The Stairs
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The Stairs

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The best kept secret in music


"Capsule Quotes"

"Miraculous Happens, an album two years in the making, sounds like nothing that has come out of the Boston area for a long time." Northeast Performer, September 2003.

"The album plays out like a mix tape, with each song ringing of familiarity even though you've never heard it before. It is bedroom recordings run amok, created by musicians who simply love music."

Miraculous Happens is "a wide-ranging crazy pop epic" according to The Noise, October 2003

"These guys are brilliant! [Their album contains] miraculous feats of organization in the name of pop. The Stairs have accomplished a great thing here." Scott Tennet, Splendid - Various


The Strange Musical Journey Of The Stairs

Less than three years ago, The Stairs were just a group of friends from Dedham, Mass., making music for themselves and their friends. In fact, they weren't even The Stairs yet.

During those three years the trio that became The Stairs would add three new members. They would come up with one of the more creative ways to fund a recording project, and put to work both a marching band and the artistic talents of elementary school students. Finally, after one of the more unusual creative journeys of all time, the group released their debut album, Miraculous Happens. On Thursday, Feb. 20, the group performs at the Chopping Block in Boston; on Saturday, Feb. 22, The Stairs make their New York debut at the West End.

Before they became The Stairs, they were Mr. Pistol. In 1998, Ryan Walsh, Eric Meyer and Evan Sicuranza formed Mr. Pistol and released a number of limited-edition albums, including Backwood Crimes and Ghost Lovers, recorded on boom boxes and four-tracks in college dorm rooms and the Meyer attic. They were labors of love that hardly reached the ears of anyone outside the band's circle of friends and family — which, perhaps, was just as well. Speaking of an early recording, Walsh said, "The music you could hear was so bizarre that we had trouble justifying its merit to anyone."

But their music — which at one point they likened to the sound of an amplified hairdryer — was slowly beginning to take form. With each recording they made, their obsession with the do-it-yourself recording process grew.

Most artists either record and release albums on their own, or find a record company willing to take a chance on them. But The Stairs decided to, as they say, "think outside the box." They decided to apply for a grant.

Walsh was familiar with the idea of getting a grant to support a creative project because he had just completed a film titled "Horse Tricks," which had been funded through a local community arts organization called the Dedham Visionary Access Corporation. The nonprofit supports local media and cultural projects with funds from cable service providers operating in Dedham. "The projects they fund are ongoing and, in my opinion, really enrich the town of Dedham culturally," Walsh explained.

So The Stairs decided to take a chance and request a grant from DVAC. Amazingly, in mid-2000 DVAC offered The Stairs a $10,000 grant to record and release an album, but with three stipulations: 1) The album would comprise original compositions, and other Dedham-based musicians interested in contributing would be invited to play on it; 2) A "Draw the Album Cover" contest would be held at Dedham elementary schools; and 3) The entire project would be filmed, and a documentary about the recording would be shown on the Dedham local cable station before the album's release.

Even before the grant was approved, in the spring of 2000, they had a stroke of luck when a former high school teacher had offered to let them rent his studio recording equipment. Now, with the grant in place, The Stairs not only had the budget and the equipment to record a proper full-length, but also the freedom to experiment with their music without the time constraints imposed by working in a traditional recording studio. And it is these elements that contribute most profoundly to Miraculous Happens.

In October 2000, armed with nothing more than some bedroom recordings and a love for all things creative, The Stairs set out to record their full-length. Two years later, at the end of 2002, Miraculous Happens was finished.

Recording the album was not an easy experience. "No, I would not recommend recording an album like this to anyone," Walsh said. "Maybe a musically-inclined masochist."

Not that they had a bad time; it was a journey that offered adventure, confusion and, at times, some good ol' fun. "We were constantly trying to rein it in, to throw a rope around it," Walsh said. "But at the same time we wanted to be free to experiment and let it grow into whatever it wanted to grow into."

Over the course of those two years, The Stairs recorded at seven locations in Dedham, Norwood and Boston, making use of professional studios and bandmembers' homes. But Walsh said it was more like one long two-year session. "I didn't stop thinking about the record, I couldn't, until it was finished."

