Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview With John Fallon of The Steppes

It's said that we only use 10% of our brains. I would argue that when it comes to art and music, we use even less than that. Take The Steppes for instance. This band has the necessary tools to be universally known as one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. Yet, here in the states at least, they are a mere footnote within the most influential genre that there is outside of the blues, which is psychedelic rock.

The Steppes
It's shameful that we as a nation would rather use that 10% of our mental capacity to follow the likes of Lady Gaga and whatever else the radio waves are slinging at us when there is so much untapped forest out there in terms of music. There is a tremendous and endless stream of incredible music coming from all four corners of this big blue Earth, and not only is it unfair to ourselves for not plunging into the unknown, it's also not fair to the musicians who create these masterpieces that go unheard.

In sports, records are kept, and it's easy to gauge what teams and athletes are the greatest based off of recorded statistics. In music, no such scale exists. How do you determine who the best musicians are aside from popular opinion? While a distance runner from the remote hills of Kenya might get world wide recognition for running the fastest 10K in the history of time, the best band in the world might be playing somewhere and putting out albums, and nobody is even aware of it.

The Steppes could be one of these bands; they have elements of many the greats. The Beatles, The Sonics, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd, The Stones, The Byrds and even contemporaries such as Oasis and Supergrass can be heard while under the influence of The Steppes. In addition to all of that, these guys also sound uniquely like themselves. Their sound is a blend of European psychedelia and American rock and roll. There is little doubt to the musical ability of these guys, as they are immensely popular in Europe. Because the general mindset of most Americans is to go with the flow so to speak, many do not step outside of their musical comfort zones to reach out to new and exciting sounds. It's a shame too, because the music played and popularized from corporate radio play generally sucks to what else is actually out there.

The Steppes are John Fallon on vox and lead guitar, his brother David Fallon on bass and keyboards, Tim Gilman also on guitar and Jim Bailey on the drums. John and David mostly grew up in the United States, but came from an immediate Irish heritage, as their parents came to The United States directly from Ireland. John was born in Chicago, but he and David  lived in England for a few years as children before finally settling into a more permanent residence back in the Windy City. They grew up listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, and T-Rex, to name a few. Music was always a part of their lives, and unlike most people who listen to these same bands, the Fallon brothers found a way to incorporate the sounds they loved into a rich melodic sound of their own.

While living in LA in 1982, The Fallon brothers teamed up with Eddie Gryzb and formed a band called the Blue Macs. They formed their own record company (Blue Mac Records) and pressed 200 vinyls of five of their original songs. This five song 7" EP has been described as bold and edgy, and was mostly sent to record companies and the music press, and generally not made available to the public. In early 1983 Melody Maker magazine reviewed the EP and compared the sound to Paul Weller, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and the Undertones. This favorable review was inspiring to John and David, who were at the time hanging out in Dublin. They flew back to the states and  started to look for like minded musicians with whom to make further collaborations. In May of 1983 John and David made an acoustic recording in a Hollywood studio that they labeled "The Steppes of Russia".

(A Steppe, according to Wikipedia, is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands, and temperate grasslands, savannah and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. The prairie (especially the shortgrass and mixed prairie) is an example of a steppe, though it is not usually called such.)

In June of 1983 John and David met guitarist Tim Gilman, who's face peeling guitar solos provided a west coast edge to the Harmony based music that the Fallon brothers were making. They brought in a drummer named Dante' who rounded out the original Steppes lineup, and that was the lineup when the band released their first album simply titled "The Steppes" with Hollywood based Mystic Records. "The Mystic EP" as it was to become known as, was a moderate success, and received airplay across the nation on the college radio circuit. The band replaced Dante' with drummer Jim Bailey in 1985, and has been reinventing itself ever since, though currently the band has been in remission since the late '90s.

As a reader of this blog and a lover of music, please take my advice and seek out this band. The Steppes are not your run of the mill indie band trying to make it big... They are the real deal who has captivated an audience in Europe and why they are not huge in the USA is beyond me.

Through the capabilities of the internet, I was able to ask John Fallon a few questions:

Tell me about your childhood... What music did you listen to, and what transpired in your life that influenced you to become a musician?

