heavy rock guitarist/singer-songwriter
Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
After years of playing at home for no one, gay guitarist Steve Reeder is taking his brand of hard rock out to the world. Growing up in a military family and settling in rural central Florida as a teen, he was convinced there was no reconciliation between the hyper-masculine world of 80’s heavy metal and the disco and drag dominating the gay scene.
“Being in a band was unthinkable for me. All the music I was listening to, and all the guys I knew who could play it, were so “T&A”-centric, you know, Motley Crue, strippers, Whitesnake video vixens… there was no way I was gonna pull off fitting in that scene with any dignity or satisfaction. In the meantime, I come of age and go to the most readily available gay social outlet at the time: the bars. And it’s just Madonna, Pet Shop boys, or anything indiscernible set to a looping “thump-thump” beat. I just thought there was no hope.”
Time has a funny way of showing that not all is what it appears. The outing of several mainstream rockers like Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford and Chuck Panozzo has opened the eyes of many. Now, in the age of the internet, gay rockers can easily connect with the likes of Pansy Division and Jinx Titanic. Add soon to that mix Steve Reeder. Drawing on lifelong influences such as KISS, AC/DC, Rolling Stones and Motley Crue, Steve is going to bring new life and meaning to “cock rock.”
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
I have a few varieties for recording. First, I have a Jackson Dinky with a Floyd Rose tremolo. Though I rarely use the tremolo, this guitar has the hottest pickups in my collection. I have a “Charvette” by Charvel, with two single-coil pickups and one bridge humbucker, and then an Epiphone Les Paul in tobacco sunburst. I have one acoustic guitar: a late-model Epiphone Masterbuilt (DR-500M); and one bass: an Ibanez Soundgear four-string.
To date, I’ve played out at two Bearapalooza events. The first I was able to reach by car, so I took the Charvette and Les Paul. For the other, I borrowed a very nice Schecter from a friend.
- Any special/favorite amps/instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
Since I’m a beginner with recording, and live in a rather subdued neighborhood, I decided to try my hand with Line 6 amp modeling, first with the TonePort, then PodXT Live. I wouldn’t part with either one, they both have met my every need. The TonePort does all that the PodXT can do, but is USB-powered, so you choose all of your amps, cabs and settings with a mouseclick, and record the tones line direct.
I’ve always had a keen ear for the production of my favorite albums, very cognizant of how guitars are placed in the mix, even before I knew HOW an album was mixed. As I’ve learned the art and craft of mixing, I’ve based my sound on the classic two-guitar sound, where two guitars of contrasting tones and/or riffs are placed and panned in a mix to create a wall of overwhelming-electric-guitar-sonic-rhapsody-bombast. (laughs) There have been very few bands that I thought carried a full, rich sound with only one guitarist, and even then they often overdub rhythm guitars on their albums that come up missing live.
We know you love heavy metal and especially the band KISS. What makes KISS one of your fav bands? Who are your other favs and main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands?
Truly, it started with the music. Even though KISS is very visual, and that no doubt has a tremendous effect on me, it all came from my love and fascination with the sound of the electric guitar. Nowadays, I could tell you that Ace Frehley was probably playing a Gibson Les Paul with DiMarzio pickups through a Marshall amplifier, which was miked in a service hall underneath the recording studio, but then, it was simply a matter of, “My god, I love that sound!” Through my older brothers and also through magazines of the day, I latched onto Judas Priest, Van Halen, AC/DC, Billy Squier, Foreigner, Iron Maiden, Joan Jett, Kix, Wasp, Cinderella and Ratt. I love the blues-based, riff-driven hard rock.
I’m primarily a rhythm- and riff-player but have had a lot of fun lately experimenting with my own solos. Though I can’t faithfully execute their style, I very much admire Jimmy Page, Glenn Tipton, Warren DiMartini, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards and, politics aside, Ted Nugent.
Outside of hard rock, I love Bonnie Raitt, William Ackerman, Enya, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Dolly Parton. There’s a hard-working band from Canada right now called The Trews. They’re a joy to listen to and watch. No frills or fills, very heart-and-soul rock and roll. I’m also a huge fan of Dwight Yoakam, whom I cannot mention without genuflecting to his longtime lead guitarist, Pete Anderson, who never ceases to amaze me with his hot blues licks over pure hillbilly classic country. And gorgeous as the day is long.
Being near Milwaukee and Chicago, you’ve been able to see some great bands live. What was your all-time favorite live concert?
There’s a few angles on that. For sheer joy and spiritual ecstasy, nothing can or will compare to field seats (22nd row) for the opening night of the KISS reunion: June 28, 1996 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I was able to track down a single ticket through a broker, which was OK because I had no one to go with me anyway. However, for pure surprise at being utterly blown away by a performer who I did not expect would blow me away when I saw him, that goes to Billy Squier on his “Here And Now” tour.
- Tell fans about your luv for heavy metal music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style of rock, how you were first drawn to it in your youth, etc.
What was called “heavy metal” when I was growing up seems so different from what is labeled as metal today. The hard rock and metal I’ve always been fond of has its roots in Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rolling Stones, which spawned the likes of KISS, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Aerosmith, all of whom have been major influences on my style and taste.
