Andrea Tarka never meant to be a full time musician. But with a great backing band in place, a new full length on the way, and a slate of shows lined up, it looks like fate had a different feeling.
The Brooklyn-based Stewart, comprised of guitarist/singer Tarka, drummer Kevin Cerovich, guitarist John White and bassist Chris Clement, play pop-punk reminiscent of the Lookout! bands of the late 80’s/early 90’s.
The New Yorkers are semi-regulars in the clubs through Pennsylvania – from Philly to Pittsburgh – and have shows planned at Ardmore’s Rusty Nail on April 24 and again on May 21.
Tarka spoke recently about the new album, dating her fellow guitarist and giving into fate and becoming a rock star.
You mention in your bio that you “never really wanted to do this.” How did you first get started in music?
Music has always been an escape for me. I started playing when I was young (violin and piano when I was 9, guitar when I was 12 and singing when I was 14,). I always loved how it made me feel to pick up an instrument and just play. I loved the sounds, I loved the resonance, I loved how here is this thing that I could do to explain something without words. That was always really appealing to me, the explaining without words part. And I hate to admit this, but I’m a pretty repressed person, emotionally speaking, and music has always helped me sort-of express what I’m feeling and connect to others (and myself even) about those feelings.
I guess when I say “I never really wanted to do this,” I meant the being on stage in a band part- although none of my friends believe me, I am actually a very shy person when you get right down to it. I’m not really into being the center of attention and I used to get really horrible stage fright. I used to not be able to get up in front of anyone without crying, family and friends included. (I’m pretty sure when I was 4 I cried during an entire church play where I just stood there and held a star.) Music was always a really personal thing for me- a personal expression of my inner most secrets and feelings that I had never really been able to get to before, and I think that’s part of why I got so scared- I felt vulnerable and exposed when I was on stage.
So I guess music I’ve always wanted to do, but this whole sharing it with other people thing is a new experience that never occurred me. I was just happy to sit in my room and sing and play my guitar.
When did you decide to start focusing on the band as a potential career?
When I was in acupuncture school in LA I turned around in class one day and said, “I want to start a band, anybody want to be in a band with me?” and my friend Nadia thought about it for two seconds and said, “Yeah- I will. Let’s start a band.” It was just the two of us, she played guitar and I played bass and we were passively looking for a girl drummer, and we both sang. That’s when I first started writing music, which was way different for me because I’ve always played music. Those were always someone else’s words and thoughts and feelings which I totally didn’t mind sharing and relating to, but when I started writing songs that was way more personal and revealing.
We called ourselves “Sasquatch” and had a mixture of originals (my songs and hers) and covers, and played three open mics and two full blown shows (one with The Randies back before they were big) and as a band we lasted for two months. That I think was the beginning because it was at that time that people started really encouraging me and being really supportive of my musical career. Like so many artists, I grew up in a household that didn’t really consider artistic endeavors “careers.” They were more just hobbies- nothing you could make money off of or take seriously. After all my friends, and all my friends’ friends, and all the people we played for told me how much they loved my songs, I began to think maybe that idea was wrong. Maybe this was something I could do. You know, for a living.
When did Stewart first form?
Armed with my new musical outlook and some momentum off of the LA band experience, when I got to New York in 2004 I became good friends with this bartender who also happened to be an amazing drummer who helped me make my first demo. It was four songs- I played guitar and sang, he played drums, and the producer who was recording me (my friend’s girlfriend’s cousin) played bass. I had to come up with a name and some artwork for the CD, so my drummer friend and I sat in his bar while he worked, I decided on Stewart and he drew the S logo on a napkin and that was the day Stewart was officially born.
It took me another year to find myself band- I answered Craig’s list ads, MySpace ads, flyer ads, I talked to and played with a ton of musicians, but it wasn’t until September 2005 that I realized I didn’t want to be in someone else’s band, (most people I had auditioned with wanted me to sing back-up and play their songs,) I wanted to sing and play my own songs. I made Stewart an official MySpace page and started putting out ads of my own.
I had a show booked before I had the band formed. Shortly after the MySpace page went up I was contacted by a promoter to book a show at the Pussycat Lounge in NYC on January 2nd, 2006. I said, “Sure!” and then promptly started freaking out because I didn’t have a band yet. I kicked it into overdrive and found myself a bass player (who although we became friends and he agreed to do the show, he didn’t want to be in Stewart after all,) and then I found John (my guitarist) at a party. I met this drummer girl on MySpace who was already in a band, but wanted me to play and sing with them. Although I explained my situation, she told me their singer was looking to leave and they wanted a new singer and she really liked my songs. Why didn’t I come to a party at her house to meet everybody? And that’s when I met John.
