Spotlight On... Edwin R Stevens
We catch up with Edwin R Stevens – the man behind Irma Vep, Klaus Kinski and Yerba Mansa – to talk about his forthcoming album, God On All Fours
Glasgow-based Edwin R Stevens has spent the last decade or so as one of the British underground’s most interesting, polymathic figures. Under his Irma Vep moniker he combined noise, lyrics that are equal part funny and sinister, with classical beautiful songwriting, whilst maintaining a part in countless bands over the years. Add to this a blossoming career in fiction, with his debut collection of shorts, SEAGULLS, being released in 2020 through Very Bon Books. As he readies himself to release God On All Fours, his debut record under his own name, we shine a spotlight on Edwin R Stevens.
God On All Fours is your first release under your own name after more than a decade in bands and releasing under the Irma Vep moniker, what prompted the shift?
Emyr Williams who runs Ankstmusik put out a record by Klaus Kinski, my band when we were 18, and he got in touch and asked me to put out an album under my own name. I’d never really thought about it ever, but he asked, and I’ve got a lot of love and respect for him, so I’ll do whatever he wants.
On the record, Clowns (For The Klaus Boys) is dedicated to Klaus Kinski, and there’s a couple of bits of re-recording of songs you’ve released before in other forms. Is there a sense of looking back and taking stock on the album?
Emyr asked for a record under my own name, and he also asked for a ‘soul’ album, but I wasn’t going to make a soul ‘genre’ album, so it took me a while to realise what that meant to me. I wouldn’t call it taking stock, but I brought together loads and loads of songs that felt like soul to me, that resonated with me very strongly. There’s a few songs on the record that are over ten years old and there are completely brand new ones, there are ones that I’ve brought back and pieced together from other things. Clowns was recorded for another album that never came out, and that’s just a tribute to them, and our lives in Wales, growing up together through everything that we went through. I don’t think I’d still be doing what I’m doing without them or Emyr.
There’s a little bit of All The Best, a song from Irma Vep’s 2013 album Deep Sea Fish, on Only Child, as well isn’t there?
Yeah, I always really liked that song, but what I’d written it about felt kind of bitter, that whole album that it’s off feels kind of bitter and annoying to me now. I was thinking about soul music and the music that had stayed with me from being 16, I was thinking about Cat Power, and she re-does a lot of her songs, so that’s what I was doing, re-contextualising it for myself.
Despite the change in sound you’ve stuck with your usual collaborators in DBH (Dan Bridgwood Hill) and Andrew Cheetham, what is it about them that keeps bringing you back?
I think it’s trust. Trust and fun times. Say with DBH – I’ve played with him for so long now, since I was 20, and he’s played on pretty much everything, that when I’m writing a song my brain goes to DBH sometimes and I know what he’ll do there is amazing. I know he knows what I mean to say. He’s just a genius. Then Andrew, everything I said with DBH, but we’ve been through a lot together touring-wise over the years, and he’s just an amazing person to have around. He’s a good barometer of if something’s shit or not. I really truly trust his opinion, and I know he’s the best drummer I’ve ever seen live in my life, and whatever he’s doing he wants to be the best. His standard’s insane, and I don’t have that.
Do you feel like focusing on fiction for a while has affected your songwriting?
I didn’t really realise until my friend Kieron was like, ‘It’s good to see you’re incorporating more of your fiction’, but I think I definitely have. Narrative-wise there’s a lot more to hold onto with the songs. I’ve mixed this record a lot better than my other ones so that you can actually hear what I’m saying, that makes a difference. There’s more story you can follow rather than being like a weird abstract blob or something. Medication Ran Out could have been a little short story, but was just a song I wrote around the time I was writing that book, so it definitely seeped in.
You were always very keen on recording and mixing everything yourself, has that remained the case with this record?
No. We recorded the drums in Anglesey at a studio with John Lawrence from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who’s one of my favourite guitarists ever, and he was really fun to work with, really got what we were doing. Then we recorded a bit at Green Door in Glasgow but the rest I did at home.
You’re on tour in November, is that going to be a full band or solo thing?
So Andrew’s going to play drums in Manchester, London, Liverpool, Nottingham. My friend Callum’s playing guitar at those gigs, my mate Jasper will play a bit of cello in London. It’s a bit of 'whoever can do it when'. Now I’ve got a child I don’t really have the capacity to organise people anymore, so I’m keeping it free and easy.
And looking forward, what’s next for you?
Me and Andrew have another Yerba Mansa record coming out next year sometime. Basically, I’ve got fuckloads of shit to do, and stuff I’ve done. It’s just my process has changed dramatically in terms of recording. Before I had all the time in the world but now I don’t have that luxury, which is good. It puts everything in a different perspective in terms of what I’m doing, because now I bore myself with my playing. The songs I’ve already got, I want to work out another way of doing it. But yeah, I’ve got so much shite, not even in a good way, but I’m gonna get it sorted and done.
God On All Fours is released on 10 Nov via Ankstmusik; Edwin R Stevens plays The Doublet, Glasgow, 19 Nov