May 23rd, 2023
“I’m sorry that I fell asleep…”
So starts Love & Fear, the most ambitious and audacious Next Step album.
It’s also the longest and the one that sounds the biggest, because I was trying everything, everywhere, all at once.
The sixteen-track LP came out on September 26th, 2006, and was my second full-length album. It was the beginning of a planned trilogy, called The Streetlight Diaries, all named after perceived opposites: Love & Fear, followed by Honesty & Happiness, and ending with Life & Death.
The title Love & Fear came from a concept that absolutely shook and shaped my world: one day, a bar regular explained to me that every decision we make is because of one or the other. I still believe that’s true.
Love & Fear, in topic matter, is messy and sprawling; lyrically and musically, it is the definition of all over the place. Sometimes, it’s extremely intimate; other times, I write from perspectives that are not mine, points of view from real people and fictional characters alike, blurring the lines of their lives with my own. There are times I can’t even tell if I’m inventing the character or if the character is me.
This was The Next Step live show era, and at different points we featured Nick, Jarrod, Tony, Brian, and Kody. By this time, The Next Step had solidified into a simple formula: I made the records, mostly alone, and then my friends would play with me. I can’t even name every venue we played, but some notable places include 7th Street Entry in First Ave, 400 Club, Club Underground, The Garage, Hexagon Bar, Terminal Bar, Uptown Bar, so many bars, and cafés, and restaurants. The two stages we played the most, however, were both in St. Paul and just a block away from each other: Big V’s and Turf Club.
A handful of songs from Love & Fear became pillars of our live show: the title track; Just Once, Just Tonight; Accidents Are Accidents; and the best set-closer, Clean Break (followed by our finale, Peanut Butter Jelly Time).
This period also saw the introduction of the best-ever member of The Next Step (and that is including myself): Kittybot.
Kittybot was our drummer, a robot cat I made with cardboard who would hold my laptop or iPod, which would play our beats. At the time, having no drummer was a radical and often laughed-at aspect of the band; looking at the rise of superstar DJs and EDM, I can’t help but feel like we were just a little ahead of the times.
This was also the music video era. We did big videos for five singles, and this was at a moment when we were still taking analog footage and converting it to digital (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, bless you and you have no idea how lucky you are, sweet child; if you do know, you remember the old times and the hard days and I’m just glad to be here with you on the other side).
I went hard on the videos, creating stories that featured lights, fire, and shadows, superhero addicts, me losing my mind (and my clothes), and also me in drag playing my own fictional girlfriend.
Love & Fear was available to stream and on CD (have I mentioned how awful CDs were?). I knew I had a trilogy to complete, so I was already working on Honesty & Happiness by the time Love & Fear was released.
I was building this world around me, with sweat and tears and bottled anxiety, without end in sight, and I didn’t know the toll it was taking on me. Not really.
I didn’t know how, or why I was obsessed with the construction of this musical world.
Or what I was running and hiding from.
But it was finding its way into the music itself.