Peninsular Place

The Magazine

May 30, 2013

Stepdad Helps Ring in Three Years of iSPY Magazine


Stepdad specializes in catchy, electronic pop – upbeat, danceable, fun stuff that’s both perfect for a dance party and as background music for day to day life. The former Chicago-based outfit now calls Grand Rapids, Mich home. They released a solid full length debut album entitled “Wildlife Pop” last year and just recently came off a major tour. They also have had songs featured on national TV shows and wrote the theme song for the web comic, “Axe Cop.” But they’re still just peeking their heads around the corner in the music world – which is partially why they’re so much fun to watch at this stage in their development.

The band’s current lineup consists of Mark Tafel (known as “ultramark”), Ryan McCarthy, Alex Fives, Nathan K and Ben Weissenborn, who recently replaced Jeremy Malvin of Chrome Sparks on drums. They say there’s no real meaning behind their band name, and it was created by a random phrase generator – which in some way seems to represent the way they approach creating music: both calculated and spontaneous.

On Saturday, June 22, Stepdad will be performing at iSPY Magazine’sThree Year Anniversary Party at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti along with Phantasmagoria and Ayinde Audio. We chatted with Ryan about the show, 80s show theme songs and more when we caught up with him recently.

How long have you and Mark known each other?

I met Mark four years ago in Mount Pleasant. He was performing as a solo artist, and I somehow got dragged to his show. I didn’t really want to go, but I saw Mark playing some of his songs and thought they were really good. I offered to record some of his stuff and, after a while, we started writing songs together. I’ve known him for about four years.

Why does he go by “Ultramark?”

I don’t know. He’s gone by that since college. I think that’s just always been his nickname. He’s got it tattooed on his chest even. That’s just what I’ve always known him by.

Tell me a little about the Grand Rapids music scene.

As much as we like to think we’re part of the Grand Rapids music scene, I don’t know a whole lot about it and we don’t get out to shows very much. There are some great bands. The Pyramid Scheme will probably always be one of my favorite venues to play. It’s really nice. It’s the perfect venue for a city like Grand Rapids. It’s not as big as the Intersection, but it’s also not too small. It’s the perfect sized venue for a mid-level touring act coming through Grand Rapids who wouldn’t be able to sell out The Intersection. Plus, it just opened – so it’s still clean. There are pinball machines. The stage is great. It sounds nice. There’s just something really homey about it.

What about the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area? Do you have any good memories of playing shows around here?

I think we probably all just love to play Woodruff’s a lot. Woodruff’s rules. We’ve played there I don’t even know how many times now – a handful of times. And every time we’ve played there has been great. We’ve never had a bad experience at Woodruff’s. The first time we played there, we didn’t know if there was going to be a good crowd or what to expect. There was a great crowd and fans that we didn’t even know that we had who came out wearing our t-shirts, so that’s always going to be a good memory of one of the first times we met a bunch of people who liked our music who weren’t actually people we already knew.

I know your album was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Would you recommend that to other artists? How did that process go for you?

Yeah, if you have a way to get people to know about it and promote it. The thing about Kickstarter is if you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get any of the money. If you were trying to raise $10,000, you have to make sure enough people know about your Kickstarter or you aren’t getting any of it. But if you can get enough people interested, it’s definitely worth it. I see all the time so many cool things that are funded by Kickstarter. That Robocop statue that is going to be in Detroit was funded by Kickstarter. That’s awesome.

You composed the theme song for that web comic, “Axe Cop.” How did that come about?

Mark somehow discovered “Axe Cop” the night that the first issue was put up a couple of years ago. We had just been talking about how we should write some sort of theme song for something just because that’s what Mark and I like to do on the side – think up jingle theme-songy stuff. We had been watching a lot of 80s shows on Netflix like Airwolf and MacGyver and talking about how awesome the intro theme music for those shows is. Right around that time we discovered “Axe Cop” and thought we should just come up with a song and send it to the artist and see what he would think of it. At that point, “Axe Cop” was just a comic that was online. There was no need for us to do anything, but we wrote this song. It took like 40 minutes, and we sent it to him. That night, the artist got back with us and was like, “This is awesome. If anything ever comes of this, I’ll definitely use this.” We were fresh off the boat, brand new, so we were super excited. That was the first thing that got us our first wave of fans because that happened before our first album came out, so a lot of people who discovered our music first discovered us through the “Axe Cop” song.

What are your favorite show theme songs?

The theme song from MacGyver. Also there’s this show from the 90s that starred Bruce Campbell called Brisco County Jr. It ran for one or two seasons in the mid 90s. It was like a sci-fi western. It was so good. And the theme song from Brisco County Jr. was pretty top notch. Full House is also a good one. If I’m ever stumped creatively, I’ll get on Netflix and watch some MacGyver and come back. The thing about MacGyver’s theme song is they change the instrumentation at the beginning of each new season. There are different versions of the theme song. The first one is all done on cheap 80s synthesizers. The second season is the same theme song, but they record it with a rock band. The third season is slightly different – so every season there’s a different variation of the same goddamn song.

So what are your favorite movies, shows and music?

I’m a huge fan of John Hughes movies, but I feel like everybody is. You must be crazy to not like The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink. I like Wes Anderson a lot and Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m kind of obsessed with Mystery Science Theater. My favorite bands are the Talking Heads and the Beach Boys. I like a lot of Swedish pop music, too. I’m a pretty simple guy. I just watch a lot of Mystery Science Theater and write some jams.

What’s your favorite Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson movies?

“Life Aquatic” and “Boogie Nights.”

What are you most excited for this summer?

I’m hoping to do some camping, hopefully write some good songs and write some songs with other artists, too. I think we’re all excited to just take a break from touring. We’re pretty burnt out on touring. I’d really like to start writing for mainstream radio with a little more mainstream artists.

What’s on the horizon for Stepdad right now?

Right now we’re taking a break from touring to write a new record. We’re working on some new stuff right now and hopefully it will be good, and then we’ll be touring in September I think. We have a lot of material – unfinished songs that date back to before our first album came out. We’re just getting them all together and figuring out what we want to finish. I think the people who liked our first album will like our new stuff. It’s a little less full band sound and more straight up pop jams. I don’t even know how to describe it. We’ll probably put out a single sometime this summer. We’re looking forward to coming out to Woodruff’s for your anniversary party. We’re excited. It’s going to be great.

About the Author

Amanda Slater
Amanda Slater
Amanda is the Editor in Chief of iSPY Magazine.

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