Steve Hartlett is songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of Newtown, CT’s Ovlov. The band’s latest record buds is out now via Exploding in Sound.
Steve Hartlett is the songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist of the Connecticut rock band Ovlov; Alex Gehring is the bassist of the Austin, TX-based shoegaze band Ringo Deathstarr. After reaching out to the band via Instagram DM, Alex contributed back vocals to a few of the songs on Ovlov’s new album buds — out now via Exploding In Sound — so to celebrate its release, the two caught up about it.
—Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Steve Hartlett: This is really weird. I’ve never interviewed anyone before for anything, so I don’t know how this is gonna go.
Alex Gehring: [Laughs.] It’s all good.
Steve: OK, cool. Let me also say with my voice finally — because I’ve only said it to you through text — but thank you so, so so, so much for what you did on the album. It’s truly incredible, and I could never put to words how much it means to me. I’ll just leave it at that.
Alex: That’s so sweet, honestly. I mean, I’m the one who reached out to you, so I’m honored that y’all let me do this. It was very cool for me, so the feeling is very mutual.
Steve: That is just crazy to hear. I’ll never totally be able to accept its reality, but I’m trying.
Anyway — so again, I don’t know what I’m doing here as far as interviewing goes, but I think they wanted us to talk about what it was like working on the album together — even though we didn’t really at all. I guess I just wanted to ask you in general: What made you want to ask me that that day? Just because, at least publicly, there was no plans of any releases for me. So I was just like — I wouldn’t say thrown off, but it felt like
Alex: I was just shooting my shot! [Laughs.]
Steve: It felt out of the blue!
Alex: The timing just happened to be purely coincidental, I suppose. It was mid-pandemic and nothing was going on, I was missing making music. Elliott [Frazier] and Daniel [Coborn, Alex’s bandmates] had had babies, so music was not on their minds. I do not have any babies, music is still very much on my mind.
I was just dying to create with people who make stuff that I love. And so I was like, You know, I listen to a lot of Ovlov and I would love to maybe one day, if they would let me, lend vocals to a song. And just so happened that you were like, “Oh, my god, I have something and I would love for you to put some harmonies on it!”
The process was really unique for me. I haven’t done a ton of stuff like this before. But it was so cool that you just sent me the album and you were like, “Just pick whatever you want!” I put songs into my GarageBand, whichever ones I thought like, Oh, I think I have an idea, and just kind of recorded some first passes. And then I sent it over to you thinking, Oh, he’ll probably say, like, “I like this part, maybe not this part. Maybe we could like…” You know, I thought you were going to have some ideas to bounce back, but you were just like, “I love it.” [Laughs.]
Steve: It’s just surprising and funny to hear you say that you reaching out was, in your mind, a gamble whatsoever. Because to me, I would never dream of something like that happening. Like you said, the timing was so perfect, and I couldn’t think of anyone better — or at least that I might have the chance of getting in touch with. The only other person I could think of is Doja Cat, and she’s too famous, apparently. So I hold you in that regard.
Alex: Oh my god. [Laughs.] Did you try, at least?
Steve: When they asked who I wanted to interview, I said Doja Cat, and they said that might be too much. [Laughs.]
Alex: I do not blame you for trying, I love her.
Steve: I only started listening to her a couple of weeks ago, but I’m seriously obsessed. Anyhow, we don’t need to talk about her. So, could I ask why you picked the songs you picked in particular?
Alex: I listened through everything that you sent me, and the ones that jumped out to me, I had immediate ideas for. I do this with Ringo, too — if Elliott sends me a song and wants me to beef it up with some harmonies, I’ll listen to it and I’ll do a bunch of passes on GarageBand where I just record myself free form, trying to hum harmonies along, and I’ll see if something sticks.
The ones that I sent you back were the ones where I was able to come up with some harmonies that I felt did justice to a song versus just kind of muddled it, or I didn’t feel like it was needed. Not to say that my vocals are needed, but I felt like, Oh, I have this idea, and I feel like it fits kind of with what y’all are doing. And I’m hoping that it adds something in your eyes to what you’ve given me. I was so scared and nervous to send it back, and have you guys be like, “Oh, my god, you botched our song!” [Laughs.] I was honestly so grateful when you liked it.
Steve: I mean, I feel like I wouldn’t have even had to listen to them to decide that. But it’s part of why I was so down when you asked. I keep forgetting that you asked — that’s why it’s so weird to me.
Alex: Yeah, I wanted to be a part of it!
Steve: I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I mean, the first Ringo song I heard was “Summertime,” which obviously you sing the whole — does Elliot sing on it at all?
Alex: No, but he wrote it.
Steve: Regardless, it’s the first song of yours that I heard, and I immediately fell in love, and almost felt like I didn’t need to make music anymore because y’all were already doing what I was trying to do, or so I thought.
Alex: Well, I’m so glad you are making music, because I freakin’ love you guys. I listen to Stove too, I’m a fan girl. [Laughs.]
Steve: Hell yeah. So we played together in, like, 2011 or ‘12, I think?
Alex: Oh, my god, that’s crazy.
Steve: In Western Mass. That was the second time I’d seen you play, but I figure that was definitely all y’all’s first time seeing us rather.
Steve: But when did you start listening to us? Because I kept in touch with Daniel for a while after that show, but not so much either you or Elliott. I know you all played with Speedy [Ortiz] a lot, and Michael [Falcone, former Speedy drummer] was in Ovlov at the time that we played with you, so there’s a lot of different connections.
Alex: I’m sure it was probably just after seeing you guys live for-freaking-ever ago. Yeah. And then was like, Oh, I need to look these guys up and start listening. And then I was like, This is awesome. I love it.
Steve: That rules.
Alex: Long time listener, first time caller.
