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Steve Downs: Hidden Hospitals

13 Nov Interviews | Comments
Steve Downs: Hidden Hospitals

Through my years with the Oasis, I’ve come into contact with some pretty spectacular bands. Most recently, Hidden Hospitals (from Chicago) graced the stage, and I couldn’t have been more impressed. They were one of the most professional bands we’ve seen, both on and off the stage. Their new record, EP002, will absolutely be among my top of the year. I’d say it’s a *must* for any fans of technical, yet polished alternative music. There are some absolutely killer lead riffs and gorgeous ethereal textures coming from their guitarist, Steve Downs, so I thought it would be fun to talk shop.

What bands do you currently have, and what bands have you been in previously?

I currently play guitar in Hidden Hospitals. We are a four piece rock band from Chicago, IL.

Is guitar your primary instrument?

Guitar is indeed my primary instrument. I started playing when I was about six years old.

What instruments do you play?

I played French horn for about 10 years and I played trumpet for a few years in my high school jazz band but nowadays I really only play guitar.

How long have you been playing guitar?

I started playing when I was 6 so it has been about 20 years.

Did you take any lessons growing up? (guitar or other)

I started taking lessons as soon as I started playing guitar. That lasted a couple years but then my teacher stopped teaching younger students so I went through quite a few years of teaching myself how to play. When I was around 13 years old I got into playing Jazz and started taking lessons again from a new teacher, but again, only for a couple years. Most of my learning has come from playing with and being surrounded by other musicians. It is important to realize how much you can further yourself by learning how other people view and play their instruments. I have found it to be just as beneficial as taking lessons.

Do you have an understand of scales and music theory?
— How does that impact your songwriting?

I do have an understanding of scales and music theory. I started learning theory when I started playing jazz guitar – it was pretty much unavoidable. I was even lucky enough to take some theory courses from Jamey Abersold. I used to sit down and run through scales every time I sat down to play guitar but when I started playing in bands I slowly got away from that habit.

I’d like to think having that sort of background doesn’t necessarily influence songwriting, but makes a lot of things come easier. One part of writing that can be discouraging is learning how to play exactly what you want to be playing. Being able understand the groundwork of what you are doing and having some of that muscle memory built in really does help me.

Do you still practice instruments, beyond when you’re writing for Hidden Hospitals?

Every once in a while I will sit down and practice some rudimentary exercises, but through playing with other musicians and being in this band I feel like I am advancing at a rate I am satisfied with. I value learning new things and improving on skills I already possess equally.

Do you still attempt to push forward by learning new instruments or applications?

I don’t think it would benefit myself or my band to learn a new instrument as much as it would to learn about a new process, piece of gear or tool that could further us as a group. There is always something that each one of us can be actively learning about to impact our progress but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an instrument or even musical.

What is your electric guitar rig these days?

There are a few important parts of my setup that have been consistent for a few years now and some things that seem to change with regularity.

Does gear impact your songwriting / performing?

Quite the opposite. We find the sounds we need while we are writing and recording. We use that time to explore new things sonically and experiment with our setup. Once we have created what we envisioned, we learn how to re-create it. This can lead to seeking out some new gear or simply learning how to better use what we have. How well I know the gear I have can absolutely impact our songwriting and performing.

How do you like to prepare for recording?

I find demoing the songs to be a helpful step. Having tracked versions of what we are about to record allows me to hear in context what could benefit from change. It also gives me a chance to experiment with new sounds and tones so I can go into the studio with rough ideas to expand on. Possibilities are always endless so it is important to define a set of parameters to work within in order to end up with a cohesive end product. I value the time I am allowed to spend experimenting in the studio as well as input from others, including our producer, but feel much more confident having basic ideas laid out before setting up to track a part.


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