An Interview With...
In 2023, The Hometown Foundation is excited to bring various musical talents to stages around Washington County. We are looking forward to another year of our annual HomeGrown Music Festival on July 9 as well as the debuts of two new festivals – the Homegrown Blues Festival on May 21 and the HomeGrown Bluegrass Festival September 24.
We also will be continuing our Thursday night Regner Rocks Concert Series. You will see many talented folks who call Wisconsin home. Joshua M. Miller interviewed one of those artists, Stephen Hull, who will be featured at the Homegrown Blues Festival with his band Stephen Hull Experience.
Josh: You’re going to South America and Africa. Can you talk a little bit about those trips?
Stephen: Sure. So, for my trip to South America, I’m on a tour to celebrate Albert King’s 100th birthday, which is April 25th. I leave on the 10th, and I return back to the States on the 25th. We’ll hit the capital cities of both Argentina and Brazil. And we’ve got some shows outside of those, a grand total of nine shows, I believe. It’s my first time in South America. And then we got a US State Department gig over in Burkina Faso, that I leave out from the States on the 27th. So, I’m going to be moving pretty, pretty tough there. And I get back on the ninth. I don’t know too much about that gig, but I know that I’m looking forward to it. It is in west Africa. It’s right by Ghana. I’ve never been to Africa, and, um, it should be a fun time.
We’ll be doing some clinics over there and doing some teaching. So, I’ll get to see who wants to learn particularly about my style of music and, you know, and see where the talent lies, so to speak over there.
Josh: You’re going to be playing at Foundry 45 as part of the Homegrown Blues Fest. What about the Blues interests you so much?
Stephen: What drew me in was the way it makes me feel when I hear someone singing or playing the blues. That’s something you can’t shake when you have such a deep connection with it. And then upon growing up and learning more about it, the stories that they’d tell and why someone sings a particular song that way, just drew me in even more.
Josh: What do you recall of your first experience hearing the Blues?
Stephen: The first real experience was I was at home, and I was watching Sanford and Son. And B.B. King was in an episode. And he of course did some playing and that was music that just sounded good to me. I’d always liked Motown styles of music and funk and all those nice things. But that was my first taste of freedom. <laugh>.
Josh: When did you know you wanted to be a musician, specifically a Blues musician?
Stephen: In the summer of 2013, I knew that I really wanted to play guitar and Blues music was just what I listened to the most. And that is what I really thought was the best. And so that’s what I wanted to learn how to play. I just knew that I really wanted to learn how to play and that nothing was going to stop me. But I didn’t make up my mind to turn this into a career until I dropped out of college. And it was just I didn’t enjoy the learning experiences that I had, but I knew that I couldn’t go another day without playing music.
Josh: How would you describe your sound and the band’s chemistry?
Stephen: : Loud, very loud. Everything’s just really, no, I’m kidding. <laugh>
I would say it’s very in your face, very high energy. It’s all authentic in that we tend to just meld together real well and we just groove wherever we can. And it’s something that no one should miss.
Josh: Would you say you draw from a specific type of Blues style more than others?
Stephen: I would have to say Texas style of blues influences me heavily. It’s a heavy combination of Texas and Chicago style for what I generally play with my full band.
Josh: The band’s name is the Stephen Hull Experience. It sounds like you want the show to be an experience for people, so that part of the name is fitting.
Stephen: Absolutely. Because you can go listen to a record player if you want to, and it won’t bring you the same experiences of being in the room as live music and having fun with us. Cause I know that when we’re on stage we always tend to have fun. And so, I’d like to be able to share that with everybody and have them join in the experience.
Josh: You released a new song “Toys In My Eyes” last year. What was your inspiration for that one?
Stephen: I actually only did mild curation of the words. That song was written by a friend of mine. His son had an experience at a theme park that shall not be named for legal reasons. <laugh>,
But the two of them went in collaboration with the words. And he came to me, and he goes, “you think you could put this to music?” And I said, “yeah, I think I can do that.” And then I did. And more accurately he came to me with the, the rough draft of it. I looked at it and said, there’s absolutely no way I’m singing this. I’m not getting sued. My first song that I recorded. <laugh>.
But I dare I say I like it, because it wasn’t necessarily something that I thought would take off in any way, shape, or form. Because to me it was just something that we were having fun doing. And it was a nice song that I could look back on and be like, “that’s where I started. That was the first one.” And then I had a few people come up to me and go, look, he’s got the toys in his eyes.” And I was like, “oh, that’s funny. You guys are hilarious.” <laugh>.
Josh: What can you tell me about the material you’re working on lately?
Stephen: Oh, I can tell you that it’s authentic. Everything’s a nice battle here between being creative and sticking to tradition. But I am doing my very best to turn out quality material and I won’t release a thing before it’s ready.
Josh: So, do you think at some point you’ll release an album or EP?
Stephen: It’ll be a full-length album. So far, we have nine songs in the can. It’s just finishing it up and making the album something worth not only listening to but listening to again.
Josh: Are there places you’re thinking about recording in Wisconsin?
Stephen: Making Sausage Studios in Milwaukee. Really, really grand place. Steve Hamilton is a, a very good sound engineer. Hehe does live sound as well, which always betters a nice studio sound if someone knows how to deal with these instruments. Because a lot of folks get caught up in a studio sound and how they think everything should sound. But if you go out there and you get in the field, you tend to have a little bit more depth as to what instruments sound like and what these people want to sound like.
Josh: What are your favorite moments writing and recording so far?
