A veteran in his field, Steven Chesne has composed the scores to over 300 primetime television shows such as “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Family Matters,” and “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.” ASCAP honored Chesne’s creative contribution to the sound track of art-house cinema - he has scored 17 theatric art-house films. His latest landmark album is a world-healing gift of music, an album titled "Sapient: A Cantata of Peace. " The album has received rave reviews and international music awards, including John Lennon Songwriters Award, Global Music Awards, Radio Music Award, International Songwriting Competition Award, Int'l Music and Entertainment Award, and more.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Growing up in the 60s, my love of the Beatles and their seeming magic at that time - the magic of their music and also of their place in the world - clearly lit a fire inside me. When I got deeper into music in my teens, the sophistication and deep colorful pallet of Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, and early Yes, set me off into learning classical guitar and serious orchestral composition. Music seemed magical to me and then and it absolutely still does today. You know that meme on Facebook of the baby who sobs every time his mother starts singing? That’s totally me.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
Well I don’t know about crazy, but I had this really memorable experience when I was doing the music score for a show in the 1990s called “Perfect Strangers“. They had a special episode where the two stars played Laurel and Hardy in a black-and-white satire of a silent movie. It sounded like it could be corny and musically cliché and I was not at all enthused about it. But I carefully studied the styles of the early 1900s and sketched out a whole bunch of ideas. After staying up all night for several days, I went to conduct a session at the legendary Village recorders in Los Angeles with a small orchestra. When I started conducting to picture and watching those guys waddling and doing their goofball antics to this Looney Tunes music I had composed, I ended up having so much fun that I had to stifle my laughter so as to not ruin the take. I was told that even those who were watching the session behind me, behind the glass, that they could even see from the back of my head that I was smiling so broadly. And then they started cracking up. It turned out to be one of the most fun sessions I ever did.
What has been the high point of your music path?
Composing Sapient really does feel like a high point in my personal development as a composer. I feel like all the worlds I’ve journeyed through in music: rock and folk, The various world musics, Renaissance and medieval music, my symphonic composing, the pop and jazz scores I did for the media... All of that, came into play in this piece. I felt really free, like the ideas could just flow and I felt very much in control of guiding them to the place I envisioned. Getting old has an up-side. And even more so, because it involves a theme that’s so important to me, that’s been bubbling around in my head since I was a kid.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
If you make a clay sculpture of a bust or a head, you have to start with a block of clay. You keep on looking at it, figuring out why it doesn’t look like what you want it to look like, and you gradually shape it to look more and more like what you have in your imagination. You analyze why it doesn’t look like what you want, and then you modify that aspect. So with music, I always start with a block of clay. I just write anything. Really, anything. Then I listen to it and tell myself why it’s nowhere near what I really want. The tempo is wrong, the chord progression stays too close to the tonic, the melodic contour is to disjunct, or whatever. I just keep analyzing why the music is NOT what I want, and I keep making it closer and closer to what it should be. And then there’s this point where I know I’ve arrived. Where it just rings true. If I’m really in the zone I’ll actually get a chill or a lump in my throat because I know I’ve hit it. Please take a moment to check out the video that explains the making of Sapient
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
The fact that we cannot longer earn money from the sale of music is tragic for us as artists. So many of us do other things now, teaching, etc. But there is one positive aspect to the ease of music delivery on the Internet. It may be a pipe dream, but I can see the possibilities for a better future. Eventually, if enough major artists banded together they could create a new streaming platform which primarily supported the artists rather than the corporate giants. The current ratio gives the content creators pennies while the corporate giant may be getting quite fat. Imagine a Spotify type model, in which the content creators were the primary beneficiaries. I’ll keep hoping. It would require the involvement of many industry heavyweights.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Would love to have my music alongside genre busting artists like Sting or Lisa Gerard. I’ve had my symphonies programmed alongside Gershwin in the past, but what I’d really love, is to have them programmed alongside Sibelius or Bruckner.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
I’m really a creature of the recording studio. So much of my music making takes place in my head or working with tracks. I’m not sure how I would even prepare for a large scale live show these days except perhaps to vomit with anxiety in the men’s room before approaching the stage.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
Well this brings me back to Sapient. The big finale, “Nyansapo: the Wisdom Knot”, is a mash-up of multi-track counterpoint that involves portions of all the songs on the record being overlaid upon one another in an intricate web. It involved years of research to get the text right, many months of composing and production to create the tracks, and then the actual composition of the piece where I combined these tracks. There’s no easy way to do something this deep. But it was a beautiful journey.
What's coming up in the future?
There are some personal challenges right now, and I don’t see composing right around the corner. But I am thrilled that Sapient is slowly and gradually weaving its way out in the Cyber World. I’m trying to nurture that and keep that going as long as I’m able.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
Come learn about my weird musical journey on my website.
And here is the listening center at bandcamp