Jason Letkiewicz is a man of many names, but it’s most likely that you know him as Steve Summers. Debuting on Clone’s Jack For Daze imprint a few years ago and solidifying his C.V. through missives for labels like Echovolt and (crucially) L.I.E.S., Summers has become an intriguing voice among the latest crop of house producers. His early releases were drenched in analog timbres and Chicago-reminiscent structures, but lately his music has become unhinged, charting territories all his own. His live show is an impressive, enthralling set of propulsive house percussion and assertive (sometimes abrasive) textures — all cast in dark hue with the use of his heavily processed vocals. Reports are that his live performances have only gotten stronger over the past year, which recently concluded with an extended trip through Europe; and his strongest recorded statements yet have come in 2013 via his latest EP for L.I.E.S. and the start of his collaborative label Confused House with roommate and label mate Bookworms. In advance of his live PA this Saturday at Smart Bar, LWE caught up with Letkiewicz about his recent shift towards the noisier side of things, the inevitability of pressing plant delays, and more.
I wanted to start off with where Steve Summers is right now. Your latest record (LIES-023) is very different from older Steve Summers stuff — there’s an element of abrasiveness and noise that hasn’t always been apparent in your records (I also hear it in the Two Dogs In A House Eliminator EP). What do you attribute this change too?
Jason Letkiewicz: I made these tracks specifically for a couple shows I was playing in Detroit during DEMF last year. The idea this time was that I wasn’t going to record final versions until I had played them out for several months. I knew they would change a lot and wanted to the final recordings to be as influenced by the live shows as the studio. For me this record was a reconnection with what I had done in the past. My early electronic projects were rooted in noise/sound experimentation more than anything else. Feedback loops, pedals, etc. My process for actually making this record didn’t change, in terms of how I lay down the actual track; it was my approach to making some of the sounds that changed. I remembered some specific noises that I thought were interesting that I had gotten out of my pedals years ago and decided that I wanted to use those as a basis for some of the sounds. It was interesting to take those random chaotic sounds and try to turn them into parts or melodies. The LIES 12″, the Hotmix 10″ and the song “Casual Encounters” from the new split with Simoncino are all from the same session and are tied together by this similar approach.
Since debuting on Clone’s Chicago-minded Jack For Daze imprint, Steve Summers has long seemed your alias for exploring that style of house music. Chicago house has been very in vogue lately — has that changed what or how you produce?
The fact that it is in vogue hasn’t influenced me. It’s the desire to push myself that was really the driving force behind the new record. There was a long gap between the stuff I did for LIES and this material. All the tracks from the Clone releases, L.I.E.S. and Construction paper were [made] from 2008- early 2010. The Construction Paper one was supposed to come out several months before the L.I.E.S. one but there were pressing issues and it got severely delayed. Those tracks were even older than the L.I.E.S. ones, so in my mind the story came out in the wrong order. I was trying to move forward a with the Mode For Love record and to me the track “Nethermead Arches” is an example of something I felt was a bit different. A lot of things happened between 2010-2012 and my own tastes/approach/ideas about what I wanted to do changed, though I still think my love for that music comes through. To hear people say that its really different is nice. I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.
You’ve exorcized the 707 from your studio — do you think that has something to do with these changes in your sound away from classic-leaning house?
It wasn’t exactly exorcised as much as it broke and I never got around to taking it to the shop. The new record uses other classic drum machines such as the 808, 909 and even a 707 tambourine somewhere in there. There’s more of a mix of other percussive sounds in addition to the drum machines, so maybe that has something to do with it feeling different.
You have a handful of pseudonyms but it seems like Steve Summers is your “main” one — it’s the one you tend to get billed as, and most of your records recently are coming out under that name. Why is that?
It’s because of the live aspect of the project. When I play out live as Steve Summers I’m playing the same way I would record in the studio, whereas with some other projects it’s a different process. The Alan Hurst stuff is more composed with the parts being hand played from start to finish. I’ve done a couple live shows under this name but because I had to adapt what I did to the machines I always ended up feeling a bit stifled and boxed in. With the Steve stuff it’s a bit more free, which makes it more exciting for me.
What’s your live setup like? It seems like you’re mostly bringing hardware on stage with you. Do you leave much room for improvisation?
Sampler/sequencer, a mono synth, and some effects. Very basic. As it is now there is definitely a lot of room for me to improvise but I’m always trying to think of ways to take it further.
You recently wrapped up a tour in Europe — how did it go?
Amazing. The knowledge you gain by playing different places, meeting different people, and working under different circumstances is invaluable. I also felt I grew a lot with respect to playing live because I had to find ways to keep it interesting for me throughout the 22 shows. I’ve been back for a week now and I’m finally starting to feel normal again, but was the first time that I wasn’t excited to be back in NY. Not sure what that means for my future plans.
Confused House seems to have stopped being a moniker for you and is now a label — what was the impetus behind starting your own label?
Confused House was never really a moniker so much as just my website. There was an edit I did on the Future Times Vibe 2 comp that came out as Confused House but that was really just for lack of a better idea. I had already released a couple records in the past on my label Touch Your Life. The initial plan for the Two Dogs record was that I was going to release it, but my decision to move to NY put me in a bit of a financial bind for awhile. This was back in 2010. In the past year I found myself in a position to be able to put out records. I knew I wanted to put stuff out again but I didn’t just want to do a LIES TOO or something. As I mentioned before, the Two Dogs session in Sweden and the Unknown Artist one after that got me excited about the idea of loose collaborative jams. Increasingly it seemed like the accidents that were happening were often more exciting than the intentional parts. I can listen to the Unknown Artist one and hear that its charm is the direct result of how it was made. The releases on Confused House are in line with the same process.
Do you have any major plan for the label? So far it’s been collaborations between you and Nik (Bookworms).
It’s too early in the releases to really say anything specific, but I like the idea of the records being part of a much larger whole. A lot of the tracks are born out of simple ideas like playing the same melody with three synths or no snares. There’s one that Nik and I made during a hurricane after watching a Steve Reich documentary and I can definitely hear that in the track. Right now I’m going through tracks and trying to piece together potential releases. Between our Zoom recorders there’s a lot of material to go through and figure out if its me, Nik, us or us and some other dudes.
In fact, you’ve done a handful of collaborations — Two Dogs in a House, records with Bookworms, a split record with Simonciono — how do you approach the collaboration process? Is it something you plan on doing more of and with even more people?
The record with Simoncino wasn’t a proper collaboration. I just sent in two tracks and he did the same. Our initial idea was to send stuff back and forth but my own time constraints put that to rest. t is something I plan to continue doing and ideally it will include non-musicians as well as musicians.
When you finish music, you might not see it eventually released for another year. How do you deal with this process? Does this influence what and when you choose to release?
It can be tough sometimes, but I think it’s important to spend some time with the music and see how it changes. Maybe you were in one frame of mind when you made it and now you couldn’t be further from that place. Some tracks don’t really hit you at first and then maybe a month or two later you hear it and all of a sudden it makes sense.
How important is the dance floor and the DJ to you when you produce? Do you think much about how your music works in a club — either within the context of your own live sets, or for DJs who might be playing your records?
In the past I never really thought about it much. On this recent tour I got to hear a lot of crazy music in different places and see what works and what doesn’t. I’m curious to see how or if that influences me once I start working on new tracks. To be continued…
What’s coming up next for you and for Confused House?
After some delays due to pressing plant issues the next Confused House will be out in early July. Then in October Nik and I are hitting the road and doing a European tour. Some shows will be solo and on others we will be doing our live set together. Then just record, walk dogs, record.