Stephen: In the writing process, one of my favorite moments was when I get these little magical moments where I won’t be able to sleep and I’ll just sit up and for some reason I’ll grab my guitar and maybe an hour, maybe about two or three hours in the middle of the night I’ll just be up writing and singing. And then by the time it’s time to get up in the morning and go about your day, I’ve written a full song that’s not bad. With the recording process, I guess is just being able to hear myself mature as a vocalist, because I could always kind of sing, but it took a lot of training to better myself. Because we all have our own habits and bad habits will continue to grow.
Josh: What are some of your favorite accomplishments of late?
Stephen: I guess being able to tour the way I am going to. South America, Africa. I’ll be hitting the Chicago Blues Festival. I booked a show with my friend Dylan Triplet, I believe he’s out of Nashville now. We’re playing a blues festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, which I’ve never been to. And then I’m also heading on my second European tour in July. So, a lot of cool things are happening this year and it all kicks off Monday. <laughs>,
Josh: What are some of your favorite gigs?
Stephen: Rosa’s Lounge has always been a favorite of mine because it’s a place that really changed my career on a global stage. The people who worked there became like family to me. And being able to watch them take a chance on me, you know? Because at the time my name wasn’t widely known, but people still wandered off the street to see some music. And seeing it turn into where I’m selling out every show I do there, it’s a good feeling and it’s wonderful. And then we also have the Cheel in Thiensville. I love Jesse Daily and what he’s doing for music out there. He’s also part of the committee for the Best Dam Blues Festival that happens up there. And just that whole community of music up there is life changing and I wish that every musician has a home team that can back ’em up like that.
Josh: I recall that you opened for former Milwaukee musician Buffalo Nichols not too long ago.
Stephen: I did, and I absolutely loved it. It was a real good show, real good crowd. It was two sold out shows, which I know they all came to see him, but it made me feel good that they clapped for me as well. <laugh>
And, it was a wonderful solo show, so I got to showcase some of my solo abilities, and I really enjoyed that. And it was nice to have a room full of people standing on their feet, and them just coming together as one and everybody’s just dead silent in there and enjoying it. I could tell that the room was bringing the intensity and that they were listening, and they were ready for something magical to happen that night. And it did. And I was listening to Buffalo Nichols play while I was in the green room when it was his set. And it was really, really good. And it’s always nice to play your best, do your best, and then also be in support of someone also doing their best.
Josh: Are there any other bigger musicians that you’ve gotten to play with?
Stephen: Well, there’s Jontavious Willis. He’s a brother to me. And I’m also starting to work with Dylan Triplet. He’s out of originally out of St. Louis. And I’m just glad I got to know him and he’s my little brother and he’s very, very talented. I got to play with Buddy Guy once, which was cool. <laugh>.
I got to feel like a, I got to feel like a somebody. I mean, I always feel like a somebody, but, you know, to have him turn over to me and, and say, “I like that.” <laughs> And you know what? Nobody smiling bigger in that place than me. <laughs>.
Josh: How has Racine and Wisconsin most influenced you as a musician?
Stephen: The city itself provides me with all different kinds of backdrops to enjoy and partake in. Like if I’m having a rough day, I can go to one of my favorite delis on the north side of, of the city, get some beef jerky and go sit out over and overlook the lake and just take it all in and let myself calm down or, relax. Or I can go to a park and, and just enjoy it. Or go bowling or something like that. And there’s plenty of things to do. And in the summertime, you can go walk down Main Street and enjoy the scenery and listen to some live music being played outside. It’s great. When it comes to the people, I got my start here and I learned a lot about playing with the band and how to be dynamic from several people that ran the open jam scene. Cause as you might have noticed, guitarists get a bad rap for playing way too loud all the time. Well, I am starting to earn that rep reputation, but I earned it. <laugh>
I’ve been playing quietly for a while. I say here, “What’s a little, what’s a little volume.” <laughs>
Josh: What’s your most surprising hobby outside of music?
Stephen: I wouldn’t say anything that I do is too surprising. I’m pretty laid back, pretty chill. But I do absolutely love trains. I like all trains basically. But I’m in love with steam locomotives and I actually volunteer at the Illinois Railway Museum down in Union, Illinois. And I help every so often doing some little tasks like cleaning out the ash from one of the operating steam locomotives and just cleaning. And sometimes I’ll shovel a little coal down in the tender, so that the firemen can reach it a little bit better. And then doing whatever tasks we can find around the steam shop.
Josh: Why is the Hometown Foundation’s mission to help local artists important to you?
Stephen: Because supporting local artists, to me means that we get to heal a community and bring it together. Because before I became, and this is me speaking, I feel above my station, but I’m going to say it anyway, before I became an international act, I was just a kid who wanted to play guitar so bad and a lot of people were able to take notice. And it’s because people cared and took time to nurture me into an upstanding musician that I’m able to do what I am today.
Josh: What about Homegrown Blues Fest at Foundry 45 excites you most?
Stephen: Just to be around good people. I go to a lot of places, but I love being around good people. And then you also have a former band mate of mine, Pierre Lee playing, correct?
Josh: Yes, that’s correct.
Stephen: Because we both play in two separate bands now, we hardly get to see each other. So, to see us on the same bill again makes me so happy. He plays real good, and he’s a good singer too. And he taught me a lot.
You have the tubing place in Kewaskum, correct?
Josh: Yeah. Sunburst.
Yeah, I went to Sunburst on a couple field trips for school and a couple times just on our own as a family and I love that. So, it is nice to go up there when there’s no snow on the ground. <laugh>
Hopefully, hopefully no snow on the ground. Let me just knock on wood, just in case.
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Joshua M. Miller is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, Guitar World, and the Shepherd Express, among others, He has interviewed the likes of Brian Wilson, Steve Martin, U2 guitarist The Edge, Kiefer Sutherland, and William Shatner. He resides in Kewaskum, is an avid music fan, and is a supporter of the Hometown Foundation. You can follow his writing on his website, twitter and facebook.