Stepson // Jayden Ridley

The best-case scenario for bassist/singer Jayden Ridley and the rest of Stepson moving into the release of their debut record this month, ‘Help Me, Help You’, is that people connect with some of the songs’ earnest emotional messages, hoping that fans find it to be a refreshing, diverse release for the Queensland group. After everything that happened in 2020, seeing Stepson (like countless other artists) cancel and change plans on the fly, resulting in the nine or so month delay of this debut LP they’ve been sitting on for so long, they’ll take what they can get at this point. Looking at its singles – set staple ‘Come With Me,’ ‘The Entire History Of You,’ ‘Run‘ (which we premiered in 2020 when the album was originally announced), and the terrific ‘Deeper Sleep’ – Stepson have pieced together this record with a mindset of no two songs sounding too much alike. Two weeks out from release, Jayden tells me everything about the honest, dynamic life that Stepson are about to excitedly bring into the world come March 26th. 

Stepson’s debut album has been a long time coming now, Jayden. But with it getting pushed back from the middle of last year to this month, has that time between the original release date and now seen any shift in how you and the band view these songs, whether lyrically or musically, positively or negatively? Do you have different thoughts about these tracks from when they were first written to now as they’re about to be released? 

I think as a whole the band has started viewing these as ‘old songs’ which is pretty funny considering they’re yet to be released. I think this is in due part to us demoing new music during the shutdown of the world. As an artist looking back you always think of little things you could have done differently but if we all kept doing that nothing would ever get released. As a band, we’re really proud of our rollercoaster of a record and personally, I wouldn’t change a thing. In saying that if there was one more delay I’m sure we would rage and burn it all to the ground because we just want to finally release this fucking thing.

Let’s chat about the album’s title, ‘Help Me, Help You.’ I like the title’s idea of a symbiotic relationship or a shared form of communication. That helping another can gain us some kind of closure for yourself or learn a lesson. Looking at the singles, this ranges from experiences of relationships ending, how to cope with breakups and loss, mental health struggles, and family issues. I’d love to know how accurate my assessment is and if there’s anything that you’d want to share to better highlight what this new album is addressing?    

That’s a pretty spot-on assessment! Going into the writing process we didn’t have an album name or themes we wanted to explore, we just knew we wanted to make sure the album was different and never write the same song twice. When all the songs were finished it felt like a collection of songs that people could really attach to and Brock [Conry, vocals] came to the group and said guys I’ve been trying to brainstorm different names but keep coming back to “Help Me, Help You.” We’re all in this together right? Hopefully, this collection of songs can help people feel a little less alone.

I want to ask about the album’s cover art real quick. Why the little girl alone? Why the park bench? Why the mask? Why the bouquet of flowers? WHY?

Hahaha, your question kinda demonstrates exactly what we wanted. We were so stumped on album art but knew we wanted something eye-catching, strange and to provoke thought. If you see the album art and find yourself left wondering then it’s in your head and you won’t forget it. We really liked the juxtaposition of the innocence of youth, the beautiful aesthetic of flowers against the creepiness of the mask and the fact that she is there alone. We wanted it to be pretty open-ended: is she getting ready for the funeral of a loved one? Who is she waiting for? It was created to provoke thought and questions and it’s done its purpose! We hope it’s instantly recognisable as THAT Stepson album years from now.

I’ve followed Stepson since the melodic hardcore days of the first two EPs, and really enjoyed the changes and embellishments – big and small – that the band has made since. Especially how you guys have blended the electronica-pop of ‘The Beautiful Lie’ EP (love that shit) with the style of the older songs, like Come With Me. Something I really like about Stepson’s material since that particular EP. Is there any more of that fusion heard on this new record, or maybe any other interesting hybrid sounds the band has explored that you can clue me in on? 

