Front: Justin Landers Back: Ben Blanding. Photo by Tony Vu.
Justin Landers is Portland based artist and musician who records and performs under the name The Steven Lasombras. His new EP A Diamond Eye Shines in Failing Light was released today on To the Neck Recordings. You can download the EP for free here or buy it here. Disclosure: I’m opening at the CD release show 4/30/10.
Klint Finley: What’s the meaning of the name Steven Lasombras?
Justin Landers: Oh Jesus… Should have seen that one coming! “Steven Lasombra” was a fictional character in a long-running Vampire: The Dark Ages campaign. When I originally started recording songs I labeled them Steven Lasombra Recordings, right around when a lot of “The” bands were getting big (The Strokes, The White Stripes, etc. etc.) so taking the name The Steven Lasombras was a really satisfying goof. I always meant to change it when I found a better name, but after a couple years it became a thing where nothing else fit.
Basically, it started out as a really stupid in-joke.
So he was one of your characters or one from a published series of books?
Sighh… it was my first character.
C’mon, do you think SPIN is going to be any easier on you?
“LOL”! It’s true.
How would you describe The Steven Lasombras to someone who’d never heard your music?
I would say I write and illustrate stories in the form of “songs”, and that they usually end up big and loud and dark, with lots of different parts. And I would feel like a pretentious ass. But that’s the quickest way to put it.
You’re also a visual artist. How has that impacted your approach to making music?
I have no training as a musician or anything, all my training is in visual arts. So I approach recording in the same way I would a painting – begin with the initial idea (whether it’s a half-finished story, imagery from a dream or a movie, a phrase, something from “real life”), then flesh it out and heap on as much detail as I can.
Moving forward, the visual element will be a bigger part of it. I’ve always made all the accompanying artwork for SLs releases but the new thing I’m working on which should be finished by the end of the year) is a bit more involved, the visual and sound elements are equally important. In that way, The SLs should become less of a “band” and more… I don’t know, something else.
That probably answers my next question – You spent some time last year studying wayang kulit in Indonesia, will that find its way into your work?
YES, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The new EP is a transition between my way of working before going there and the way I’m going about it now. The next project I mentioned definitely has some elements of wayang, especially in the visual side. I started compiling ideas for a wayang show to try here, but I am not sure if that’s ever going to happen. Not only would it be insanely expensive, I was a severely mediocre dalang.
So The Steven Lasombras is just you in the studio, and you work with various musicians for live shows, is that right?
Correct. The live line-up has shuffled a bit, mostly between friends or relatives who I’d played with in other bands (my brother Alex, our cousin Chris Ryan, who I played with in Animal Beard, Jevon Cutler from Chevron and Animal Beard, Michael Ferguson, Ben Blanding…) and who I was comfortable giving orders to. Since I’ve been back, everyone’s schedules were hectic enough that I just ended up playing alone live, and I think that’s been reasonably successful. With a guitar/bass/drums band the songs come across as a little more straightforward, the one-man versions pull them to a slightly weirder place.
How long have you been performing and recording under the name?
I believe the earliest four-track recordings date back to 2001 and the first proper live performance was March of 2006.
We don’t play live too often since a lot of the songs are tricky to learn. The parts themselves are simple enough (I think), but getting them practiced to a point of being really presentable is a challenge, especially when everyone has a job/school/wife/whatever.
(I should find some unemployed believers and then get comfortable giving them orders.)
It shouldn’t be that hard to find unemployed musicians in Portland.
How did you get your first gig?
First gig was by request! It was the release party for the Dragging An Ox Through Water record “Rebukes!”
Brian Mumford is actually one of the first people who really seemed to like the SLs stuff when he heard it, going back to like 2003. He had a CD-R label for a while called Publisher’s Clearinghaus that put out an Animal Beard record. He was going to put out another SLs record in 2004 but the project folded or he lost interest or something… He was really nice about it, though. He apologized to me for years.
Left: Justin Landers. Right: Alex Landers. Photo by Tony Vu.
So were you passing recordings around to friends or actively seeking local labels?
Just to friends, and barely that! At that time Chris Ryan was still living in Eugene and was friends with Brian and the other guys in (the sadly now-defunct) Chevron, I believe that’s how he heard it, probably by accident. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve been comfortable actively sharing this music with people outside of my immediate circle of friends. That might be a mental thing on my part, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m much better now and know what I’m trying to do.
When were you in Animal Beard? Was that before The Steven Lasombras?
Yes! Animal Beard started when Chris was still living in Eugene, during my two terms at U of O, late 2000. That also started as a bedroom four-track recording project, but… in more of an indie-rock style. Chris wrote perfect little pop songs and then sang them in a bizarre, often kind of ugly way. I played bass with him, when he was in town Jim Edwards played drums and keyboard (often at the same time)… We played a lot and made some really nice recordings that just fell flat. We played a fair amount, the line-up changed (added upright bass and Brian Mumford on theremin) but people just didn’t know what to do with us. To this day, I still think Animal Beard was solid gold and everyone else was crazy.
There’s an Animal Beard full-length that’s 99.9% finished that I think I’ll be able to put out this summer. It’s weird and lovely.
Was that your first band? You said you don’t have any training as a musician, how did you get started?
I bought a bass in 2000, I think because I thought it would easy to teach myself. Outside of aimless “jamming” with friends I think Animal Beard might have been the first “band” situation, where we were focused on writing and making something good.
Was bass easy to teach yourself?
It definitely was! I mean, it’s not easy to play *well*, but it’s not too hard to figure out.