Following the release of another brand new album, the wonderfully nostalgic and emotive Chasing Shadows, we caught up with Emotional Relation’s very own Stephen to find out more about this project, the ideas of the band, the future of music, and a whole lot more. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hey – thanks so much for the chat, and congratulations on the release of Chasing Shadows! For those new to your music, how would you describe the underlying style and intention of a project like this?
Thank you so much for caring and taking the time to talk to me. I am simply ecstatic to be doing this interview with you, just immensely thankful, and you are so wonderful.
This release has been a big milestone for me – bigger than my average release, with 15 songs, it represents around 50% more studio slaving than normal, haha!
My goal with this music is to relate to people of all groups, those who struggle with all sorts of negative feelings related to life, but to also help them grow and process these feelings in a way that truly helps them transcend them. Life is a crazy, wild walk and no matter how good you have it, somehow there’s always a way to struggle, too. This world isn’t a perfect place – and nobody’s a perfect person. Our feelings mislead us all the time, while we assume “if we feel it… it must be right!”
So this album goes out to all the people who call themselves emo, sad, moody, or even depressed, and it’s to remind them they aren’t alone in their struggles, and that there IS an Answer.
The style would best be described as Pop-Punk that varies between super soft songs to screaming lamentations to the best of my ability. It mostly follows in the footsteps of those like Senses Fail, MCR, and Simple Plan, but I like to think it has a little something for everyone – Hard rock, or not!”
What does the title represent, and what do you hope people take away from the album?
The title represents for me, any time that I have spent chasing something which I believe to be a fleeting shadow of what real Meaning is. The exact object of the chase is somewhat irrelevant – it could any thing, for anyone. Each person probably knows what it is for them. The reality is, we spend our lives forgetting about God and chasing everything else to try and fill that hole in our heart.
I believe that each and every thing we chase after is like a pale reflection of a good thing about God. So in this way we are each chasing after shadows of the living creator, putting these things in substitution of Him… but it never really works.
So that’s the story of this album – it’s the story of a man chasing after every thing in the world, to experiencing deep sadness and loss, to finally coming back home and admitting the ways he was wrong.
Which is why the first song is Not All That Happy and the last song is Chasing Shadows.
Not All That Happy sings in the Chorus
“Longing / Longing / What else could it be? / Money, fame and life seem so empty. / Longing / Longing / What else could it be? / Sing a song and make it sound so happy… / Well, honestly I’m not all that happy.”
Chasing Shadows sings in the Chorus
“So now, / Take my life and watch / Watch it fall to pieces of You, Oh God! / All the time I spent / Was only chasing shadows of You, Jesus.”
So that kind of tells the whole story right there. It doesn’t have all the pain details, loss, empty searching, and death included, but it’s basically the story.
Now, as someone who has had God all their life but still struggled emotionally and sometimes physically, I can speak that sometimes you know the Answer, you have God, but you still don’t feel very good. For me, it’s when I am alone. I can’t totally explain this – perhaps it’s a little bit of true Depression as a mental disorder rather than a logical problem. Perhaps it’s something I am doing wrong and I am mostly unaware of the way it grieves the Holy Spirit until I sit alone in silence. Perhaps it is a longing to be with God more fully than I can be on earth in an imperfect body, or perhaps it is my personality type internally screaming about being alone.
Perhaps it is any and all of these things in tandem, but there is one thing that I have learned, and that is that cutting God out only cuts out what hope and consistency you DO have, it does not make any of the problems better. Getting rid of God frees you up to chase after anything you desire and to obtain it however you please, but it also increases the feeling of emptiness, the worry, and, in my experience, the “bad turns of luck” or interpersonal problems. You see, we think that getting rid of God is the answer to all our problems. But getting rid of God is like getting rid of the one thing that gave all our problems an answer. Getting rid of the one thing that made all things good or bad work for our good. There have been times when I had to learn this the hard way, and times when the right thing didn’t feel very good and understanding why I could not align my emotions with something that I knew was right was so hard for me. It still is hard. Why can’t I just take what I know is right, and automatically feel it, too, based on logic?
But I have learned that God was the one thing I have always had and the one thing that was making all my struggles work for my good. Getting rid of God was not the answer, throwing God away was instead removing the one singular thing that actually made it all okay, no matter what happened.”
