St£fan: Boundless Sonics
“Most of my friends know me more for my straight music,” Stefan Abingdon tells me as we begin our interview at his flat in Putney, a district in South-West London with a bit of a village vibe to it. He isn’t insinuating that his different musical projects have sexual orientations — he means his new solo project is serious. Or at least relatively, when compared to the group he’s known best for: The Midnight Beast. They are the comedy-rap troupe Stefan co-founded, whose success astounded even the trio themselves when their first YouTube video, a parody of Kesha’s song, Tik Tok, exploded — currently sitting pretty at over 16 million views.
Despite The Midnight Beast’s music containing some particularly impolite lyrics, including telling his own mother to shut up several times, he’s an incredibly polite and affable fellow. One of few artists who offers to meet me at the station, and his huge caucasian afro is very handy for spotting him approaching amongst the high street crowd.
Having concentrated almost solely on the Midnight Beast for approaching a decade, who have their debut Edinburgh Fringe show later this year, Stefan is releasing his debut solo EP today, self-deprecatingly titled The Boring EP.
“I’m really excited about taking these songs to the live show arena," Stefan says, the enthusiasm in his voice clearly backing the statement up. “Playing them live means so much to me, because they’re songs I’ve been sitting on for a while — I wrote This Is Life when I was 17!”
Despite 'St£fan' being a solo project, Stefan made sure there was still plenty of collaboration involved, as he doesn’t enjoy making music on his own. Understandable, when one considers how much fun The Midnight Beast have together.
“When I first got into music, there was that whole stigma of co-writing only being something pop artists do,” he says. “The idea that you don’t need other people to write your music for you. But one of the tracks I wrote for this EP, I wrote with my dad. I was just chilling with him at his studio, and he started playing steel guitar, and it just felt right to write a song with him there and then. It’s great being able to utilise your friends and family, and seek inspiration from them.”
The Boring EP is at one time indie, the next pop, chiptune and rap, all spun into one four-track release. And it’s amazing how he pulls of the variety of songs as well as he does. I ask if it was always his intention to cover so much territory within the confines of an EP.
“A lot of musicians and bands have just one sound or mood, particularly in the world of Mercury Prize winners and Jools Holland type artists,” Stefan says. “And I like it, for example when you listen to The xx, you know what you’re getting. The xx are phenomenal, but I didn’t want to be bound by one thing, because I’m influenced by so much.”
From listening to the lyrics of the EP, there’s a bit of a quarter-life crisis feel, the way it lyrically delve into the idea of celebrity, success, and Stefan’s own insecurities. It’s intriguing, how Stefan is someone who’s had great success, at least in terms of racking up millions of YouTube hits and having a sitcom on Channel 4, and yet he’s writing songs that seem to point towards some unresolved dissatisfaction.
“One thousand views is amazing and should be celebrated,” he says. “But one thousand views on a Midnight Beast video — it’s not the 16 million views on the Tik Tok parody! It’s a bizzare situation where you just find yourself chasing views.”
Lead single, Boring, is a particularly witty track, in the sense that Stefan has deliberately played the music in a lackadaisical manner. Almost as if he were actually bored at the time. But it’s produced and put together so brilliantly, that the end result is anything but dull. And its music video matches perfectly, directed by Stefan himself. It’s visually a very clever comment on our addiction to Instagram and its ilk. Stefan walks me through some of the production that went into the EP.
“For Boring, I was really influenced by the bassline in My Name Is by Eminem,” Stefan says. So I just worked on the bass, the organ was a plugin, a bunch of guitar pedals — I’ve got the POG2 pedal, which is an octave shifter. For the guitar solo, I wanted a vibe where it almost sounded like an organ, but had the meat of distortion. So I was really inspired by the POG2, and looped it loads.
“Cheat Codes started with my Pocket Operators”, Stefan continues. “I’m friends with the dudes at Teenage Engineering, they’re amazing — kind of like punk synth makers, it’s all operated lo-fi. They’ve shunned the world of hi-fi synthesis and just make what they want to make. The Pocket Operators are noisy little boxes of delight! They’ve got one called the PO-20 Arcade, which sounds like a Gameboy. It’s really influenced by 8-bit.”
It’s abundantly clear that Stefan has a boyish excitement for his solo project, and he says several times that music has never been financially motivated for him. He just wants as many people as possible to hear his tunes.
“I still feel like I have a lot more to offer than the music I have out already,” he says. “Getting signed is such an afterthought; if it comes across that it would help me reach more people, then brilliant! But, if I can keep making what I want to make, and enough people are hearing it, then I don’t mind either way, really.”
Here’s hoping Stefan can carry those 16 million views on the Tik Tok parody video over to his new dabble in ‘serious’ music.
St£fan releases The Boring EP and headlines The Social, London, this evening (July 5th)
Interview by Adam Protz