Home » On The Rise with… Amberstein

Jake Warne – Vocalist/Bassist
Andrew Farrar – Drummer/Vocalist
Ivan Mallory – Guitarist
Steven Lesko – Guitarist

Whether it’s with a fellow fan on the other side of the globe or the local band right in your backyard, one of the best things about being a music fan is the relationships that are made. I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with Amberstein (Milwaukee, WI) over the past several years, and have even done band & family photoshoots for them. I’ve also interviewed them twice previously for other outlets, so coming up with fresh questions was a bit of a struggle. Luckily, that friendship made for an easy conversation as opposed to a formal interview.

Manor 208: Who is Amberstein?

Jake: For the last 4 years, Andrew, Jake, and Ivan have been together. Sometimes as a three piece, sometimes as a four piece. For the past 2 years, as a four piece with Steven. And that’s been a lot of fun. I feel like all the right pieces have been in place for a while now to create some really good, new stuff. So, that’s what we’ve been working on.

Manor 208: So, because of Covid…you guys haven’t a ton of shows, have you? Steven, you’ve been with the band for 2 years, and covid has been a year and a half.

Jake: Steven, you’ve got what…4 shows with us?

Steven: Yeah, 4…maybe 5.

Jake: Shortly before Covid, it was all about Steven getting up to speed because he was the new guy. He worked really hard to be able to play any show that we could play coming up. The show right before Covid was in Feb 2020. We played about 2 and a half hours, and played all of our originals with a few covers thrown in…but it was definitely of the originals we’d ever want to play live.

Andrew: And so much time has passed, we’ve forgotten how much of a grind it was for him.

Steven: The first show I played, we were playing with Meytal Cohen at Route 20 (Racine, WI). I had about a 2 week deadline to play it. It was the first real test.

Jake: Yeah, when you think back to when Steven joined us, he had just enough time to get completely initiated into the band, learn all the music and be ready for shows. Then all shows in the future got canceled. So we started writing around that same time too. The last show we played, we did every song we were taking into pre-production. So there are a lot of songs that we’ve only played once. We had pre-production, then we had drum tracking…and then everything stopped. Then we chipped away at the songs we decided to move forward with for the next year…and then…here we are.

Manor 208: So you were in the middle of recording when covid hit?

Jake: We did pre-production in Feb 2020, and then did drums in March.  We did it all in one day.

Andrew: Let the record show…(laughs) No, I’m glad you remember the timing of this, because it feels like a lifetime ago.

Jake: Then, it wasn’t until May or June that we actually got into the studio because it was shut down.  That caused the producer to get backed up. Then we had Covid scare after Covid scare, so we didn’t have edited drums to track guitars over until probably June.   Guitar tracking went from June through August of 2020. Then vocals, mixing, and post-production. So yeah…it took a really long time. We may have been more cautious than necessary, but we made it through.

Steven: It was actually an advantage because there were no shows to play, so we had all this down time to do all of it too.

Manor 208: You mentioned that you first met with your producer in November. That’s 2 years ago. That’s insane.

Jake: It definitely feels like the longest project we’ve ever been a part of. That’s why when we released the new song (The Comeback), it felt like we finally got the ball rolling after 2 years.

“The Comeback”

Andrew: It’s an interesting case study of a group project you’re trying to do during a pandemic. So much of it requires for you to be together. A lot of it requires little finicky, nit-picky changes. The convenience of getting together in a whim isn’t really a possibility, and you have to plan it out. It was basically loading up an agenda worth of stuff that we could get done when we all got together. I think going forward, our next project is probably going to that much more efficient, because we will never take the time we have together for granted…EVER. Not just as a band, but in life. (Laughs) So yeah…2 years later. Here’s one song for you.

Manor 208: Who’s been a major influence, or supporter…outside the music industry. I’m not looking for a big name, but more someone who’s been there throughout the process. (Referring to Jake & Andrew) You guys have been support for each other. 

