Single Release: Stello
By Natalie Leonard
Photographed by Rachel Cabitt
Squeezing our legs through Kit's rickety window, we make our way onto his narrow fire escape in the East Village. A few slabs of railing separate us from the jungle of plants and city floor below us. It's oddly quiet here, but I suppose its the charm of the walkups, rooftops, and fire escapes that create a hush over the neighborhood. Strumming on his guitar, Kit blends right into his surroundings. He sounds like he's been sitting out here for decades, playing during the days of CBGB and Bob Dylan. It's his old jazzy soul mixed with his new rock project Stello, that transports you back in time, making you forget that you're actually reading this interview on a twenty first century device.
With the release of his new single, "Pretty Thing," the young musician, who also plays in NYC based group, Del Water Gap, sings about modern day love in an old fashioned style. Listen and read all about the old, yet youthful musings, of Kit Conway, aka Stello.
POND: Could you talk a little bit about how you became involved in the type of music you're playing right now as Stello?
KIT: I had been making music on my guitar since I was a young kid, but as a teenager I had gotten deep into electronic and using the computer as a songwriting medium - I probably felt I had outgrown traditional stuff and wanted something more contemporary. I did this electronic act called Don Raga and was actually in a hip-hop collective for a while, but then leaving home and living in Manhattan, my focus changed. I probably looked to writing for comfort more than in the past. In that sense a laptop just can't compete with a guitar; you're holding this thing your arms, it's tactile and personal. Plus playing shows with Del Water Gap reminded me what it's like being on a stage with a band just making a lot of noise, and in such a social way. So I came back to rock and roll, hopefully bringing along some new ideas. In a way, Stello is about leaving home and coming back, something that probably happens more between 18 and 22 than in any other point in your life.
POND: What’s the story behind your new single “Pretty Thing”?
KIT: It's essentially a love letter, granted maybe a complicated kind of love. I wanted to write something very honest, something stronger because it wears the shit that isn't totally perfect and sure. But it's still probably the most optimistic song Stello has put out so far. I think the tune first came out of the chord progression in the verse - there's this little jazzy turn on a four-chord pop thing that I was super excited about. It was originally produced about two years ago as a synth-based track, but as Stello became my main thing I wanted to rebuild it organically. Charlie Schlinkert and Jared LaCasce (both from Del Water Gap) are on drums and trumpet; they kill it on the recording. Charlie accidentally left his phone on the snare during the second verse and it gave us this really badass sound that we ended up keeping. I'm proud of this tune, it definitely builds on Five Nite's sound.
POND: Do you have a favorite environment that you like to perform in? A favorite venue?
KIT: Maybe less of a specific place as much as a feeling, but when the audience is close. At this point in my career that's a very literal thing, sometimes we'll tell people to move up a few feet and "close the gap" to get a little more friendly. But I've seen some bands play to a thousand people as if they're all old friends. Doing a gig in my hometown is like an extreme version of that. I'll finish a tune and someone will yell at me to play something I wrote like six years ago in high school.
POND: Your “Five Night EP” was compiled over a five night period last December, what was that process like?
KIT: Between the day after Christmas and New Year's Eve all my old friends were back home. I had written a couple solid songs since August and had been listening heavily to D'Angelo's Voodoo, which was recorded with this very social, communal vibe. I set up the most makeshift studio imaginable - basically just a collection of friends' instruments, something like four mics, and a bunch of mattresses leaned up on the walls - and had everyone over to jam and record. It was a lot of fun to do, and I think that sort of casual atmosphere shows up in the records.
POND: Tell us about your involvement with NYC based group, Del Water Gap.
KIT: I play guitar in the band and it's a blast. Hugely educational. I've been noodling for 12 years but Del Water Gap taught me how to be a guitarist - there's a huge difference between using an instrument as a songwriter and actually being a player, and I'm just starting to learn what that means. For the first time onstage I can stand away from the mic and watch the drums, focus on the millisecond differences in groove and tempo. Beyond that, just being in a touring band is the best. Hopping into a van with a bunch of friends a few dozen CDs, traveling around the Northeast playing shows and meeting people.... I always thought the song "On the Road Again" was super cheesy but I heard it recently and got real sentimental for a second.
POND: How does art, outside of music, influence you?
KIT: I get a lot of ideas from movies. Recorded music and film are so similar, you're capturing this dynamic, moving moment in time, and then meticulously editing the hell out of it. It's really nothing like a live performance. I read somewhere that Kanye West took inspiration from architecture when he made Yeezus, and there's plenty of old jazz cats that drew influences from painters. I don't see that as much. It's gotta be moving somehow for me to see it relate back to music.
POND: Favorite late night East Village hangout?
KIT: Maybe not late-late night but there was this tiny diner near my apartment called Stage. Hands down best Ukrainian food in the area. I once forgot my coat on the rack there and two weeks later it was still hanging where I left it. This past spring is closed after 35 years because of some illegal gas-siphoning in the building. I miss that challah bread.