Biography Resume and Highlights
It’s possible to be an expatriate in your own hometown, as Steve Steele makes perfectly clear on his album The Expat, released on his own Ultraviolet Catastrophe Records.
“The theme of The Expat is being disconnected,” Steele says. “I live in Houston, and I don’t feel comfortable here at all.”
Ironically, despite this relationship, the city of Houston has rewarded Steve Steele by nominating him for Best Rock Band and Best Male Vocals in the 2011 Houston Press Music Awards.
But, he adds, comfort isn’t always conducive to making great music: “Schoenberg and Stravinsky did their best work when they were in miserable Europe, pre-World War II. When they moved to America and lived in sunny L.A., their work seemed to lose purpose, because the immediacy of tension was gone. They were the Beach Boys all of a sudden.”
University of North Texas - Music Theory and Composition Major (concentration on French Impressionism c.1890-1915)
Studied with Dr. Kevin Korsyn
Nominated Junior Student of the Year
Played bass in the various UNT Lab Bands
Music Institute of Technology (Los Angeles, California)
Studied electric bass with Jeff Berlin
Houston Baptist University
Received full scholarship and teamed up with drummer Todd Harrison (Presidential Jazz Band) to play bass in the HBU Jazz Band
Multi-instrumentalist Steele displays his multi-dimensional talents on The Expat, showing his skill on guitar, bass, synthesizer, drums, and percussion; he also plays Indonesian gamelan, and contributes ambient sound design. His potent singing reflects years of vocal training and his contemporary take on bel canto, an Italian classical style – favored by musicians as dissimilar as Joan Sutherland and Frank Sinatra -- that emphasizes power and clarity.
Steele co-produced The Expat at his own Andromeda Sound Studios and at Houston’s Sugarhill Studio with Steve Christensen. His instrumental collaborators on the album include guitarist Scott Ayers and drummer Richard Cholakian.
The 12-track collection is the long-gestating follow-up to Steele’s 2003 EP InfraRed IntroSpective. He admits today that after completing that record, he ultimately grew dissatisfied with it: “I tried performing some of the songs from it, and I felt very uncomfortable. During performances I was embarrassed, and there was nothing I could do.”
So, he continues, “I started over. In order to reinvent myself at the level I wanted to attain, it took five years. I relearned everything. I went back to all the instruments that I played. I sort of started from scratch, and re-taught myself everything I knew theoretically, and applied it to the instruments.
“I really worked on my voice – I think you can hear the difference between the two records, in terms of my singing. I found my voice. Probably the biggest thing that matured was the lyrics.”
New influences came into play in the writing and recording of The Expat. Steele points specifically to David Bowie’s so-called “Berlin” albums – Low, Heroes, and Lodger, collections written, appropriately enough, during a period of self-exile – as well as the ambient recordings of Brian Eno, Prince’s forward-looking funk, and the work of Morrissey, whose distinctive baritone pointed him in a fresh vocal direction.
Lyrically, inspiration came from a variety of sources: short story masters John Cheever and Ray Bradbury, novelists Thomas Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the poetry of T.S. Eliot and such French symbolists as Mallarmé and Nerval. (Steele cites few rock lyricists among his influences, but does acknowledge the impact of Richard Palmer-James, who penned the lyrics for such late King Crimson albums as Lark’s Tongues in Apsic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red.)
Steele acknowledges that an intense relationship with a woman from New York led to the deepened writing on The Expat.
“The music was written over a pretty short period of time,” Steele explains. “The lyrics are what took longer, because I changed them as things were happening in my life. As I grew as a person, by going through some extremely trying life experiences and also by getting into literature, I found myself as a lyricist.”
The Expat is the culmination to date of a life spent in music. Steele began studying piano at the age of five before moving on, one by one, to the other instruments in his arsenal. “I had the habit of switching instruments every few years,” he says.
He studied music with Dr. Kevin Korsyn at the University of North Texas in Denton; the works of such impressionist composers as Debussy and Ravel had a marked impact on his later work. He studied independently with noted bassist Jeff Berlin and a student of renowned vocal coach Seth Riggs.
There was also a detour into work in electronics for Apple and Motorola. “It got me into technology, into building my own studio,” Steele says, “and trying to mix my classical music background with modernism. The Expat is a reflection of that.”
Booz-Allen & Hamilton
Steele acknowledges that the diversity of his musical tools – which encompass rock, jazz, classical, and soul/R&B/funk – make him something of a rara avis on the Houston music scene.
“Classical musicians and jazz musicians don’t understand me, because I’m not playing pure classical or pure jazz,” he says. “Then the rock musicians look at me funny, because I’m not playing pure rock music.”
But, Steele adds insistently, he employs all these tools to forge a new mode of expression: “The Expat says that the vocabulary of rock music has not been mined. There’s still plenty of vocabulary there that rock musicians haven’t looked at. I just want to open the door.”
Steele – who notes that mathematics came into play in everything from the construction of the songs on his album to the design of its cover – cites an equation of his own devising when summarizing its intent: “The very first thing I wrote down on my whiteboard when I was beginning The Expat was ‘energy + ambience + narrative.’ I followed that recipe all the way through.”
Awards, Nominations and Highlights
2011 Houston Press Music Awards - Nominated "Best Male Vocalist" for performance on The Expat
Nominated "Junior Student of the Year" at the University of North Texas by the College of Music
Assisted David Pouge, (New York Time's technology writer), with his book, "Mac FAQ's"
2010 release of The Expat - listen on iTunes Also heard on Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and Amazon
Score and Soundtracks for "Why Thomas Came Back"