Farewell LP – Free Album

Posted December 18, 2015

As many of you know, Steve Bower, one of the members of this two-person music project, died unexpectedly two years ago today. I had at first decided to continue this project without Steve. That turned out to be a not-so-good-actually-terrible plan and would have never worked. Then I decided to just let the band die on its own, but that didn’t sit right with me either. Now the plan is to go out with a bang. It has taken me too long to do this: I am finally shutting this thing down – but not before I announce one last official LP release!

One of the things I noticed when putting this album together without Steve is that it’s missing that fun, down-to-earth element that our first album had. It’s a little too dramatic, thematic, and downright self-aggrandizing. (I guess that’s my style. Ouch.) Much of this was done in a flash of inspiration throughout September-December of this year. Now I just have to sit back and hope it was a good, fruitful flash of inspiration.

First I was going to release an EP composed of the three songs we had completed since the release of “Story so Far, The”. Then I found some songs that only needed a little bit of work. Then I found some half-finished songs that I really liked, so I decided to finish them up. Next thing I knew, I had a bonafide LP coming together. Our self-imposed deadline for “the next album” was 2015, so this feels like everything came together the way it was supposed to in that regard.

earsauce was a good ten-year project. All in all, it cost me somewhere between $500-1000 over that span, but it was worth it. A cost of one hundred bucks a year (at most) pales in comparison to how much fun I had and how much I learned. Financially, it was a losing endeavor, but the lessons learned about music, recording, compromise, and working together far outweigh that. Due to the aforementioned financial losses, there will be no physical CD release this time around. Sorry to anyone who is bummed about that (all seven of you).

For this album, I enlisted the help of my old friend Adam Morris to put the finishing touches on all the tracks. A mixing engineer to “even them out,” if you will. He did more work on it than I ever could have hoped for. They sound crisp, full, and natural. I am grateful. On one hand, I like the DIY aspect of our first album and I think it adds to the story, but on the other hand, I undoubtedly needed some professional assistance on this one. I had pretty exacting standards in the area of volume/dynamics/headroom, and he came through for me. If you’re a little bit of an audiophile, you may notice that this is not mixed as “loud” as most things that have been professionally mixed/mastered. This is the intended end result.

Many of these songs contain old recordings of Steve and some of the songs were written by him. Some of this album is a “tribute album”, some of it is to give Steve another chance to speak from the grave, and some of it is just the result of a bunch of new friends getting together to make music. I enlisted the help of a few of Steve’s musician friends (credits on the bandcamp album page) to help tie it all together. Just look at all those guest musicians; it took half a dozen people to replace you, Steve! Speaking of guest musicians, my oldest son Stephen appears on the first track as a baby and on the last track as a composer/producer/performer. A lot can happen in six years!

Some final side notes: This and all previous releases have been permanently switched to “free download” (including CD quality .flac files), so head over to https://earsauce.bandcamp.com and have a look around. There are now four free albums over there: 2 LPs, 1 b-sides disc, and 1 weird ambient album. In all honesty, even though I’m acting like this is the last you’ll hear from us, there is a “b-sides, covers, leftovers, and oddities” album in the works for next year. I really do want every presentable song/track that Steve ever touched to see the light of day and be accessible to all.

Signing off for now. To all those who helped me with this: that’s a wrap! So long, everyone, and thanks for all the fish. Spread the word if you feel so inclined. Have a great day and a great life. Most of all, never take anything for granted.

Miss you, Steve.

[cross-posted to our facebook page]