They didn't realize what they were getting themselves into. "It was the first time any of us had attempted to record an album completely by ourselves," Walsh said. "We had no experience, and this project could have been a terrible disaster."

They avoided disaster, through sheer will and by utilizing terminology that would make most professional musicians laugh. "We developed some kind of musical language that we all could understand," he said. "We learned how to offer each other assurances with strange slang and misused music terms."

As the songs grew, the band concurrently grew in numbers as well. They added three permanent members, Emma Westling, John Ling and Rob Johanson, to fulfill the duties of female vocalist, bassist and pianist respectively. Also, meeting the stipulations of their DVAC grant, the record features a number of guest musicians from Dedham. Quite impressively, Miraculous Happens is truly everything but the kitchen sink. So much so that perhaps we should replace the term "everything but the kitchen sink" in our vernacular with the term "miraculous happens." From brass sections to banjos, classical guitars to sitars, an 11-person choir to the 2001-2002 Dedham High School Marching Band, The Stairs made use of local talent in innovative and adventurous ways.

Miraculous Happens, with cover and liner notes that include crayon and watercolor drawings by Dedham elementary students, is truly a monster of a record. The record is sprawling, so massive that one is unsure what to make of it at first. It's an oft-cited critique of music journalism that writers take the lazy approach of comparing a new band to another rather than coming up with an original description. With Miraculous Happens there's really no choice. Its 15 tracks touch upon so many musical reference points that it's necessary to mention the many artists and genres they evoke. From the Flaming Lips to Neutral Milk Hotel to The Smiths to the Stone Roses to Pavement to breezy California pop to old-timey to sultry jazz, the band hits on so many styles from song to song that it's impossible to categorize their sound.

To the question: "What is The Stairs' sound?," dozens of different answers are possible. But that's not the point. The essence of The Stairs lies not with their sound, but rather the process. It is the circumstances that surrounded the recording of this album that truly make it a remarkable achievement. It is bedroom recordings run amok, created by musicians who simply love music. And in the end, what the album may lack in cohesion, it makes up for in the breadth and quality of the songs and the uniqueness of the arrangements.

The album plays out like a mix tape, with each song ringing of familiarity even though you've never heard it before. You can ignore the album as it plays in the background, but every few minutes you're likely to lift your head and think about the music. You can play it over and over and each time pick up on something new.

If you want to hear some of the group's music, download these MP3s: Forty Two, I Am an Exit, Most Valuable Pop, Under a Moon of Twine and Queen of Mixed Signals.

The experience of Miraculous Happens didn't kill the group's obsession with recording; it only made it stronger. The Stairs have already set new challenges for themselves, one of which is a double or triple album titled Deck. This album will feature a song for every playing card; additionally, the group has created a set of rules pertaining to song titles, length and orchestration. "The process of the album becomes a game, just as a deck of cards is designed to play with," Walsh explained. Games, processes, rules; for The Stairs it all comes down to the journey.

Meanwhile, The Stairs plan to reach that elusive audience outside their circle of friends and family by touring the East Coast. They have released Miraculous Happens on their own label, Access to Visions Records, named in homage to their community patrons. The album can be purchased at The Stairs' Web site — - Carlo Espinas


When you're in a struggling band, certain day jobs can be beneficial to your success. Maybe your bassist works at Kinko's, so you can make free fliers. Perhaps the guitarist works at a record store so he can pimp your band to anyone who'll listen. If you're lucky, the drummer works at a music store so you can get discounts on good equipment. And of course, it never hurts to have a grant writer in your band.

That last one may perplex some of you, but not if you're familiar with The Stairs. Hailing from the non-scene that is Dedham, Massachusetts, The Stairs -- who had previously only recorded material on boomboxes and 4-tracks -- somehow convinced a local corporation to give them $10,000 in funding. The stipulation on the funding, however, was that the project incorporate some form of artistic community outreach. Huh? Jesus, man, fuck the music! Congratulations are in order for The Stairs. These guys are brilliant! Someone in this group has a long career in non-profit arts funding ahead of him. I hear the Whitney is hiring.

