STEVENSTEVEN’s Steve Burns was an aspiring musician before he ever starred on Nickelodeon’s hit TV series Blue’s Clues. At some point in junior high school, he discovered seminal rock albums like The Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come, Fugazi’s 13 Songs and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands. From then, he realized that he wanted to do that—whatever “that” meant—with music, too.
Last month, Burns released his first full-length record with Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, a psychedelic romp through childlike imagination called Foreverywhere . Although the two had met in the early-2000s when Burns was recording his first album of original music at a studio in upstate New York owned by The Lips’ producer Dave Fridmann, this project was only finalized recently, after years of back-and-forth collaboration.
After a hilariously fun session in our New York studio, we caught up with STEVENSTEVEN on everything from “lonely unicorns” to child psychology.
You told us in your amazing Paste Studio Session that you two have known each other for years. How did you originally meet?
Steve Burns: I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Lips producer Dave Fridmann. I essentially worshipped The Soft Bulletin at that time and had a few demo songs and somehow, unimaginably, found the nerve to send them along for a listen. Dave heard them and called me and asked if I’d want to work on a few of them with Steven. I pretty much ran from Brooklyn to Fredonia, New York. I couldn’t believe it. I was kind of afraid to meet Steven, honestly, but we were instant pals.
Steven Drozd: That’s pretty much it. We hit it off immediately and I remember being pleasantly surprised at how unguarded I instantly felt. Feeling unguarded when trying to make art is a very valuable thing, so I made a note to myself that this guy would be someone to look forward to.
Steven, you mentioned your kids grew up with these songs as you guys were writing and testing. Did they grow up with Blue’s Clues? Did their preferences serve as a measure for success for these songs?
Drozd: The beginning of the project was me being more focused on trying to help Burns on “I Hog The Ground” and I wasn’t necessarily thinking of my own kid(s). My son Daniel was born in 2005 and my daughter Charlotte in 2008, so…by the time we were in full swing of the project I definitely thought of them and their reactions to all of the stuff as we were making it.
Both of my kids loved Blues Clues, but they also watched 10 other shows (like Laurie Berkner, WonderPets and Little Bear), so I felt like I knew what the competition was! Gosh I could go on and on! But back to your question, it was wonderful to know that I was going home and playing this music for them. Daniel doesn’t remember now but when we were working on “If You’re Ginormous And You Know It” with Rick The Giant, he would go insane when he heard Rick’s voice. It’s funny he has no recall of that!
How and when did you come up with the concept for Foreverywhere?
Burns:** I knew I wanted to do something narrative, if possible. We wrote “The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow” and that idea seemed like it could really span a whole album—a forgotten mythical creature who is now all alone and decides to spend the rest of eternity looking for love. Hmmm…interesting [feigns calling therapist].
Drozd: This is where I am pleased and very thankful that I am more the musical focus and less the cerebral/lyrical/concept person! Burns had come up with Foreveryone, which I thought was fantastic already- then a few weeks later he called, very excited and wanted to change it to Foreverywhere, splitting and combining “forever” and “everywhere” that really seemed to me to capture some essence of all the different characters and stories on the record. I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it/heard it.
Blue’s Clues meant so much to a generation, and now the kids who were devotees to the show are starting to have their own kids! Why decide to focus on that demographic—kiddos—with this newest project? What is it about kids that inspires such creativity from you?
Burns:** I always felt like I had more in the tank I guess. I didn’t create Blue’s Clues, I was just the actor they hired to facilitate their curriculum, but I did develop my own point of view in that job. I was always an advocate for more sophisticated humor and social themes.
I think a lot of us in attendance (and tuning in online!) during your session really appreciated the discussion about what “kids music” really is. Not to get too deep in child psychology, but what do you think constitutes “kids music” and why do you think is it important for people to challenge that perception?
Burns:** I don’t think there’s a huge difference between what makes music great for kids and what makes music great for adults. At least, I don’t’ think there has to be. There’s plenty of overlap!
Drozd: The distinction between “kids” music and not seems to be less and less all the time. For me and my family, it literally is less because my kids are getting older. But they’ve always loved all the music that my wife and I love, and there are only a few things I wouldn’t play for my kids. But there are so many things that work for a child as much as an adult. My son has loved Belle & Sebastian and Black Sabbath since he was a baby. My daughter has sung to Dolly Parton and Elton John and Eurythmics since the time she was able to form a melody.
Actually, as a funny sidebar, when my kids were very little we theorized/joked that they were The Beatles (Daniel) versus The Rolling Stones (Charlotte)!
One of the things I love about this project is how it seems to balance nostalgia (Blue’s Clues, obviously, and the fact that many of us who grew up with the show have also been listening to the Lips for a decade or two) and progressivism in both riffage and lyrical content. Were those intentional concepts in the creation of this record?
Burns:** That is a happy coincidence, but I’ve always felt there was a really clear line from what I used to do to what the Lips were doing in 1999 with the costumes, puppets, explosive narrative story telling, etc. I think the Lips have written some incredible kids songs, intentionally or not, like “The Big Ol’ Bug Is The New Baby Now,” “When You Smile,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” Buggin, This Here Giraffe,” just to name a few.
Drozd: It’s all part of the greater consciousness of all of us that try not to be guarded about music, emotions and wonderment. Working with Wayne Coyne definitely prepared me for feeling free to do all of this stuff.
I gotta ask….is the name of the project supposed to be like STEVE-’n’-STEVEN or are you both Stevens for the purpose of a band?
Burns:** I keep forgetting. I’m reasonably sure that it was Steve-’n’-Steven, as you said. Steven does not prefer to called Steve, and I prefer to be called Steven but will forever be known as Steve so in SteveNSteven I would be Steve and Steven would be Steven.
Drozd: [At first] it was Steve and Steven, then Steve&Steven, then StevenSTEVEN. I have always called Burns “Steve” and he calls me “Steven” or “Drozd,”so it’s a little confusing. At one point I wanted it to be like a 1970’s soft rock band name like “England Dan And John Ford Coley” or “Loggins and Messina,” but “Burns and Drozd” is pretty boring, so, STEVENSTEVEN!