Twenty years removed from his own graduation from , Kurt von Stetten has found himself in the company of MTV's pregnant high-schoolers – and it’s an association he’s calling a “total win.”
An indie artist living in Arlington, von Stetten has been making music for a while now (in addition to his photography and work for a national nonprofit) and twice this month has had his songs featured on MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.”
On May 8, “Pangea,” a song off von Stetten’s 2010 album Pyramid, was featured in an episode called “Hope.” And last night, May 22, a song we can’t name here without going all "expletive deleted," but which you can check out on MTV’s website, was featured in an episode called “Devon.”
According to his bio on StaticMotor.com, "BMX flatlanding photog Kurt von Stetten is the drummer for The Longwalls, the former front man of the Drama Queens, and a black belt brewer of some of the tastiest homemade indie rock to ever tickle your palette."
This week, we caught up with the self-described "DIY indie pop wunderkind" to talk about his music, why "16 and Pregnant" isn't selling out and neighboring Lexington as a launching pad for artists.
PATCH: This was your second song featured on MTV's 16 and Pregnant recently. What was your reaction when they came calling?
KVS: I was very pleased! From my perspective it was a total win. Making music is something that I have been immersed in year in and year out -- and for a long time without any money coming in from it -- and now someone wants to use something that I have made on a show that is viewed by lots of people! I just hope it leads to more opportunity and exposure.
PATCH: You joked on twitter yesterday about your followers telling you how much you've sold out. Do you feel like having your songs on 16 and Pregnant is selling out? Do you think selling out is more about the art you make or where it ends up?
KVS: No, I do not really see it as selling out. I haven't made a dime from my music so I would have a long way to go to sell out. I think that selling out is really perspective -- if it makes you really uncomfortable and you still go along with it for financial gain -- then maybe I would call it selling out. But I am not 21 any more, I am making music for myself and don't spend a lot of time thinking about what my one fan thinks of me!
PATCH: Can you talk just a little about the two songs featured on 16 and Pregnant?
KVS: I think what is most interesting about these two songs is that they sound so different from how they started. I write some songs over and over again and they go through many changes, in tempo and structure, and I am never quite sure that the version that I settle on is the best. In both these cases I think I made the right choice. Also these songs represent a couple firsts that are important to me: "Pangaea" is the first song I wrote with a good cello part and "[Expletive]" is the first song that wrote where I actually liked the backing vocals.
PATCH: Just about everywhere I've seen you mentioned online, your name is prefaced with some iteration of "DIY Indie Pop." Can you describe what that means?
KVS: I think what this really means is that I try to do everything myself for all of my albums. I write, play, and record all of the music that I release. I also design and produce the physical product myself. For example, my last record was released on 10" vinyl with album covers that I designed and printed. It is really hard for me not to want to be involved in every aspect of the record making process- it is part of the fun to do everything.
PATCH: I read somewhere that you likened BMX biking to making music, and that you're also a photographer. Do you see similarities between making a photograph and making a record?
KVS: I do see some similarities. Art or music always starts with the same problem- you have to make something out of nothing. You have to find out what you are interested in and then you have to find the form for that idea. In my case I make a ton of songs or photographs and then I edit them down to figure out what I like- and a lot of times I will turn to photography to work out the ideas that I cannot work out in music.
PATCH: Did growing up in Lexington at all inform your point of view as an artist?
KVS: Unbelievably so, yes. I really loved growing up in Lexington. I never would have been able to be as weird and stupid as I was as a young man in Lexington. Lexington is an awful Christmas sweater that is ugly and smells like "new car," but it is thick and can insulate you from the very real concerns of the world- it is a perfect environment for artists!
PATCH: It seems like, for an affluent suburban town of around 30,000, Lexington has produced quite a few talented "alternative" artists. Is there something in the water?
KVS: As I was saying before, Lexington is an amazing place for artistic children. I still am amazed by it today. Say what you want about it, but this town fosters a belief that what ever you want to pursue is legitimate and has meaning.
Current City: Arlington
Education: Lexington High, Class of '92; BFA Maine College of Art '96 and MFA Mass College of Art 2001
Occupation: I work for a national nonprofit that provides education and job training opportunities for youth. I also do freelance photography work.
For more from Kurt von Stetten, including videos, check out his blog on StaticMotor.com.