I’ve not followed the subgenres that have spun off with the grafting of punk and rap into the metal style. It’s ironic, because punk seems to be the driving influence in what’s labeled as “gay rock” or “queercore.” What I’m creating is more like the blues-rock bands I grew up with. I love what groups like Pansy Division and Jinx Titanic have done to put a gay perspective on hard rock. I know I couldn’t be doing this at all if not for great example these guys set before me.
My two older brothers brought home KISS’s “Rock and Roll Over” album when I was about seven or eight years old. I would listen to it, and I could not get over the sound - the buzz, the sustain of the electric guitars. I didn’t know how electric guitars worked, what amplifiers were, what pickups were, what effects were… I just knew that sound shook me to my soul.
Sonically, the hard rock/heavy metal sound just sounds powerful. With the artists that I still listen to, there tends to be a certain grandeur in the presentation. KISS has always done a big, visually overwhelming live show with pyro, staging and rigging. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden brought a higher level of complexity with their lyrics. They are probably referred to as operatic because of the high range of their respective vocalists, but also the lyrics reflected a dramatic style of story-telling, with songs like “The Sentinel” (Judas Priest-Defenders of the Faith) and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (Iron Maiden-Powerslave).
The visual impact that is attainable through a live hard rock/heavy metal show is great. I’m impressed as well when a band can transcend the expectations of their own live reputation. I saw WASP a few years ago, and remember their 80’s style show, but was blown away by new elements such as black light body painting, and the half-ton, spring-mounted, rideable mike stand. It’s true that people listen with their eyes.
- What’s it like being gay in the hyper-masculine, yet often sexually conflicted, homophobic world of heavy metal? What are your feelings on the outings of heavy-metal icons such as Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford?
It’s an interesting dichotomy. There’s a great documentary that’s been all over VH-1: “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”, where metal music is deciphered and analyzed through the eyes of an anthropologist. He studies the heavy metal scene as any other world culture. There’s a whole chapter on heavy metal and masculinity, which has some great observations. You’ve got guys in tight pants onstage, shaking their business at the front row of a 90% male audience; and no one ever thinks, “Hey, he’s waving his dick at me, that’s oh-so homoerotic!” It always amazed me that such sexually-driven music with such a strong male presence didn’t attract a bigger gay male following.
To me, it’s always seemed like all that hyper-macho posturing was part of the game, like in football, where guys are being super-butch, but then slapping each other on the ass and hanging out naked in the locker room together… or wrestling, extreme fighting, where guys are at the height of their masculine virility while they’re entwined like a snake mating ball… I mean, really! (laughs) As GLBT audiences, maybe we just see it all from a different perspective, since at some point we’ve had to actually face the nuances, and sometimes disparities, of our assigned gender roles, in ways that many straights may not have done.
The Rob Halford coming-out was a very interesting event for me. I had known for a while through the insight of a lesbian friend, who was a huge Judas Priest fan. Lots of guys will carry around a bandana, put it on their forehead or in a pocket for convenience… she pointed out in a Halford photo that Rob had a yellow hanky in his back left pocket. She was very adamant that “straight guys will pick out any red or blue bandana they find at Wal-Mart. You have to consciously seek and pick out a yellow bandana… and by the way, here’s what it means…this was NOT an accident!” (laughs)
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
Once I had this epiphany for the sound of an electric guitar, I had to find everything I could (at eight years old) to see how this was done, at least by KISS. Magazines that showed the show, the amps, guitars, cables, and even guitar ads, I wanted to know how everything was done. Of course, I was doing it all from a fan perspective and not a musician’s. I couldn’t figure out how the guy on “Hee Haw” was playing the same guitar but making a completely different sound. (laughs)
One of my setbacks I had at the time was that I had absolutely no one to turn to in understanding the music or the sound. No one in my family was musical, and we were a military family, so we never stayed in one place long enough to have long-lasting friends. So it took a long time until I was able to meet and befriend anyone who played or knew anything about playing an instrument. My parents compromised by giving me an acoustic guitar for my fifteenth Christmas, but really didn’t want any part of my acquiring an electric guitar. Funny looking back, since my mom actually came to one of my Bearapalooza shows!
Furthering the apprehension was my full knowledge that I was gay. I knew I was, without a doubt, complete “Kinsey 6” upon the onset of puberty. I learned very quickly how taboo it was to be caught checking out other guys, especially in the locker room, especially in a new school where there are no friends to vouch for your personal worth. To me, it was a big secret to be guarded at all costs of having a friend in the world. Looking back, it sounds kind of severe, but that’s how scared I was at the time. I’m sure it was also compounded with the self-image of thick glasses, braces, a very gawky and gangly appearance. Even if I knew how to play well, I didn’t feel welcome or taken seriously by any of my adolescent peers who played in bands, who were all “cool kids.” That was not me. (laughs)
I’m constantly amazed today when I talk to people my age who grew up in different parts of the country who tell me, “Oh, I was experimenting at a young age, I fooled around with friends, etc.” Nothing like this EVER happened to me, no one EVER propositioned me (laughs) and no one EVER confided in me that THEY might be gay, though some did confide that they thought I might be (laughs).
