Local Limelight: Q & A With French Quarter

 by Ben Horowitz
 published on Thursday, March 23, 2006

Photo courtesy of French Quarter
French Quarter is really just Stephen Steinbrink, a 17-year-old singer songwriter who performs without a mic.

The first time I saw Stephen Steinbrink, otherwise known as French Quarter, play alone, I was sitting on the ground with 50 or so other people, not knowing what to expect from the guy with the acoustic guitar seated at the edge of the stage at Modified Arts without a microphone.

What I heard was a half hour of songs that inspired much of the same emotions as my visit to the pre-Katrina locale that is Steinbrink's stage name -- a place of beauty and elegance that still managed to fit in with the swamp it inhabited.

Two months later, Steinbrink, 17, sat down with me to talk about creative communities, cassette tapes and hobo paintings.

SPM: Do you think you'll ever play with a microphone?

Steinbrink: I'm sure I will someday, though playing with a microphone seems unnatural to me. When I'm playing guitar or writing songs in my bedroom, I don't have to sit still and find a place to be by the mic. But I don't plan on doing the campfire sing-along thing much longer. I want to keep things interesting.

SPM: But I like the campfire sing-along feel. It's so much different to see someone playing without a mic.

Steinbrink: Definitely. When you're not sitting on a stage, or standing over an audience, there's less separation. In Phoenix, people seem to have a kind of attitude ingrained in them - "We're the audience, you're the performer," you know? It's harder to relate that way.

SPM: Have you ever had problems playing without a microphone?

Steinbrink: My first show with [the band] Blackfeet was a release show for a compilation. There were probably 200 people in the audience, and every single one of them was talking. We started playing without microphones, and we couldn't even hear ourselves playing over the crowd. So Aaron [another member of Blackfeet] went over to the microphone to say, "If you're going to talk, talk outside," and the mic cut off before he could say outside. He told the sound guy, and the sound guy was like, "Yeah, your mic is off, and it's going to stay off as long as you keep cussing out the sound guy!" So we just finished playing anyway.

SPM: You've released songs on cassette tapes, which is kind of an oddity these days. Do you prefer it to other mediums?

Steinbrink: It wasn't a specific decision to release stuff on cassette. My friend John Ryan Nelson started a cassette only label called Workout Tapes, and recording on tapes is fast and efficient. It worked well.

SPM: Where do you usually record?

Steinbrink: My studio space is in an abandoned old house in downtown Mesa. It's in my friend's backyard. It used to be rented out to transients and hobos until the '80s. There's lots of scary things on the walls, things affiliated with Nazis, but I covered them up. It's a real neat place - one of the rooms used to be a shuffleboard court.

Reach the reporter at benjamin.horowitz@asu.edu.

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