Louder Than War: How long have you being doing this?
Stephen Langstaff: I’d say it’s been about two years with this set up; I’ve had different arrangements but that was me developing. I’ve been playing for four years longer, building up from being one guy with a guitar to building up to having a band around me. But the guys who are in the band now and the songs that I’m playing now have kind of been taking roots for about two years.
Louder Than War: How would you describe your style of music for anyone not familiar?
Stephen Langstaff: I would say acoustic, soul, indie. Somewhere it emerges out of those three words what I do.
Louder Than War: How did you get started? What inspired you to take the music path?
Stephen Langstaff: I played football when I was younger but I asked to learn to play guitar; I asked my dad to get me a guitar. It was me who chose to play music. I loved playing football and I was quite good at it but I fell in love with music.
It was through stuff on the radio initially, and also at home hearing Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Queen; my dad’s a big Queen fan. I would listen to his tapes and stuff when I was a kid, just kind of belt them out in the living room and in the bedroom.
I was always just the most energised by music; I was most alive with music and I think that’s why I chose it. Then I started a band at school and it was guitar music then it changed and I fell in love with all sorts of other people, other kinds of music.
Louder Than War: How would you say you’ve changed as an artist over the years?
Stephen Langstaff: I definitely went from being one guy with a guitar, I was like that for ages and when you introduce other musicians the songs kind of change and become fuller. At the core of everything I do are the song and the voice, they are the two things that matter above all else because they’re the two most important elements for me- for what I do. What’s important is how strong the song is, what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and how you’re delivering it. So when I was putting this outfit together, that I’ve got now, it was really important that we kept it simple that the balance and the sound were right.
So how it’s changed has gone from being one element with a vocal to having all these developments going on full of sound; the colours of the song are a lot stronger and more vibrant.
I love the intimate acoustic thing, but I also love having a full sound and having energy and attitude going on; and I always felt it’s not an either or thing I wanted both and it’s really getting there. This band is really exciting and the songs I’m writing and the way it’s being performed – it’s getting so much stronger.
Louder Than War: Where do you get song-writing inspiration from?
Stephen Langstaff: It can be anything; I’m a big observer, I like reading people. Half of the time I’m writing about myself and what I’ve felt about something or something very personal and it’s about my life. Then the other half it’s stories from friends, stories that I’ve read about just anything that really captures me.
There’s a song called Call Me, it is a personal song but it’s 50% me and 50% about someone I know. It’s about me reaching out to someone and it’s also about someone I know who I feel should be reached out to. So you take a patchwork, you take elements and you string it together and you let it flow. I never force any songs. Just take these elements put it together and then let it flow out. That’s the joy of song writing because you start and you don’t know what you’re going to get by the end of it
Louder Than War: Can you describe the creative process?
Stephen Langstaff: I can definitely tell you the creative process for call me: I went to the kitchen and put the kettle on at like 3am in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. Then I picked the guitar up, and I was thinking about what ended up in the song, what was on my mind, that was the reason I couldn’t sleep, and by the time the kettle had boiled I’d written the song – so really fast.
So, sometimes it’s really fast like that – it just falls out of you; other times you pick up the guitar, you have a few chords that you’re playing around with and you’re kind of batting them around and you like it but you know there are only certain elements of it that you want to draw out. And you might not get it in the first session but you go back and sit down again with it, play around, and by the time you come back to it again sometimes you just find the other elements to it then you’ve got it. It can vary really sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s a long time.
It’s just like seasons sometimes it’ll be dry, sometimes it’ll be kind of fruitful you’ve just got to roll with it really but the important thing to do is to always try. Always write, always apply, if it’s not happening you should keep trying. Keep trying because it makes sure that you’re still putting yourself out there, you’re still trying to connect with a song -even if the song doesn’t want to connect with you on that day. You know you still come away with something, even if it’s just a fragment of something that’ll come back to you in the future.
Louder Than War: You split your time between London and Liverpool, how difficult is that?
Stephen Langstaff: I like it; I like the contrast of spending time in Liverpool, at home, and being in London. I think you get such a buzz from both. It’s definitely not a negative for me it’s a big positive.
They’re equally inspiring to me. Liverpool’s a music city, it’s one of the most famous music cities in the world and I’m really proud that this is where I’ve grown up and this is where I’ve developed. Then you go to London and you’re exposed to different things, there’s a different energy going on there- you plug into both worlds. You plug into Liverpool and you plug into London and it’s inspiring – I love it.
Louder Than War: Who are your favourite artists?
Stephen Langstaff: At the moment I’m listening to Bastille, I’m listening to Frank Ocean, I love the Emeli Sande record, I thought the Black Keys album last year was brilliant, Ben Howard I thought his album was great and I’ve been listening to Lauren Hill as well.
But all time favourites would be: Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley and Neil Young.
Talking about inspiration with the likes of Jeff Buckley and Tracey Chapman, when you start listening to them I was just blown away by the simplicity, the directness of the song and the delivery and that’s what I’m all about really. It’s organic, it’s like somebody just speaking straight into your soul and that’s what I set out to do quite a lot when I write. That’s where I live as an artist, that’s where I’m from, if that makes sense.