Definitely! We wanted to go pretty out there with ‘Help Me, Help You’. Before we started, we thought about all the debut albums from REALLY good bands that kinda fell short and felt like three singles and filler – we didn’t want to fall for that same trap. So we thought let’s just write some songs that we enjoy and go from there. For a while there, it definitely felt like we might have fucked up, listening to the demo’s we were like “maybe this is too much of a mixed bag?” But thankfully after Brock and I applied the vocals and we polished the instrumentals it became, what’s in my opinion, exactly what Stepson is. This album is a rollercoaster with crescendos and falls with a random loop to throw you off every now and then and I hope people find it super refreshing. Granted you probably won’t love EVERY song on this record, but I can guarantee EVERYONE will at least have something on it that they can fuck with.

I saw a recent tweet from you Jayden, saying how you yourself weren’t even sure what Stepson are anymore. When I see those kinds of comments from people about their own bands, it’s rarely accurate: just people believing their own hype. But with Stepson, there’s truth to that. The three singles (four counting ‘Come With Me’) have all been rather different from one another in tone and feel; ‘Deeper Sleep’ also being a great example of the bands growing musicality. So how did you and the band plot out any varying influences and genre-splicing for the record? Was there a conscious effort made to blend any particular styles or were such moments serendipitous?

I honestly wish we could say that there was a master plan, but outside of ‘No song sounds the same’ it was all kind of a happy accident? We just winged it and wrote a bunch of songs that we liked and it turned out to be our most complete body of work to date. Brock & I definitely had the ambition of being more experimental and introducing new things vocally to our sound, whether it be myself having solo choruses to shine or Brock taking the reins for a “clean” chorus or layering our screams together to get some extra chunk to it.

I find there’s a problem in alternative music – melodic hardcore, metalcore, pop-punk, grunge-revival, emo, whatever – of romanticising depression or pain. That the only value an artist’s work can have is when they’re bearing their trauma for us. There’s obviously nothing wrong with making a serious and honest, cathartic record, many people need that release, but I do think it creates this stigma in some listeners and in some bands that that’s the only way to create. Just that whole dumb “sadboi” phenomena of the 2010s. What’s your take on all that? Have you and Stepson ever broached that topic? Have you felt that way about your music?  

It’s definitely a thing, for us it wouldn’t feel authentic to sing about something that wasn’t real to us, that we haven’t experienced ourselves y’know? But we try to deliver it in a way that is super relatable to anyone. It’s something we’re still working on but we’ve definitely talked about wanting our songs to be a release and comfort vs. the whole sadboi stigma of ‘I feel like shit, so I’ll listen to music about feeling like shit.’ The song ‘Say something’ on our album is definitely us trying to break that stigma and having a more positive approach to topics such as depression and anxiety which are often very sombre and taboo. I think people who are struggling will really connect to that and hope it can be more of a shining light vs the romance of feeling low. It’s okay to not be okay, but one day we will get there.

Last question, I want to chat about your vocals. Your singing has crept more and more into Stepson’s sound over the last couple of years, and I’ve loved seeing that. Seeing Stepson live during those first two EP cycles, you would provide plenty of backing vocals, and over time, your singing has become more and more prominent in the songs. Was that a push from you or a move out of necessity to help out and contrast Brock’s vocals? What’s your singing history like? How do you feel about the added role alongside playing bass, from when you first started doing it in Stepson to it now being a core part of the music?

Thanks mate! I think it kinda just naturally developed. Brock has an incredible voice but as soon as he tries hitting some of those high notes his voice cracks into a scream, we just wanted more dynamics and contrast to our sound and the more we worked on it the more we realised our voices definitely compliment each other. I feature pretty heavily on ‘Help Me, Help You’ which is pretty cool considering my singing history is very minimal, I use to front a shitty metalcore band and did seagull squarks for screams and that was about it, doing the ‘cleaner’ singing in Stepson just slowly started happening and I had to learn out of necessity because I was the “Least shit” out of all of us. It definitely added a bit of pressure live because now I have two dedicated roles and I’m probably the least musically gifted member of the band, but from when we first started to now, I’m really proud of how far I’ve come and I know I’m nowhere near my ceiling. I’m keen to explore it even more in future music!

Stepson’s debut album, ‘Help Me, Help You,’ is out March 26th.

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