interview and image by the night watchman


Night Watchman: So, have you been doing a lot of tour dates in support of your new album, Superhero?

Stephen: Yeah. I started a major tour in January and haven't stopped. Well, that's not true. I took a week of vacation, but now I'm back out on the road with no end in sight.

N: Do you like touring?

S: Yeah, it's fun. I usually have someone go with me, because I've written a couple of songs as duets. So, I either have Mark Teich (who's on the album with me) or my brother do it. Sometimes, my girlfriend comes with me. We have a good time.

N: That's cool. At what point did you figure out you could make a living singing these songs?

S: I started opening up for comedians, and seeing how much money schools had in their entertainment budgets. Even as an opening act, I was only on for 15 minutes, and still getting paid pretty good money. So I figured if I could develop an hour of material and headline, then I could definitely make a living at it. When I started doing colleges full-time, I quit my shitty day job. Whatever it was at the time, I don't even remember. I temped a lot around New York.

N: But you had always been writing funny songs?

S: Oh, yeah,.. as a hobby; for fun in college, and then as a hobby and diversion after college. When I started taking it more seriously, that's when I figured I could stop working and get on the road. I just kind of did it, you know? I was hoping that if I quit my job, other, more fun jobs would fall into line,.. and they did.

N: Yeah. You just have to put yourself out there.

S: That's what I said, too! Stop being a temp worker who wants to be a comedian, and start being a comedian!

N: You know, one of the first places I heard you was on Opie and Anthony--

S: Yeah, yeah!

N: Was that a big break for you?

S: Oh, that was huge! I was doing shows around New York. They were fun, but I didn't have much radio exposure. I got hooked up with those guys, and went in one day and played a song for them. I knew they had a reputation, where if they don't like you, they're not nice to you. So, I was a little nervous going in, but we hit it off right away. They started playing my stuff more and more, and I just got huge exposure in the New York area from that. And I think that's kind of what led to everything else that happened; like Comedy Central and bigger tours, because I started getting a following here in New York.

N: When you are performing, do you get a lot of people in the audience that are offended by the songs?

S: No. I mean, I used to once in a while if it wasn't my show. Say it was a variety night or a bunch of comics on the bill, and people weren't there specifically to see me. But now they are. We set this tour up in a way to ensure that it's not comedy clubs with a built-in audience; it's theaters and rock clubs, where the only people that are going to show up and buy tickets actually know who you are. So, I don't have too much of a problem with that. I mean, sometimes somebody might not appreciate something, but they don't let me know. Maybe they just walk out. (laughs)

N: That's much better than throwing things.

S: Exactly.

N: Do you think you can get away with things a little bit more because you present them in song format?

S: Yes. I have certain songs that, if you just looked at them lyrically on a piece of paper, you might think they're funny. Or you might not. But when you hear them set to music, it adds a whole new element that the lyrics just don't provide. Sometimes it's a juxtaposition of insane lyrics with really nice music that sets it off and makes it funny. I try not to use that as a formula, but sometimes it happens that way.

N: What's the strangest reaction you've ever had to your music? Has anyone ever tried to license your songs for commercials?

S: Not to my knowledge. (laughs) I don't think so. I know there was a bowling alley here in New York once that was considering using "Bowling Song" in one of their radio spots, but that never ended up happening.

N: It seems like someone would find a warped way to use your stuff.

S: That's what I think, too. But nothing's happened.

N: Maybe N.A.M.B.L.A. could use "Priest".

S: (laughs) That'll never happen! (laughs) Can you hold on one second?

N: Sure.

S: (to someone in the car) Hey-- you're going to want to get over before we get up here.

Mark: (screams)

S: All right. That's my driver. He's a little obnoxious. (laughs) And I only say "driver" to make him very angry. I know he's up there stewing right now.

N: Are you sitting in the back seat?

S: Yeah. (to Mark) Can you put the partition up, please? Thank you. (to Watchman) He's so nosy.

M: What a horrible interview! Why don't you tell a joke, funny guy?

S: (laughs) Did you hear that?

N: Yeah. (laughs)

M: Who's gonna want to read that crap?

S: His name is Mike DeNicola, if you want to write that down.(laughs)

N: How do you spell his last name?

S: D-E-capital N-I-C-O-L-A.

M: Come on!

S: That's not really his name! I just did an interview for the New York Times, the biggest interview I've ever done, and they reviewed a show at House of Blues in L.A. and (laughs) Mark Teich, who's actually the guy screaming from the driver's seat up here, did the show with me. He went up and did a good 20 minutes, you know? We do a bunch of songs together and-- (to Mark) Oh good! Go through a tunnel! Good idea! (to Watchman) He's going through a tunnel right now, so if we get cut off I'll call you back.

N: Okay. (laughs)

S: Anyway, they completely got who was joining me onstage wrong. DeNicola is another guy who I used to tour with, and would open up for me. He's a good friend of mine, but I haven't played with him in a year. So Mark's big debut in New York Times was a mention of somebody else! (laughs) He's very angry about that.

N: Oh, man! So he's taking it out on you?

S: Yeah. He yells at me while I'm trying to do interviews, and drives through tunnels on purpose. He's a saboteur.

N: So do you--

S: Hello?

N: Hello.

S: Uh, oh. I think I'm losing you--

N: Stephen? (phone goes dead)


S: Sorry about that. I knew that was going to happen as soon as he went into the tunnel. Now he's driving the wrong way on purpose. (laughs)

N: This could be a very interesting interview. It could be your last.

S: Yeah. (laughs)

N: So, what kind of music do you listen to, and does it have a big influence on the songs you write?

S: I don't think so. I never know how to answer that question, because I don't know what influences me. I know what I like to listen to. I like old and new rock 'n' roll, folk music, country-- really a lot of different things. But how much of it actually influences my style or songwriting, I really don't know.

N: Do you have a lot of material that you've amassed over the years?

S: Like stuff I haven't put on the albums?

N: Yeah.

S: Not really!

N: (laughs)

S: (laughs) As soon as I write it, it's like BAM! It's in performance mode, and then it goes on an album. I mean, obviously I try things out at shows. If they don't work, then I discard them. I've got some clunkers, definitely. "Bowling Song" I used to consider the clunkiest of all clunkers. But, for some reason, it has been resurrected, so it made the album. Mostly, what I have recorded is what I play live.

N: Is there a certain place where you know you've crossed the line with a particular lyric? Is there anything sacred that you wouldn't write about?

S: Yeah. There is definitely a line I wouldn't cross. I don't know how to define the line. I just know it's there. It's like that Meese Report on pornography: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. I just feel it, and if it's funny and other people laugh then I'll write a song about it. If I have a certain feeling about the subject matter, then I won't even bother.

N: Have you ever written a song that you later found had crossed that line?

S: Not really. I have a couple songs that are on the edge--

M: (singing incoherently)

S: Hold on a second. (to Mark) Shut up!

N: (laughs)

S: God, he's retarded. Mike DeNicola-- I'll spell his name one more time. (laughs) Then I'm never going to call him by his real name on stage again. (laughs)

N: (laughs)

S: So, I try to stay away from stuff that I don't think is funny.

N: Well, to wrap up, we always ask everybody this question: do dogs have lips?

S: (laughs) Um,.. having had much experience in making out with them, I would say yes. Definitely! Interesting question.

N: Yeah. We always ask that one.

S: I get asked that all the time.

N: Yeah. It's such a cliche, but we have to ask.