip-hop and teen pop, Holy Dogs has the sound of an album with the potential to be the soundtrack of the spring and summer of 2000. "New Beginning" is already garnering airplay on modern-rock radio nationwide, and the group sees the potential for other kinds of stations to kick in their support, too.
"The last record was really supported by mainstream rock, while active rock was just starting as a format," Gagnepain says in a separate interview. "We're getting played on active-rock, modern-rock, mainstream-rock and even Triple-A stations. "New Beginning" isn't on Triple-A, but there's plenty of stuff on the new record for them to grab onto. And then college stations are playing "Holy Dogs,' the last song on the album. I think the album is diverse enough that it works for everybody."
The new album, Gagnepain says, "is more the sort of record we wanted to make than the first one was. We were totally satisfied with that one when we finished it, but looking back on it now, it doesn't really represent what we thought we would be or who we thought we were. The new one's got a lot more energy, and the songwriting is better. It's more representative of what we do as a band."
As on "Stir," Schmidt is the group's primary songwriter. But Gagnepain and Booker also made significant contributions to Holy Dogs. Booker wrote "Stop Killing Me" and "Help," and all three band members collaborated on "Spaceman" and "Grounded."
"The more input from everybody else, the happier we'll be as a band," Schmidt allows, noting that he didn't mind dropping a pair of his own songs from the disc in favor of Booker's. "Those are two of the better songs on the album," he says.
As for his own compositions, Schmidt claims not to know where his ideas come from or how he manages to turn them into songs. "I've been asked that a lot, and I still don't really know. It usually happens at 3 in the morning. You pop up outta bed, and you've got the whole song. I'll jump downstairs to the recording machine and just lay one part down, and that's all I need to bring into the studio."
Still, he is able to cite the sources for several of the new tracks, including "New Beginning": "It's about a situation that evolved from a friend of mine who was married to a beautiful woman. She divorced him and left him for another woman" Schmidt says with a nervous laugh, cautious not to reveal too much.
"It's awesome, but it sucks for him, of course. He doesn't know anything about (the song) yet. I don't know if he's heard it, or if he's caught on that it's about him. But now that I'm talking about it in the press...."
Schmidt is less guarded about "Clear," a gorgeous acoustic ballad about fatherhood that was inspired by another friend's situation. "It's about his son being born and growing up," he says. "The kid is 5 now, and I tried to look through his eyes as he grows up and has all these experiences. My buddy's an excellent dad, which I thought was really cool."
The title track, meanwhile, is about the hysteria surrounding the turn of the century. "Knowing that this record was coming out at the beginning of the millennium, the idea behind the song was the whole farce of the big scare, how everybody was freaked out by Y2K and nothing happened," Schmidt says. "The very last line says, "And in the end, when all is said and done/We'll start anew and I'll come back.' Nothing blew up. It was just business as usual."
For now, the band is gearing up for its hometown gig and for a welcome return to some serious roadwork. Just before Schmidt called, he was in a local studio, collecting some samples that were used on the record that they also plan to incorporate into their live show. When Stir hits the road this time, though, things may change along the way. The label seems to be behind the disc, radio is coming around already and a dedicated fanbase is in place thanks to hundreds of gigs around the country over the last five years.
"Things are starting to happen," Schmidt. "I guess this is what we're in it for. We're still having fun doing what we do, and it's starting to pay off, so we're excited about it."
Stir celebrate the release of their sophomore album, Holy Dogs, with a performance at Mississippi Nights on Thursday, March 16.