Small Feet ‘s Stalhamre Talks Wilderness, Labels and More

Small FeetNew York - I had the chance to chat with Simon Stalhamre of Small Feet just after he’d performed his first NYC gig at Pianos in the Lower East Side. We talked about finding the right label, recording in the wilderness and his longtime affinity for the English language.  

Firstly, how did you come up with the name Small Feet?

Simon Stalhamre: I don’t know where that started. I just wanted a humble name. I didn’t want a fucking cool name. I didn’t want to be Broad Sword. But then awhile after we named it Small Feet I was like fuck I kind of want to be Broad Sword now… cause I don’t want to be fucking Small Feet anymore.  But no, I mean it’s just a name. It kind of stuck with us.

I feel like a lot of bands come into their names that way, like, “we didn’t hate it..”

SS: Yes, and that’s like a nice thing. It’s the same thing as having a child, to me. Where it’s something like this guy is going to be around for as long as I live, hopefully, you know..

Coming from Stockholm, how did you end up with [Seattle label] Barsuk?

SS: My manager and friend who plays bass with us [Jacob Snavely]  made this record. And then the final product was done and we were kind of like alright, let’s shop this around a little bit and see if we get any takers. And then, people passed. Somebody was like, we really like this but we can’t do this right now, etc.  There’s this whole nervous vibe to a lot of labels, like the record label industry in general. […] Jacob has been tour managing Two Gallants, and Two Gallants was like, you’ve got to talk to Barsuk. These guys are great. So, Jacob kind of struck up that conversation from there, and they loved the record.

We’re releasing the record in Europe on our own label. Barsuk is releasing it here, and we’re hoping that if we get some attention here it dribbles back to Europe.

How does that work, having your own label [Control Freak Kittens]?

SS: It’s Jacob [Snavely] who is the label basically. I mean, I’m paying for the release in Europe, with money I don’t know where the fuck it came from. But we’re doing it like super cheap because he has built a network of people. He has great connections. He’s set up this whole release. I don’t know how he does all of this. He has a work ethic from I don’t know where, from America, basically!

And the two of you met through mutual friends initially?

SS: Yeah, I mean me and Jacob had a lot of mutual friends and kind of played in different bands. He had a band Dog For Dog with his sister, and they were playing quite a lot. And, I played in a bunch of different bands, where I played drums and instrumentals. We kind of just knew of each other and each other’s music and kind of digged what the other person was doing.  So, at one point we just kind of met by accident at a bar, and started talking and decided let’s do something.  He’s so driven, and he has everything I lack. I’m learning and taking a lot of cues, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot.

I looked up your label, and you actually have a quote displayed quite prominently that I really like. I want to ask you to explain it.  It says “the work of art lives within the experience, the journey within the process, not the resulting monument”.  I thought that was really interesting and I was wondering if you had any further insight into that?

SS: It’s good. It’s not my words. It’s Jacob’s- and yeah it is the whole journey and the process of making all these things.  It’s been a huge and long process for us to make this record. It’s taken two years basically because of all of us having children along the way. I had my kid two years ago. Jacob had a kid a year ago. Our drummer, he had a kid like kind of in between. It’s just been really a struggle to get everybody together and get things on tape, you know?  And I think [the quote’s] referring a little bit to that struggle, and it’s a beautiful struggle. But the art is just what you do – it doesn’t matter in the end, I’ve always been like that, I just do this.  Its felt far-fetched for me to be able to like, live off of music, but still I’ve been doing this all along. And, I guess that’s the journey, you know?

You guys recorded in a desolate cabin. How do you feel recording in that place has influenced or contributed to the album and your sound?

SS: I mean it’s beautiful, like the acoustics of those houses are amazing. They’re like wooden houses. I mean, I’m used to always playing in basements. I mean… that’s what you do. And, it’s like concrete walls, and you try to make it work.  Now we’re above ground. There’s windows and daylight and like a beautiful yard and we can just kind of hang out there. So, I mean it’s done wonders for the whole vibe.

We wanted an analog way of recording. […] [We] recorded on tapes, and then we mixed it.

I feel like tapes are really experiencing a resurgence. A lot of bands are releasing their EPs or LPs on cassette tapes, which is pretty cool.

SS: Yeah, the whole cassette revival. I love that because to me it’s such a nostalgic format.  It’s nice, it’s different from vinyl as well, and it’s way cheaper to make too.  If you do a cassette you cut them in the UK or something. I don’t know, but it’s way cheaper than anything else, so that’s pretty practical.