Okay, just kidding about the "fuck the music" thing. Miraculous Happens is a good pop album, full of melodies, counter-melodies, three-part harmonies and plenty of instruments, courtesy of just about anyone in Dedham who knew how to play something faintly musical (there's that "involve the community" stipulation). The Stairs' music walks the same road paved by Olivia Tremor Control and other Elephant 6-ers: it is '60s-inspired pop with a dash of psychedelia and plenty of experimentation.

Though the group has six core members, an average of nine or ten musicians play on each track, contributing a variety of horns, piano, Rhodes, hand claps, harmonica, fiddle and other miscellaneous noise-makers. No shit, man -- there's a choir on "I Am An Exit", and if that weren't enough, the Dedham High School Marching Band shows up in full regalia on "Car". Impressive.

Given such variety, Miraculous Happens is certainly entertaining. "Carpenter Ghost" takes a sudden left turn from a single voice to a reverb-drenched chorus of harmonies, then crashes into a rousing bar-ful of guitars, chimes and keyboards. "Most Valuable Pop" actually has more country swagger than its title suggests, and some fantastic fiddling to boot. "Eleven" is a jazzy number with a tenor-voiced monologue for an introduction, while "Under a Moon of Twine" takes an Eastern detour via sitar. The mantra-like lyrics of "Car" may well creep into the back of your head and nestle in your brain forever (which, as with any good pop song, is a good thing -- for a while).

On the other hand, the disc's sheer density of layers can be overwhelming. Stretching over a full eighty minutes, it definitely drags before its time runs out. Although the sheer number of elements thrown into Miraculous Happens's mix is an impressive feat of musical digestion, The Stairs lack the focus and thematic presence that groups like Olivia Tremor Control or Neutral Milk Hotel brought to their albums -- and The Stairs' singers come nowhere near Jeff Mangum or Will Cullen Hart quality.

Miraculous Happens isn't so much a discrete journey from point A to point B, over peaks and through valleys, ending with some sort of denouement or closure. It's more like a photo album of... well, miraculous feats of organization in the name of pop; after all, there were something like a hundred people involved in its creation. Perhaps that's why the simple closer, "Let Me Sleep", is arguably the best track of the bunch -- it seems more concerned with a tight, unified melody than fiddly details, and is performed only by the core band-members.

All faults aside, The Stairs have accomplished a great thing here. The project took more than two years to assemble, and no doubt had more than its share of bureaucratic and logistical nightmares, so The Stairs deserve praise for actually turning out a finished product. The community should be proud.

- Scott Tennent

"The Noise"

Miraculous Happens
15 songs

If someone hands you $10,000, what the hell would you do with it? I'd probably get all spastic and blow it on something stupid like giant tubs of Swedish Fish. But The Stairs are no fools. They spent it wisely. The Dedham, MA musicians received a $10,000 grant from the Dedham Visionary Access Corporation and made an album with it. They even gave back to their town, a stipulation of the grant, by recruiting a wide-range of musicians, including the Dedham High School marching band, to record on their disc.

While Miraculous Happens maintains an offbeat folk-rock stature throughout, it's also a wide-ranging crazy pop epic that features everything from trumpets, tubas, banjos, fiddles, a sitar, and yes, even a toy piano, to kitchen noises, hand claps and boisterous jibberish. And most of it works wonderfully, albeit slightly neurotic.

The main core of The Stairs is Evan Sicuranza (guitars, vocals), Eric Meyer (drums), Ryan Walsh (guitars, vocals), Leeore Schnaironsohn (bass, vocals), and Rob Johanson (keyboards, vocals). They make music so involved and intricate it can sometimes appear to be a hindrance, but it really isn't. Check out the standout tracks "Carpenter Ghost," "I Am An Exit," and "Forty Two." Turns out that $10,000 was money well spent. (Ryan Wood)
- Ryan Wood


The Stairs began as a trio of home-recording enthusiasts in 1998. After recording their first record on four-tracks and boom-boxes in college dorm rooms under the name Mr. Pistol, they expected nothing more to come of their little experiment.

Although they couldn't find any words to justify the merit of their first recordings to anyone, they kept plugging away. After signing on three more enthusiastic musicians, The Stairs suddenly ran into a windfall of sorts.

