Fireworks Magazine Online 65 - Interview with Black State Highway


Black State Highway is a new, youthful British Female-Fronted band fronted by Latvian singer Liva Steinberga. They pump out a raucous brand of Hard Rock and recently signed a deal with Cherry Red Records. Black State Highway have now released their self titled debut and Dave Scott fired some questions over to the bands vocalist and guitarist Olie Trethewey. 


Not many of our readers will be familiar with Black State Highway yet.  Firstly, how did you come to use this name for the band?  Is there any story or meaning behind it?  

O – I think it may have been Harry Bland who came up with the name, I can’t really remember exactly how it came about, but when a band is looking for a name you generally find yourselves saying out loud any ideas that come to mind until you get bored or find something half decent. For the first hour it’s usually obscenity and profanity after which it could develop into serious discussion, or more likely continue down the path of talking bollocks. The name Black State Highway doesn’t mean anything particularly as far as I know, but it does invoke imagery that compliments and works with our music. I think Bland just said it and it sounded good and we all settled on it.

Can you introduce our readers to the other members of the band? 

O – We have Liva Steinberga on vocals, Jon Crampton on guitar, Gordon Duncan on bass and Bland on drums.

How did you all come together, for example I believe there is a particularly unusual story about how Jon Crampton became part of BSH?

O – Some of us already knew each other, for example I had known Bland for a few years and we went to college together, Steinberga and Duncan also went to the same college but arrived later. Steinberga, Duncan and I used to play covers in pubs around Reading to earn a bit of cash. BSH was formed after we all moved down to Brighton, which is where we met Crampton and completed the line-up. Crampton’s story is a bit unusual and quite lucky! We had our first gig booked as BSH but still no second guitarist. I had met him briefly at a party and knew that he played guitar but never heard him play. Weeks later, I was under pressure from the rest of the band to find another guitarist before this gig and I happened to just bump into Crampton in a corridor at the Music Institute we were at. I asked him, he said yes and thankfully he could play! Not only that but, he was into similar stuff musically as us. Oh and he pulled out a really nice cream Strat, which impressed me at least, I don’t know if any of the others were as excited about it. At this point I was still playing what I would describe as ‘toy guitars’ I hadn’t yet managed to get a real Gibson or Fender so when Crampton got out his proper Fender I took him very seriously.

L – I moved to the U.K. when I was seventeen to study music, with big dreams to start a band and do what I love to do but on a bigger scale. I went to (then called) TVU now Reading College, that’s where I met Olie Trethewey and we hit it off as our influences and the music we wanted to write were the same. We started writing songs together and the Duncan and Bland joined. We all moved down to Brighton to study at BIMM and that’s where we met Crampton and that’s how we became Black State Highway.

What words would you use to describe the sound of BSH and what influences are there behind the bands style?

O – Hmmm, I would say; riffy Bluesy, sometimes Stinky Rock. If I’m referring to the album I would also say that our sound is quite natural and live, because that is how it was recorded. We’re not interested in huge triggered drum sounds or putting loads of guitars on tracks in the studio, we did that once before and it just didn’t actually sound anything like us. We wanted to make something that actually represents what we sound like with no tricks. In fact what you hear on the album are basically board mixes, done relatively quickly. In terms of influences there is soooo many. We are of course influenced by and still take a lot from some of the great Rock bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd etc but our personal tastes differ and go much deeper than Classic Rock. Whatever music we are listening to at a particular time, impacts on what kind of music we write. I personally go through phases of listening to particular, genres, albums or artists until I discover the next thing that I love, which, I will get really deeply into, until I then move on again. For example, when the song ‘Conclusion’ was written I was completely into Bluesy Rock, stuff like Joe Bonamassa, Black Stone Cherry etc. Songs written more recently, for example, include the song ‘Free’ was written under the influence of people like Gary Clark Jr and bands like Witch because at that time I was really getting into Fuzzy Blues/Stoner Rock. 

L – It’s difficult to pinpoint a set influence. I’m influenced by many types of music so I take little bits from the music I listen to and apply it to my style. Obviously Blues, Country and Rock music is what my style is based on and it’s the music I grew up with and listened to. I think the fact that melodic female vocals with some added sass, fit into the riffy/Bluesy BSH style very well; there’s something delicate about it and yet quite powerful and in your face all at the same time.

