Remember Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer? In between producing and recording his own material, Stefan Sojka plays cover songs at events everywhere around Australia including, yes, weddings, and promotional get togethers: Sony, Sharp, Microsoft, film stars’ parties and others.
90’s grunge clothing is back in style for teen girls. Do you think they would appreciate grunge music as well or might be scared how it doesn’t sound much like Miley Cyrus’ new album?
Hehehe, good question! Interesting how grunge was a backlash against musical and fashion trends of the day (a bit like punk was back in the 70’s) and now, grunge is being co-opted as a fashion statement by the fashion industry now! It was also very much a male-dominated musical form, now being adopted on the surface by young girls.
Fashion to me is always style over substance. Grunge music at the time was an attempt to encapsulate some kind of substance in musical form, be it anti-establishment, anti-technology or anti-consumerism or whatever. I think it might have even been a cry for help of the male species rapidly dwindling in importance on the stage as electronic dance music grew in popularity…and for some reason always seems to sound better with female singers.
Grunge clothing was really not fashion at all but the wearing of street wear on stage, when other musical style performers were dressing up in fancy clothes – like the boy bands and rappers of the day in their baggy pants, scarves, hats, accessories and makeup. Within that context, T-shirts and jeans were the perfect antidote, and they drew a huge following.
Grunge did for a while try to express lyrically a range of emotions representing a massive disenfranchised population, busting with emotion with nowhere to express it. I am not so sure now, in this day and age whether the fashion statement of grunge for teen girls represents much more than just another surface-only look in a sea of meaningless expressions and styles. One can only hope that some of these young girls can see through the façade and reach inside themselves to find the passion and drive to tap into some real substance within themselves and bring back some of that grunge urge to change the world they find themselves in, and not just comply with those who dictate what they should wear and buy.
Which of your cover songs do audiences respond to the most?
In a party atmosphere, it is always the most popular songs, that the whole crowd can sing along to as a group. So, generally those retro hits like “Brown Eyed Girl” or “Love Shack,” “Living on a Prayer” and other popular rocky classic hits can get a whole crowd joining in. I DJ a bit at my gigs as well and some select Top 40 hits always work as they are also well known and great beats. Unfortunately, since musical styles have diversified so much recently, it is getting increasingly difficult to get a diverse group enjoying the same music together without relying on classic hits and Top 40. People now tend to congregate around their musical tastes, whereas in the past there was not so much choice so wherever people congregated, the music was familiar.
This is evidenced in the music choices you hear at Woolworths! Their market researchers have to decide what to play while you shop, and almost exclusively you will find they play classic hits and a bit of top 40, as that is the only music that the majority of people of all ages will know. If they start diverging from that, they lose great chunks of their shoppers.
Would you ever do a cover song with an entirely different production? Say, George Michael done like Lady Gaga? A new twist?
I have tried this on a few occasions. The best one I did was an 80’s love ballad version of Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK.” I did it with an intern at my recording studio as part of his graduation from the School of Audio Engineering. He got a high distinction! It was a lot of fun. I love it when people mash up styles and often do it for fun at my gigs, but I am also equally into trying to do really accurate renditions just to challenge myself and my ability to convince my audience that I have nailed an authentic tribute to a great song.
I once did a mash-up of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” on YouTube as a totally different interpretation, based on an acoustic version that two other people had uploaded, where I added a bunch of other instruments and harmonies. http://youtu.be/RPDvPaaOGe0 I got a very mixed reaction. Some people loved it but others thought I was desecrating the song! So it is a fine line… It’s all in good fun.
A while back, I read about how an ill man felt better from listening to Kylie Minogue. When you wrote a song to benefit spinal cord injury prevention, how did you make sure you would keep the song light but aware of people who have the health problem? It’s an upbeat tune.
It is understandable that people feel better with music. Music has a great power to affect people in positive ways, as it hooks in to many parts of our brain, including language, emotion, logic, etc. Songs with a message can be very powerful, which is why so many advertisers use jingles and other music in advertisements. My song, “Mind Your Back” (https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/mind-your-back-single/id692961825
) is a little bit along the same kind of lines as that song “Dumb Ways To Die” which is also a very serious message done in a light-hearted and humorous way. When you think about it, many nursery rhymes were fun little ditties about things like the black plague, so it is a pretty universal thing to sing fun songs about serious topics. They seem to get the message across very well in easily digestible forms. I think I might write one about smoking next, because I am sick of seeing those horrible adverts they use now, showing diseased lungs and leg amputations! : )
Do you like singing ballads more or do you prefer faster beats?
I love both equally… ballads are much harder to do well, so I love the challenge of trying to get a great ballad performance across. I also love the way ballads can affect the listener. I have done many gigs where people have started to cry in the audience, from the emotion of the song. I love touching people’s hearts. Upbeat songs are just awesome therapy and an emotional outlet to be able to belt out big notes and liven up an audience.
Do you dance while you sing or is it impossible to do two things at once?
I definitely can’t dance and sing and the same time. I can hardly dance without singing!! Dancing does take a lot of energy and takes away the ability to sing well, which is why a lot of pop artists these days who do a lot of dancing in their concerts often use a lot of backing singers or even double-track their singing with a pre-recorded track – because they would just sound breathless and weak otherwise, with such rigorous dance routines. I really think singing and dancing ought to be separate performances. Sure, it is good to move when singing, to accentuate the emotions of a song, but doing a full choreographed routine to me is a bit much.
Since you do so many covers, have you ever considered doing a brand new but still 80’s album similar to Gwen Stefani’s solo style?
I have spent a lot of my career doing covers at live gigs, so I do think about doing a covers album. I am working on one at the moment which is all my favourite love songs that I sing at weddings. I am also putting a range of classic rock songs together just for my own enjoyment. However my interest now lies in trying to cover a particular style, but turning the songs into original works. So, for example, take an artist like Little Richard, who was a really high energy piano-vocalist rock and roll singer. I would like to do an album of music in his style, but totally original songs with up-to-date lyrics to suit the times.
Where and when are your next live performances?
I tend to do a lot of private events these days, like corporate Christmas parties and conference dinners, as well as birthday parties, sporting club awards dinners and weddings. But I do still occasionally play at clubs and pubs. I am playing at Club Central Menai a couple of times in the next few months (just Google it) and Panania Diggers Club in the beer garden on the occasional Sunday afternoon, which is a lot of fun.