Jake: Yeah, Andrew and I have been together for 8 years now.

Andrew: And no ring. NO RING.

Jake: To be honest, I’m at the point now where I’m just trying to impress Andrew and make him happy that I’m his singer. (Laughs) I think “Would Andrew think this is cool or not? Cuz he’s heard me do a lot of things”

Manor 208: It’s been a partnership, so you almost have to do that.

Jake: I’ve made music by myself as a solo artist. So, if I’m going to be in a band, it’s going to be because I want to be in a band with others who make me better. So, for me, the biggest influence would be Andrew.

Manor 208: Andrew?

Andrew: NEXT QUESTION. No, I would agree. My spin on it is, that Jake and I have written together for so long, we’ve hashed out so many different situations. We’ve put the work in to apply logic to the decisions we make and how we write. “Does this part complement this? Is this part excessive? Is this part highlighted enough?” We’ve gone through all of that problem solving together to the point where we’re really in sync, so we can jump to the finish line of making a decision without having to hash everything out. There’s been plenty of times when we’ve each come to the table personally invested in an idea, that after a discussion it wasn’t a good idea. But it was that discussion and the respect we have for each other that gave merit to the decision that was made. So, the fact that we can just skip all of that is pretty incredible. Having Steven & Ivan in the mix, with the new song just released “The Comeback” and the rest of the songs that will be coming out; Steven has had a huge influence on that. Same with Ivan…I think the chemistry outside of working together as musicians, as adults that respect each other, it gets to the finish line of a good product so much better and more effectively.

Manor 208: Steven, who has been big supporter in your life?

Steven: Andrew said a lot of the things that I was prepared to say. But, I definitely owe (local guitarist) Brock Betz a lot of props for introducing me, in general, to the atmosphere of the music scene. When he told he was leaving Amberstein, I shot Andrew a message right away. I had seen them play live at Hijynx in Fort Atkinson, and told Brock that he had a sick gig playing with them and I was jealous. I kinda feel like a trust fund child because of the way they have everything organized. It’s like a dream come true of what I want in a band. In the past, I’ve been one the ring leaders where I had to get it all together. So to have Amberstein with such a foundation, and they all have everything together…it was such a refreshing feeling. I feel like I only have to worry about myself.

Jake: Ivan has also been part of bands in the past where he had to be the lead and organize everything. Just like Steven has been. I know Andrew has been, and I definitely have too. So, none of are interested in being in charge. But, we’re all capable of it, so we just pick up and do what we need to do.

Manor 208: The opposite end of the previous question, have you ever mentored someone? Jake, I know you’re a music teacher, so this is an obvious answer for you.

Jake: I teach general music; I teach a guitar class, a ukulele class, and I’m the choir teacher…all at the middle school level. I primarily teach people to sing, but ever since I was old enough to drive…actually it was before I started to drive. When I was 15, I would get rides to give guitar lessons around my hometown.  When I started driving, I was doing it a lot more until I went to college. Then I would come home for the Summers and give guitar lessons. I also did it on campus too when I was at college. The guitar students I’ve had, if I cross paths with them it’s cool to see that they’re still playing.  I remember a few months ago I played a show. Someone there told me that I had taught their son in 6th grade. It was probably 15 years ago, and they still remembered me. I think about music and how it leaves an impact on people…whether you did music with them, or they’ve heard your music. To know that exists with people is really special.

Andrew:  I taught Sunday School for a little bit, and I’ll leave you with this – I had a kid come in to Kindergarten and say “Hey, Mr. Andrew. I have a joke for you.” I was like, we’re in church but “Ok.”  “What has 2 legs and bleeds a lot?” I responded “Um…what?” The kid says “Half of a cat!”  So that happens in a teaching setting. (Laughs) What’s really funny is that kid is in a…

Manor 208: So that actually happened? It’s a true story?