Your self-titled debut is due out next month, how does that feel and what sort of thoughts are going through your mind as that important moment draws near?

O – It feels really exciting, I’m a bit nervous about how it is received and of course hope that people like it, but the overall feeling is just the feeling of being totally pumped! I feel more motivated than ever, really aggressively motivated because I feel like we actually do have a chance, if we can just get ourselves going in terms of touring and just completely living music, performing like pros we can get to the level we aspire too. Of course this is most likely to happen over the course of years, but I just have this feeling that if we can make the least amount of mistakes possible and tread the right path with the help or our amazing team at Hear No Evil Records/Cherry Red Records and our Manager Chizzy Kakizawa, that the next year could be more incredible than we would have imagined.

L – As I’m sitting here and answering the question it actually dawned on me that it is not that long till the launch, I remember when we signed our contract with HNE and Cherry Red, it seemed miles away and now it’s around the corner! It’s exciting though! I have got so many thoughts going through my mind as the launch draws nearer; its excitement, a crazy nervous kinda situation but most of all I want to do is share this album with everyone and hope they love it as much as I do! And my Dad is coming down from Latvia for the launch and I am over the moon that he is going be there on a day like that.

How does the writing process work within BSH; is it a group effort or more confined to one or two members?

O – It is a mixture, ‘Trouble’ was the product of a rehearsal session and everyone came up with something on that song. Quite often it is either me or Bland who write the music to start with either on our own or together. We will usually record demos of our ideas and then Steinberga will sing on them and that’s what we take to rehearsal and work on as a band. Sometimes the tracks are completely transformed once Duncan and Bland put their ideas into it and sometimes they more closely resemble the demos.

I am always fascinated by lyrics and their direction, and often indirect, meaning and stories.  What different themes or subjects do you feature and/or talk about within the songs on your debut?

O – This is more a question for Steinberga as 90% of the lyrics are hers, Crampton, Duncan and I have only started contributing towards lyrics quite recently so it is only the newer songs in which we have contributed. If I remember rightly Steinberga, Bland and I wrote the lyrics for ‘Common Man’ together. It is basically a fictional story about a person who is leading a sort of double life in terms of social class. The person is then conned by a “loaded suit” and the story unravels with some indulgent guitar noises in the middle. As I write this I am coming up with various angles or ways of interpreting the song so I guess it’s a bit cliché but I’ll have to say draw your own conclusions. The only other track on the album that I lyrically contributed to was ‘Free’. When we were writing it I was thinking about some kind of demon or something freaky frightening and sinister, Steinberga may have been thinking something completely different but there we go. It turned out alright anyway.

Where do you (LS) draw your inspiration from for lyrics?  Is it from your real life or more of a fictional perspective?

L – Lyrics and the vocal melodies are kind of my forte but we all do a lot of work together, as of late everyone has been more involved in the lyric writing process and themes of the song, which is great. As for the inspiration, I kind of apply a real life situation that I turn into a fictional one. I am a massive daydreamer and my imagination is what keeps me who I am. But all songs do come from real life situations; its how I choose to word it and apply it to the song is more fictional.

Have you given any thoughts to BSH doing a song in your native Latvian tongue?

L – I have thought about it and there is a song of my Dad’s which is a sort of an anthem for the Biker Society Of Latvia, so that would be great to do as a cover. It’s not top of the agenda as of now, but it is definitely something to think about.

You have already released one single (‘Ain’t Got No’), what made you settle on this song as a single?

O – We decided on this one because it is so accessible. It’s got such a catchy chorus, it’s fairly up-tempo it’s got some riffy bits; it kind of sums up our more pretty side really well which makes it perfect as a first single. Maybe for the next single we will choose a song where me and Bland have got our pong on! By pong I mean Fuzz Face pedals. 

This single was selected as one of the tracks of the week for Classic Rock recently.  How did that come about and how does it/how did you feel to have your single chosen for this?

O – It was indeed, and it was great! It came as quite a surprise really. We thought it would be a long time before we would be getting recognized by people like Classic Rock and Team Rock. I think it was really just a result of the hard work of our main man Matt Ingham at Cherry Red doing our PR, and of course I hope due to the quality of the track. It was really exciting to see us up there alongside superstars like Slash. Things like this make you feel so good because as a musician you work really hard on an album and put your heart and soul into it, not to mention money. But you don’t actually know how good it really is because it’s impossible to listen to your own music in the same way other people do. Getting featured on Classic Rock was one of the things that has shown us that what we are doing is/could be worthwhile because other people like it, it’s not just us!

