these pretty wrongs portraitLuther Russell and Jody Stephens in Those Pretty Wrongs duo format.

As drummer and a founding member of the legendary Big Star, Jody Stephens is an icon to so many of today's musicians. The musical legacy of Big Star is as omnipresent as it's ever been and undoubtedly this enormous global respect is due to the band's recording of three of the greatest albums ever set to vinyl.

A hugely successful reformation by Big Star in the early ‘90s produced a world tour and a fine fourth album. Pleasingly, over this past decade, Jody has gone on to create even more marvellous music wth a duo outfit with Luther RussellThose Pretty Wrongs

As a songwriting pair, their music is refreshingly honest, supremely melodious and inherently tender in its style. And the recordings are super hi fi harking back to the quality of John Fry’s famous work at Ardent Studios with Big Star. 

It is therefore the music of Those Pretty Wrongs I primarily wished to focused on in this Q&A in advance of Those Pretty Wrongs’ exciting upcoming second tour of Australia. I was especially keen to seek a deeper understanding of how Jody’s own musical journey influences the music of Those Pretty Wrongs. 

Jody and DarrylInterviewer Darryl Mather (far left) and subject Jody Stephns (far right) with Mitch Easter, Ken Stringfellow and Chris Stamey, performing as Big Star Third live at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney 2014.

Did you imagine a decade ago Luther and you would possess such a sizeable catalogue of high quality new and original recorded music?

No. But...Luther's a great cheerleader! Initially, I thought we might get four or five songs - an EP's worth.  However, once we got started, our ideas just kept turning into songs. Luther kept cheering on the process. All positive vibes to nurture that energy and nothing negative to stifle it.

Those Pretty Wrongs has undoubtedly provided a platform for both Luther and you to creatively strive towards your respective songwriting best, and therefore would you say Those Pretty Wrongs is the most fulfilling music endeavour of your career? 

Co-writing with Luther is definitely the most fulfilling as a songwriter. I think we have around 33 songs. One of the marvellous things about songwriting is our lives stay attached to the songs regardless of who is performing or covering them.
Every musically fulfilling effort I've been a part of, including Big Star, Golden SmogThe Orange Humble Band and Big Star's Third Live, has better prepared me for Those Pretty Wrongs. "My heart is a paper cup, fill it up," and that's just what music has done for that part of my life.

these pretty wrongs poster

Also, as you share all songwriting credits on each of the three albums, could you tell us how Luther & you approach the co-writing duties of the duo's tunes? And what responsibilities do you place on each other in the songwriting process?

If we called it a responsibility it might shut down the process. It's more like a search for a way to feel good and a need to be creative. We get so excited when we finish a song. Whatever works. Either one of us can introduce an idea. It could be musical and/or lyrical and we are off and running. Having said that, not every idea turns into a song. Sifting through the ideas is part of writing. 

Beyond Big Star, what other musical influences do you possibly find yourself drawing upon when writing for Those Pretty Wrongs? And does your drumming mindset play an integral part in how you approach songwriting?

We share many of the same musical influences and there are many.  For us, The Beatles are the starting point. Bob Dylan is a big one for Luther. Beyond those it could be any artist that we like.

I think it's more like how the song shapes the way I play drums with the exception of lyrical cadence. My drumming experience, at times, does play a role in how I shape the rhythm of a melody. 

big star porchBig Star: Andy Hummel, Jody Stephens, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton.

Looking back on two musical giants you worked so closely with in Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, what memories do you have of their idiosyncrasies around writing, playing and recording? Were there more similarities or differences in their musical philosophies?

Mostly guessing here but both seem to have a studied approach to “#1 Record”. Their guitar and vocal interplay. Melodies. Production. In a way, like an orchestration. They both were pretty premeditated in their own different ways. Don’t think there was a guitar line or sound , vocal delivery or lyric, or production idea that was a “throw away.”
Having said that, I think that once the performance started it became free spirited.

