The Mystery Addicts' Steven Gullett
releases solo effort, Cheap Reflections
By SARA FARR / IMPACT WEEKLEY MAY 9, 2002
ONE THING you learn as you get older is that nothing's ever what it seems. To be cliché, there's always "more to the story," more than meets the eye. Such is the case with Steven Gullett's first solo record, Cheap Reflections: A Collection of Demos.
Gullett's regular gig is co-songwriter/frontman for The Mystery Addicts, one of the longest-running rock 'n' roll shows in Dayton. Occasionally, you can spot Gullett performing at a Songwriters-in-the-Round or Musicians' Co-Op at Canal Street Tavern, but it's a safe bet most people know him first and foremost as the glammed-out, rosy-cheeked other half of what might just be Dayton's hardest-gigging original band besides The Jackalopes.
Cheap Reflections was recorded during a two-year period, just Gullett waxing philosophic with an acoustic guitar and a Tascam 4-track recorder, creating a collection of personal stories, narratives and castoffs from Mystery Addicts writing sessions. Some were born as far back as '93, when Gullett was an angry twentysomething opening shows at the now-closed Brookwood Hall, a North Dayton bastion of sweaty, independent punk rock that witnessed shows by the likes of Guided By Voices, Brainiac and The Method. Other tracks were born more recently, molded into shape as Gullett learned more about the recording process while working on the Addicts' first full-length, Unluck and Shame. Something about the songs is raw and unpolished. It's not just the fact it was recorded on a four-track - the tunes are emotional snapshots of personal experiences, cloaked in strained vocals and hushed chords.
Gullett mines richly from the wellspring of rockers-turned-solo-artists such as Paul Westerberg, Neil Young and Peter Laughner, making the obvious nod to his influences with the inclusion of "Baudelaire," "Dead Flowers" and "Needle and the Damage Done" on the album. These songs work well with originals such as "Nowhere Here," which features a "Sister Morphine" feel. "`Nowhere Here' is a song I wrote when I was working door at Canal Street Tavern back in '93 or '94," Gullett explained. "That one I just wrote sitting there watching some horrible band whose name I will not mention, and (it's also about) whatever was going on with me at the time. I had good reaction to that one when I wrote it, but I stopped playing it over the years."
As he was compiling songs for this album, which he'd never actually intended to put out were it not for "people constantly asking" him about it, Gullett ran across other, older songs, some of which made the cut such as the blues tune "Down Here" and "Don't Ask Me to Talk About Love," which was "one of the ones that hurt the most, no elaboration."
"I always wanted to be one of those guys who wrote story songs; I never thought I could," Gullett said. "(When I started playing), l used all these really strange chords that I just made up - which I still think is a good thing, and I do on occasion. I was a lot more aggressive acoustically back then. ... I think I used to write a lot more songs, but as (local blues musician and former CST Co-Op host) Sharon Lane once told me, 'As you get older, you write less songs, but more of them are keepers.' And I think that's true."
Though he remains deliberately enigmatic about the meaning of his songs, he acknowledges the songwriting process provides an emotional outlet he'd never completely gotten from other creative endeavors such as fine art. "It's about honesty," Gullett reflected. "I think that's what draws me to people like Dylan, or Westerberg."
Like his inspirations, Gullett has a natural tendency to camouflage what he's trying to say: "I mean this, and it comes out like that. But I know what I meant; it's up to other people to decide what they think it means.
"Sometimes (a song) means, `You wrote this because you have to get something off your chest.' I don't really think about it that much; it's just kind of what I do," Gullett said. " ... (When I started writing lyrics and my friends forced me to be in a band, it all worked out a lot better; I had some emotional release that I couldn't get anywhere else. ... I don't write songs about going down to the Caribbean and having a party, because I've never been to the Caribbean. I try to be honest and hopefully that's what comes off."