On The Death of Steve

Posted December 18, 2014

Note: Thank you to all who have visited in the past few days to read my Steve tribute. In the five days since I have posted this, the average number of visitors to this site has soared from 0 per day to 40-50 per day. That’s a ton for a nobody like me, and it shows the power and far-reaching influence of Steve. Really, it means a lot to me. There has been some “scuttlebutt” surrounding this write-up, however, and the implications seem to be that I am being disrespectful to Steve’s memory or lying about Steve outright. I assure you that nothing is further from the truth. There has even been something akin to a fact-finding mission in which at least one friend of mine has been asked to confirm or deny parts of this story. This is unnecessary and nothing short of asinine. I have nothing to gain from lying or even exaggerating about my best friend Steve. I admit, Steve lived life hard and fast, and many of his stories may be hard to believe upon first glance. I have included anecdotes that I feel best define the Steve that his friends knew, and the responses I have received have been overwhelmingly positive. Again, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to partake in some honest reflection in my own words on my own site. I do not feel that is too much to ask. I spent at least three weeks writing this back in September, when I was in a not-so-good place emotionally, and it helped quite a lot. Holding back, as I had previously been doing, was slowly destroying me. Trying to capture someone’s essence in a few paragraphs is a painful and sometimes dangerous thing, but running from the truth is far more unhealthy. Besmirching Steve’s name is the farthest thing from my mind. I consider the act of making music to be a core element of my life, and out of the 500+ songs that I have written/recorded/produced, most of them just for fun, many of the best ones are contained in the album below this write-up. That has everything to do with Steve and our relationship, and that sort of thing does not happen by accident. He wasn’t just some guy I knew; my kids called him “Uncle Steve.” The last thing I am trying to do is downplay the impact he had on my life. We miss you, Uncle Steve.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing this for quite a while. It is yet another loop to close after the death of my best friend and bandmate. It saddens me that many of the other memorials set up for Steve (including his funeral) only allowed discussion of Steve’s life and personality through a very narrow and restrictive window. His legacy has been whitewashed. I am posting this here because it allows me to get it off my chest – say what I want instead of what is “allowed.” Unfortunately for everyone, Steve’s life turned into a cautionary tale. This write-up will probably be long because I am attempting to cover a lot. I cringe when I say that this reminds me of the livejournal days. It’s a memorial for Steve through an earsauce lens. So, yes, closure… Here goes.

Steve and I became friends accidentally. He was just “my sister-in-law’s ex-boyfriend” until I moved 500 miles and ended up buying a condo 2 miles away from where he lived. We had hung out before, but it was more like we had to be in each other’s presence because we were dating sisters at the time. I remember our first few times hanging out after moving to Virginia. It was forced. It was awkward. He liked leftover grunge and jam bands and music from the local scene; I liked folk music and IDM and whatever it is I like. (If we’re being really honest here, I like to listen to my own unfinished songs over and over, tweaking them ever-so-slightly. It is its own brand of insanity.) We have a couple of our early jams recorded. They’re each an hour of us drinking and taking turns playing songs with a microphone hung from the ceiling. Really, they’re terrible. Our styles were incongruous and we didn’t even know what the other person liked.

I’m not a performer or a great instrumentalist. I self-identify as an “audio producer” which is very different from a film producer. In music, a producer is traditionally someone who pores over the recorded tracks and does everything in their power to make them better. The Beatles’ later albums benefitted very much from producers George Martin and Alan Parsons. In Hip Hop, the producer is “the person who makes the beats.” Those tracks are often produced from thin air, as is the case with electronic music. With a little bit of computer know-how, you can produce a song without ever recording a single instrument or synthesizer. The reality for me is that I’m a nerd who accidentally discovered at age 15 that I like using a computer to make music.

Steve was not a patient man. He wanted things (like fame/recognition, for starters) here, fast, NOW. In music, “jamming” has an instant gratification. You play music, make some stuff up, it sounds good, then you’re done. You leave it alone. It’s gone; it’s just a memory. In short, I’m not very good at that. I have to intellectualize everything, which is not a good trait when you’re trying to make art. Instead of just playing, I’m off to the side trying to work out what key signature the song is in. This TED Talk about “Music as a Language” reminds me of Steve. He knew music in a different way than I did. He learned the language of music, while I learned how to relate music to a language I already knew (for me, music is a series of math problems). Once Steve figured this out, he was willing to give me recordings and see what happened. He would record a few licks at my house, go back home, and forget all about it. I would transform them into something new. It didn’t take long for him to see the potential and become involved in the recording/production process. Along the way we learned a lot of other things about recording music, such as microphone placement and the basics of audio mastering. Between the two of us, we could play a lot of instruments, both sing, and both write lyrics. This was the stepping stone to every element of our friendship. We started discovering and listening to the same music, reading the same books, watching the same TV shows and movies, and adopted a slew of inside jokes (which Steve refused to keep ‘inside’ but anyhow). A good example of this: we both became heavily influenced by The Books, also an American duo who combined acoustic instruments with electronic sounds and production techniques.

We had very different personalities, too. Steve liked to go out; I was and am a homebody. I am reserved in front of new people; Steve was himself in front of someone he had just met. I like to save money; Steve liked to spend money. The list goes on and on. Fortunately for us, “being similar” or liking similar things or having similar upbringings are not prerequisites for being friends. So here you had two people with very different musical styles, musical abilities, and approaches to making music who were thrown into the same music project. And yet we were both very much in agreement and had similar visions for the songs. It was perfect in that sense, and it is something I will most likely never experience again.