That’s an interesting, high type of scream you had on the breakdown of Not All That Happy. What inspired that?
Well, the music I love and emulate is most often presented with a dose of screaming along with the singing. I’ve always wanted to be able to scream, and I’ve actually done it a few times to interesting results. But as I got a bit older, and my voice became a little more touchy, it became more important to me to remember to save my voice for all the years I’d like to use it, and what was a temporary discomfort when I was younger became a longer and longer recovery time. The desire remained to scream at certain parts of certain songs, but it just hurt too much to keep doing it. So I tried to figure out what I COULD DO without hurting myself. Turns out, I can go really high and fall off the note, and it doesn’t hurt. It’s intense, it’s something to warm up to a bit, but it simply doesn’t hurt or feel bad. So now any time there’s a breakdown in a song, I just do that – and it sounds neat, it fits the vibe, it gets the same effect, but it’s unique, different, and most of all, it doesn’t hurt!
I do want to credit the Lord with healing my voice because there was a time in my life where I was going through some real vocal problems… and God helped provide for me through allergy medication and practice and maybe a touch of direct blessing. I could not do anything I do without Him.”
Which three songs would you recommend to new listeners, and why?
It’s hard to know, haha! I guess I would normally ask what the listener was into and then try to play a song that happens to be up their alley.
But if I was just trying to give someone a picture of what the band was about, I’d probably have them play Not All That Happy, Chasing Shadows, and I Love You to Death. These sort of represent a range of the styles and lyrics of the album, though I Wish I Was In Love is definitely one that I have found a lot of people really gravitate to, so it’s possible I’d use that one instead of Chasing Shadows.
I have a friend, Michael Vincent (Band Name: Perfect Foundation) who is really into my kind of music. It’s really nice because with him, it’s like I can do no wrong. I like to think everyone has fans out there like that for them. But just when I think I’ve gone and done something that’s not worth my time, or I’m feeling discouraged or depressed about my music, Mike can see it from a totally different, positive outside perspective, and encourage me that it’s something good, after all. I always joke that Mike is like my megafan, but it’s really because he really is. He’s also a megafriend, though, haha. I suppose him hearing my music is like me hearing any track from A Day to Remember or Senses Fail… I don’t think there is much in the world that would make me dislike anything these people made, especially if it was in the wheelhouse of their style.
So it’s such a blessing to have such a good friend like Mike, which, by the way, makes music, too! We actually did an EP together – called “Right Where I’m Supposed to Be” by Perfect Foundation and Emotional Relation. It’s about half and half my songs and his songs, but I helped produce, mix and master the other half, too, so you will likely be able to hear my influence on them, haha. (Not to mention the background vocals!)
What prompts a creative decision like including the instrumental keys of A Lullabye in contrast with the more lyrically dense story-tellers like Until The End Of The Road?
I love that you asked this question – I felt like this was a highly unexpected, yet artistic thing to do on an album.
I have to admit, 16 year old me probably would have skipped A Lullabye. He probably would have skipped The End, too! It’s funny how we change over time, I still have to remind myself to have some patience with music, but it’s funny how I find myself making songs I doubt I would have listened to when I was just a music listener, not a music maker. But I guess when you dive headfirst into something, whether art, music, or anything else, you come out of it appreciating a few more expansive things than when you were a “casual enthusiast”.
So to answer the question, this album really captures a lot of emotions and moods. It’s like taking you on a journey, each song something special in it’s own right, but also representing a piece of the whole. The album has a concept, if you will, and while the concept is not as fully realized within the songs as some of our more Progressive friends might have it be, it is a concept nonetheless.
So A Lullabye is like this totally EP-keys based song, that sounds so gentle and serene. It’s supposed to represent a feeling that we might go through, that feeling of laying down to go to sleep, but also the feeling of everything being so quiet and seeming so serene, even though we are saying goodbye to someone for reasons of life, or death. It’s supposed to kind of be like the serene moment of grief, in a sense. The calm sadness or misery or lack of feeling that comes after the storm of tears and wailing, or perhaps before. On another note, it’s also a really nice song to go to sleep to.
