"I'M AN obsessive perfectionist with bad impulse control," says Stephen Steinbrink. "So I tend to really immerse myself in recording and writing and not leave much room for extracurriculars."
Given the Olympia-via-Phoenix songwriter's impressive output, the statement makes a lot of sense. Steinbrink's released nine albums since 2007, either under his name or the French Quarter moniker; the latest of these, Arranged Waves, came out this spring on the UK-based Melodic Records.
Existing somewhere between power pop and ethereal folk, Arranged Waves puts to use a wide assortment of influences and textures to make a surprisingly cohesive piece. The album's retro feel isn't easily defined; it nods to decades of pop music without holding too tightly to any single era or sound. Working with members of LAKE and You Are Plural, Steinbrink mixes thick bass grooves with acoustic and electric guitars, vintage synths, keyboards, and strings, with his unmistakable, uniquely high-pitched voice at the helm. It's a collection of dreamy and wonderfully off-kilter sounds, built on an incredible knack for unlikely pop melodies and lyrics that blend concrete, heartfelt sincerity with surrealist imagery.
Until he moved to the Northwest a couple of years ago, much of Steinbrink's work dealt with place—largely, the sprawling landscape and culture of Phoenix. Since relocating, though, his writing has mostly focused on memory, identity, and ideas of perception. It's a change that could have as much to do with life on the road as it does with his new home base.
"With how much touring I've done in the last few years, place is more of an abstract concept to me now," Steinbrink says.
Having already done a European tour and a short West Coast stint this year, his current outing covers the western half of the US.
Regardless of where Steinbrink lives or how far he travels, though, Phoenix sticks with him. "I still think strip malls and forsaken white leather sofas in the middle of the freeway are inspiring."