Our band name just sort of happened. We never thought we’d be in a position to have to defend it. The name got more attention than the music ever did (oh well). My favorite all-time comment was “There are some good tracks on here, but earsauce? Why not assmilk?” Whatever that means. It started off as the song title to our first song and then we adopted it. The reason for the rabid lowercaseness of it is just for graphic impact. In the word earsauce, all the letters are the same height. Even many lower-case letters have the height of upper-case letters, like l, h, k, etc. And also a lot of lower-case letters drop below, like g, j, and q. But with earsauce it makes a nice little rectangle where nothing goes above or below. We liked it and we stuck with it. There were other things, too, like when you abbreviated it “es” the “e” stood for Evan and the “s” for Steve. I’m still bitter that iTunes automatically capitalized our band name and wouldn’t allow me to “fix” it. We had a long-term plan to record eight albums, each taking five years. One album for every letter of the band name. It was a side-project for both of us, so an album every five years seemed like the right pace, especially when you have to self-finance all of them. And eight albums at that pace would have kept us busy for 40 years. Even the best laid plans…

Steve’s interest in earsauce faded in and out. Maybe it was due to his personal problems or his other music projects. Or maybe it was due to my heavy-handed approach to managing our sound. Maybe he got sick of me being a dictator at times. I probably would too. Due to this, I ended up playing about 60-70% of the stuff on the album. In reality, there is no good reason that I should be the one recording guitar solos instead of Steve, but sure enough, all the guitar solos on the first album are mine. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wanted him to record more. Sometimes I was angry about his waning level of interest. Sometimes I threatened to quit making the album. When he moved to West Virginia (again), I actually bought him a computer, a mixer, and gave him my old microphone. I was that heavily invested in earsauce. I didn’t feel that I got that same level of interest back, even though he was willing to brag about our songs to anyone who would listen. Due to Steve’s on-again-off-again relationship with the band, my weaknesses are on full display in our music. I grew up writing instrumental music, and consequently I have a near inability to write vocal melodies. It’s not that I can not sing, but most every vocal I make up usually follows along with the chords in a boring way. This is why more than half of our stuff is instrumental. And, despite my having a minimal level of competency on a lot of instruments, I can not play bass guitar. I have tried many times, and it is not something I can grasp. It’s really a shame because bass guitar is one of the best instruments out there, and the most important instrument in a rock band. One of the first things I notice about our music is the excellent and creative bass playing. That’s all Steve. Steve wasn’t a “bassist” but he really had a knack for it. He had more than a knack; he was excellent at it, in my opinion. He was generally responsible for the intricately-written songs (like this and this) and I was generally responsible for the looping, thematic songs (like this and this).

The first album took five years to make (2005-2010), and was released in September of 2010. We went the extra mile and got it onto iTunes and put it up on CDBaby. We paid for CD artwork to be made. We got copies pressed with nice cover printing, a legitimate jewel case, and shrink-wrapping. I was satisfied in knowing that I had been part of making a great concept album, but it wasn’t enough for Steve. He was ‘a tortured soul’ in this way. In the months after we released our album, he often lamented that he couldn’t get a single one of his family members to buy the album for $8 or even feign interest. He was really proud of it and he wanted everyone to share his feelings. To be honest, I’m not sure Steve would have ever been satisfied until he was mobbed on the streets by throngs of strangers shouting “It’s Steve Bower! Oh my God!” His accomplishments were never enough for him. He would pout on every one of his birthdays, sequestering himself away in his room, muttering something or other about “I thought I would be married with kids by now” or fretting about some other accomplishments he envisioned himself achieving by that age. Really, “I thought I would be married by now” was a refrain on EVERY birthday. That’s typical of Steve’s unbridled enthusiasm. He thought all of his ideas were great (a common theme among successful people) and he wanted everyone to share in that enthusiasm. He thought women should throw themselves at him because he could play guitar well and write songs, for instance. When people didn’t share his enthusiasm, he would get depressed about it.

I keep referring to Steve’s “personal problems” and what I’m referring to in almost every instance is drug abuse that started at a young age. Steve’s thing was opiates. They would come to dominate (and then end) his life. This is why, despite his having a decent-paying job and low rent, I had to get him a computer and a mixer to record with. This is why it took him over a year to pay me back $300 that he owed me as rent for staying at my place when he was down on his luck. (We gave him a sweet deal at $100/month, too). One time Steve secured us an interview with an internet radio program. We met at his workplace to call in to do the interview from the same room and I could immediately tell he was high. He mumbled his way through the interview and the next morning he was so embarassed that he couldn’t even listen to it. That’s addiction for you. Steve could not be convinced under any circumstance to act profesionally. He didn’t openly talk about it in this light, but he was actually demoted once for continually failing to act like a professional. He instead told people he was “moved to a new job.” In some ways it’s admirable to continue to be yourself in all situations, and in other ways it was like “grow up.”