Louder Than War: What local / upcoming artists do you like?
Stephen Langstaff: I was recording around the time of Sound City but I did sneak out and saw an artist called Jetta, who I thought had a great vocal – a great voice. Esco Williams – who I’ve collaborated with this year. I think he’s really good. I like the Mono LPs they’re a great band, old school rock ‘n’ roll and they’re lovely people as well. I caught a girl called Taylor Fowlis the other week and she was really good, definitely R’n’B soulful stuff, she sounded really interesting.
Louder Than War: You mentioned the collaboration with Esco Williams for the charity CALM. Can you tell us a bit more about the charity and the collaboration?
Stephen Langstaff: I got asked just before the end of last year to be the ambassador and get involved in this project for CALM. I met with Simon who runs CALM in Liverpool and he spoke to me about what the charity was all about.
It’s about, well they’ve got a phrase called ‘Save the Male’ the slogan that they use and it’s giving a bit of attention to male loneliness and depression. Just the moment in society when men are kind of alienated and they don’t know how to express it, it’s a bit of an untraveled road for charities and I think CALM is travelling that road. Some of the statistics Simon gave me to do with male suicide and the difference between male suicide and female suicide is off the charts. As I said it’s just a real issue within society and this is what we’re about and I got it.
I think they’re just doing good work you know and if I can help them spread the word then I will. I know they’ve got a lot of ambassadors; they’ve got people in all sorts of areas, as well creative areas, which are helping to fly the flag for them.
Esco got it as well, obviously, because he agreed to be an ambassador. Then the collaboration idea came up to write a tune and release it on Valentine’s Day and it was really fast work. We met on the Wednesday and wrote it on the Wednesday then we were in the studio on the Friday and it happened really fast but it was great, really great experience.
Louder Than War: Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Stephen Langstaff: I’d like to do something with someone like Ben Howard because I think I could connect to it. But then I’d like to do something with Esco, collaborations are great because you come from different angles and you really don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s exciting. I love collaborating it’s become a big part of what I’m doing this year, like co-writing and stuff.
Maybe Adele – aim high! Or someone like Bastille because at the core of his stuff, Dan – the main man from Bastille is quality song-writing. It’s strong song-writing and then it’s dressed in electronic sounds and beats and all that. I’d love to work with someone like that and just see what happens just try something different to see what comes out, definitely.
Another thing it does is it improves what you do when you walk away from the collaboration. You up your game. Again it just brings in other elements, that thing about patchworks, about song-writing and putting pieces together. What I try and do is listen to everything and not close the door on any genre and if you bring that into your own writing and just stay open.
Louder Than War: What are the best and worst things about working in the music industry?
Stephen Langstaff: The best is that from the time you’re awake till the time you go to bed all I do is think about working on music, that’s a reward in itself. The success, you know if it comes in a big way that’s amazing but it’s all about doing yourself justice and working hard at it and writing the stuff that you should be writing.
Louder Than War: Is there a worst thing?
Stephen Langstaff: I wouldn’t say there’s a worst thing about it, but the challenging thing is trying to get recognition that’s definitely the most challenging thing. But if you flip that which I always try to do it’s not necessarily the worst thing because it gives you something to aim for. It gives you something to push for.
I believe in what I’m doing so much that I like to take it out and I like to push it and make the best for it. The songs that I write you feel protective of them, you want them to do well in the world because you’ve brought them into the world.
Louder Than War: Do you ever feel completely satisfied with your work?
Stephen Langstaff: I’d say songs are always evolving. There have been moments at gigs where you’ve played a song and thought yeah that was exactly right, exactly the right moment. But I’m a perfectionist so I constantly like to try and make things better. If something’s right though it’s right and I don’t mess with it. But, I’m always looking for the next great thing. It’s the old one but it’s true, if you ask me what my best song is I’d say I haven’t written it yet. But, I’m very, very, very proud of what I’ve done so far and the songs I’ve got. Especially what’s been happening in the last year and the way that the songs have been put across, I’m really excited.
Louder Than War: If you could listen to one artist for the rest of your life, who would it be?
Stephen Langstaff: That’s so hard, that’s unbelievably hard. Bowie, I’d say Bowie, I think because his work is so varied.
Louder Than War: And finally, what’s in the pipeline at the minute?
Stephen Langstaff: We’ve done two big shows in Liverpool; one was the Epstein Theatre last November and then the East Village Arts Club. Again that was because of the set up of the band now; the arrangement of the band the bass drums, acoustic, cello, vocal – we wanted to put down two really good gigs in Liverpool which has been amazing.
We ventured into London a couple of months ago where we played the borderline which is an epic venue there is so much history in that place. We’re going to go back to London to do a couple more shows in September, and there are a lot of new songs so we’re going to record – that’s the plan.
Stephen Langstaff plays Liverpool’s East Village Arts Club on 12th December. Tickets.
CALM’s website is here.
Interview by Leanne Durr. Read more by Leanne on Louder Than War at her author’s archive.