What exactly is :STEREO HIDEOUT:?

On next week’s FUSE concert, one of my :STEREO HIDEOUT: songs will be played by Beauty Slap, the vocalists and the Pittsburgh Symphony. What a thrill indeed. It was the perfect opportunity because the song samples the “Tuba Mirum” of Verdi’s Reqiuem, a movement that makes use of an augmented brass section. The four Beauty Slap brass players perfectly provided that extra instrumentation. How fun that those gentlemen, who study and play with the brass players of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, will have a musical interplay with them on stage (the original Verdi makes use of a dialogue between four offstage trumpets and the brass section on stage).

:STEREO HIDEOUT: is a brand concept I created a few years ago. It represents the meaningful synthesis of high and pop art, and it is the space in which all my hybrid ideas live. Make sense? Didn’t think so.

I thought in this post I’d give a little background on how :STEREO HIDEOUT: came to be. In order to do so, I need to take you through a brief history of my career as a singer/songwriter. Buckle up and go easy on the judgement, if you don’t mind.

My earliest songwriting relied on the techniques I had developed to that point: playing the piano, singing harmonies, arranging and some fluency in classical composition:

I obviously needed to graduate beyond just a solo piano as instrumentation, so I began playing around with MIDI instruments — computerized versions of acoustic instruments. Not the way to go, if you are wondering:

So I started playing with real pop musicians. But by this time I had hooked up with these managers that wanted me to write commercial, hit music [aka the search for more $$$]. So most of what made me interesting as a writer went out the window, and you ended up with garbage like this:

Trying to find the right emoji but I don’t think this blog supports it.

Then I got into Philadelphia soul music (which was a blast). And I got even better at writing straight-up pop songs. And I spent a bunch of investors’ money producing an album that was supposed to, bustling with the cutting edge sound of the late 2000s, introduce me as the next Justin Timberlake (that can’t dance)… but instead it sounded like a 1970 Hall and Oates record. Womp womp:

(Incidentally, many of the string players on that record have soloed with the Pittsburgh Symphony! And the rhythm section guys played in Pharrell’s band. Just letting you know how difficult it was to screw up that situation.)

Around this time I went on American idol. I got through Hollywood Week but eventually got canned. This was an important moment, because I realized… hmmm… maybe I shouldn’t be trying to be a pop star…. After all, I had signed my life away to these people — and they said “no thanks” [I’ll never forget that contract that states they own you in all territories on this planet and in this galaxy and beyond, accommodating for the expansion of the universe and just letting you know that even if you somehow go into warp speed — they still gotcha].

So I decided to get back to who I was as a writer and an artist, and re-incorporate some of the classical style that was in my earlier writing. I also decided to team up with some stellar vocal talent. That came in the form of Will Post, who you all know from the FUSE@PSO series. Will and I started a group together called The Enright Hotel, where I did the majority of the writing and Bill did the majority of the production, and we sang in harmony. Kind of like a modern-day Simon and Garfunkel — but I leaned on his incredible vocals.

The Enright Hotel was huge for me. It freed me of the “commercial” mindset I had for a couple years, and enabled me to find my sweet spot as a writer. It taught me that the most effective way to communicate to an audience is to be authentic. No one is going to be convinced if you aren’t.

Bill and I had some amazing times but we both had to move on to other things; he was recruited by a nationally touring band and I started to conduct much more.

I took a look at where I was musically with The Enright Hotel and wondered how to take it one step further. What if I could actually incorporate classical music, instead of just being reflective of its values? What if, instead of using a synth pad or a string chord, I could find the perfect isolated moment of classical music and write over that? What if I stitched together a pastiche of such moments? This was the origins of :STEREO HIDEOUT:. The first thing I did was a series of studies, just exploring the production space of classical music and modern production:

From there I began planning an album, which would become The Radio Nouveau. The song “Radio Nouveau” best represents that pastiche technique I mentioned before. This song was written at the keyboard, which traditional “chords.” But in the production, I substituted moments of Debussy for every chord:

The first album ended up being an exploration as well — only by the end of the process did I feel like I had identified and developed several techniques for creating this hybrid world. I am now implementing them.

That brings us just about up to date — wow. That was both liberating and mortifying. How was it for you?

Much more will be coming about :STEREO HIDEOUT: in the next few blog posts, with reference to the Stravinsky’s Firebird: Remix | Response show on March 9.

In the meantime, here’s a final :STEREO HIDEOUT: offering. It illustrates the journey described here:

— Steve Hackman, Creative Director of FUSE@PSO, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
www.pittsburghsymphony.org/fuse | www.stevehackman.com​ | @stereohideout 

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Jan 21