I heard that you taught yourself English from a young age, just from watching English television programs.

SS: Everything that I know!   I mean I was a kid, so I didn’t need determination. Determination was just sort of built in. I was just sort of experiencing things.  I mean, I think I had cable. […] We had cable way later than you did [in America], but I still had it really early for Sweden, even for Stockholm. And, in hindsight, it was luck.  It was just the building that my parents lived in. The building installed it, and I had the children’s channel since [I was] I don’t know how young. And, I just watched a ton of like American kids shows.  Everything was in English. And, for some reason I think also like the Swedish television at the time was really limited. There wasn’t a lot on. And, what you could get on cable was like international programs, and I just devoured that.

So when you’ve written music you’ve just always sort of wanted to articulate it via the English language?

SS: I did from the beginning.  I’ve written two songs in Swedish, and that was a couple of years ago. I am going to release them at some point, but I’ve always written in English. I wrote my first song in English. All of the first stuff I wrote was in English. It’s weird somehow, but yeah.

You’ve just always felt an affinity with the English language.

SS: Yeah. […] I guess when you’re a kid everything starts with imitation, I like this, okay I’m going to try this.  At first you just sort of learn songs, covers, that’s how I did it.  I think that’s really common. You learn stuff somebody else has done, and then at some point you realize it’s just people writing songs. There’s no mystery, and that [you] could maybe do this [your]self.  And then at some point, I needed to stop imitating and I needed to try to see if there was something special, something that was my own, you know?  So I kind of stopped listening to other music.

You didn’t want to be influenced.  

SS: Exactly.

What are your plans now?  Your album’s getting released in Mid-August, are you working on coming back to the states to tour?

SS: We’ve got a ton of stuff that we’re doing, I mean we’re doing videos still.  We’ve done a documentary thing that revolves around like making the record and the struggle of having kids and doing that as well.  We’ve shot this with a cinematographer from here, a friend of mine called Ben McIntyre.  The idea is to make three about five minute episodes, and to edit that.  We’ll see how it turns out.

It’s cool that you’re very aware of the three dimensional aspects of your art.  That’s very 21st century, being aware of not only the importance of the music but also the aesthetic behind it as well.  

SS: It becomes so important when like we can’t be the hardest-working live band in the world. We can’t go on tour for five months a year. We need to be pragmatic. Building that part of what you’re doing is super important, and it’s also a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

I mean it’s important to retain that aspect of fun, obviously, to enjoy what you’re doing, or what’s the point?

SS: For sure.  This is all really new to me, but I’m getting into all those aspects now. And, I’m finding it really fun.  I’m working with a bunch of people in Sweden too, and an agency that works for the actual physical place that we have, the cabins..

You have a really supportive collective of people around you, which is great.

SS: We do. It’s like finding all these ways. […]For me the idea [that] I can have a part time salary from doing other work at the cabins, as well as then that income from doing the music stuff, that is amazing in itself.  I don’t need to make tons of money. I need to survive and put food on the table, and be able to pay my rent. But other than that, I’d just like to be able to do as much stuff as I’d like to.  I mean now we kind of even have beer sponsors. We’re doing shows where we’re charging people a little bit at the door, and when you get in everything is free. You bring whatever you want for the barbecue, and then you get free beer. And then, we play and a couple of other people we invite play. And, it’s trying to create this little collective of just good vibes.

It sounds like you guys are off to a good start.

SS: We are, it’s still all kind of baffling to me.

Keep your eyes peeled for Small Feet’s debut LP From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean, out on Barsuk in the US and the band’s own label Control Freak Kittens in Europe. Read Best New Band’s review of their recent live show at Pianos [here].

Ruby Hoffman

Ruby Hoffman

Ruby Hoffman spends a lot of time pretending playing French electro house music is enjoyable to the Carroll Gardens moms who shop at the boutique she works at, and also wondering when Jack Bevan of Foals will reply to her tweets.Having recently discovered the phrase ‘trashy electronica’, she aspires to DJ this genre one day, and in the meantime lives a stereotypical gentrified existence in Bushwick, where she spends too much money on vintage clothes, coffee and art books.She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Manchester, and hopes to be back in England sooner rather than later working for a label, continuing to appreciate weird synths as well as Kanye West, and getting people to care about bands with 100 likes as much as she does.
Ruby Hoffman