When I first knew Steve, he was generous with money to a fault. He was foolish with it, in fact. He would pay for everyone’s dinner when we went out with a group, that sort of thing. Then he became foolish with money in a different sense, fueling his addiction. By the end of his life, and for years before, he couldn’t pay (or repay) for anything. He’d come up with excuses as to why he didn’t actually owe me for concert tickets. I’d go visit him and his fridge would be empty. There was “the one time” that I really confronted him about his problem. I invested time and money to try to help rid him of his addiction. I visited his doctor with him to make sure he wasn’t lying. I made him stop by my house every morning to take his medicine in front of me. For a while, it helped. I was drug testing him in my house and he was passing. In the end, though, it turned out that confronting him made him take his addiction further underground, which resulted in my getting to see him less and less because he didn’t want to be accosted with questions about his sobriety. I feel unnecessary guilt about that. Every day.

After a while, it was pretty rare that I saw Steve, so I would gladly spend the whole time catching up with him, having a few beers instead of recording music. earsauce slowed to a halt. We finished three songs for our [planned] second album, and Steve played just one instrument for one song. They are pretty much solo songs by me. (For the record, we started dozens more but only completed three before his death). He was always “just about to turn the corner.” He always had a reason that things were going to get better. “I love the fall; fall is when I write most of my music” or “I’m doing yoga every morning. Things are looking up,” but things never looked up for long. “This time I’m really going to quit smoking and get my singing voice back.” I last saw him on December 16, 2013, and he was still smoking that day. I bummed a cigarette off of him. My baby girl was one week old to the day. Steve played CandyLand with my oldest son. The next night, he was dead. I’ve already hinted at the reason why and I don’t need to get into it. His death was sudden but no one knew for days because he lived alone and died in his apartment. His boss got in touch with me saying Steve stopped showing up for work two days before. No phone calls, no texts, nothing. I started calling around until a mutual friend found someone who could go check on him. By the time someone called me to say that he was found dead, I had already figured it out. Steve never one time neglected to go to work without calling someone, much less two days in a row.

I spent time being selfishly angry at Steve for what he did. I obviously spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time being sad also. It’s a range of emotions, which is what everyone says; people say that because it’s true. I spent time trying to find someone else I could have an open discussion with, like I used to do with Steve. That still hasn’t happened. It took me a long time to realize what I was doing by reaching out to old friends or trying to chat up some new ones. I was trying to find a new Steve because it’s unhealthy to be alone in your thoughts. It took me ten months to start seeing a psychologist as a result of Steve’s death, and almost that long to start tinkering around with music again. I guess I’m still reeling from it – not just the event itself, but the social void it has left in my life. We communicated nearly every day. We shared each other’s secrets. There are things in your life that you are not proud of, thoughts you wish you didn’t have. We told each other a lot of that stuff. I still see things all the time and briefly think “I need to send Steve a link to that.” A good example would be when I found out there was a website called The Blonde Salad. The name alone would have made him laugh for sure!

I’m pretty sure that some day I will go through and finish some of our unfinished songs and make a second album. Or maybe I will continue to use the earsauce moniker and work some of Steve’s recordings into every album. Whatever the outcome, I am simply not ready to pursue it yet.

Continue to rest in peace, Steve. You were a friend to all and a damn fine musician. This place is not the same without your constant and unrelenting antics. You called yourself “Steve From Earth” but I sometimes question whether the “from earth” part was even true. You tried to teach people to live life to the fullest. You taught me that drug addicts are people just like everyone else. You taught me that irreverence contains its own modicum of respect. Addiction is a monster. If a smart, funny, personable guy like Steve can fall victim and be sucked into the depths of addiction, then we all need to be wary and a little more vigilant.

I’ll leave this here as a testament to Steve’s personality. He ad-libbed this track while I was taking my dogs out and the recording was left running. When I come back in, he says “I just wrote a funny song,” to which I reply “..and by funny song, you mean trifles?” Trifles was our shorthand for “trifling.” Steve always thought everyone would share in his sense of humor, despite the fact that it was consistently inappropriate and often a little bit misogynistic. Steve took the jokes that most people reserve for their close friends and spouted them to the world. I’m not trying to speak ill of the dead, but part of honoring someone’s memory is remembering them accurately. Steve made this song available in our “Downloads” section years ago on this very site. He wanted to put up another, more offensive one, but I wouldn’t let him. I’m not sure I’ll ever let that other one see the light of day. Anyway, I’ve yammered enough. I’ll let Steve speak for himself:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(Sadly and ironically, the song name is “Die of Unnatural Causes”)