We had a chance to catch up recently with journeyman musician Steve Postell. Steve has a long and diverse career in the music business, from the perspective as a guitarist in the pit on Broadway to solo artist and contributor with musicians such as Jackson Browne, Danny Korchmar, Jennifer Warnes, Paul Barerre, Dan Navarro just to name a few.
Steve also owns and manages a recording studio in the LA area. We caught up with him recently in between sessions and gigs. He recently started using Direct Sound EX-29 extreme isolation headphones in his studio and in our interview we had a chance to talk about why he loves the headphones.
Direct Sound: Tell us how you got started in the music business.
Steve: I went to what’s now called The Manhattan School of Music. I was classically trained, but I always was writing songs. I felt like the classical training would help my songwriting and composition.
Direct Sound: You started out on classical guitar, correct?
Steve: Yes. I was studying composition and classical guitar at the Conservatory in Manhattan and living in the city. I was also taking jazz theory, and contemporary guitar concept guitar outside of school with a guy named Myron Weiss. He got a phone call one day when I was there. I heard him say, “I don’t really want to do that” to the person on the phone. Then he said “Wait a minute.” He turned to me and said, “Hey, do you want to go out on a three-month tour of Man of La Mancha?” I was 19 or 20 at the time. So things took a real turn all of a sudden. So suddenly I was doing this musical theater show out on tour, making good money, and that put me in a whole different world of shows and sessions. Up to that point I had been around singer-songwriters, people in bands and classical musicians.
Direct Sound: So that changed the direction you were going, at least for the time being.
Steve: Yes. Just because of that phone call and having been sitting there at the right time, I ended up in this whole other world. And ever since then, I always just did a lot of different things.
Direct Sound: So versatility was important to you.
Steve: There are different ways to go. You can just do one thing and just focus on that, and sometimes I wonder how it would’ve been if I said, “I’ll just be a singer-songwriter.” I had a lot of interests, and still do, so I ended up doing musical theater at the time. I played in Evita and Fiddler on the Roof and Sondheim’s shows and all that stuff. Then jingles during the day, and that led to scoring. I did film scoring and television scoring while also being in bands and being involved in different record deals.
Direct Sound: That’s a much different experience than many other musicians have who toil away in one band or genre for a long time.
Steve: It’s been kind of a wacky career, but I feel that in the end, it’s worked out for the best given how the music industry has really changed and some of the income streams have gone away. Some of the people I know who only did one thing are really hurting, and I’ve been able to survive because at any given times, there’s all these things I can do. I might be mixing one record, producing another. Right now, I’m recording two books on tape, playing live shows with people like Eric Anderson and Ian Matthews and so on. Also I have my own band and Danny Korchmar and I have a project together.
Direct Sound: And you can add studio owner to your list of roles.
Steve: I built a really nice studio about four or five years ago called Daytona Studios here in Marina Del Rey. I’m producing some great projects here currently including legendary bassist Alfonso Johnson. I’m also working with Dan Navarro on his first solo record since Lowen and Navarro.
Direct Sound: There are so many different facets to what you do. What is that sense that tells you which direction to go?
Steve: It’s mostly necessity. For example, last year I scored a feature documentary about Timothy Leary and Ram Daas. Great film, by the way, called “Dying to Know.” Those two months, that was pretty much what I did. For me, this is my hobby and my job, so it sort of chooses me. I have a new solo record that’s almost done. My first record was for Emergent Records five years ago. This one I’m doing myself and I have to prioritize and make time for my own record. It’s definitely a juggling act, for sure, every day. But some things have to get done when you’re in music. For example, I’m playing a show in Santa Barbara this weekend, and I’ve got ten pieces of music to learn. I’ve been working on them and I’m going to continue to work on them today. That just takes priority, so in order to do a good job tomorrow, that’s what I have to do today. It sort of chooses you. I have no choice but to work on the music for tomorrow, today.
Direct Sound: There was sort of a segue from that Broadway experience to more of the pop setting with artists like David Crosby and Jennifer Warren. You worked with Leonard Cohen on “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which is considered probably one of the quintessential classics in the history of modern recording. Talk a little bit about that switch from Broadway-centric player to modern rock setting.
Steve: I always had a band. I always was doing both. The impetus to do all of it was rock and roll, really. I just went a different way than some people went instead of having a high-school band and playing dances, which a lot of people did. I went right into this studio-centric pit kind of guy. But I had the band, we were playing out, and we got signed by Sid Bernstein, the legendary promoter who brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium. Sid put us in the studio. So it always was concentric. It always happened at the same time. There wasn’t a shift really, it was just always about juggling many things. Now, there was a shift when I felt that the session studio thing and Broadway thing was consuming my life to the point where the other was taking too much of a back seat.
Direct Sound: How did you deal with that?
Steve: I put together a band called Little Blue and just took off. We went out and toured for ten years, and we ended up also being John Oates’ backing band. We just toured for ten years. We played over 200 gigs a year for ten years. That was when I was 30. I felt that was the only way I was going to get that part of my musicianship really locked in. I needed those ten years to lock in a different level of comfort.
Direct Sound: Talk a little bit about your studio and how the Direct Sound headphones are working out for you.
Steve: Isolation is a big problem in recording. I won’t mention the company’s name, but I have the standard isolation headphones, the one’s a lot of drummers use, made by a drum company. They kill your head. They’re isolated, for sure. Nothing leaks out of them. But I can’t wear them. They’re very heavy and they squeeze your head. I was doing a record over at Groove Masters, which is Jackson Browne’s studio. We used nice headphones, but I had to come back in to the studio because there was leakage of the click track on the record, so I had to redo my parts. With the Direct Sound headphones, I haven’t had any leakage. They sound good and they’re super comfortable. They fit over my ear. I can wear them all day. This is the only headphone I put on my head or on anyone else’s head when we’re recording.
Direct Sound: So you’re really using the headphones a lot.
Steve: Yes. I know a lot of people who have a lot of equipment they don’t use, and they talk about it. These headphones solve a problem for me. There’s no leakage and they’re comfortable and they sound good. I didn’t have anything that did all three of those things.
Direct Sound: Talk a little bit about what’s your focus for the next, say, three to six months?
Steve: I’ve got so many things going on. I’m doing two really interesting books on tape, and those are very time intensive. I’m doing a short tour with Eric Anderson, a legendary songwriter who came out really in the Dylan era. Pretty excited about that. Playing a few shows with Ian Matthews of Fairport Convention and Andy Roberts. Danny Korchmar and I have a project with Dan Navarro. We’re playing a couple of shows with Russ Kunkle and Bob Glaub on bass. I’ve played with Jai Utal, who’s a wonderful world music artist who just released an incredible new record and we’re doing some touring. Going to finish mixing my own record and also Dan Navarro’s first solo record. I like staying busy, and with that, the challenge is trying to keep my voice, hands, and brain in shape.