The Stairs found a non-profit company called The Dedham Visionary Access Corporation based in the band's hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts. In order to qualify for a grant supplied by the company, the band had to qualify their new album with community involving elements. Thinking completely out of the box, the band secured $10,000 to record, master, and produce Miraculous Happens.

What did they do to qualify? They invited musicians from the area to guest on the record - including the entire 2001-2002 Dedham High School Marching Band. Not only that, but they opened up a contest to elementary school kids in the area: called simply the "Draw Our Album Cover" contest. Lucky artists Paige Driscoll, Devin Quinlan, Emily Mosca, Brian Mosca, and Ryan Walsh are credited with the outcome.

As difficult as these outreach ideas may have sounded, the band claims to have emerged with happier results overall. Not only were they able to spend more time on the recording, but they were also able to involve the entire area in their recording. One can only imagine that Dedham, Massachusetts will continue to gather and have listening parties of the album they all helped build.

This album is eclectic and keeps the listener thinking. There's no cohesive vision from song to song, but there's definitely a feeling each song captures, but somehow, there does seem to be a larger picture. This seems to be one of those albums that surprises you after you've listened to it for 3 years straightÉsuddenly showing another side that explains more of the story.

Miraculous Happens is very curious and somewhat intriguing. The album begins with Chuck Mangione in an aviary. After about a minute of the "Taps"-like intro, the band breaks in. Suddenly, The Stairs sound like Eric's Trip or Ween (if they were a serious group). The trumpet remains as the song builds, giving an awkward feel. As the song progresses, layered vocals start to duel with another trumpet and a saxophone.

On "She's A Butterfly," the band begins with a burlesque feel expressed through the piano, adding trumpet and a guitar loop into the mix. Everything breaks, and an almost-song emergesÉwith something very close to what you hear on the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine. That is; modern musicians taking on 70's glam rock, but not quite hitting it exactly. The song ends in a flurry of noise.

"Carpenter Ghost" is a folkie acoustic strummer. Listen to it twice, and you wish the band was sitting around the campfire with you - so you could join the sing along.

Then the album takes another turn. The fourth track, "I am an exit" is completely cheesed out. Beginning with guitar swells, and continuing with vocals that have a put-on British accent, the band sounds like they're attempting to mimic Morrissey. Then, they somehow sound like they're actually working on The Beatles Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band part 2. The horns take a break during this melodrama, and suddenly one starts to feel a bit wearyÉknowing there is at least 55 minutes left on the record, the listener might find it necessary to take a break after this song.

Let's call it an intermission.

This short break with help you cleanse your palette for the country tune, "Most Valuable Pop." The fiddle and banjo take over this tune, and vocalists Rob Johanson and Evan Sicuranza ride the line between indie rock and alt-country nearly perfectly. One of the better songs on the album, this tune echoes influences of a band you don't hear mentioned much anymore; Camper Van Beethoven.

To let it properly sink in, you'll need three more intermissions during the listening of this album. While you will most likely find the best moments on your own, I suggest a rest after tracks 7, 10, and 13. Don't think of these as problem pauses - think of these as a needed breath of fresh air and silence. After all, The Stairs put exactly two full years of work into Miraculous Happens; the least you can do is take your time while you listen to it.

With a total running time of 74 minutes, The Stairs can say they didn't leave much behind when they finished this record. If there was anything left on the proverbial cutting room floor during the mixdown, it needed to stay on that floor.

Claiming Guided By Voices and The Velvet Underground as influences, The Stairs should be proud of what they accomplished with this record. Hopefully there will be a follow-up to this collection of eclecticism. One can only imagine what this collective can do during a live show, and those of you on the East Coast should check it out while you can.
- D.Hendrickson


The Stairs - Chime Away EP (2004 ATV Records)

The Stairs - Miraculous Happens (2003 ATV Records)

The Stairs - Deck (2 CD, 52 Song Project imitating a deck of playing cards. In production)

The Stairs - The Unnatural Bridge (cover album of the entire Silver Jews album "The Natural Bridge")

The Stairs - New Uses For Old Bodies (a collection of the first Stairs demos. Never released)


Feeling a bit camera shy


In 2000 three friends from Dedham, Massachusetts got a grant to record a pop/rock album in creative conjunction with the entire town.

Somehow it worked.