Funny story, when I made the song, I made an album art to go with it, and uploaded it to YouTube and possibly Facebook and IG. Well, I was sort of showing it to my parents one day, with other songs, and my Mother said something about “That’s not how you spell lullaby.” Of course I laughed and sighed because while my spelling is quite solid, she never seems to fail at finding the occasional error or typo. It was very much a Captain Picard “facepalm” moment. Then my Dad says this line in response to her, saying “It’s always about BYE. Saying goodbye, isn’t it? A Lulla-BYE.”
So I decided that that really made sense and gave it a tinge of intense emotion and meaning to such a peaceful song. So I thought, “Oh. Yeah! That’s it! It’s a Lulla-BYE!”
It’s pretty hilarious though because in the beginning, it was just an honest mistake of spelling. To be honest, “lullaby” still looks like it would be said “lulla-bee”, to me. Haha!
The music and some of the titles imply a certain darkness, however the overall album name and indeed the lyrics portray the opposite – a sense of brightness and possibility, in light of difficulty. Was this an intentional direction, and what do you think ultimately inspired this style of composition?
I think what really inspired the exact nature of the concept and composition is probably my own life and struggles. It’s meant to be something that is not just confined to myself, which is why I’m always a bit internally hesitant to put my own situations into a song when I talk about it – but the most common way I relate to people is simply writing from my own heart. I honestly don’t know any other way. The way I approach trying to affect other people emotionally is by being emotionally affected, myself. I guess I try to relate to people on this simple ground that even a child might be able to understand, and break down those walls we all have where we say in our minds,
‘Well, that’s just not intense enough for me to cry about it. I just don’t think I need to be emotionally open right now. That’s not really that sad or meaningful, it’s just simple.’
It gets me emotional because I am scared of messing up and not doing a good job of the things I want to do, not doing a good enough job helping others for God. Sometimes all you really know how to do is put your heart and emotion into the performance and hope that somewhere between the whimpers and tears someone will be affected enough to actually think about what’s being said and how meaningful it is. I’m not always the best at saying things but I am very good at being honest about what I am feeling and how much God means to me, so sometimes it’s a mixture of feeling inadequate, being insecure, yet being open enough to show it in some way.
That happens more during live performances, though, but the recordings are a highly emotional experience of their own that is both intense and cathartic.
Especially at the very end of Chasing Shadows, that was like a Keith Green inspired, highly emotional tender moment of honesty to God.
I’d say the direction was definitely intentional, even if it was not planned to the letter from point A. I like to try to make the albums tell a story, and I guess I’ve been at a similar place in my life for quite a while, so the past 3 stories have been varying versions of a similar motif.
I’m glad you picked up on both the darkness, and the brightness and hope. Those really are separate things present in the intention of the music. The album touches on depression, death, sadness, love or lack thereof, but also happiness, hope for a better tomorrow, and emotional growth or readiness for it.
Again, it’s just all about all these struggles we have in life and how extreme they can be to us emotionally. Even when life is great, it often has so much that challenges us, so we need to remember the plight of others that likely have it much worse than us, or rather to seek out ways to help them, but there’s absolutely no denying our own struggle with life and death, and our need for love and meaning, either.
It’s trying to paint this honest picture of life that is 100% real… yet maintain that God is still the answer. Being 100% real, I don’t always feel good. I don’t always react the right way, and my emotions mislead me ALL the time. I’ve even cried about losing things or people that I knew God never wanted for me to be close to – which when you really think about it, is pretty silly. But I thank God He understands that we literally cannot be perfect even when we want to be, and that He understands what it’s like to have emotions that tell us one thing when God says another… because He found that out when He was in Jesus and cried in the garden in prayer, about His upcoming death on a cross.
Most of all I thank God He is willing to forgive, because I need it as much as anyone.
What can you tell us about She’s A Dirty Word?
I’m glad you asked! So this song has a title that sounds pretty awful – most people I know are inclined to go wide-eyed and say “What? I don’t know about that.” And a few I know would go “I do know about that… And it’s bad.”
But I PROMISE you, the song is NOT bad.
So I always start off with this joke, and the joke is that I say “Oh no no, don’t worry. It’s just a metaphor,” and then everyone freaks out because that totally still sounds awful and doesn’t explain it away AT ALL! Hahahahahaha!
