Iron Curtain Interview with Steve Fields
1. Where did you grow up and what was the music scene like there?
I grew up in the Midwest (USA). Well actually I never grew up. As a younger child, I enjoyed classical symphonies and really danced up a storm to those records. Then as a teen I was devoted to the pop music on the radio. Stuff from the sixties like Motown was really a distillation of the classical themes. Then came the Beatles, the British Invasion and in high school I sang in a cover band. It was just a fun homage to all that music back then.
2. Did your family influence you when it came to making music?
Only to the extent that I would listen to my parent’s records and sing along to my favorite Broadway tunes when no one was around. I was secretive and kept my love of music and singing from them. I’m not sure why.
3. How old were you when you decided that you wanted to record your own music and what inspired you to release it yourself?
Around 1976-1977, I got turned on to punk like the Ramones, Elvis Costello, Blondie and Television. That was an even further distillation of pop and it had a lot of energy. Me and my girlfriend at the time, Jill Mcellmurry, decided to form a band here in Santa Barbara. We were both visual artists then and now. I borrowed my roommate’s guitar that he got at a yard-sale for 50 cents, and we started rehearsing our new band called “Blind Date”. When that band ended, we formed “The Neighbors” with some other guys, and we made a 7” with two songs: ‘Nuclear Family’ and ‘Punk in Paradise’. We played hundreds of gigs before we broke up. It was great. Then I got together with my brother and Doug Norton to form something new, along the lines of the new electronic bands that were just emerging. Doug is a keyboard guy and he just happened to have two Mini-Moogs! The influences were Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Magazine and others. I felt that breaking it down to the basics of two Mini-Moogs and percussion would create an evocative ambiance where the careful control of tone would be paramount.
4. Why did you choose the name Iron Curtain?
I thought that “Iron Curtain” would be a good name because it matched the coldness of the tones, and alludes to the simplicity of the songs. The name also had a kind of retro feel that was a nod to the cultural influences of the past.
5. How did you meet Doug Norton, Bruce Cooper and Terry Bower?
At first it was just the three of us. Previously I went to live with a new girlfriend in NYC and just before I moved, I convinced Doug to take a leave of absence from his park ranger job and come to NYC to play in a transitional band called “Twelve”. It was Bill Gerstell on drums from ‘The Neighbors’, myself on bass and vocals, and Doug on Yamaha baby grand. We played cbgb! Then he went back to Santa Barbara. Then my relationship started to go bye-bye and I
got tired of NYC. When I returned to Santa Barbara, my brother expressed interest in playing drums and so we formed Iron Curtain with Doug. We performed live many times and released two cassette albums locally. After a while, my brother Ken brought in Olga Torres on keyboards because he wanted a fuller sound. After my brother quit to move to NYC, we used a drum machine and Bruce Cooper expressed interest in playing bass. He had previously played free-form bass in NYC. Terry Bower ran a local music repair shop and we asked him to engineer a live recording that was ICR-2 on cassette. He made us sound pretty good then so he became our engineer at Santa Barbara Sound when we started to make records. Incidentally, my brother, Ken Fields formed a minimal band in NYC called “Auscult” and released a terrific record that is a true rarity. I plan on asking him if i can release it on CD at some point.
6. What is ‘Terror Story’ about?
‘Terror Story’ was my horrific tongue in cheek statement regarding the new slasher entertainment that was coming out at the time. In writing that song, I tried to access that insane stalker/killer within and I guess I found it. I sang my vocals into a phone from just outside the studio and I’ve always loved the lo-fi vocal effect.
7. What about the standout track ‘The Condos’?
‘The Condos’ developed from being a stately dirge into a livelier form after Ken spent an evening re-orchestrating it. In my opinion, the slow one is much better but the new version was more accessible and a real toe-tapper. The slow version is on ICR-2 and I want to release that at some point. That song is about our concepts regarding the after-life. It reflected my concerns about consciousness and ‘death’.
8. What bands influenced you musically or otherwise?
Regarding musical influences, I’d have to say that I’ve always enjoyed songs that would create an altered state or trance in the listener. Besides the state of being in love, music is
the greatest drug. I forgot to say: “Ultravox” was a huge influence.
9. It seems that Iron Curtain was really your project. What process was involved from song writing to production?
We’d each come into the ‘writing rehearsals’ with musical ideas to share and I would write lyrics and melodies to fit the parts that most transported me to that special place. I
don’t think it was ‘my project’. I couldn’t have done it alone. Everyone contributed important bits and pieces and I kind of stitched it all together in a song form. To be honest, I had more of an ego going and I must have largely been an asshole. But the goal was never to be famous or make money, and I never considered myself to be a great singer. There was just a lot of joy in creation and in performing.
10. Did you feel like the music you made fit into a particular genre? If not, what was the closest thing at the time?
There was never any concern about genre. It just never occurred to me that we were anything besides ‘Iron Curtain’. I just wanted to express ideas and experience and make a connection with people’s hearts through sound. I always felt that rhythm was an important bridge to that connection.
11. What was Zarlon Records? Was it your own label?
Zarlon was the company name I thought up just in case we needed a company name. It sounds like the name of a planet from a bad science fiction movie. I guess that whole ‘bad science fiction movie’ could be an underlying musical theme throughout Iron Curtain.
12. Can you give us some details on your discography? How many copies were pressed? How did you handle distribution?
I think we pressed 500 copies of most of those records. I’d send them to radio stations and some indie distributors. Never made a dime but didn’t really care. Then a few years ago, I started getting requests for vinyl from various European countries. I’ve moved around a lot and the vinyls were getting to feel like a burden so I was happy to just send them away to the fans for free. I guess i was a bit naive since they’ve subsequently been sold as collector’s records. I even discarded most of the master tapes because I was sure no one would ever want to hear this stuff.
13. What made you decide to go solo and release that one single titled Legalize Heroin in 1988? Why the provocative title?
‘Legalize Heroin’ was my social/political statement regarding the hypocrisy of the war on drugs. I sent those to the congresspersons of the time.
14. How did you end up doing the soundtrack for Gregg Araki’s The Long Weekend (1989)? Was he a friend of yours?
Greg Araki was the boyfriend of my brother’s roommate. They all went to UC Santa Barbara. Greg liked the EP and asked me if he could use it in the background of his film. Of course we were flattered and happy to get that bit of exposure. Of course when he got famous he only used more trendy music and wouldn’t consider my stuff anymore.
15. Are you still making music today? If not, what do you do?
These days I’m in the process of recording the new songs I’ve written over the past couple of years. The new project is called Cosmic Love Child. So far it’s been about getting reacquainted with the process of songwriting and recording. The single, ‘I’ll be your Drum’ is sung from the point of view of the drum toward it’s beloved player. I love playing my djembe hand-drum and I enjoy our local drum circle. my drumming and music now reflect my spiritual practice. The new music will hopefully reflect a deeper awareness of myself and the universe. Ken is a now a phd professor teaching in Beijing. Doug is a year away from retirement at the park district, and Bruce Cooper is most likely a shaman somewhere in the Southwest.
Thanks to Steve Fields for the interview.