Buy a Record, Make a Difference 13: Stephen Lyons

Buy a Record, Make a Difference is a new series we have created to help local musicians generate income during COVID-19. It is based on the principle that we should support and reward the hard work local artists have already put into recordings, as it is an immensely difficult undertaking to be creating new material under current circumstances. There is currently a lot of emphasis on livestreaming and innovation in our industry, and while those things absolutely have their place, we think it’s also important to boost projects that have already been completed.

In each post, we’ll ask a local artist a series of the same questions, give them the opportunity to talk about recordings they’re proud of, and ask them to talk about other local musicians whose work they admire. It’s our hope that you’ll take the time to listen to & purchase the work of local artists, or at the very least share their work with others.


STEPHEN LYONS

1. Who are you? 

I’ve been playing guitar and writing music that ranges from irritating to intriguing since I was too young to realize how irritating some of it was, a fact I now find intriguing. I’ve led the 7-piece Fond of Tigers like an embattled substitute teacher since around 2004. After winning a JUNO in 2011, we’ve mostly spent our time shaving chips off the crystal statuettes to create bespoke jewelry, but also found the time to release our fourth album Uninhabit on vinyl in 2017 (after it leaked to the internet in late-2016). A few years back, myself and two other Tigers (Shanto Acharia and Skye Brooks) started the breakaway faction Limbs of the Stars. In a sternly worded open letter to the local papers, the other four Fond of Tigers members disavowed our practices, which they referred to a “dark, and anti-Tigerean”. To be fair, Limbs’ rehearsal sessions are lit so lowly you can’t read sheet music of any kind, and we’re constantly knocking over our drinks by accident.

I also play in various other projects, some of which have come out under the Offseason Records umbrella (www.offseasonrecords.com). There are also a few things coming out in the next while that I played drums on, including new music from Parkland, a band that’s a bit like what you’d get if an alt-country songwriter swapped his backing band’s light beers for genuine Czech absinthe, and Rick Maddocks’ ambitious and populous Songs from the Black Sand, inspired by the climate emergency and spaghetti-western soundtracks, featuring about 14 of Vancouver’s finest roots, jazz, classical, and ‘other’ musicians. 

2. Describe your music as best you can.

Like me as a person, the music is a bit all over the place. Fond of Tigers seems to have come out of the oven tasting like a mix of post-rock, noise, 20th century minimalism, and avant-jazz, despite my main influential ingredients being 80s hip hop and 70s country music. It’s like an isolation sourdough loaf gone terribly wrong, but that somehow still tastes good—or at least interesting—to a few people, depending on what kind of dips and spreads are available. 

Limbs of the Stars is more of a Russian rye bread, I’d say. Darker. More of a slow chew. Just a hint of malty sweetness. Our forthcoming album, which is about half finished, features some very understated, vocal-based songs as well as expansive, moody instrumentals. “Cheer up, for god’s sake!” said one local radio personality, who I won’t name here, mainly because his parents beat me to it over half a century ago.

During this time of lockdown, I’ve been writing a bunch of music in an alternate tuning I arrived at somewhat by accident, and I’ve ardently applied myself to making it as happy an accident as possible. I do that sort of thing now and again, putting up obstacles or challenges once I start getting comfortable. It seems to help me to engage in the writing process and not fall back on more well-worn neural pathways.

3. What’s your latest recording (or a recording you’d like to promote)? Where can people get it?

The most recent Fond of Tigers album is Uninhabit, available here. It takes digital form as well as 180-gram vinyl and CDs, in preparation for the coming compact disc renaissance. 

Limbs of the Stars were slated to play this year’s fest. We’ll have some new material coming out fairly soon (featuring pedal steel player Paul Rigby), but the previous releases can be found here.

Our 2012 debut “heartwarmongering” is more of a song-based album, while 2018’s “Somewhere, BC” is a long form electric guitar and cello piece initially created as part of an art installation of the same name featuring fog-cloaked, west coast-centric visual works by Wallace Barber. 

Recordings from other bands I’ve been in, including Sun Belt, French for Sled Dogs, Cloudsplitter, Boks & Branches, etc can be found via the Offseason website.

4. Is there another local musician whose work you’d like to give a shout out to? 

When I first started going to jazz fest shows, some of my favourites were local artists who were a bit older than me, and very active in the rising creative music scene, playing throughout the year at 1067 and the Sugar Refinery, and then stepping up to an even higher level for some of the fest shows. It would be a good idea for anyone who likes good music, or is considering starting to like good music, to check out recordings featuring Peggy Lee, Dylan van der Schyff, Ron Samworth, Tony Wilson, and others who helped define the Vancouver creative music scene and who continue to evolve and innovate.