It’s true that it is a metaphor, but it’s not an inappropriate one. The song is actually supposed to be talking about a Christian guy who wants to date and get really close with this girl who doesn’t care about God. You don’t have to be Christian to know this sort of thing usually doesn’t work out – but if it does, it usually means one person or the other getting closer, or farther away from God/Christianity.
So the song’s title is a metaphor for how healthy a Nonchristian woman is for a Christian guy’s romantic life. It’s about as healthy as saying a curse word – some people think cursing is cool, think it’s normal, even think it’s great and powerful, but as a Christian, I won’t say this is a black and white issue, because it’s not. There are different views and it’s about the heart of the words spoken, not the sounds. I personally know wonderful Christians who believe cursing is okay. And I respect their viewpoint.
But for myself, and in my opinion, it’s unhealthy and not at all a good idea. And so the whole song is making this point that this guy thinks this girl is so cool and great and awesome, and maybe she is, in a humanistic way. But since this guy is trying to be a devoted Christian, this girl is about as healthy for him as saying a curse word. Which is to say, not very healthy, and despite what everyone else in the world says, not cool or what he is missing in life.
“She’s a dirty word and you’re self-assured / That that is good just like you heard / She’s all you want and she’s all you need / To fall apart the next week
She’s an honest word at this desperate turn / You’d settle for a love like hers / She’s all you want and she’s all you need / To feel alright ’til next week
You’re learning this / The hard way / Looking for bliss / In the wrong place”
My last thought on this is on the danger of this type of relationship. The song is written from the positive perspective that said Christian guy will learn his lesson the hard way, by eventually losing this girl because of his relationship with God. Anyone who’s been through a breakup knows that the pain is no joke and nothing to be scoffed at.
But it’s equally possible that he will gain a girl and lose his relationship with God – and maybe never care enough or get to a place where he will accept God again.
This is actually the worst case scenario, but it happens more than you might think. A lot of guys are very casual Christians, brought in to Christianity because of their parents, maybe because of their friends, but whatever it might be… finding a girl they fall in love with who happens to not care much for God can spell the end for their relationship with God. And the relationship can distract them enough to not have to think about God for years, potentially their whole life. Even for devoted Christians who really do care about God, this trial of choosing between a certain romantic relationship and God is extremely difficult, as it was for me. It makes you not want to be with God because you feel like God is the only one telling you you can’t have the girl. When in reality God is telling you to be patient and follow His plan that is the very best thing for you, and this girl sadly isn’t something you want, even though you feel that way.
So it’s not just a question of learning a lesson the hard way, and suffering through a pile of tears and mucus with a headache. Or even just 3 years of missing a girl. It’s a legitimate danger of being led astray and falling away. A risk.
But anyway, the song is quite sprightly and a little goofy in execution. Did you catch that out-of-tune gong going into the second verse? The song’s almost a modern Bowling for Soup vibe, haha!
What about the song Dead While Alive, what does this mean, and why was it important for you to write about and express it in this way?
This song might be the most emotional track of the album. It reminds me of Taking Back Sunday mixed with Queen and Neil Young when he turns on the distortion.
As far as execution, I decided I was going to use all the power I had in my voice to sing the song very high in the Chorus, as opposed to many of the alternate techniques there are to sing high without yelling or to be expressive in a lower range.
This made the song extremely emotional, both in sound and to me, performing it. It’s a very, very sad song, but with a deep meaning behind the sadness rather than just emptiness with no clue why. My Mom actually wanted me to add something positive to it, at the end, because it just felt so sad, otherwise. I explained that I might do that in concert or on the album, but that the point of this song was not to leave people on a positive note, but rather to leave them with an extremely poignant and emotionally intense statement, representative of true sadness, and emptiness away from God.
“Here I am / Again, today / Stuck inside this snare that I made myself / Oh, God, / It’s pointless / To resist this / Anymore / For I have failed / And after all / I’m already here / And after all / It feels so truly nice / To sin for just one night / It makes me feel alright”
So this part of the song talks about the struggle of sin, and feeling trapped in it. We sometimes justify it by saying “We’ve already sinned by getting here, we might as well go the rest of the way”. Unfortunately, that is never God talking when you hear that.