L – Having our first single featured in Classic rock recently was probably the biggest thing that’s happened to me as an artist to date. It’s an absolute honour to be featured in a publication that I used to look at and dream about to be featured in, and then it happened. And next to Slash! Guns ‘n’ Roses have always been and will be my favourite band, even though I go through life and moments and like different types of music, GNR will always be a massive part of what I am doing now! It’s an amazing honour. Talking about the exact moment when we got an email from our absolute legend of a PR guy Ingham about being featured, it was about 2pm in the afternoon and I was at work (I work in a bar); I stopped what I was doing, had an exciting little dance and a glass of Prosecco, because I believe a moment like that needs to be celebrated with bubbles!

If you had to suggest one standout track, not necessarily a favourite but one you are most proud of maybe, what would it be?

O – My standout track is ‘Free’. It is the newest on the album and the filthiest in my opinion. Newer stuff is always more exciting! What I love about this track is that there was no consideration given to structure or sticking to a formula in the writing process. Sometimes when you write a song you go by some well used structures, or think “we need a bridge here” or “that chorus doesn’t work” or whatever, but with ‘Free’ that kind of thing never even came to mind, in fact I don’t think it even has a chorus. I remember in the studio, I think Bland just decided that to build up a bit in the middle with lots of noise would just keep going for longer and longer, and we followed him until the tension was unbearable and then “BAM!! HEAVY RIFFAGE”. That kind of improvised un-calculated playing is one of my favorite things to do and to listen to.

L – ‘Trouble’ has always been a special song to me; it was written about a situation that was going on at the time and at the same time, it’s like a little warning to myself and others that I am a bit of trouble. It’s the riff and the pace of the song together with the lyrics that is a bit naughty, fun and really appeals to me.

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What would you say was your highlight of the writing sessions and recording of the album?  Is there anyone moment that stands out for you for whatever reason be it very funny, most memorable or simply a moment or occurrence that stands out in your mind?

O – The highlight of the whole writing/recording process was actually the first day in the studio. These sessions were the first that BSH had done live as a band, as opposed to multi-tracking. So we all set up in the same room as if we were in a rehearsal. The first song we tracked was ‘Common…’ and the best bit of the process was after we had done some takes and went into the control room to listen to what it sounded like for the first time. At Metway Studios they have some enormous “Main Monitors”, which are just gratuitously huge speakers, the size of a house, so you can imagine when the engineer pressed play and we heard ourselves blasting through those beasts. The reaction was “fuck me!..that’s what we actually sound like!” We had never heard a quality recording of us playing live so when we did and it sounded good we were well chuffed. There were so many great moments during this process. There’s a deliriousness that comes with being together in confined spaces for periods of time, whether it be two weeks in the studio or four hours in a car, I guess the size of the space dictates the length of time it takes before everyone turns into nutters. Over a two week period in the studio, there are countless moments of stupidity, insanity, excitement and humour. This is one of the best things about being in a band.

L – We had a great time in the studio, but when we went in I was quite nervous as I thought with the time that we had we, wouldn’t do it in time, but then in the first couple of days the boys were on fire and knocked out the backing tracks like there is no tomorrow, that’s my highlight as I felt very proud of them and everything just fell into place. Obviously the butter updates and countless pot noodles weren’t a bad thing either.

Who came up with the idea for butter updates on Facebook during recording and/or what happened that prompted that idea?

L – I wish I could take credit for the butter updates but I believe it was Duncan that came up with this fricking genius idea. He was dedicated; fresh butter was bought every morning and by the end of it, he became quite artistic and even carved our logo into the butter (which btw is quite hard to do, if you have seen the logo). I’m glad it happened as that made us have a load more fun in the studio, share it with our fans and show our fun side.

After your album release party, do you have any plans for any touring to support it (be it as support yourselves or some gigs of your own)?

O – Absolutely! In fact we’ve been working hard to put together as many gigs as possible over September and October. We’ll be exploring the nation in the old Picasso. Get on to for all the latest gigs. We’ll be adding more and more in the next few weeks so stay tuned. Some gigs we will be supporting other bands and others we will headline; it depends on the venue and area.

