Bethlehem Steel is a band after my own heart. The name conjuring up memories of my rust-belt youth, it’s derived from the steel plant that dominated the western PA/NY border (the “buckle” of the belt if you will). For those unfamiliar with the geography of the region, this is the Buffalo 66 area of upstate NY, which provides a suitable comparison to the band’s sound. The rough-around-the-edges aesthetic is clear from the opening strums of “87s”, the first single off their newly-announced Docking EP. A layer of fuzz sets the foundation, which is then layered upon those layers to provide a thick, driving tone similar to the ’90s wall of sound made popular by bands like Hum, Helmet and most-famously, Weezer (who also share a Buffalo link). Countering that weighted backdrop are the airy vocals of Becca Ryskalczyk (also responsible for the guitars), providing the yin and yang of Bethlehem Steel’s aura. Through the sonic highs and lows, Ryskalczyk’s voice provides the constant—like bowling in the Vincent Gallo film—giving a sense of comfort and relatability to “87s” that will keep listeners coming back even if the surroundings seem bleak.
Docking will be available November 6 on Miscreant Records. We caught up with Bethlehem Steel to discuss their regional proclivities, the recording process behind their new EP, and its title (spoiler alert: they also share my sense of humor). You can stream “87s” below, and scroll on for the interview.
As a rust-belt enthusiast myself, why the name Bethlehem Steel?
Becca Ryskalczyk: I am originally from Buffalo, NY where there was a second Bethlehem Steel plant. It was pretty hard for me to leave Buffalo and the music community there, so when we started this band it just felt right naming it something that tied something to those roots.
Most of the info on Bethlehem Steel is third-person, give us the first-person account of your formation. Were you friends previously? How you began? Is there a concept or mission behind your songs?
Becca: Jon [Gernhart, drums] and I have good been friends for about 10 years. We met in college and all three of our previous bands had played together throughout the years. Jon and I were dating when we started the band and had been hanging with Zephyr [Prusinski, bass] and asked him to play with us and it just kind of worked out. We all share a similar sense of humor and appreciation for some dumb shit.
I wouldn’t really say that there was a mission behind the songs on the EP. It was mainly a way for me to deal with the loss of one of my best friends. I feel like more so now than ever we see a lot more young deaths and its a very relatable pain. This kid would always get so pissed at me for never writing any songs about him, now he has a handful.
Tell us a bit about the recording process for Docking. Was it a different process than your previous recordings?
Becca: It was definitely a different process. We wanted as much to do with the recording of the EP as possible. We basically hunkered down at Shea for a few days and knocked out the drums and some basic guitar. At some point our friend Nick Corbo came into the picture to help get guitar tones and do some needed producing. Doing these songs live I like to yell, but it the recordings we took more of a softer personal approach. All of the vocals were recorded in the DBTS bathroom. Always candles. Usually red wine.
Jon: For the last EP we tracked all of the instrumentals and around 90% of the vocals over the course of a long weekend at a friends studio upstate. Which was going to be our original approach this time around with the exception that we were going to do all the engineering ourselves as well. Once we got started we realized that it was just not happening though. After Nick got involved, providing some incredibly valuable outside input, we took the time to ease up a bit on the recording schedule. We started tracking in February and completed the project in late June.
On the name front… Docking… what’s the story behind the title?
Becca: The only answer I have to that is to google it…
Jon: …on Urban Dictionary.
What are your release plans? Party? Can we expect a tour?
Becca: We have a release show at Shea Stadium on November 5. We are co-releasing with our friends Cold Sweats who are also putting an album out. Also playing will be Comfy, Outta Gas, and Rick from Pile. We plan on a small tour, as well as heading out of town more often but no major touring at the immediate moment. We are getting right into writing for a full length.
Do you have a message for the children?
Becca: Let yourself feel everything.