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Interview: Steven J. Vertun

Steven J. Vertun recently released his deeply personal “Ghost”, the lead single off of his upcoming, debut LP Ghost, Shadow and Sun. Directed by Matt Zane (John 5Wayne StaticZakk WyldeDMCOrgy) of Lord Zane Productions, “Ghost” is just one piece of a larger story that is Ghost, Shadow and Sun, by a man who is MUCH more than just musician.  We got the chance to chat with the busy multi-instrumentalist, business entrepreneur, and athlete to get behind who he is, and what Ghost, Shadow and Sun is really all about.

And yes, there will be an accordion in the near future.

Thanks so much for sitting down and taking the time to talk to us.  What can you tell us about your upcoming LP, Ghost, Shadow, and Sun?  How does your debut album compare to your work with Eye Savant?  Can we expect to hear an accordion at any point (fingers crossed)?

GSS was a body of work born completely out of personal reflection, encompassing several different experiences, all somehow relating to the aftermath of losing a loved one; not only the emotional process of that, but cataloging the changes that occur and the person you evolve into as a result of the experience.  The lead video/song, “Ghost,” is a straight-up ballad and a bit of a mislead as the balance of the CD is more alternative rock oriented.  The songs range from this single ballad to medium paced rockers to big guitar anthems.  Not necessarily stadium sized, AC/DC wall-of-sound explosions, but good medium-sized amphitheater explorations.

Ghost, Shadow, and Sun is not so much a departure from my work with Eye Savant as a moderate shift in style, or perhaps better stated, a shift in presentation.  I think the work flows nicely as a continuum of the ES style/genre.  I was the principle song-writer, wordsmith and voice of Eye Savant, so I’d say there is commonality but extension due to time, experiences and technical advancements.  GSS was started with a couple of members from the final Eye Savant line-up, however they both moved out of state within two months of each other (I hope it wasn’t something I said!…perhaps it was everything that I said….) and we were less than 25% done with the recording at that point.  That required a search for and the use of other exterior musicians to finish it out.  And, then there were several of the already laid down tracks that needed to be re-done (note to self… NEVER-EVER let anyone convince you that there is no need to work with a click track…EVER!)

Ahhh…the Accordion!  Now that is foundational.  I started playing when I was 5 years old.  My parents were experiencing some “behavioral challenges” with me.  It comes with the ADHD, however in those days there was no such thing.  It was more like, as my great crotchety Old Grand Dad used to say, “tha Little Bastahd that Don’t Alisten”.  So more like LBDA I guess.  They were advised to find a distraction for me, perhaps something musical.  They gave me a choice of instruments.  I picked the Accordion because I was fascinated with all the buttons, knobs, keys, all kinds of permutations and combinations to create audible chaos and anarchy.  But along with the instrument came the lessons.  Imagine trying to keep the attention of an LBDA child as you try to teach him musical scales… Thing was, I couldn’t keep the notes on the page in my head.  But I did have this uncanny ability to replicate by ear, anything I heard on the keys, after the first time I heard it.   I would painstakingly play each note off the sheet, one at a time, and once I did that, I was then able to replay the song without having to read the notes.  I simply had to pretend to be reading the notes to keep the teacher at bay… they thought I was a prodigy!

My parents used to bring us to Brooklyn to visit my Grandparents.  Occasionally, there would be a group of my GP’s friends there, really old people; like petrified stone old.  My parents would dress me up in this this tiny suit, bought from the local thrift store.  They would attach a string to my belt and another to my 3-year-old brothers wrist.  They’d give him a metal cup and then parade us into the living room.  While I was belting out “Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Swanee River” or some basic polka, my brother would collect the coins from these old folks who would caw and cry and laugh and throw the change in the cup of my little monkey brother.  It was a real hoot and my very first performing gigs. I think my parents used the change to buy cigarettes and booze because they were always in a great mood when we left and I don’t ever remember feeling any of the coins in my pocket.

Thing about the Accordion is that while it really is a cool sounding instrument, it’s impossible to look cool when you’re playing it.  I mean, Ian Anderson figured out how to make playing the flute look so exotic and hip.  But you think about some of those incredibly visual poses our modern guitar Gods execute when rocking a Flying V; legs spread, phallic symbol exuding from the nether regions, back arched as they howl at the moon with their long hair hanging down below their waist ….You just can’t do that with an accordion. No matter how hard you try, you are going to either fall over or sustain a groin strain in the process, not to mention that the girls flee from you like you just coughed up a big dose of black plague leprosy.  After 5 years of playing the “beast” and with the onset of puberty, I picked up my first guitar.