Now, consider my choice of music at the time: heavy metal was huge on MTV and the message I was getting was very clear. Rock bands were made up of straight white men who loved hot chicks with big tits, short skirts, fishnet stockings and garters. This was how I believed the world worked. So the thought of being in a band, and possibly attracting women to me was as intimidating as the thought of joining a band and pretending to be straight to the other guys. Truly, being honest about myself to others never occurred to me because it was unheard of (to me) and unthinkable that anyone could be a homo rocker. Nothing in my rural Florida worldview supported such a notion. The internet was a decade away, so I only saw my life, and then the life portrayed in “Metal Edge” or “Circus” magazine.
People ask me now, “Didn’t you see Freddy Mercury? In a band called ‘Queen’ (wink wink)?” Honestly, I only heard the music. The only film I ever saw of Mercury performing was of him sitting at a piano, singing either “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “We Are The Champions.” And at that age, “queen” was not in my lexicon as being—well, I guess I didn’t even HAVE a gay lexicon yet. (laughs)
- For an openly out glbt player - how do you think the overall music scene differ today
from years ago?
Certainly today, most people are aware of Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, Melissa Etheridge, Michael Stipe and others who are gay and popular in the mainstream. So much of the fear that was present, say twenty years ago, that being gay equaled automatic rejection, has diminished. As well, with advances in technology and the internet, anyone with the desire is able to make a professional-sounding product in the privacy of their home, and distribute it through any number of means, with or without brick-and-mortar stores. Whereas twenty years ago, you were dead in the water if you didn’t have the support of a label, or live in a supercenter urban area like New York, Los Angeles or Nashville.
As well, twenty years ago, teenagers and young people had a very different perspective handed down to them of what it meant to be gay. There was no “Will & Grace” or “Queer Eye” or “Brokeback Mountain” or “Transamerica.” Back then, it seemed like it was Liberace, Billy Jean King, and AIDS: that was the prospect of gay life when I was a young person, living in the rural U.S. Things aren’t perfect now, but abundantly more amiable
- Tell us about your recent experiences performing live at “bear” events. Explain your one-man-band rig. How do your bear buds and bear audiences take to a headbanger in their midst?
I’ve was very lucky to be invited twice to participate in Bearapalooza. For those who don’t know, Bearapalooza is a concert of musicians and performers of the Bear community. A lot of people I speak to mistakenly think it’s an actual band. (laughs) Freddy Freeman started having these gatherings in 2002, and they’ve been held in all kinds of places around the country. Lots of talented performers with all kinds of styles have participated, and have also branched out into other events like “Bears On The Run.”
I first met Freddy in Milwaukee, when their Pridefest set was cancelled due to rain. I was able to sit ringside (actually bedside) while the Bearapalooza performers did their sets for each other in their hotel room. I was invited to play a few of my songs, and was very honored when Freddy asked me a few months later if I’d be interested to participate at Bearapalooza at Sawmill campground in Florida. A few days later, Michael West asked me to fill in on short notice at the Bearapalooza gathering in Tennessee. My first two shows, out of town, and within two weeks of one another! I took backing tracks on a CD, with lead vocals and one guitar stripped off, and plugged into my Line 6 Pod and played straight through the PA mixed with the backing tracks. It works really well when there’s little room or time for set up, since most of the other artists are playing acoustically.
I loved it and feel so fortunate that I can be included with the great guys that have played these events. It was very funny to me that a number of the guys grew up listening to very similar bands as I did, and yet they’ve evolved into playing acoustic, singer/songwriter material. I’ve not yet felt compelled to morph into that style, but it has definitely been an eye-opening experience.
- Any advice for new, upcoming openly queer musical artists?
All I can say is, “Join me!” (laughs) I feel as new and upcoming as anyone out there. Practice, practice, practice! And take care of business, literally. Write everything down: every idea, every riff, every amp setting, every time and date. File your copyrights. And don’t worry if someone doesn’t identify with your style right away. As difficult as it may seem, don’t take it personally. Someone *is* out there waiting for you to show them the way, so keep on that road. Take it from Mama Cass and “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”
- What are your current and future musical projects? Including any new cds, touring and other promotions.
I’ve been working in my home studio for some time on my first CD, which will include eight originals and two covers. Since I’m working alone and splitting my time with a day job, I’m making slow but steady progress both with the actual recording and my learning curve with recording techniques. As of this writing, I’m about to double the songs on MySpace from two to four. So I’ll have the four original songs from my Bearapalooza sets posted as preliminary mixes, to hold you over until the whole CD is finished.
Once it’s done, I can give a stronger focus to playing out in the Milwaukee/Chicago area and beyond. I’m definitely open to a band situation, but am ready to move forward without if need be. I have applications pending for a couple of regional pride festivals, and if those come to fruition, I’ll let you know where I’ll be performing!
Hear Steve's music at:: www.myspace.com/stevereedermusic
Go to GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE Home Page
Read more GGW's "GUITARIST OF THE MONTH" Interviews
Go to Robert Urban's Music & Arts Reviews
Return to Robert Urban Homepage