What I Learned at Bandcamp: House of Stairs
House of Stairs is a Phoenix-based jazz collective comprised of Garrison Jones, Stephen Avalos, Shea Marshall and Holly Pyle. The four piece combines many musical elements to form a smooth jazz sound with Pyle’s vocals at the forefront.
On June 10, the group released its debut EP, Step One, with a show at Crescent Ballroom. The album is available to purchase or stream on Bandcamp.
Support local and catch the band playing the album live, at Phoenix Public Market, on June 28.
Below, read The Spec‘s with House of Stairs…
Tell us a little about yourselves..
We’re all trained jazz musicians with splashes of other genre dabbling (classical, heavy metal, blues, pop, musical theatre, R&B, hip-hop, soul, country).
How long have you been making music?
We started our band in August of 2014. Prior to that Holly has been singing since she could talk, started choir at age 10 and classical voice/piano lessons at 15. She studied jazz and opera in college, dabbling in songwriting for about 15 years now. Garrison has studied classical piano since age 7, played in jazz band in high school and studied jazz in college. Stephen has been playing the drums for about 10 years, started with piano when he was a kid (started out drumming in a metal band! Gotta love it). Stephen adds creating music, and expressing himself has always been synonymous with practicing or learning the instrument at hand. We also have Shea in our group whenever possible. His background is pretty mind-blowing between how long he’s been playing and how many instruments he plays on a regular basis. He has 25 years under his belt with over 15 instruments in his tool kit.
Who/what are your influences?
We’re really inspired by Hiatus Kaiyote, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles, Pattern is Movement, Robert Glasper, Gretchen Parlato, Philip Glass, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Fiona Apple and even a dash of classic Mariah Carey…
What is your favorite song you’ve released and why?
“Stop Sign.” While some songs originated from my loop station or from Garrison’s composition rep, “Stop Sign” is the first fully-collaborative work we’ve done. Holly meeting these players really opened up a door to face very deeply buried parts of her past and acknowledging experiences. This song in particular explores facets of abuse, the focus being on the timeline surrounding the act moreso than the act itself. We conjured a way to form direct bridges between the poetry, chord progressions and changes of meter/time feel throughout the song. Every note and word of the piece is very intricately placed, and the healing is magnified through the combination of details. This song paves somewhat of a rebirth– from it, much more emotional connectivity and exposure within the group has spawned.
Upcoming projects, where do you want to go from here?
We want to play our music, absorb as much in the process as we can and travel as much as possible. The next goal is to record a full-length album and really hone in on our collective sound. Outside of business logistics, we want to make really meaningful, thoughtful and deliberate material– connection and presence is the priority.
If you could no longer be a musician, what would you be or do for a living?
We’ve thought about many career fields. Holly studied psychology as well and intially went in that route. Shea almost finished an engineering degree… Shea and Garrison are both fantastic music teachers; they could definitely put a dent in that category if they saw fit. Overall, efforts to do other careers never panned out… who knows.
What musicians or bands do you look up to?
Hiatus Kaiyote and Radiohead are a few major music idols, along with Nina Simone, Kneebody, Tigran Hamasyan, Tune-Yards, Grizzly Bear, James Blake, Bobby McFerrin, Jeff Buckley… Jamming out to Bells Atlas and Jonwayne lately (some amazing verses there). I gotta say also, local band The Hill in Mind. WOW. They’re amazing. Love their work, especially their songwriting.
Why do you make music?
Great question. It’s a two part thing: For one, it’s a vehicle of presence. Performing enables a sort of meditative state that’s really hard to tap into when not doing music. With that presence forms a beautiful ability to connect emotionally with a lot of people, a remarkable thing. The other part is therapy. Most of my life I’ve felt fairly absent to my surroundings, very disconnected to myself and others; I have a muddled past to show for it. Writing music and making music really inspires me to inquire, it grants me a sense of authentic curiosity about everything, it unifies everything. It’s a child-like mindset that keeps me feeling alive, it gives me purpose and a brain with function: I’m lost without it.
Garrison and Stephen seem to relate to this as well, the sense of trying to connect this other world of the mind with tangible parts of reality. Shea takes on a whole different route within music. In years of knowing him, he looks at music as its own dimension of language and culture. He was born incessantly curious about music in every fashion and with each performance his main focus is to have a conversation. He puts a lot of love in what he plays. There’s a natural drive to support those around him and pay respect to the art itself. It is fascinating to observe his relationship with music; he has never really enjoyed playing by himself and gravitates toward musicians who bare their soul and emotion in the music. Grateful to know him, he brings a great balance within the group.
Anything else you’d like readers to know that we haven’t asked you about?
Our band name House of Stairs came from M.C. Escher’s work: his multidimensional contributions to visual arts is what we seek to expose within music. It’s a visual expedition of sound, to form many facets and dimensions of life within poetic, harmonic and rhythmic devices.