You may have wondered “Who’s that guy in Steph’s band? What’s his deal? Where did he come from?”
My name is Justin Birchard and I am that guy! My deal is that I love music, and I’m coming at you from Berwyn, Illinois (about 10 minutes West of downtown Chicago).
Now that Steph and I have been an official band for a few months, I figured it was a good time to introduce myself and talk about my role as a Plutopian.
I’ve been writing, recording, and performing with bands ever since I was a teenager back in the mid 90’s. Currently I play with three bands: Facing Winter, Invisible Cartoons, and of course Steph Yeager and the Plutopians. I also run a small record label called Seven Sided Records.
Steph and I have been friends for over ten years and we first started working on music together back in 2012 when I assisted with writing and recording her first album Campfire Sessions. We had a great time creating that album together, so I was very excited when Steph came to me with plans to record a follow-up album.
When we first started recording Steph’s newest songs we intended for them to be released as part of another Steph Yeager solo album. But as things progressed we realized there was potential for these new songs to be bigger, fuller, and more complex than we originally imagined. We were having a ton of fun writing and recording together so we figured “What the heck? We should be a band.”
And so here we are!
Part of what I love about the Plutopians is that it gives me an opportunity to write and play instruments that I don’t normally get to use in my other bands. In Facing Winter and Invisible Cartoons I primarily play guitar and sing, but in the Plutopians I get to play drums, bass, banjo, keys, mandolin, glockenspiel, and more. It’s been a thrilling challenge being able to work with instruments that are outside of my comfort zone. It’s hard work, but I’ve loved every minute of it and feel deeply proud of the songs we have been creating.
To give you an idea of how our process has worked, I’ll describe how we recorded one of our newest tracks Be Love. First, Steph recorded her vocals and an acoustic guitar at my studio in Illinois, then several months later I began adding instrumentation. The reason it took so long to begin writing/recording the additional parts is that there were other songs we wanted to release first. We were heavily focused on finishing our singles Anchor Town, Travelin Towards A Dream, and Wild, so we weren’t able to work toward finishing Be Love until all of those songs had already been released. At this point Steph had long-since returned to Montana, and there weren’t going to be opportunities for us to rehearse and write together in the same room. Living hundreds of miles apart has its challenges, but it has also opened up unique creative opportunities.
For Be Love I decided it would be best to start by adding drumset. So everyday after work I would head to my studio and play drums along to Steph’s previously recorded vocal and acoustic guitar tracks. After many hours of sweaty solo rehearsals and late-night recording sessions, I finally captured the beats I was hearing in my head. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but it took me more than 50 takes to finally get it right! The drum part is not exceptionally complex, but given my modest experience as a drummer, I had to work extra hard to be able to pull it off.
Usually after the drums are finished I begin writing bass. I listen carefully to how the kick and snare are interacting with Steph’s voice and I try to use the bass to enhance the existing groove and accentuate Steph’s melodies. After the drums and bass were complete for Be Love, Steph and I were able to better visualize the song as a whole. We evaluated what we’d tracked so far and realized that there was an opportunity for some electric guitars, glockenspiel, and backup vocals.
It’s tricky, but our goal is to make it sound as if all of the parts were written and recorded in the same room at the same time. In reality, most of the instruments were written at different times in different rooms across multiple different cities (I’ve moved twice already since we first started recording!).
After tinkering around with various other ideas, Steph and I felt confident that all the pieces were in place for Be Love, so I began mixing. A few weeks later the song was completely done and you can hear it now on our our brand new EP Rise!
Another thing I love about being a Plutopian is that (as I’m sure you’re aware) Steph is a wildly talented and prolific songwriter. Her voice is a shimmering example of passion and authenticity. Not only that, but she’s a damn hard worker with a deep and generous heart. As someone who has been working in the music scene for a long time I can confidently say that Steph’s combination of talent and dedication is EXTREMELY rare. It’s an amazing opportunity and a true honor for me to be able to be in this band with her.
In 2019 Steph and I plan to release an EP at the start of each season. We released Rise on the first day of Spring and the next EP will release on June 21st, the first day of Summer.
One thing you may not know about us- we are nearly 100% DIY. We record and mix our own music. We design and personally manufacture our cds, packaging, posters, and stickers. We book all of our shows, and we built our website. For anything that we can’t accomplish ourselves, we hire local, independent artists (like the wonderfully talented Reva Fullofit who created our Single and EP artwork by hand).
Being able to accomplish all of this with only two people means that we can really make the most of every dollar. But there’s no way we would be able to reach our goals without the support of our friends, family, and fans (we’re talking about YOU)!
If you like what we’re doing and want to help us continue, you can become a Patron by pledging at patreon.com/plutopians. Even pledging $1 per month goes a long way and would mean an incredible amount to us.
We love you. Thank you for being part of what we’re doing.