Andrew: It’s a true story. That kid is in a doctorate music program at Julliard playing piano.

Manor 208: (Laughing) When you said “he’s in a…” I thought you were going to say prison. To Steven: How about you? Have you mentored anyone?

Steven: I’ve given guitar lessons before. Also, on my Instagram, I have a lot of people message me with questions all the time. They’re about guitar, or gear, or techniques on how to play…how to write songs using guitar. A lot of people I’ve never met, I’ve developed relationships with strangers from across the world.

Jake: You’re self-taught, right?

Steven: Yeah, I taught myself so I understand the trials and errors of just starting out.

Manor 208: That kinda blows my mind. I’ve seen you play, and you seem so…technical. So when did you start playing?

Steven: Well, when I was 14, I played a lot of Guitar Hero. I practiced it like it was an instrument, (Laughs) and I beat it all on the highest difficulty level. I decided I wanted a guitar for my birthday. My dad didn’t want to get me something that you’ll play for a little while, and then never touch it again. As soon as I got it though, I never put it down. I was practicing for like 8 hours a day, and they were kinda blown away by how fast I was picking everything up. My initial thing was I started to learn the songs I like to play on Guitar Hero. The first one I learned was “Raining Blood” by Slayer. I couldn’t play at all, it took me months to learn. As I got through the song, I started learning techniques that they used. I just learned whatever song I thought was cool no matter how hard it was for me. As for mentoring people, I get messages from people on Instagram at all skill ranges and experience levels. Kind of the way I go about it is I’ll ask questions of other musicians, about what they’re learning, where they’re at in their journey. It’s about building a community and learning together.

Manor 208: There’s a ton of value in that too. As a photographer, I’m self-taught too. In the beginning there were photographers that helped me, no matter how stupid the question was. So whenever I get questions, I make sure I take the time to answer the best I can. What you’re doing on Instagram is invaluable.  

Manor 208: We’ve kinda covered current projects…is there a timeline that you have planned? Is there more new music? What’s going on there?

Jake: We have more music. We have things ready to go. We want to be strategic. If we put everything out everything at once, we’ll only have one release date to snowball from. We’re trying to be methodical and build our audience between releases.

Andrew: The way the music industry is now, everything is so singles oriented. We’ve had a lot of open discussion about building content around a single song, and whether or not it makes sense. We’ve found that it does…giving that song a chance to breathe. I think for us, we invest a lot creatively into the songs that we make, and one of the kindest pieces of feedback from people is that their interpretation of it is way different than what ours is. That is somehow resonates with them in a way that we didn’t even think about. If we were to push stuff out just to get it out there, we might to lose the opportunity to connect with somebody like that. If there’s an overarching message in our music, it’s hope. Especially in times like now…I know like me personally, there’s been a lot of discussions about mental health. I think each of these songs has helped us is their own way in that aspect.

Jake: Each song deserves its day. Early Amberstein versus what we’re doing now is different on so many levels. But, what you’re going hear is as deep and honest as it’s ever been. Without revealing too much, what we have is a concept. We are releasing it in an order so that when you hear it all together…it has sunk in, and you finally have the context when it’s all out. It’s a different strategy, a different concept, a different approach than anything we’ve ever done.

Manor 208: Is there anything else you guys want to add?

Andrew: With everything that’s gone on, with us putting music out right now…it’s very clear that no one part of the music industry can exist without all the other pieces. Yeah, we’re the people that are playing shows on stage, but it doesn’t mean shit if there’s not venues, it doesn’t mean anything there’s not fans. Nobody could say it happened without people taking pictures or recording video. It’s such an interesting community of people, and I think the pandemic has shown how strong and resilient it is. And how much that has been missing from our lives, we’re really excited to get back into that. Not only to be on stage and play the music, but to be that part of the community because it just doesn’t mean anything without everybody else. The humanity outside of music, and music being the medium through which we all connect is pretty special.  

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