Born in Chicago...moved to England in June '64. Went to school my first 3 yrs. there before returning to Chicago in late '67. Parents are both from County Mayo, Ireland. I've been into The Beatles since I was 4 yrs. old!!! This must be where I learned "quality control" when it came to my own career. A very hard act to follow, eh? I think I always fancied myself as a musician in a great band...always! Of course it takes hard work and a lot of good fortune for this to really take place...we're happened. In my teens I broadened my outlook...The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Dylan, Hendrix, Zeppelin, T-Rex, Slade, Donovan, The Dubliners, Clanned, all the Chess Records stuff, Lightin' was an adventure, a real way to view the can get to you in a way that no other form of communication can.

Tell me about the Blue Macs... How did the name come about, and what was the driving force behind this band?

The Blue Macs was the real starting point. Not a bunch of teens in a garage goofing off...but the first attempt to make it happen. We were a mod band on the edge of the neo mod scene in L.A. in 1982. David and I started writing songs and started to sing together. I think The Bee Gees of the '60s influenced our vocal approach at the time...also the hard edge of The Jam. The name is a play on THE BLUE MAX medal given to German fliers in WWI...but Macs also meant a Celtic tie-in and it is slang for raincoat...hell, it sounded mod and cool, ha,ha.

The Blue Macs promotional poster

Are there any Blue Macs recordings available?

The Blue Macs did record 5 tracks in a studio in Calif. in July 1982. These were released that same year on a 5 song 7" EP (only 200 copies). Two of these tracks were included on our "Rarities" CD released in 1997 by Delerium in England..."Almost 21" and "In Touch". An original EP sold for $375 recently! Cool, eh?

How did you meet Tim Gilman? What events led up from there to you forming The Steppes?

We met Tim on a recommendation of a friend. We were looking for a bass player...David was going to be the lead singer, I would play guitar and sing, a drummer, and this Tim guy for bass. A WHO approach. The moment we saw Tim we knew he in...he looked like a cross between George Harrison and Peter Fonda! When he picked up his guitar and blasted into "She Said, She Said" by The Beatles we immediately dumped our WHO approach and went BEATLE...this was the natural way forward...we could all contribute more this way. At this point we called ourselves "Steppes of Russia" the end of 1983 we shortened it to THE STEPPES and I copyrighted the name and registered it for the ages. It had a Herman Hesse quality..both David and I had read many of Hesse's books so it felt right. We had a series of drummers until we scored James Bailey. We held a 3 day open audition and jammed with 33 drummers...Bailey was #32! He was the obvious choice and he knew it!

Tim Gilman recording overdubs

Of all the albums The Steppes produced, which one is your personal favorite, and why?

I have 2 faves..."Drop of the Creature" because it was the LP that turned everyone on to is a wonderfully cohesive work done by a young artistic band of acid dandies...bookish but sometimes harsh in message. Many years later THE TIMES of London said this LP was the best debut since "The Doors". High praise, indeed! Actually both of these LPs share many similar sonic qualities...basically, a very live feel with romantic imagery galore. My other fave is "Harps and Hammers"...this is a record that shows a band at the top of their game...we were HOT...just finished our 2nd European tour...35 shows in 5 was wild! The guitar work on "Harps..." is killer...Tim kills it and so do I...we were a dangerous band ready to take on ANYONE.

The Steppes are seeped deep into the psychedelic culture... Is that sound based off of personal use of psychedelics, or were you trying to emulate a sound you heard?... Was there a mission behind your psychedelic sound?

No comment.

The Steppes at the Freakbeat Freakout, London 1989

Tell me about The Psychedelic Psuana compliation album... How did the Steppes become a part of that?

Richard Allen was starting his own label...he was our manager and a great friend (still is!) he asked for a track and I supplied one while I was visiting James in S.F. "Summer's End..." is a cool little home recording that features only James and myself...Tim wanted to re-record it and include it on "Harps..." but we had plenty of songs...

I read somewhere that you and the legendary Nick Saloman (Bevis Frond) have collaborated together... Is this true, or am I just dreaming?

Mr. Bevis is the fine gent that recommended "Goldust" studio in Bromley, Kent, England....a great engineer/owner there named Mark Dawson. We did "Enquire Within" and "Harps and Hammers" there and I did "Atomic Cossack" there, also. I've been in touch with ol' Nick recently and he's in Goldust now recording his first "Bevis" album in 7 years! I have video of him at our crash pad in London in '88. Bevis also was on the bill with us at the famous "Freakbeat Freakout" Dec. 29, 1989 at the Greyhound in Fulham, London...a VERY wild psychedelic night, indeed....that video of ours titled "Live in London" is from that show...but, no we never recorded with guy and quite friendly!