Most people would be amazed at how often and the high percentage of songs that are recorded using an accordion due to the unique sounds and textures the instrument can deliver.  Thing is, nobody wants to admit using it in their songs unless you are from Poland and making ThrashPolka Fusion records.

Okay, sorry you asked a simple question about whether or not you could expect to hear an accordion in my next musical offering and off I went and gave you War and Peace.  By way of apology, I will commit to using one in my next CD (currently being crafted) and I will be dedicating the song to Music Existence for their inspiration to return to my roots.  I am sorry for the length of my answer and promise to be more brief in my going forward.

 

If you had to pick out one song on the album that points toward the growth you’ve experienced in the last few years, which would you pick? 

All of them……(see, I always keep my promises…)

 

Your lead single, “Ghost,” is definitely far deeper than your average rock ballad, and has a significantly deeper message, how have your fans responded? 

The fan reaction has been 100% positive across the board.  It has been amazing, supportive, and very kind on every level.  I have been overwhelmed by the number of people that have seen the video/song that have shared with me how it has helped them view a current or past personal tragedy or loss in a different and more positive light.   I am an extremely very private person and have not been inclined to share this particular tragedy freely and openly over the years.  After many years of reflection and perspective I felt the need to create this project.  The video was crafted to provide people a positive perspective. Not so much why or when or how they should deal with a tragedy or loss, but to let them know that no matter the level of darkness or emotional discordance or pain they are experiencing, there will be light down the road.  Time and distance will be their friend.  The awesome video Director Matt Zane (LordZaneRising@gmail.com ) was able to bring my concept to life in a very powerful way.

The song “Ghost” and the balance of the songs on GSS are not specific in detail.  Anybody can listen to these songs and they will be inspired to interpret them based on their own experiences and perceptions.

 

How do you go about putting a song like “Ghost” together, from songwriting to composition and production? With such a deeply personal and wounding story behind it, what were you able to pull from the experience of writing “Ghost”? 

For me, the writing comes fairly easily.  While I don’t feel I was gifted as a technical musician by the music Gods, I was provided the ability to write and construct without a tremendous amount of writers anxiety or road blocks.  It has always flowed easily or naturally for me.  Establishing the proficiency of playing the chords properly and in the right timing and meter was where the challenge has always existed.  Because of my lack of focus, diligence and adherence to the academic side of instrumental proficiency, there were some interesting outcomes that resulted. You know, I’d always pick up the instrument, put the music stand front and center, set the metronome in motion, all with the intention learning my scales, proper fingering and instrumental execution and all of that.  However, after 10 minutes (or sooner) I’d be off banging away a bunch of chords and writing something new.  That was the part that came easy and where my inspiration lied; on the fly.

I’d have these strange and broken chords that I’d accidentally find and like to write from.  I’d introduce the song to the band and the lead guitarist, a very accomplished musician, would invariably say, “You can’t do that”.  Do what? “Play those chords in that order” Why not?  “They don’t make technical sense”.  Do they sound good? “Well yes”.  Okay then what’s the problem?  “They don’t make technical sense”.  Look, just play the damn song then.  “Fine. (long passive aggressive pause) What chords are you actually playing?”  I don’t know; here, look at my fingers”.  And the battles would rage on and on, but eventually we’d get there and I think it’s what gives my music it’s unique sound.

To your last question, “Ghost” was easy to write.  It was just there.  My Son was just there.  The hard part was the emotional quotient: introducing it to the band, recording it (the vocal track was done in one take, flaws and all, but raw and real.  I didn’t want to “improve” it.) And then eventually coming to the decision to not only release it, but put it out there, with the entire story, to benefit others.  For individuals to gain perspective and hope from the video, but additionally to benefit a couple of great organizations, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital  and  Wounded Warriors Project.  A minimum of 30% of all CD sales proceeds will go to these organizations, the balance of the funds will be utilized to create additional monies for these organizations.

This was not an easy process but this is how I honor the memory of my incredible Son, Alexander.

Now let’s switch gears to some of the major awesomeness that is Steven J. Vertun’s story.  You have a pretty broad and impressive toolbox of talents, can you give us a general overview of the many hats that Steven J. Vertun wears?

This is a challenging question to answer because I am not in the habit of bragging or talking about my “accomplishments”.   I am wicked highly focused on “doing” (aka: Getting out of the damn chair).  Life is an adventure and it should be treated as one… Carpe diem.

Or as my old great granddaddy used to say…”There a be plenty a time ta sleep when I’um dead.  Now get ya outta my way before ah run ya down.”

