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On Deck: Steel Cranes

By ; September 17, 2013 at 10:26 AM 

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A chance meeting at a local Oakland, CA restaurant in 2012 between guitarist/drummer Amanda Schukle and singer/guitarist Tracy Shapiro would have far reaching consequences – not the least of which was the formation of rock duo Steel Cranes.  The two women quickly became friends and, within a week, were practicing in Schukle’ apartment.  The duo began churning out blistering riffs and chest-rattling percussion and drew upon obvious kindred spirits such as PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney for inspiration.  Their stripped down – though equally thunderous – rhythms were born from both women’s formative musical upbringing, with Shapiro coming from a home filled with Broadway musicals and classical piano lessons and Schukle first picking up a guitar thanks to Appetite for Destruction.  This mix of melody and cavernous fretwork was the foundation of their early sound and also the basis for the songs which comprise their upcoming debut album, Ouroboros.

When Schukle and Shapiro were ready to record their debut, they “adopted” engineer Eli Crews (Deerhoof, tUnE-yArDs), who flew out to Oakland and recorded Ouroboros in a lean five day period.  This quick turnaround lent the album a minimalist and visceral edge which was exactly what the duo were looking to capture.  All the songs were recorded live to tape with a bare minimum of overdubs or studio tweaking, and the resulting collection of tracks are filled with streaks of lightning fast riffage, booming percussion, and vocals drawn straight from a mid-70’s hard rock ancestry.  Obliterating all notions of what a rock duo can accomplish, Steel Cranes blast out sheets of wailing guitars and cathartic howls that would make Iggy and the Stooges proud.

Recently we spoke with Schukle and Shapiro about some of the records which have had a prominent influence on their own sound and on the recording of Ouroboros.  From the avant rock theatrics of tUnE-yArDs to Austin Lucas’ back porch authenticity and even Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Illness Happy Hour, the band gives us a quick glimpse into the records and programs that influence them and their work.  Check out their full list below in the latest installment of our On Deck series


Tracy:

Writing about music makes me a wee bit anxious. I don’t understand it all that well. I don’t listen to it all that much. I do everything I can to avoid talking about it. Insofar as being able to reference albums that have influenced our sound, I’m at a loss. My computer and phone have three albums on them. Two of them are meditation type albums that I listen to when I fall asleep or need help calming my mind. The other one is w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs. Amanda always jokes about how I would never listen to us. In part, she’s right. We’re too loud. I’d take quiet over loud any day, and yet the most natural thing for Amanda and I to do together is to play pretty damn loud rock ‘n’ roll. And I love what we do. Go figure.

Austin Lucas - Somebody Loves You
Austin Lucas – Somebody Loves You

I often gravitate towards music that sounds like it rolled off a back porch of a cabin in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. I also like really heartbreaking, fiercely honest lyrics. This album has all of that in spades, along with an edge that I’m not used to hearing in old timey music. I’ve had so many friends give me CDs because they think I should listen to more music, and usually I’ll listen to a CD once at most, but when a friend gave me this album, I fell in love with it and it continues to be one of the few albums I’ll consistently listen to.


Paul Gilmartin - The Mental Illness Happy Hour
Paul Gilmartin – The Mental Illness Happy Hour

Oops, not an album. This is a podcast that I find ceaselessly rewarding to listen to. Paul Gilmartin interviews a wide spectrum of guests about mental illness, trauma, addiction, and other personal struggles. He has created a format in which people talk openly about things that are often misunderstood, complex, and shoved under the rug. This show does wonders for humanizing and destigmatizing mental illness, It often makes me cry. It leaves me amazed at and inspired by people’s resiliency. I laugh frequently when Paul or one of his guests voice something weird and twisted and dark that I wholeheartedly relate to. I’m constantly reminded about how little we often know about what kind of crazy shit someone has been through or what kind of demons they struggle with. It’s GOOD stuff. This podcast and Marc Maron’s WTF podcast take up the majority of my ear hole time these days.


 Amanda:

Yep, I make fun of Tracy for her lack of music interest. I’m utterly obsessed with music and getting my ears on everything I possibly can. Of the thousands of albums in my collection, for some reason, these stand out as the ones I should write about today, but my choices would probably be totally different next week.

At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command
At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command

I’ve listened to this album so many times that the thought of listening to it again makes me sick…but I still listen to it anyway. This has been a huge influence for me over the years, guitar and drum-wise, as well as mix and production-wise. It’s so heavy, but so catchy. It is a perfect reminder to always hit everything as hard as possible.


The Decemberists - The King is Dead
The Decemberists – The King is Dead

This album saved my life. Though I wouldn’t technically classify this as their “best” album, it was there for me when I needed help making my way out of a really dark place. I listened to it over and over and over and, with each listen, I felt like the sun was starting to shine a little more brightly on me.


tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

This is probably the one album for which Tracy and I share a common love. The sounds and emotions expressed on this album are so unique and endlessly fascinating. I’ve probably listened to this more than any other album in the past year.

Steel Cranes’ debut album, Ouroboros, is out on September 24th. 


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