And has their philosophical and stylistic approaches to music in any way shaped how you approach the music of Those Pretty Wrongs? If so, is it more Chris' or Alex's ways that influence you with your current music? 

Yes! Whether consciously or unconsciously, their influence on me will always be there. I hope it’s a bit of both. They both had natural and beautiful senses of melody. 

What were Luther & you looking to create when recording the latest album, “Holiday Camp”? How does it differ from “Zed for Zulu” and the band's self-titled debut? And do you feel it's the duo's best work to date? 

Our music just happens. When we are writing, we don't ever seem to think about what we want it to be. It's a reflection where we are in our lives at that moment.  Relationships evolve. Our environments changed. As cowriters, those things are reflected in each of our three LPs. "Holiday Camp" is something really special to us. But so were our first and “Zed for Zulu”.

As an Ardent man for over 35 years in various senior roles does your enduring love of the studio and the teachings of founder and mentor John Fry influence and shape how you approach the recordings of Those Pretty Wrongs?

John Fry is the father of my professional life. He taught me, amongst many things, that failure is part of the process. It's okay to fail but don't let it defeat you. Learn from it. As much as he was brilliant in the art of audio engineering, he looked for how a performance connected emotionally. Not technical perfection. Once Luther and I are moved by or believe what we are hearing from a performance we move on. 

Also, my primary role at Ardent has been a marketing & talent focused. I did manage for a short while too post John's passing. When Ardent's extensive renovation is completed, marketing will again be my primary role.

This past decade, the Big Star Third musical community has seen you play with a myriad of influential musicians profoundly influenced by the memory of the band. Alumni including Chris Stamey, Mike Mills, Mitch Easter, Susanna Hoffs, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow, Gary Louris and Pat Sansone have all openly spoke about the considerable influence Big Star has had upon them and their own music. You can also include me in that group of people! I’m sure Luther too.

Playing live with these musician friends, what influence would you hope you've had on each of them and conversely what affect have they had on you & the music of Those Pretty Wrongs? 

I must be doing something right having felt like a “pretty wrong” when I was in my teens. There’s a real connection amongst us all. Grateful for that.We are all influenced by one another. Drawn together by a shared charge we get when we play this music. Band and audience share this music and we all feel pretty good about it. It’s the same with Luther and me but on a much smaller scale…but it still feels pretty good.

those pretty wrongs pr portraitLuther and Jody.

It's fair to say that when in Big Star you played on some of the greatest and most melodious songs ever recorded. From your observation & experiences, what are the essential ingredients to write and record a pop masterpiece such as “September Gurls”? And in your opinion is this the greatest Big Star song you drummed on, or does another of the band’s tunes spring to mind as a personal favourite? And is there a special Those Pretty Wrongs song that equally captivates you? 

Spirit is the essential ingredient in writing and recording a memorable song. Every aspect of how the song is written, performed and captured has to line up…then we are all moved by its spirit.

Thanks! ”September Gurls”…I think the song makes my drum part sound that much better. Every aspect of that song energized the way I played. Same with “O My Soul.” Then there’s a subtlety about the drumming on TPW’s “Scream.” It’s really about supporting the spirit of the song.

Luther & you have shown yourselves to be fine tunesmiths, possessing outstanding studio craft. Thus, in a perfect world where does Those Pretty Wrongs take Luther & you from here? And lastly, what are your hopes and expectations for this upcoming Australian tour?  

We conquer Australia, then England and the world! (laughs)

As a dear friend, thank you Jody for participating in this Q&A and I sincerely wish you all the best for this upcoming Australia tour. I'm loving Holiday Camp and I've no doubt your many Australian fans are too and I'm sure they can't wait to hear these latest songs performed live.

*Darryl Mather is a member of The Orange Humble Band and former member of the Some Loves and the Lime Spiders. 

(Jody Stephens & Luther Russell)

+ A Celebration of the Music of BIG STAR
Sat 12-  BRUNSWICK BALLROOM (Matinee) - Tix
Sun. 13 - MEMO MUSIC HALL - Tix