For the better part of a decade, guitarist/vocalist Steve Hartlett has been consistently churning out impeccable guitar music and amassing an impressive catalog of distortion-drenched cult classics while fronting college rock stalwarts Ovlov, as well as Stove—an endeavour that’s allowed Hartlett to explore a different side of all things catchy and fuzzed-out. Initially a solo project, Stove has bloomed into a full-fledged band with the additions of drummer/vocalist Jordyn Blakely, bassist Alex Molini, and guitarist Mike Hammond.
I first started getting into music when I was in middle school and, pretty soon after that, I started playing guitar, because my step-dad played guitar. That was eighth or ninth grade, and because I was just getting into guitar, I started getting into Jimi Hendrix; I feel like this story is so cheesy, but it’s the truth, and I guess you can’t hide from the truth. Listening to Hendrix, I heard Mitch Mitchell’s playing, and I had never heard drums played like that before. I felt this shift in me—I wanted to play drums.
I think, also, I got a little discouraged with guitar. With guitar, it was always about shredding and being the best player—especially at that age—and I didn’t really have that many friends who were girls who played music, so it always felt like some sort of competition. Also, I was just completely bored learning scales. I was like, “This isn’t fun. I just want to learn Green Day songs and jam.” I think I was too shy to write my own songs, and I didn’t want to be a singer. I thought that if I play drums, I can still be a part of music, but I don’t have to write and be the focus, because that’s too much for me. Playing drums was just fun, and there was an energy to playing that felt exciting in a way guitar didn’t.
I can’t remember the exact moment I became obsessed with drums, but I know that I had begged for a drum set for Christmas for forever, and then once I got one I was obsessed. I wanted to learn the exact parts of my favorite drummers; I wanted to learn their exact fills. I think I’m attracted to how drummers can sound so different while using the same tools, and how you can really express yourself so loudly; I just wanted to learn their language. I learned the punk stuff from Travis Barker and Tre Cool, then that kind of hypnotic style from Geoff Barrow from Portishead, all the fast shreddy stuff from Zach Hill and Brian Chippendale, and then, later, just tried to take everything I could from jazz players like Max Roach and Gene Krupa.
When I joined Stove, I was already a really big fan of Ovlov—I knew them from The City EP—which is funny to think about, that there was a time where I was like, “Ovlov’s playing? Oh my god, I’ve got to go!” They were always breaking up and then getting back together, and I was always missing my chance to see them. I played in this band called Butter The Children that played a couple shows with Ovlov, and we had this drum beat that was very similar to the one in their song “The Well.” So Steve Hartlett asked me to fill-in for Ovlov for a couple months, and I was super psyched, but then we just got along really well and played together really well.
When Steve told me Stove was happening, he said that he wanted me to play in it. I was really excited about it. He already had people from Washer playing with him, and I was doing other projects then, so it took a while to come together. At first, I saw it as me just playing these parts, because it’s Steve’s thing and he writes a lot of the drum parts, but then we started to get a little more comfortable with each other and it became a little less formal. Steve isn’t super precious about his songs. If he has a new song, there’s this unspoken trust that I can come up with my own parts and that it will work.
Playing in Stove, I start thinking of every option and not just going with my first instinct. How busy can it get? How simple can it get? How can I meet in the middle? Then Steve would ask me to sing on songs, and I slowly started picking up the guitar again and brought those songs to Stove. That’s how “Duckling Fantasy” came together.
I’ve been in Stove for a long time and it’s sort of like a long term relationship—there’s ups and downs, and it can be complicated, but I’ve tried to find a way to explain why playing with Stove is so special and different from other things. It’s been hard to explain, but what I’ve realized is that I feel like I can be myself when playing this music. It doesn’t ever feel like I have to do things I don’t want to do with Stove. There’s so many times people have asked me to play drums in their band, but they just want me to play like someone else. And I can do that, but it’s just not as fun, and I don’t think it’s as pure or genuine as what I get to do with this band. Steve never puts pressure on me. Even if I fuck up horribly at a show, he wouldn’t say, “You fucked that up.” It’s just like, “Who cares? It’s fine.”
With Stove, there’s never a time where it feels like a chore or a job. When I started playing in bands, it was just with my friends and for fun, and Stove feels that way to me, too. That’s part of why I’ve been into guitar now and writing again, because it feels like a comfortable space and like a release again. Music is such a weird language, and it can be a hard thing to communicate. But with Stove, it’s just easy. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s how rare that is to find.
As told to David Anthony.