A lot of times it’s our own fault for feeling trapped in a sin, and getting ourselves into the situation. The sin might even feel good for a moment. It might give us a temporary feeling of satisfaction.
“So maybe / I / Don’t need / A God / To help / Me through / This life / I love / The voice / In my head / Says to me / I can have / Everything / I really want (2nd time: I think I want. 3rd time: That kills my soul.)”
The lyrics are so dark that it continually makes me uncomfortable to hear these words resound out of my stereo, and the overall meaning is so serious that I almost want to skip the song whenever I’m feeling upbeat and positive.
Obviously, it’s dealing with doubt and taking the thought process to that next level past the sin, into “What’s wrong with the sin? I want it, so I can have it. Why don’t I just throw God away, because He’s the only thing stopping me from having everything I want.”
Which leads into the Chorus’s realization,
“My life is empty now / I’ve lost the things I love / The things that I live for / Rip my heart apart / For nothing’s left of me / I’ve lost the true Meaning / Will You come through for me, Lord, / Just one last time now?
I’m grasping for the love / I once so truly beared / My hands fall empty down / To my sides / Once again / I know it’s You I need / But that’s the thing I can’t / Admit to myself, so / I’m dead while I’m alive”
And so this brings it to that place I always end up whenever I throw away God to get what I think I want. Sadness and emptiness away from God. Not knowing what to live for. The things that make me feel good also eating away at my conscience. Losing meaning. Feeling dead in my soul even while my body is still alive.
This song is emotionally extreme, and I think I cried the first few times I heard it. It’s really trying to paint that picture of despair away from God, and how futile it is to think that throwing God away was ever the answer to our problems. I think that getting rid of God will fix my problem by not having to think of sin as sin any more. But instead, it makes me lose all grip on anything I had ever lived for in my life.”
Given the underlying topic of personal growth, what have you learned from the past year and a half of global turmoil that has impacted your perspective in a new way, and does this show itself in the music?
“Most of these songs were written before the pandemic, and the pandemic has affected me fairly significantly. (Having COVID as bad as the stomach flu and my room completely invaded by a working-from-home father [it is a long story with more than one perspective] are among the list.) However, I haven’t seen that come out in these songs and only subtly in other songs. I guess coping with that somehow hasn’t taken precedence over other things in life. We all have had to learn how to cope with some changes, and in the end, my country America is coming out one step stronger for it, I think. I’m just thankful things are getting back to normal, especially in Texas where I live, and just positively thankful that live music is coming back.”
Putting one last song under the microscope – We’re All Emo, Here, a brilliantly relatable title for many, somewhat nostalgic. What’s the meaning of this one, and where do you imagine people listening to it for the best experience?
For the best experience, I always imagine people hearing these songs live. That’s why I sometimes use stereo separation on the guitars, putting a lead on the right and a rhythm on the left, or vice versa. Because it’s imitating, in a highly idealized way, the sound of a live show and being immersed in that. The song is very much the vibe of some punk concert with the singer yelling most of the time, and the guitars and drums and bass doing their own thing, but working together in certain ways to make the song hit hard, like throwing in hard stops or a jammin’ lead.
Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to the place where I have done a lot of my album’s music live with a band, yet. I’ve done a lot of singing and playing at church, but it’s actually pretty hard to get a whole band together who’s into your stuff, willing to practice, or even having the skill level to attempt learning and practicing the songs. The most important part for me is having the insane drummer that most of these songs need – and using a track for drums simply isn’t quite the same. But I’m willing to compromise if it means I actually can do them live hahaha! Oh, for the day!
The song We’re All Emo, Here is kind of like a call to action. A lot of the songs on the album spend a long time lamenting things, singing about sadness, wishing for love and missing love, death, even despair away from God. It’s all very very emotional and honest and even uniquely human and broken.
I love Emo music. That’s my thing. But after a very long while of screaming about all your problems, wants, dissatisfactions and being so obsessed with all the ways life gives you the short end of the stick, I guess something kind of hit me. And that was, we aren’t special because we’re broken and we admit it, because we’re all broken. That’s really not what makes us special. What makes us special is how we overcome our brokenness and transcend it.
For a guy like me, I spend a long time trying to write songs to help people through the angle of “Here’s the pain I’ve been through… Maybe you’ve felt it, too.”
