Bethlehem Steel's Anxiety Driven Rock
by Kaylie Felsberg
Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel's Facebook page
The New York-based Bethlehem Steel have been dubbed the ‘Whatever Rock’/Shrug Rock band; however, sounds of sincerity appears to run through every song that is released. Originally consisting of Rebecca Ryskalcyzk, Patrick Ronayne and Jon Gernhart, the band has built a reconstructed sound for their new self-titled record with the addition of guitarist and vocalist Christin Puerto.
Ahead of their show in Allston at O’Brien’s Pub on Sept. 25, Ryskalcyzk talked with us over the phone about the deliberateness of the band’s lyrics, being able to confide with another woman and why she has too many voice memos on her phone.
Before we begin, can you tell us a bit about the history of the band and how you guys got your start?
Me and John met at Fredonia. We’ve been friends for a long time, had both moved to New York in 2012 and soon started playing music together. I started working at Shea Stadium, the music venue, and we started practicing there—that’s where we met Pat, who joined the band as our bass player.
How did Christina join the band?
After we recorded our first LP, we needed another guitar player which was then when Christina
came into the band. It’s the short answer, but it gets us to where we are now.
You’ve been together for about seven years. What do you think keeps you together?
Being friends, as well as the need to make music to feel okay.
With the addition of Christina, did that change the band’s style?
I don’t think it changed the style, I think we’re on pretty similar pages.
Did it change the way you wrote or produced the songs?
It was different in a writing aspect. I would do everything on my own and bring it to the other band members but now I have more of a writing companion. I bounce ideas off of her like, “should I keep going with this” or “is this stupid.” After I finished a song or she finished a song, we would get together and work on other guitar parts.
Did sharing your feelings with another woman help push you more?
Oh, yeah, for sure. We’re all super good friends but there’s only so much, like being in a band with just guys, they can understand especially while touring in different situations that I’m kind of made smaller and can’t feel. Even with expressing different things—it’s better.
Not to say it wasn’t good before, but when we wanted another person in the band I definitely wanted another woman.
Bethlehem Steel has been dubbed as “whatever rock” or “shrug rock.” Does this feel accurate to you?
Not really. It never made sense to me because, I don’t know, lyrically we’re being very deliberate.
I remember reading that and ultimately being confused because the band sounds sincere, but if you had the chance to coin your band as something what would it be?
At one point, someone said “nightmare pop.” Or the other day, we were saying “grump rock” because someone’s always really grumpy. Yeah, "anxiety rock," too.
Can you describe the band’s creative process?
It’s usually different sometimes like a song will be completely vomited out of it—like something I needed to process that will come out way more quickly than anything else. I didn’t even know it was there, but it was something that emotionally needed to happen.
Other times are a little more challenging and I’ll start writing a song and not really start on another one until its finish and I do it in a weird series of voice memos. It’s named like a letter or something. I’ll start writing one part, then I’ll say “hey, alright,” walk away from it and then go back to it and add another section to it which would be “A2.”
I have all of these ridiculous voice memos of nonsense.
When you’re writing a song like ‘Alt Shells,’ where does the inspiration come from?
I guess it mostly just comes through pain and the soul.
Bethlehem Steel is currently on tour. Are you excited to finally bring these songs to life?
It’s exciting. We’ve been practicing a lot of them for a while but haven’t played for anyone. It’s exciting to finally do that. At first, we realized we hadn’t played a bunch of these songs for anyone, but we had all these others. We didn’t know how to make a set.