I noted BSH has already played some fine venues in London, what so far has been your live highlight and why?

L – We have been fortunate to play some great venues in London, and for that I can only be grateful as they got us to where we are now. I will always thank The Intrepid fox as they gave us a lot of credit and put us on even at the beginning, when we were just starting out. My highlight however will have to be The Alley Cat on Denmark Street, which is the venue where we are having our album launch party on the 14th of August. The crowd was insane and at that point, watching all those people head banging and enjoying our music, is when I had the feeling that we might be on the right path; saying that, I have enjoyed every venue and gig that we have played in. I like to experience different crowds, interact with them and see that they are enjoying what we do.  Most of all I want them to have fun with us, and that is the biggest honour for me.

How does the finish album compare to the original idea you had in your mind when you started out working on it?

L – It’s how I wanted it to sound, but about a hundred times better. It’s awesome to go into the studio with your songs and ideas that you have, but when you start hearing everything come together through the speakers…it’s when you can hear all the other bits you can add to it. For example in ‘Tekkers’ in the pre-chorus there was never an underlying vocal part, but in the studio it just felt right. It’s trying out different ideas and adding them, to an already written song, it’s exciting. It feels like the songs were written before but when adding the last little parts they finally felt properly finished.

Getting away from the album itself, how did you (OT) get into playing the guitar is there any one moment where it dawned on you this is what you want to do?

O – I can’t think of a moment when I thought “this is what I’m going to do”. Some of my earliest memories are of being sat in front of the TV watching Hendrix videos. My dad has a really varied and good music taste and is a real music lover so I was brought up on some really good music. I remember as a young kid saying “I want to be the next Hendrix”. Now I’m a bit older I understand that my six-year-old aspiration was impossible to achieve, but it did motivate me for years. I think I was six when my mum took me to the local guitar shop where we lived in Reading, I had no idea that she was planning to buy me a guitar, but we walked in and she said “he wants to be the next Hendrix”. The guy in the shop got out a black and white Squire Strat and I couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought it was the real deal, so imagine how I then felt when I left the shop with it in my hands, I can’t really describe this in words. Luckily for me, from that point on guitar was just what I did, and it was never questioned by my family and I am extremely grateful for their continued support.

Who would you say are your (OT) musical heroes when it comes to guitarists and again from a more general perspective?

O – For me Hendrix is and will always be the number one. I know that is almost a cliché thing to say now, but he was just jaw-droppingly good. That improvised uncalculated approach I was on about earlier is exactly one of the things that makes him so great. It’s just so natural. I am a fan of countless players, some of my favorites would be Tony Iommi who I saw single handedly win against Lamb of God at Wembley Arena some years ago; when he came out and played an E chord on his own at the start of his set with Heaven & Hell... it doesn’t get any heavier than that man. More recently another favorite of mine has been Gary Clark Jr, followed by a North African guitar player/singer called Bombino. Ruben Block of Triggerfinger is another one I really love, umm Derek Trucks Joe Bonamassa etc etc... Oh and one player I have really got into recently is Josh Homme; I think he pushes boundaries and that probably makes him closer to being “the next Hendrix” than anyone else I can think of and certainly closer than me!

How did you (LS) get into singing in the first place and have you always wanted to be a vocalist?  If not, what moment/event made you take that path?

My Dad has been a musician all his life, so really I grew up around music. I started singing when I was three and to be honest, never really looked back. It’s what I enjoy, it’s what I think I’m good at and it’s a way to share my thoughts and experiences with other people. It’s an expression, and I’m an expressionist. There was never really a different path for me, it’s always been music and as cliché as that might sound, I’m glad it’s who I am.

A lot of attention can fall on the vocalist in a band; how do you (LS) feel, as you start out, about the potential to have a lot of focus on you being the band’s singer?

L – It’s obviously a pressure in some ways, but as of yet I haven’t experienced it that much, it all comes with the territory I guess. I’m not too scared as I have the opportunity to represent my band whilst doing what I love with people that are likeminded. But in general it’s just exciting; to be recognized for the work you do is probably the biggest compliment an artist can have, so bring on the attention!

What do you both like to do when you are not involved in music and do any of the other band members have any interesting hobbies or past times?

