Has the Salt of the Earth Lost Its Savour?

Image c/o Zack Rogers

A multimedia artist hailing from Sarasota, Florida, Branden grapples with the ideas of civilization, identity, and vulgarity through abstract collages. With influences ranging from Goya to Ray Johnson, this is no hotel room art. My favorite take-away from Branden’s work is the primal feeling he creates within each of his pieces, a characteristic that is prominent and compelling. You can find more of his artwork on his Instagram and he also has a poetry book for sale on the Advanced Perspective shop here

When you’re tasked with something difficult, you may sometimes find yourself unsure where to begin or start. I want to give all my projects the same amount of attention and I really strive to do right by them because they are an extension of myself and this is how I tend to view all my work. When I sat down to work on this project about Branden Stepp, I didn’t think it would do him enough justice or provide enough context on the extraordinary person he is if I didn’t mention his musical journey, so I first have to take you back a little bit. In 2017, the world was introduced to a new hardcore LP from the band Unified Right titled If I Can’t Listen to Unified Right in Heaven Then Send Me Straight to Hell and it grew to be one of my favorite records across all genres of music. Branden’s artistic expression doesn’t start or end with Unified Right but it does provide a glimpse into the way he thinks and views the world around us. That said, I knew it would be fulfilling and insightful to catch up with him about the band that I’ve grown to love so much.

I wasn’t familiar with the Unified Right demos at this point, only the EP and the single track from the Triple B comp; essentially what was available on Apple Music is what I had access to. I had no idea who Branden was or what he did outside of music. Their EP got a few listens, but I was at a weird stage in my life where I was so immersed in the classics that I wouldn’t give myself the proper time with more contemporary releases. Upon first real, intent listen to the LP, I was mesmerized by the sheer aggression and passion that came through the instrumental performances. Loud, booming drums with blitzing guitars is a time-tested recipe for success. We got solos, we got mosh breaks, we got fast parts, every component of my favorite type of aggressive guitar music was present. Then came Branden’s vocals. Immediately and unflinchingly commanding the attention of the listener, Branden’s delivery is nothing short of pure musical excellence.

Music isn’t worth listening to unless its making me think or asking me questions. Imploring the audience to seek answers is the best way to keep them intrigued and for that reason, this LP goes far deeper than the surface. Branden is asking and presenting the audience with questions of morality (So It Goes and Power Core), sustainability and consumerism (Consuming Satisfaction),  and gentrification (The Lobster Wears A Top Hat) but he also doesn’t shy away from turning the light on himself with introspective looks into love and life (Ode to Living) and friendship (Dedicated To The Ones I Love). So Branden asks again, “has the salt of the Earth lost its savour?”

Has touring the country changed/altered your perception of the world?

It’s been amazing and I’m hoping to travel more in the future on the road or with my partner Allison. I’m sure there are some epiphanies that are lost to memory but without a doubt traveling has impacted me. Ideally I’d be traveling for the most of my time but that’s not an option at the moment. I feel really good about touring with Unified Right and I wish we could have more, but we didn’t.

Before the Digital Future website happened, I was working on documenting and reviewing all the Unified Right live sets available on Youtube. From those videos alone I could see your evolution over the years. It was a good writing exercise, but from the videos it seemed like you guys were touring almost every year and but I think you guys only came to Arizona once? Do you have any memories of traveling through or playing Arizona? 

We played Arizona two years in a row, the summers of ’14 and ’15 I believe. I love Arizona and I’m dying to go back! A very magical place for me coming from Florida and the east coast. I would love to know more about the native cultures there.

Do you view lyric writing/poetry as a cathartic, personal experience or do you use it to tell stories that others may relate to?

Writing is cathartic for me but less than it may seem from reading or hearing it. I think art in any form should reach other people in some way. Good art has intention but that’s probably not always true.

Are there any songs you wrote that you still think about or come back to for comfort? Personally, I think I can always turn to the Unified Right LP for solace.

It’s usually nostalgia or maybe I’m feeling down on whatever I’m making now so I need a boost of confidence which usually doesn’t help because I’m not in the band anymore. I typically turn to beer and pot when I need comfort or I go on a walk.

Do you ever feel artistic/musical burnout or fatigue?

Always. Maybe I can make art or write something but it’s usually a struggle, which is part of the fun. Trying to create can be depressing but you have to do it,  you have to do it.

Was Payback your first attempt at making music or being in a band?

Payback was Unified Right before we changed our name and that was my first attempt at making music. I don’t see myself being in another band anytime soon.

Do you think digital access has ruined the artistic process? I read a book a while back about Andy Warhol ruining artistic expression and the artistic process through excessive replication and marketization. In retrospect, we can obviously see the impact of Warhol, but not in the way it was intially heralded. I do think digital access has had a similar impact and put a strain on the creative process. What are your thoughts?

There are a lot more distractions with the internet and technology. That’s true, but I don’t think it hinders creativity as much as I might have a few years ago. I think if you’re going to be interested in creating something or just fiddling around then you’ll do something other than make “art” , like working on cars or knitting or something. I’d say it’s just as hard to find a rational way to live that’s got no bend to it. We see amazing art everyday but most of it barely penetrates and we forget it or brush it off because we can’t feel the vision – or it’s so good I don’t have to think at all and forget about it. The internet is almost too strange and normal to talk about in a critical way anymore, but to add onto the question, I think a new kind of artist will exist now that is something like a super artist because everything is up for grabs that you could be interested in. How could we ever be bored?

Do you have any closing remarks you’d like to share before we close this out?

For the last word I’ll just say my art is for sale and to check out Allison’s art work.

On April 25th I published a newsletter showcasing the talent of 3 artists from across the country. I wanted to make these public to bring our efforts to a larger audience. Head over to our newsletter page to sign up so you don’t miss anything, they are sent out every Saturday morning at 12pm MST.

Editors note: words to live by.

So another month goes by
and we wonder what we’re doing with our time
The past is the past
It’s a sad fact but it’s where
our happiness seems to last
Know that you hold the key
And the future is in your grasp
Will you keep turning that same old wheel
Or let your music express exactly how you feel
Coming to terms with our existence
Was there a point and did we miss it?
Express your beliefs with all your POWER
I know you feel it in your CORE
In the dim lit room
We gather once again
Express our concerns
Of what we are against
Forget about the masses
They arent watching
Peaceful music that sounds aggressive
Know that you hold the key
And the future is in your grasp
Will you keep turning the same old wheel
Or let your music express exactly how you feel
Coming to terms with our existence
Was there a point and did we miss it?
Express your beliefs with all your POWER
I know you feel it in your CORE
No longer will we sit with silent rage
This is a coming of age
POWER CORE

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