Just Fame recently got a chance to interview artist Stoker in regard to his stunning new album ‘Programmed To Exist’. We got insights into his musical journey, source of inspiration, and much more.
Q. First of all it is great to have you on Just Fame and congratulations on your new album! We’re excited to delve into it shortly, but first, we’d love to learn more about you and your musical journey.
Oh, yeah that’s a really good place to start. I suppose putting my finger on where the journey began is kinda hard, but I’ll try… When I was very young, my grandmother had us watch the movie ‘Fantasia’. She was probably trying to calm us kids down or something, it’s hard to recall, but I remember watching the part with the dinosaurs where a version of Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ played. The dissonant beauty of that piece left a very deep impression on me and I’ll probably never forget that piece or the imagery on the tape.
That’s probably a little early for what you are looking for, but I guess I can’t remember the journey ever starting. I’ve always been connected to music and maybe that journey never ends for me. The songwriting journey has been ongoing for most of my life as well. Having played in a bunch of different projects, one day I realized it was time to go out and play my own tunes. That project became known as Stoker and I’ve been releasing music under that name over the last few years.
Q. We loved your album “Programmed to Exist”. Kindly share the process that you followed while you were working on the album.
Ah, yes, the new album! Glad you enjoyed it… I wish I could tell you Programmed to exist had some kind of planned process, but the truth is none of us really knew what it was until it was finished. That said, I’ll do my best to string the moving pieces together into some sort of coherent narrative…
In early 2022 I ended up on a call with a couple of friends and made some tentative plans to work on some demos with songwriter/producer/artist Andrew Ryan. Over the next few months, I sent out a bunch of demos mostly recorded on my phone and we settled on around 8 of them. After a variety of misadventures in which the two of us developed a strong bond, we ended up taking root in my basement. Beginning in April and taking place over a period of about two weeks, the recording yielded a bunch of gems and it started to become clear that they weren’t going to be demos.
After we wrapped up tracking, we worked on mixes for the next couple of months while the band expanded and started playing bigger venues. The final production came to a conclusion in the winter of 2023 after moving to firebrand studios to complete the project. There, the final production touches were added and the full concept of the album came into focus. I think it was good to sit with the tracks for a while and come up with a narrative around them.
Q. If you get a chance to collaborate with one artist who would that be?
One artist to collab with, huh? I’d be open to collaboration with so many different artists, but when I think of some of my favorites I’m sure that the reality of actually collaborating would not be fun. Ya know… sometimes it’s best not to shatter the illusion. If I’m pressed though…
Q. What is the importance of art in life according to you?
The importance of art in life… I’m going to try to answer this off the cuff here so forgive me. If there were no art, it would be as though the light had gone out of the world. Who wants to live a life in the dark? I know I don’t.
Q. Any tips or advice for the young artists?
My advice to young artists is to finish your project. You may be listening to a Radiohead album and wondering how your work stacks up against it when really you should be wrapping it up, putting it out into the world, and judging the response from there. If you are wasting time sitting on your project or you haven’t started it because you are wrapped up in the world of what it could be, you are wasting time. Confront the reality of what is before it’s too late.
Q. In the process of creating this album, can you share an unexpected source of inspiration that took your work in a surprising direction?
I’m not sure that there was anything surprising that altered the plans for the album. I knew I wanted to create a framework around all of the songs to tie them together and it might be the name of the album which inspired that. I kept thinking about programs and signals and the transmission of information… The idea of something like the VLA picking up a rogue signal housing the experience of the album was drawn from that.
Q. If your album could serve as the soundtrack for a film genre or a specific movie, which one would it be and why?
It would either be a science fiction film or a tragic romantic comedy. We watched Zoolander like 10 times while we worked on the album, so there is definitely a playfulness built into the process. I drew from Gattaca specifically for the tune ‘vacation day’, so that’s what makes me think of science fiction. What do you think?
Q. Interesting! Can you identify a particular moment or track in the album where you felt you were pushing your own artistic boundaries, and can you share more about that experience?
There were two tracks where I felt I was trying something entirely new. On ‘Let you in’ I remember pushing my vocals a lot. Andrew kept telling me to belt out the lyrics and it definitely translates onto the record as one of the most intense tracks. The other was ‘Saplingstretch’. On that one, I went for an understated Leonard Cohen style vocal and that brings a different kind of intensity to the track. I also love how that one sprawls out as the longest track on the album instead of being super succinct.
Q. Any upcoming shows or plans for performing live concerts in 2023-24 that music lovers can look forward to?
We will be performing locally in the fall, but are looking into some regional touring in 2024. Please reach out and invite us to your city!
Q. Any hints for our readers about any upcoming collaboration or new projects that you are working on?
In terms of new projects, I’m always writing songs so there is a lot more to come. There’s a chance of a new album next year, but we will see how the time in the studio goes.
Q. Lastly, as we ask all our guests on our platform, do you have any closing thoughts that you would like to share with the world and our readers?
Treat people well, treat yourself well, be kind. In art, why give people what they want? Give them a challenge, people want a challenge.
“I grew up in a military family that moved around a bit between TX, IL and MO in my early years. When we finally settled in MO, we lived out in the country pretty far from what I would call “civilization”. I think a lot of my music reflects that search for common ground, art and music that couldn’t be experienced out there while also reflecting a love for nature and a love for the sound of wind moving through the trees/jets crossing the wide open sky. I’ve lived in the city of St. Louis for quite a while now and it has all of the things I used to long for, a thriving and diverse music scene, artists, poets and amazing dive bars (CBGB/Heavy Anchor to name a couple). I feel comfortable here, but still I feel like I’m searching for something, so who knows what the future will hold.” – Stoker aka Joseph Belsher
Image Credit: Theo Welling