Steve: [Laughs.] Yeah, same. I remember it was maybe like 2015 or 2016, my childhood next door neighbor tagged me on Facebook — you posted out album, and were telling people to check us out, and I like could not believe it. It was also just such a weird, small world coincidence. I think that’s when I added you, and I saw one of your favorite quotes was a quote from Stella Shorts.
Alex: Oh, my god!
Steve: Which is, I think, the thing I’ve wanted to talk to you about more than anything ever since I saw that, because I’m constantly quoting shit from Stella Shorts.
Alex: OK, I have to tell you something that is so insane — I’m in LA right now hanging out with my boyfriend, and he’s been like, “We’re gonna have dinner with my friend David and his girlfriend Natalie.” And I was like, “OK, cool.” They’re coming over, and I’m glad that beforehand I was like, “OK, so wait, who are these people? Have I met them?” And he was like, “Oh, yeah, my friend David, he’s like a director and a comedian.”
Steve: Oh, my god.
Alex: “He did Wet Hot American summer and in all sorts of stuff.” And I seriously thought I was going to shit my pants. I was like, “He is not coming over here!” And I don’t get starstruck, but it was so exciting and I was trying to play it cool. And I don’t know if I did, but it was so cool.
Steve: No, I can’t imagine. Like I’m literally shaking right now, just hearing this story.
Alex: My boyfriend totally threw me under the bus at one point and was like, “Oh, yeah, Alex is a huge fan of yours.” And I was like, “It’s true!” You know, I thought I could play it cool.
Steve: [Laughs.] Oh, god.
Alex: He was so sweet. And I mean, I feel bad even talking about this. But he was so kind and down to earth, and it was a really wonderful experience to get to meet him, because I am obsessed with Stella and pretty much everything he does.
Steve: Likewise. I can only imagine — sorry to make you talk about that. I just I had to ask.
Alex: I mean, I had to bring it up once the topic of Stella came up — I was like, Oh, my god, I can’t wait to tell someone else that this just happened.
Steve: Exactly. I mean, that’s the thing, once you find someone that even knows Stella Shorts in particular, it’s like, Alright, this is a a special kind of person. We’re going to be friends in a different way. Because there’s so many situations in my life that I’m constantly trying so hard to not quote Stella, because I’ll just if they don’t know it, I’m going to sound like a crazy person.
Alex: I need to go back. I mean, it was definitely a whole period of my life where I was just watching Stella and Stella Shorts all the time. There was one year where I dressed up as DJ Douggpound from — I mean, he’s a guy, Doug Lussenhop, but he had his character DJ Douggpound from Tim and Eric, which is how I found out about him. I dressed up as him for Halloween one year, and the people who knew who I was, I was like, OK, we’re going to have similar personalities and a really good time chatting, I can tell. But a lot of people were like, “Are you a pizza man? What are you?” Sometimes that is kind of cool, to have those little niche nuggets that you can toss out, and if someone recognizes it, you’re like, “Oh, hell yeah! We have this common interest!”
Steve: Absolutely. It’s kind of the way I will test the waters with someone I’m becoming friends with. Are there any any bands that you feel that way about, like you can put it on just to see what this person says about it?
Alex: I don’t know. Honestly, I feel even just the term shoegaze — most of the time when people are like, “Oh, you’re in a band? What kind of music do you play?” I reluctantly will say shoegaze. Because most of the time, it’s met with like, “What is that?” And you’re like, “Well…” And then I feel stupid being like, “It’s like, uh…” I can’t even call it a genre — I’m on that shoegaze forum on Facebook, and it’s like, “It’s not a genre, it’s a scene!” [Laughs.] So I think there’s some shoegaze experts out there that might, you know, murder me for my explanation of what shoegaze is. But I am reluctant to tell people that that’s the style of music I play.
When I talk to a person and they’re like, “Oh, shoegaze, fuck yeah, I know what that is. I fucking love Cocteau Twins.” Cocteau Twins are like my all time number one, so if someone else is a fan of Cocteau Twins, I’m like, Alright, this is it, best friends for life.
Steve: Hell yeah, that’s a good example.
Alex: Being in my Austin bubble, I feel like everyone, at least my friends and kind of sphere, know what that is. And then my boyfriend lives in LA and I’ve been coming out here a lot and ben introduced to all of his friends, and they’re not necessarily music scene people. And that’s where I’ve been like, Oh, this is not a thing that people know. And now you just sound like a weirdo saying shoegaze and people are like, “What the fuck?” So every once in a while, someone would be like, “Yeah, I know shoegaze, that’s fucking awesome.” So I feel like that on its own is kind of one of those things.
Steve: Yeah, I could see that.
Alex: What about for you?
Steve: I’m reluctant to try and describe my own music for the same reasons. But as far as bands or music I’ll put on to try and get an indirect reaction to, like, judge someone — because I’m a bad person — I would say… For starters, this is kind of simple and not the craziest of tests in that regard, but Björk is one because I feel like people either love or hate, and there’s not so many people in between. But that’s also kind of a thing like, most people within my group of friends will love Björk, so that’s not the best example… I guess I should have thought about that more before I asked you. I didn’t expect you to throw it back at me.
Alex: Björk is a good one, but I feel like she’s also so famous and recognizable. But I feel like she is kind of divisive.
Steve: Thank you so much again, Alex. It was nice to catch up, in a way.
Alex: Yeah, it was so nice to chat with you!
Steve: I’ll stop saying thank you after this, but just thank you a million times for everything you do.
Alex: Oh, my god, you’re so welcome, and thank you! Maybe we can do some more stuff in the future.
Steve: Absolutely. I’ll have my agents get in touch.
Alex: [Laughs.] Have your people call my people!
(Photo Credit: right, Dylan O’Connor)