But it struck me that there’s only so much I can say or help without mentioning God or Jesus.
So it’s really like an implied title of “We’re All Emo, Here… Let’s Be Something More Than That.”
When we first encounter Emo music it’s so refreshing to just see someone who’s emotionally honest and raw in their music – and to have someone who feels like us, expressing themselves about it. We feel like they understand us, and the admittance of brokenness seems so special because based on the artists we had heard at the time previously, it IS different, special, and emotionally honest, as opposed to many groups and bands who were more based in “a good time” or “surface level love songs”.
It might seem strange now because today’s pop music has mostly merged with Emo and Alt, and we celebrate individuality more every year, so it is EXCEEDINGLY common for music today to have extremely emotional words and brutally honest lyrics, even to a fault. But not all music is that way – and you don’t really look for that sort of thing until you feel a certain way, and are looking for someone else who does, too.
So this song is like Emo taken to the next level, or what I will affectionately call Lyrically Post-Emo. Because it takes that obsession with our emotions and feelings and all the bad parts of life, and then lyrically walks one step further. Take a look…
“I could sit here and sing / About a million things / About the way she treated me / And the regret full life I lead / A hundred and one things afflict my soul!
I can paint my eyes to black / And maybe that’s just fine / But what good will it do / To keep singing failures of my life / I think I’ve made that point a million times.
MCR taught me that life sucks / God taught me that truth wins in the end / Somebody’s gotta say it / Somebody’s gotta say it!
This song is for the emos / The outcasts / The ones who always cared
This song is for the rejects / The defects / The ones who lost their care
Jesus loves you more than you may know / Jesus fixes broken souls / Jesus loves you more than you may know / Jesus renews a sense of hope”
So I guess it’s just like saying ‘Okay, great. We admit we’re broken. We’re Emo. We’re emotional. Everybody here is super emotional and honest and broken. Now let’s start getting past it. Let’s start trying to fix ourselves and better ourselves for God. It might a little bit special to be honest and admit that we’re broken in front of tons of people, but it’s extremely special and the meaning of life to actually care about what God thinks and try to do the right thing based on His word.’
Will there be any live shows or streams fans can look out for, and if so – what can we expect from a live set-up?
I sure hope so! If there’s anyone out there that’d like to see a live show, I’d love to hear about it. Just email email@example.com! It’d be a challenge just to get a band together for it at this point, so if you’re even a reasonably solid rock guitarist, drummer, bassist, or keyboardist in the Dallas, Texas area, I’d probably like to hear from you!
On that note, I post updates on the band IG page @emotionalrelation. So if you’re interested in following my exploits, that’s probably the place to do it!
Given the effects of 2020, the struggles and the re-start, what would you change about the new music industry going forward?
I honestly have no idea. I have never thought about that haha! However, I would personally say that stopping shows is probably a bit much. I could be wrong about that, I say that from a place of emotion rather than science or anything else, but me personally I just don’t think stopping live shows was ever really a good idea, certainly not for much longer than around 3 to 6 months. Other than that I honestly don’t know if I would change anything. I’m not even sure I would change that, I just don’t like not having concerts! Hahahahaha!
What’s next for you creatively?
Next album promises to have even more stylistic branching out, with plenty of the Pop Punk fans will expect. I’m not sure how much to reveal out of my upcoming bag of tricks for the next album – I don’t want to spoil the freshness! Haha. But let’s just say I got a hold of a new VST Synth and got a little inspired by some of the Alt-rappers I’ve been hearing on the radio lately! But don’t worry, the next album will have something for everyone… And of course, a lot for those who are into the distortion guitar rock! One song in particular I look forward to sharing, “It was Always a Sweet, Sweet 16”. I actually cried during the performance of this song – it’s extremely nostalgic and a relationship based song. Just extremely poignant and meaningful to me, with a closeness to the vocal for much of the song. You guys will love it. And of course… Michael Vincent (Perfect Foundation) has already given his stamp of approval! Ahahahaha!
Is there anything else we should know?
Rebecca Cullen for Stereo Stickman is simply the most loving and caring reviewer for independent music out there. If you’re looking to get a review, you simply cannot go wrong with her.
Thank you Stephen, you’re too kind – congrats on the epic new album!
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