Steve Gnash, Wed, Nov 9 w/ Oil Boom and Native Fozex at The Live Oak Music Hall, 1311 Lipscomb St, FW. 817-926-0968. $5 cover.
Who is Steve Gnash? Superficially, he is an underground pop star, notorious for onstage champagne baptisms and house-show antics. He’s also the record-making alter-ego of 21-year-old producer Dylan Pitts.
Thin and lanky, Pitts comes off as kind of like if a headshop could turn into a person, but he said he hasn’t smoked weed for a while.
“It’s been over six months,” he said. “I get sore throats really easily… and my right ear goes deaf sometimes when I’m singing.”
It was a sore throat, in fact, that nearly laid him out before his very first Steve Gnash show. “So I did what every iconic pop star does,” he said. “I lip-synched.”
Growing up in Euless, Pitts started playing music with his twin brother Daniel when they were about 12, after his parents offered to either buy him a cheap drum kit or take him on a spring break vacation. His and Daniel’s jams evolved into a band called Primo Slam influenced by heavy psych and ’80s West Coast punk –– two Primo Slam releases exist on Bandcamp: PS1, a five-song cassette of doom-dazed skate rock dated to May 2015 and Cool Zone, a similar-sounding single released a month later.
“We started that band kind of as a joke,” Pitts said. “One time we were asked to provide a stage plot [before the show], and I thought it was hilarious. We were just drums and guitar and vocals. I didn’t even care if I had a mic. I mean, we’re used to whatever is there. So we sent them a couple of Rob Schneider photos. I never got a reply, and nobody talked to us at the gig.”
Primo Slam dissolved after about eight months. But for all their joke jams and “hang loose” approach to performing, Pitts honed the skills to make music.
“Toward the end of my senior year in high school, my immune system started shutting down,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on, and I just kept getting sick. I sat in my room being bummed out and paranoid about it, so I just started listening to Pet Sounds,” he said. The Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece introduced him to the concept of a producer.
“Up until that point, I was never really aware of that guy behind the scenes who is organizing it and presenting it,” he said. “I started writing songs because I was interested in recording.”
Steve Gnash’s genesis owes a lot to being stuck in Euless with Eustachian tube agony. Pitts started learning production techniques through YouTube videos and online forums, at first layering stuff on a digital 16-track console and later learning to run it through ProTools. By the time Primo Slam was done, he was ready to embark on his next thing, a 7-song self-titled Steve Gnash album, coming out as a Dreamy Life cassette next month.
The songs on Steve Gnash sound a little bit like Neil Diamond songs as envisioned by Lou Reed. Pitts plays all the instruments himself; his autodidactic approach to music production is a function of what drives his songwriting.
“I guess I’m trying to make my mundane existence symbolic of some larger idea,” he said. “I just write about my own experiences.”
Thus, sore throats, boredom, and “random weed houses” inform Steve Gnash’s narrative bent, but he is also kind of a performance artist.
“I wanted to promote Steve Gnash with a good ‘new music’ article,” he said. “If people don’t research it, it just looks normal.”
So Pitts settled on the Pitchfork review of Mac Demarco’s 2. “I went to the last paragraph, and wherever it said ‘Mac’ or ‘Demarco,’ I just replaced it with ‘Gnash,’ and I put that on my Facebook page. When I got booked at [The] Live Oak, that’s what they pulled up from my bio to put on their site.”
After all, why not? Also known as “fuck it,” the spirit of “why not?” permeates his live shows, most of which are him singing over backing tracks.
“I played a show at a place in Dallas where I put up a massive poster of my face at the end of the bar,” he said. “People accused me of overshadowing the other bands, but I felt like the other bands had equal opportunity to print a 26-by-48 of their faces. I was just the one who did it.”
During that set’s penultimate song, he delivered a Southern Baptist-style monologue that led his audience to kneel and pray before a makeshift onstage shrine made out of a Britney Spears poster. This was after he shook a bottle of champagne out on them.
“You can’t really do that stuff when you’re in a normal band situation,” he said. “And I’d rather be Steve Gnash by myself than Dylan Pitts playing in a band.”