Steven Athanas joined his first band, Jell-O, in middle school. Since then, he’s been the frontman of more Northwest Ohio bands than anyone can count— including him. Known for his clownish performances, Athanas turned stage to court, serving as a reliably entertaining, self-aware jester.
Today, he substitutes the stage for the walls of the gallery. Despite turning his focus toward visual art, the prolific Toledo musician has found the time to release a new album: “Songs About Girls.” “New” is as a tough term for Athanas— the recordings are fresh, but the songs serve as a soundtrack to his stage career.
With the help of four musician buddies (dubbed after a silly palindrome. YOBANANABOY), “Songs About Girls” was recorded with the past in mind:
“What pasted this project together was finding a bunch of songs that I wrote when I was in my 20s when I was playing live. We recorded them and then realized they were all about women,” says Athanas. “And it’s funny… for better or for worse, it’s why I got into rock n roll— to meet girls.”
But that was decades ago. Today, Athanas doesn’t spend his time looking for attention on stage— he’s married and has children the same age as he was when he wrote the tracks— so revisiting the songs of his youth made for a unique experience.
“I tried to sing the songs the way as I once did. I hear a much older man here. My voice isn’t what it used to be,” he explains. “The way I felt back then was just different, and that mindset is almost obsolete now, but it was fun to jump back in and see what happened. It’s kind of like being in high school, and then years later, finding out you were not as ugly or as nerdy as you were led to believe.”
Rough around the edges
Spanning four decades, the tracks on “Songs About Girls” maintain a sonic structure similar to his previous work— jagged, hyper, distinctly-unpolished, and full of energy— reminding listeners that rock n roll just doesn’t make sense buttoned up: “Perfection to me is boring. I like the rough edges. Who wants to be perfect?”
Perfect— unobtainable and stodgy— is not important for Athanas. He embraces roughness, ambiguity and flexibility, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks and to relate in a more
intimate, personal way.
“And that’s the kind of performer I was. I would bring people on stage— often pissing off the other band members— but I didn’t give a shit,” he reflects. “Music isn’t for the musicians. It’s for the people. If it was just for us we might as well be in a garage with the door shut.” But, you simply don’t meet many girls playing songs in someone’s parent’s garage.
Instead it was the stage— where the girls are nearby— where he found the perfect harmony of inspiration, attention and motivation that fueled “Songs About Girls.”