STEVE HEFTER won't be playing any songs from his brilliant new album at its record release show this Friday night.
The Portland-via-Baltimore songwriter recently completed the second St. Even album—St. Even being, of course, a variation on his first name as well as the recording and performing outfit that includes Hefter and a revolving group of friends and musicians. The self-titled album follows up St. Even's remarkable debut, 2011's Spirit Animal, and it's receiving a limited-edition release by local micro-label Gorbie International Records (Party Damage Records will release a worldwide edition in a couple months).
To celebrate the Gorbie release of St. Even, Hefter has invited a long list of local musicians to perform the new songs themselves; he, then, will cover their songs in turn. Hefter explains the unorthodox programming choice: "I played a small show at the Waypost a couple months ago, and a friend, Adam Taitano, played one of my songs. I realized, at 35, I've never once heard someone play one of my songs. And it was a great experience. It was super embarrassing and flattering and just odd, you know. I think this is going to be the weirdest experience for everyone—myself the most."
As exciting as this proposition is, I can't help but feel a little disappointed that, this time, I won't get to see Hefter himself play outstanding new songs like "Home Is Where You Hang Your Head" and "A Light Goes on in My Car." Because St. Even is an extraordinary piece of work—a gorgeous, thoughtful, inventive, funny album that is certain to help draw the unheralded songwriter the new listeners he deserves.
St. Even ties together widely disparate sounds: shivering strings, cackling banjo, duck-like brass, electronic beats, catgut guitar, voices wafting in from the next room, and Hefter's own close-mic'ed voice, sounding nonchalant but committed. The unique result is stunning in its cohesiveness. It's not just that it captures the surprisingly hard-to-replicate sound of what music sounds like performed live in a living room—it's as if the living room is in a beautiful old home that's been restored to its full glory, revealing warm golden woodwork, spacious open rooms, intricate glass patterns, and lots of natural light.
Hefter recorded the album largely with Jake Kelly at Kelly's Materials to Outlet studio, and Hefter gives Kelly the lion's share of credit for the record's marvelous sonic textures. "Usually we'll record it kind of like a folk song and then bring in friends to help," Hefter says. "Both of the St. Even records are really stamped with his sounds. It's really specific, super dynamic. When I first moved here, Jarad Miles was working on his record with Jake. And I started going to the studio to work with them, and I loved the sound of it so much that I was like, 'I want to do stuff like this.'" (That's Kelly's baritone booming on "Forest Fire," the heart-shatteringly ravishing hymn that closes the record.)
The first 50 copies of St. Even come with Times and Then Some, a slim memoir written by Steve's father, Alan Hefter, who died in 2007. It was written during Alan's fourth step of recovery. In crackling, livewire, stream-of-consciousness prose, Alan Hefter takes unflinching moral inventory, detailing a troubled Jewish childhood, his sexual abuses and exploits, and the beginnings of a serious drug addiction that would tragically rear its head again at the end of his life. It's a fantastic and at times chilling read, although it's not specifically a companion piece to the album; Steve has simply desired to present his father's writing in some fashion for several years, and the deluxe Gorbie edition of St. Even seemed a good opportunity.
"I think any connection the songs have are just as the result of how much my dad's voice manifests in my writing," he says. "Some of it's really awesome to read and some of it's really painful. Even my family is a little weird about it, because it's so personal. Nobody knows how this thing is going to be taken—quite a lot of ugly things are revealed. He never completed anything, and although he was a pretty brilliant guy, he had pretty low esteem. But I always loved the way he wrote. So I just printed 50 of them, and I thought I'd just see what happens. It would be amazing if people liked it."