Catch up with Matt Babers of San Diego-based trio Steal Away and listen to the band's new single, "Flower Shop" featuring Brooke Ehlert, out now.
What got you guys interested in starting a band?
Matt: We've been playing together since we were little kids. My mom was always in bands and all of that stuff, so she got us into orchestra and band when we were really young in elementary school and as we were getting older into middle school, one of my friends gave me a Jimi Hendrix CD of his greatest hits and that was pretty much it. I was in 7th grade and my brother was in 6th grade and I came home, put the headphones on his head, and was like, 'listen to this!' and we just both started freaking out listening to "Purple Haze" and "Fire". Then we just started playing guitar and messing around and trying to imitate all of our favorite people ourselves and, by the time we got to high school, we were able to actually write a song and started playing a little bit more. We grew up in Tucson, Arizona and once we graduated high school we came out to California to give it a shot and see what we could make out of being in a real band [laughs] instead of just messing around like when we were kids.
Do you remember the first song you guys wrote?
Let me think... I mean, not really... Actually [laughs], yeah I do remember - it had a funny name. It was called "Benjamin Franklin's Key" and we thought that was a cool name because I thought it was like Benjamin Franklin's key that he actually tied to the kite and my brother was a little bit more musically inclined and thought that it was the key you were playing in type of thing, so he thought that was a cool play on words. I actually forgot about that up until just now but, yeah, I guess that was one of our first songs and it was this little punk rocky song. Now that you've mentioned it, we can probably still play it but, yeah, that was one of the ones that we first wrote. We always just forget about one song after the other when we come up with another one, but that was probably the one that started it all off and I always remember that because it had that funny, weird name, "Benjamin Franklin's Key".
Where does your name, Steal Away, come from?
We're huge classic rock fans, like I was saying. Right after we got into Jimi Hendrix and got into high school, we got obsessed with Led Zeppelin and there's a song called "How Many More Times" and there's a famous live rendition of it and they have a breakdown in the middle of the song and Robert Plant just goes into a vocal solo and he yells, 'steal away, steal away my baby,' and it's sort of like an old blues phrase - a lot of guys used to say, 'steal away to Jesus,' or that type of thing and it was an old blues guitar, Robert Johnson type of thing - and Led Zeppelin were always big blues guys. I was growing up watching these live performances of Led Zeppelin and they would always say 'steal away' in the middle of one of my favorite songs and I always just thought that was the coolest little two name phrase and I figured anybody that was as obsessed with Led Zeppelin as we were would be able to figure out the little code there and we'd be able to identify our friends anywhere we went if they could pick that out.
Other than Hendrix or Zeppelin, which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
Growing up it was a lot of classic rock stuff like Tom Petty, Queen, The Eagles - in addition to Hendrix and Zeppelin - and stuff like that. As we were getting a little bit older, we grew up right in the heart of that 90's super pop rocky stuff, but we actually listened to more of the harder stuff like The Offspring, Third Eye Blind, The Spin Doctors, Blues Travelers, and a lot of that really good, not too hard core, good, solid rock music. We're kind of classic rock weird guys, so pretty much anything where they're playing guitars, hitting real drums, and do a good live show.
Any current artist you're hooked on?
As far as just really big ones, probably Kings Of Leon - I'm all about those guys. A lot of the local San Diego bands around here are doing some great stuff. I have a massive list of all the music I'm listening to but everything at the top of my list is just nothing but all this old classic stuff like Bowie and Rush... Elle King I actually really like - she's got that song "America's Sweetheart" - she's kind of like a folk rocker chick. I just like a lot of that folk rocky stuff like Edward Sharpe and, if you wanted to go super folk rocky, Mumford & Sons, stuff like that. Pretty much anybody that's keeping it a little bit more authentic as far as their instrument selections. Anybody that's playing a guitar and writing and singing, even if they can't play or sing that well, I'd rather just listen to somebody that's really trying to put their heart out and do something real with it. There's a lot of what I call 'disposable music' stuff coming out, as far as the pop rap genres and really, really pop-y stuff, so anything that's writing and singing and playing, we're pretty much into it.
What words would you use to describe your own sound?
I had it written down just 'cause it was funny the way somebody said it one time: a catchy blues based surf punk pop rock type of sound. I thought that was funny because it was pretty descriptive as far as pulling words from every genre, but I like that. All of my lyrics are pretty catchy and fun to sing along with and it's always nice to express yourself and the deeper, darker things that you've got going on but, for the most part, we like to make music that makes people happy and is fun to sing along to or play and lighten everybody's mood and take everybody out of the stuff that they're dealing with day in and day out. Some of the songs that we listen to, like Lana Del Rey or whoever it is, have these really heavy songs and it's relatable and definitely touching, but it's a little too much at times. We like to have a simple poignancy in our sound and our style; make it relatable, make it authentic but, at the same time, try to cheer everybody up a little bit, even if it's depressing.
What was your inspiration behind your single, "Flower Shop"?
My brother Chris wrote that one and [laughs] we actually give a posthumous credit to our old dog that passed away. We used to have a really killer dog and he used to sleep in my brother's room and my brother was writing a song in his room and came up with this weird version of the B chord that "Flower Shop" starts on and he was just playing it in an odd way in a weird place on the neck and found that little melody that's the basis for the song and he said that the dog's ears perked up and that's when he knew it was a good song and that was a done deal. He was just writing that one just trying to touch on the eternal struggle of every girl or every guy that has that person they have a crush on. It's not too big of a deal in real life, but when you're actually thinking about going to get some flowers and trying to make a move or let somebody know how you feel, it's actually pretty intimidating and it's that type of thing that people always have to deal with, no matter how old or young they are. He was going along, playing this melody, and he just wanted to extrapolate that little idea of always being having to be scared of going to get a girl flowers and everything that goes along with that. Then, we came up with that girl/guy dynamic of picking flowers up at the flower shop instead of actually just giving the flowers to the person and I guess that was the metaphor we wanted to go with: all they gotta do is just give the flowers to the other person and the other person is thinking the exact same thing and they're just a little too scared to bridge that gap but, hopefully, they end up together. I feel like that's the story of everybody's life.
Can you tell us more about your video for "Flower Shop"?
It's just me, my brother, and Brooke Ehlert, who we filmed it with - she's the girl that we featured. I was buddies with her older brother and we used to hang out a lot and he told me, 'dude, my sister's got a killer voice,' so we chose to sing with her and she was absolutely incredible and we cut that song and it only took us one or two sessions and she was awesome. We ended up filming the video and we did it at the Newport with some guys up there that are doing a lot of good work and hopefully he'll be making a name for himself - Erick Sanchez directed that video. I think we're going to have an exclusive release and then we're going to release it worldwide.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I just like people to know what we're going for is relatability on a real, real level. Whenever we're listening to music that we like, it makes you feel like you're not the only one in whatever fashion that may be; whether it's a love song or a sad song or a happy song, everybody likes to know that somebody out there is feeling the way they feel and it's always nice if somebody can put it in a way that's figured out how to phrase it a little bit better than you did and I just want to put out music that really makes people feel like they have a voice in it also. That's what we're going for and our songs are everybody's songs and when we write them we like to say we find the songs. They're already out there and all we have to do is uncover them and everybody else in the world has whatever it is inside of them that will identify with and get them excited about that too. All we gotta do is just go out there and find that song, show it to everybody else, and I always feel like, deep down inside, some part of somebody everywhere is going to have that same sort of reaction. We just really like to make sure that everybody can take something away in that regard, that they're not the only one to feel some way and somebody is out there feeling the same way that they do.