He was absolutely adorable, incredibly nice, and turns out played guitar in this girl’s band. I only played with them once, and afterwards I drove him home and although we had a great time I told him I wasn’t looking to join somebody else’s project I wanted to do my own stuff, and it was a shame because I really like him and had a great time playing with him. That’s when he told me he felt the same, and honestly, he could be in both bands.
In the next couple of weeks we found Frankie, our first drummer, and a few months after our first show we found Saysha, our first bass player. Since then Stewart has been through many incarnations, but John and I have always stayed the same. Usually when people ask me when the band started I tell them January 2006. That was really the beginning of all our momentum, even though I technically started writing these songs back in 2003 and started performing them under the name Stewart in 2004, 2006 was when “Stewart the band” became a reality.
Tell me a bit about the new album you have coming out in June?
I am PSYCHED about this album, I gotta tell you. It’s the first time we’ve really taken time to expand on our songs. Typically the way Stewart song writing used to work is that I would get upset about something, go to my room, press record, sing and yell and bang out some chords, and viola- song. It was usually just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and occasionally I’d throw a bridge in there to make everybody happy, but really, the songs were pretty basic. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but with this album we actually sat down and treated each one like a song. We worked out intros and transitions and John put in a bunch of different guitar parts. We also worked a lot on dynamics and tempos and just different feels for each song. Basically we took a lot of time to produce this one, which was a new experience for us.
So the album is called Kicks and it’s got a little something for everybody on it. We tried to put together examples of all our different stuff on there- there’s a slow song, a solo song, a country song, a fast rock song, an indie rock song, a silly song, the list goes on. There’s a bonus track on it- should I not tell you that? Well, too late, there’s a dance remix version of one of the songs as a bonus track that we just sort-of did one day in rehearsal and decided that needed to be on there. All in all, I think there’s a lot of good stuff on there that I hope people find enjoyable.
Have you started looking around for labels yet or do you plan to release on your own?
This one we’re releasing on our own, but we are definitely in the market for a label if you know anyone who’s looking. *wink wink*
You are in a band with your boyfriend. Does that ever get awkward?
Awkward? I wouldn’t say awkward. I feel bad when we fight in front of poor Kevin (our drummer) but other than that I think we act pretty normal. It’s good because we’ve got a pretty healthy, long-term relationship so there isn’t a lot of drama, which is nice because there’s always drama in bands, you don’t need to add anymore by adding sex and emotions into the mix. Save it for the songs! :)
It was a little awkward when we started dating because we had already been in the band together for years and I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want it to cause any problems with the rest of the band. That was awkward because the drummer and bass player were my friends and I felt really bad that I couldn’t share that part of my life with them, but like I said, drama.
You’ve got some shows lined up in Philly and Missouri. Have you toured much outside of NY/NJ?
We have- since 2007 we’ve played all over- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit and Connecticut. My goal is to keep that up and play around as much as possible. If anybody wants us to come to their town, let me know!
You looking forward to it or so you see touring as a kind if necessary evil?
Oh no, we love touring, we’re totally looking forward to it! I love traveling, and playing out of town shows is so much fun. Eating, sleeping and exercise habits get a little wacky, but the playing part is great! If we didn’t have jobs and money to worry about we’d be on the road way more.
You found your drummer on MySpace. Have you guys been able to use technology (like social networking) to get word out on the band?
Yes and no. MySpace has been a great place to meet other musicians, post our shows, and even just figure out who’s doing what these days, and Facebook has been really helpful lately with keeping in touch with specific people. But I find that everybody’s different in terms of what method of communication they prefer, where they get their info, and how often they want me to get in touch. I’ve found that word of mouth and talking to people directly has been my most successful way of getting the word out. But that’s probably also because I feel really awkward approaching random people I don’t know online. I never want to impose. It’s a horrible quality when it comes to promoting.
What’s next for the group?
More songs, more shows, and more touring. We’re currently working on a website where you’ll be able to purchase all our songs, T shirts, and more, and just to have a centralized location for all things Stewart. We’re also working on a music video for our song “Aloof” off of Kicks. But mostly we’re getting ready for the next step, more music and more fun!
Anything else you want to add?
We’ve got a bunch of shows coming up, including one this Saturday, 4/24, at The Rusty Nail in Ardmore, PA (all ages!) and another on Friday 5/21 at the same venue, a couple of dates in May in Kansas City Missouri at John’s Big Deck, and of course our CD release party at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC Saturday June 12th.
Also, if anyone has an XBOX 360 they can now download and play our song “Dance With Me” from the Rock Band Network (http://www.rockband.com/songs/UGC_5001677) which I’m pretty excited about.
And if anyone wants more information, please feel free to contact me or check out any of our sites: