Parental expectations can be fraught with peril. Some parents expect their kids to take over the family business, some envision their children as doctors or lawyers, and in some circles dwell Alex P. Keaton types whose hippie parents shudder at the thought of white collar work. “Dentist Vs Pharmacist,” the latest release from Stimmerman (aka Eva Lawitts), addresses familial pressures with a rolling guitar lick, piercing vocals, and one hell of a horn section.
A native New Yorker, Lawitts grew up attending a prestigious magnet school; it was within these corridors of rigorous practice and imaginary success that Lawitts first honed her music prowess. It gave Lawitts the distance she needed to look at her family history and question the values and assignments that were passed from generation to generation.
“You know who you’ll be / There’s a consensus: A pharmacist or a dentist / Scientific Thesis / Pick up shattered pieces / Take my sword and let it break,” Lawitts screams into the void. A veteran bass player with a history in bands that kick butt (Princess Nokia, Vagabon, Rotem Sivan, Citris), Lawitts’ forthcoming album Goofballs takes her rock persona and makes it personal. “Dentist Vs Pharmacist” offers the kind of perspective one can only garner after the youth and drugs and fear fade, leaving an angry hull that is adulthood.
Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Dentist Vs Pharmacist” and read our interview with Eva Lawitts below.
AF: Your Spotify page says Stimmerman is “for fans of At The Drive In, Gillian Welch, and Dirty Projectors.” How do you define the music you make?
EL: I have so much trouble defining any music at all. For a while I was calling Stimmerman progressive emo, which is not correct at all, even though it felt like it described my approach. I have this desire to be a “songwriter” (which I feel like I’m still striving towards), and to create these self-contained worlds with each song, and I also crave performing music live and in that way I want the music itself to be challenging and fun, and to provide a cathartic experience for myself and my bandmates and the audience, and I’m always trying to be more concise and honest lyrically, and all of those things have sort of coalesced into Stimmerman music, which is angular, high-energy, sadness. See? I kind of got there.
AF: You went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts. Can you give us a little inside look into what it’s really like in a performing arts school? Obviously there was much dancing in the lunch room, we assume.
EL: There was a lot of dancing in the lunchroom, haha. Not by me, but certainly by someone. My feelings about these specialized magnet schools are inseparable from the subject matter of Goofballs, although I don’t think they’re ever really directly addressed. Basically I feel like as a teenager I was extremely motivated and competitive about music (and also my teen ego was totally out of control), and so I thrived at LaGuardia, which in turn provided me with an exceptional music education. But at the same time, I feel like the culture of that kind of school can be insidious in a way – I think it discourages kids who aren’t at the top of their field by age 15 from pursuing what they love after high school (this is still my observation keeping in touch with my high school chums ten years down the line) and I also feel like that same air of discouragement is what caused a lot of my friends to sink deeper into a special kind of adolescent despair that included a lot of drug and alcohol use, and a lot of ambient self-destruction. Of course some of that is just par for the course of adolescence… there was an added benefit to LaGuardia insofar as you often had extracurricular rehearsals and such that would keep you at school till 9pm or so… so it became really easy to stay out all night and just tell your parents that you had rehearsal. That excuse combined with a student Metrocard can afford you a lot of mischief. That’s not the school’s fault, but it was, in my experience, part of the culture. I could talk about this for hours but I’ll stop here.
AF: What were you initially studying in school? An instrument or a specific kind of music?
EL: I was studying upright bass, and mostly studying, if we can speak extremely broadly, “classical” music. When I entered LaGuardia my ambition was basically to be in the MET Orchestra or something… I still play upright bass quite a bit, but the scale has tipped significantly. Throughout middle and high school and even most of college, the only time I played electric bass was in my old band Sister Helen. Now I feel like the electric bass is more a part of my voice, and certainly more aligned with the types of music I want to create.
AF: Tell us about “Dentist vs Pharmacist.” Where did this song originate?
EL: I wrote this song directly after having lunch with a friend of mine who went to middle school (Mark Twain) and high school (LaGuardia) with me, and it was directly influenced (stolen? I don’t know) by a conversation we had about this kind of half-joke about modern Russian fatalism, which was that so many of the kids we went to middle school with were raised with only two possible tracts they could follow into adulthood – they could become a dentist or they could become a pharmacist. This is the highest achievement you could possibly attain. This was the gleaming dream of our Russian and Jewish cohorts of yesteryear. We were being silly about it, but within that silliness are many real wounds about the expectations of our own parents, their parents, and an examination of how we can possibly honor the sacrifices made by our families while still attempting to function in a world that is basically incalculably different than anything they could have possibly conceived of when they made those sacrifices. Fuck! And also I just wanted to scream.
AF: You recently spoke with Street Wannabes about the struggle of co-founding Wonderpark Studios – the balance of working on other artists’ work and finding time for your own music. What does your typical day look like?
EL: Right. I run Wonderpark with Chris (Krasnow), who is also in Stimmerman doing guitar and some vocals in the live band, and he also contributed engineering, mixing and mastering to this album as well as guitar, and vocals and even some drums! Wow, just had to say it. Anyway, I think Chris is really the genius audio guy within Wonderpark. I do a fair amount of engineering and producing as well, but I handle all of the “business” of Wonderpark, meaning I spend an absurd amount of time doing our books, writing Facebook and Instagram ads, keeping up with clients, doing pre-production, meeting and haranguing new clients, and other things of that nature. So a typical day in the studio might look like coming in around 10 and helping Chris get mics on stands, making various choices regarding the session, and then spending between 8-10 hours working our butts off trying to get the best possible recording made, and trying to help people have fun doing it! Then usually an hour and a half of so of cleaning the damn studio. A typical day working from home is just a love affair with my hideous laptop and cell phone – lots of calls, lots of numbers, lots of writing. I love it but we often work 15 hour days and by the end of the “week” (which is sometimes 3 days and sometimes like 15 days) I’m usually spent.
AF: As an artist, do you keep a schedule in order to carve out creative time?
EL: I recently started keeping up with a pretty strict morning routine. Part of that routine is that I try to write a song a day, and I only give myself 15 minutes to do it. A lot of them are simply dreck, but some of them are really good! And just being in the habit of getting the juices flowing when I get up has helped the creative process overall.
AF: What’s the one piece of advice you have for a young band coming into the recording studio for the first time?
EL: Most young bands drastically underestimate how much time they’re going to need to make an album. Some bands can come in and blast out an album in one 8 hour session, but I would say 99% of them can’t. Something I would suggest is, if you’re heading into the studio for the first time – make a single! Set one full day aside and try to track one song, see how you like the process. Another mistake I see with a lot of first-time bands making is trying to set a release date before they even start recording! This is always a disaster. Wait until you have the masters of your album to set the release date! The fervor that’s created when you ignore that precious rule is maddening and it often ruins the music because you rush through the entire process and become more focused on an imaginary deadline that YOU made up instead of the music which in theory is the important part.
AF: Tell us about Invisible Planet Records. How’s it coming along?
EL: Yeah! So Invisible Planet Records is still semi-top secret, but Goofballs is coming out “on” it. Basically we’re trying to create a label component to Wonderpark and Stimmerman was the soft open. We have a couple Wonderpark bands and artists lined up to release music through us in 2020. Basically I just wanted a way to help the bands I like best do the most with their music after leaving the studio….or maybe I just wanted a way to justify all the free labor I do consulting people on how to best release the music they record with me and Chris. More about this in 2020 but for right now we’re considering it to be in beta!
AF: What art/books/music are currently moving the needle for you right now?
EL: Lately the music I’m most inspired by is the stuff made by my friends and peers and clients of the studio, and some people I’m playing with. I always thought that concept was kind of cliche but as I get older it’s just the truth. A short list of those names? Joanna Sternberg, Kat Lee/Tiny Gun, Grey McMurray, Carlos Truly, Eli Greenhoe, Rust Ring, Danielle Grubb are all people who have released music THIS YEAR that has really blown me away. As I’ve said about a thousand times, I think we’re in a weird renaissance period in NYC for weirdo rock-jazz right now and, in addition to some of the names above some of the people here that I feel like I’ve wanted to heavily steal from are Wasabi Fox, Kadawa, and Adam O’Farrill. Go check out their discographies so that when I steal from them you can call me out.
AF: We’re at a Stimmerman show. You’re about to come on. What can we expect?
EL: The house lights go down. A single spot light pierces the darkness with that familiar KA-CHUNK sound effect that we associate with a spot light turning on, even though we have no idea what the physical mechanism is. A man stands alone on stage – who is he? He stares silently into the crowd for seconds, then minutes, murmurs begin to ripple through the room. His lips tremble, a single tear rolls down his cheek. He announces that Stimmerman has been in a terrible car wreck – will they survive? The audience weeps. Bitter, bitter, merciless tears. Then! Suddenly! The door in the back on the venue whips open. I crawl, belly slithering across the floor like the snake I am, through the crowd. Using my immense upper body strength, I hoist myself onto the stage, throwing myself at the feet AND mercy of this mysterious man. He holds a microphone to my cracked and bleeding lips. “Stimmerman….forever” are the sounds that croak from my hideous throat. And the crowd agrees.
Stimmerman’s latest album Goofballs arrives this December – follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.