How would you describe your fan base? What are the differences between Europeon fans and the American fans?

In truth, most of our fan base is in Europe. Europeans generally are more fanatical about music being part of their daily lives. Why? I have a few ideas but I suppose one way of looking at THE STEPPES fan is that he/she really digs The Steppes...really digs...we've been described at a BIG band over ideas, talent, overall vision...obviously, not in sales, ha,ha. The general view of us is that we would have been a BIG act if we were around in the late '60s and early '70s. I agree...we were tourists from timenotyet...jumping out of our time machine at the most idiotic of times...the '80s.

I read that you moved into East Germany right after the wall came down... That had to have been amazing. What can you tell me about that experience?

In '88 we drove from W. Germany through E. Germany to get to the island that was Berlin. It was creepy...check points...cannot leave the road...only bread and bockverst to mustard...we tried to give the guards records but they said the 33 1/3 LPs would not play on their turntables. In '89 it was different! The wall was coming down and as we hit the centre of Berlin, Helmut Kohl's motorcade drove right next to us! We saw him! It was party time!

Oddly enough, the scariest check point for us was going from Switzerland into Italy in '89! We were told to get out of the van and stand in a line...I started to sit down in a small wall and the Italian guard pointed a machine gun at me?! They proceeded to pull everything out of the van. I guess they thought "5 guys in a van from Amsterdam" (4 Steppes and a driver) might be worth rolling... But when they found copies of "Enquire Within" they completely changed..."Ah, The Steppes... Irlanda". They wanted free T-shirts, records, autographs... Apparently, we happened to be in a major Italian mag that week and these bozos had heard of us... Ah, minor celebrity status saved our asses, ha,ha!

John Fallon

Are you currently involved with any new projects?

I have been offered a deal to do two 45rpm 7" singles! I'm looking to see how I can swing this. My son, Cromm, has a band here in Vegas called "ACTON TOWN"...I might borrow them.
You probably already know that The Steppes entire back catalogue in coming out on Cherry Red Records in England. Two tracks are on the Delerium "Last Daze of the Underground" 3 CD compilation release...out now!(Cherry Red).

Who or what are you listening to these days?

I'm listening to a group out of Japan called The Routes fronted by and Englishman named Christopher Jack. They are on tour in Europe right now! I'm listening to Lightnin' Hopkins again and Frank Sinatra when he was on Capitol in the '50s. I do listen to stuff that my son digs...Wavves, Best Coast, Two Door Cinema Club...pretty interesting stuff in it's own way...not great talents but cool all the same.

What can we expect in the future from John Fallon and/or The Steppes?

As I said all our stuff is to be re-released soon. All four of The Steppes are in close touch...we would be up for something if it was interesting and feasible. I would like to quickly record 4 songs for those 2 singles and get them out there for people to hear.


The Steppes Discography:

The Blue Macs (Blue Mac Records USA 1982)
The Steppes of Russia (Acoustic demo recorded in Hollywood 1983)
The Steppes (Mystic Records Mini LP released in 1984)
Drop of the Creature (Voxx records USA 1987, Hitch Hyke Records Greece 1987)*
The Steppes/ Bevis Frond (Help Records, a flexi given away with issue 4 of Freakbeat Magazine)
Stewdio (Voxx Records USA 1988, Hitch Hyke Records Greece 1988)
Tourists from Timenotyet (Compliation, Bam Caruso Records UK 1988)
Enquire Within (Voxx Records USA 1989, Hitch Hyke Records Greece 1989, Music Maniac Records Germany 1989)
Harps and Hammers (Voxx Records USA 1990)
Alive, Alive, Oh! (Live) (Voxx Records USA 1991 Limited edition on green vinyl)
Psychedelic Psuana -Various Artist (Delerium Records UK 1991)
Atomic Cossack (Voxx Records USA 1992, Delerium Records UK 1992)
Pick and Mix - Various Artists (Delerium Records UK 1995)
Gods, Men and Ghosts (Delerium Records UK 1997)
Rarities - Previously unreleased (Delerium Records 1997)

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