… old granddaddy used to say a lot of things…

That said, I’ve stalled enough.  Here is the list of hats I wear or have worn:

Segue Corporation (Founder/CEO) since 1988 (approx. 75 employees, globally based)

Black Belt of the Kiado Ryu. National Forms Champion.  Richard King Sensei (http://www.kingskarate.net/)

Completed 14 Marathons and countless ½’s, 10k, 5k’s (and I don’t even really like running)

Completed 13 Spartan Races

I am a certified Yoga instructor and teach 2-3 classes a week (best thing you can do for yourself… Body, Mind, Spirit…get on your mat)

I take 3 personal cross-fit oriented sessions a week.  (Joey Medina, best trainer on the planet –  (949) 382-0745)

Hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney (with a 37 lb sack), jumped out of an airplane, Rock climbed in Joshua Tree, ridden down Mt. Haleakala, Traveled much of the World.

Had the great fortune of playing in some great bands, most notably Eye Savant for 18 years and have opened for many major acts and headlined many shows as well

Filmed the “Ghost” video, perhaps my single most engaging adventure, ever.

Devoted Husband and father to two grown children Saving the best for last)

Okay, I’m going to shut up now as I’m starting to even bore myself here.

And PS:  For the record, I do not consider myself an over-achiever  .

 

What with owning a massively successful business, and very technical and specialized, when do you have time to write and where does inspiration come from to create music?

My wife Laura is a very understanding, active and non-needy woman.  We have our time together, but she respects that I have many things in my personal hemisphere (as does she) that are important to me.  So through that mutual respect and understanding, we fly.  We also share or have shared some of the activities listed above.  A 6 hour Spartan race provides some nice (and brutally interesting) time together as did the marathoning.  When I get home from work/workout, we will spend an hour or two watching TV.  And then it’s off to the home studio for me.  She is early to bed, early to rise and I am the exact opposite, so it works out perfectly.  Good news is if I decide to take the night off from the music, I finally find myself in complete control of the TV clicker at 10:00 PM as I mutter to myself, every time, “YES!!! There is a God!!!)  Additionally, I only sleep about 5 hours per night and I think that is too much.

 

As a rock musician, is that the style of music you listen to yourself, or?  What would a top 5 albums to chill to look like for Steven J. Vertun?

I am all over the board when it comes to music engagement.  I’ve always found inspiration not only from Rock in its many forms, but also within Classical, Blues, World, Electronica, etc.  Becoming a Yoga instructor brought me into a whole new genre of music as students are kind of disinclined to savasana to say Nirvana or QueensRyche.  Creating appropriate playlists has clearly widened my radar.  I also find that allowing these diverse musical elements into my filter allows particles to find their way into my overall artistic landscape.  It’s not specifically definable, but I know they are there.   We recently went to an Andrea Bocelli concert for Christmas.  It was amazing and I felt very creative when I got to my home studio.  Small shifts, unexpected impacts from all of them.

Top 5:  Only 5?  Ahh… depends of mood, etc.  but let’s call it my Desert Island Mix so I can get on with it:

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run  (This is the album that inspired me to get very serious about my music)

Pink Floyd: Animals (so many great albums from them, probably my favorite band of all time)

Rush Roll the Bones  (sonically awesome, melodic, amazing work, every song great)

Stevie Ray VaughnTexas Flood (really, just pick one, they all rock hard)

AustraliaHowie Day (Raw, open, balanced, an amazing album)

 

 

Batman or Superman?

I grew up reading both.  Anytime I was sick, my father would bring me home a fist full of comic books; fond memories of that.  As a Kid, I would have picked Superman. He can do anything with only one restriction.  Other than that he’s invincible.  But as I grew up (actually not really sure I have.  I always say “You’re only as old as you behave”.  My wife retorts, “well, then that makes you about 9”…she’s probably right) I began to appreciate Batman more because he is a real guy, with real blood flowing through his veins. Everything he does, he does or achieves comes from a completely human aspect with (arguably) human limitations.  That deserves total respect!  RESPECT!!!!   I’d like to be SuperBat given the option…

 

And, finally, any shameless plugs, upcoming shows, or deeply meaningful messages that you desperately need to share?

Shameless Plugs:  When was the last time you got to listen to some pretty decent music and do some good for others at the same time?  Go to my Website listed on this page.  Go buy (or pre-buy…CD release is Feb. 3rd) my CD, Ghost, Shadow and Sun.  Watch the Ghost Video and talk to me.

Message:  If anybody ever tells you you’re too old to ROCK…. You tell them… well… you know what to tell them!

If you made it this far, thanks for spending this time with me!

Rock on!

SJV

Connect with Steven J. Vertun:

Official Steven J. Vertun Website | Facebook | YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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