Kevin Steinman talks songwriting and the power of performing
Kevin Steinman is enigmatic in the quietest of ways. In a way, he is the physical embodiment of his music--sensitive, genuine, and utterly transparent. His latest album, Pre-Existing Condition, is due for release this Saturday at the Fine Line, and I caught up with Steinman to get all the details.
The album was out on April 26th, and it is a solidly produced compilation of folk-pop jams. Steinman has a stunning tenor that swells unexpectedly on tracks like the standout "Nothing Like The Sun" and that cuts lyrics crisply on tracks like "Understanding Eyes." These are folk-pop songs, playing on similar ground as Jeremy Messersmith and Chris Koza, but angled more on the pop side of things--as in, a little more mainstream. "Mainstream" here is not a dirty word; it just means Steinman has a broader reach for an audience, which is never a bad thing. Pre-Existing Condition is clear, its ambitions beautifully articulated; Steinman has a way of drawing the listener in with a few slow verses and then suddenly squeezing their heart by the first chorus line.
When I ask him about the title of the album, Steinman's response is multi-layered. "There's sort of a double meaning there for me," he begins. "I've been going through some health stuff for a couple years and I've been dealing with the American health system and I find it immoral that we have to pay for the healthcare that we do... and I didn't really want this album to be some sort of forum for that and it's not a political album at all, really, but that's there. And hopefully, it's also making a statement that love, in a way, is a pre-existing condition as well and that we bring past elements of our love relationships to our present love relationships whether we want to or not, and we have to sort through that." Steinman smiled, seeming somewhat abashed as I quickly recorded his thoughts. "Of course, people can take it to mean what they want it to mean. That's the great thing about art."
The great thing about Steinman is that although he is solidly rooted in the pop genre, he is a true folk singer in the storyteller sense--willing to share his heart with a stranger just for the sake of honest conversation, but still somehow without revealing too much of himself. He is the perfect interviewee. "Okay, tell me the blood and guts stuff," I ask him abruptly. "Give me that."
Steinman hardly blinks at my question. "All right," he grins slowly. "Well... Experientially, when I'm on stage singing, whether it's to a crowd of 50 people or 1,000 people, it's virtually the same feeling as near rapturous bliss." Steinman speaks slowly, sincerely. "I don't want to sound hokey, but it's transformative for me. It's a very, very powerful feeling that I can offer something that connects with people, that they respond to and enjoy."
The response that Steinman is hoping for?
"I would hope that what people get from my music that there are still artists expressing themselves earnestly and with optimism in regard to love, for instance, and other things," Steinman asserted. "I'm well aware of the loads of songs about broken hearts and a large portion of this record is in that vein, but I think most of it is about acknowledging heartbreak, and saying, 'I, for one, am going to commit with going onward and finding union with someone else, because I believe it's possible.'" Steinman smiled sheepishly. "And that's a long-winded way of saying I believe in optimism and love," he concluded.
Pre-Existing Condition will, in fact, give you reason to hope for something more--or maybe ache for something that's long gone, depending on where you are in the spectrum of love and heartbreak. And if anyone can convince the rest of us to still believe in love, it would be Kevin Steinman, with those clear-stringed bittersweet folk love songs. He should have no problem finding a willing audience.
Kevin Steinman will be playing at the Fine Line on May 14th at a dual-CD release show with Farewell Milwaukee. Openers are Rogue Valley and Joey Ryan. Doors 8 p.m. $12 cover.