O – When I’m not doing music, I do my job as a removal man, but although that’s not my career, I don’t like to think of it as a hobby. I’m into football, I’m a massive Reading fan, Bland is also a big footie fan but he doesn’t support a team worth mentioning… Actually as I write this I’m watching Duncan and Bland argue over a game of ‘FIFA’…sorry I just realized the question was “interesting hobbies or past times” in which case to my best knowledge the answer would have to be no.

L – I love to spend time with my friends and I love a good party. I come from Latvia and I have my Mom’s Russian side in my blood, so drinking someone under the table Russian style is kind of my thing. All jokes aside, I just relax, love reading a good book and football is a good pastime. A few weeks back I joined a women’s football team here in Brighton and it’s awesome. But a couple weeks in and I’m sitting here, with a “soft tissue injury” and very swollen ankles…a bit too keen I think. Living life on the edge I say…

Overall, since the formation of BSH, what one moment so far means the most to you and have you had any experiences you would rather have avoided?

O – That’s a really tough question. The moment that means the most to me happened about a week ago. I was saying earlier in the interview that there are some things that can make you feel that you’re doing the right thing and that all the hard work is worthwhile. We received an email through our website saying something along the lines of “I just heard you guys on Team Rock Radio and I’ve pre ordered the album straight away, love your sound, will you be selling signed CD’s?” He also gave us the name of a venue that he thought would be a good gig for us which we are now pursuing. There are a few things about this message that makes it really meaningful to me. Firstly Team Rock Radio; when I heard that were getting played by Team Rock I was bouncing around my flat like a child for about ten minutes before I then began informing friends and family. To some people this might sound like a naïve reaction but I couldn’t care less, this kind of thing means so much to us and we are really grateful for this support from some of the Rock Industries giants. My Mum really believes that house I promised her is within sight, as a result of Team Rock… Thanks Team Rock. I wish we could have avoided spending so much time wandering blindly with no direction or understanding of how we can go about becoming a professional band.

L – My highlight is signing with HNE and Cherry red recordings. It’s a dream that I had, that I thought would never come through. It’s a massive boost in confidence to have people backing you for your music and believing in it as much as you. And I’d like to thank our manager Kakizawa, as without her we would not be where we are right now. There are not set experiences I’d like to avoid or avoided, as I believe we had to go through them to get to where we are now. It’s again thanks to Kakizawa, who gave us a big kick up the ass, which is what we needed.

I see you mention a few parking tickets along the way…so who is the worst culprit or have they been shared evenly? 

O – They are all mine, seriously. Wardens are somehow drawn to me; I’m a drop of blood in the water and they are the sharks. High Viz Sharks, on mopeds with PCN’s, and digital cameras ha-ha.

Given you are an up and coming band, how have you found the music industry so far and what are your thoughts on the overall musical climate for relatively new bands?

O – So far it’s just been a huge learning curve. I mean we’ve all actually studied the music business at some level but it’s very different when you really start to operate within it, luckily we are being lead by a great manager. Maybe lead is the wrong word, dragged might be more appropriate sometimes, but we are improving and becoming more pro all the time so hopefully we can do her proud. The overall musical climate for new bands is difficult really. There are so many bands around now that the internet is saturated with music, making it so hard to stand out.
I also think that the internet encourages people to stay indoors. You no longer have to go to a gig, or go to a record store or buy a magazine to discover bands. Instead people can go online skip through a bit of one song and decide they don’t like it or if they do like it, they can download it for free rendering it worthless. Music has completely lost its value and it’s such a shame. Luckily for us, Rock fans tend to be really passionate about music as we are, which means they too love to own their music, and want to experience live music and socialize with likeminded music lovers…not just online but in real life, in the world, outside using their mouths and bodies to speak instead of a computer keyboard. Right…rant over…on the flip side it is a great tool for new bands and allows us to do amazing amounts of promotion and get ourselves out there without paying for marketing, not to mention the way in which we can personally connect with fans in any part of the world. Moving on from, and regardless of the internet, I can see from my short time in the industry that success still comes down to hard work, gigging as much as possible and having good connections, or a team of people working with you who have those connections and expertise.

What is your view on the present state of the music business from the perspective of a vocalist in an upcoming band?

L – It’s a really hard industry to be in, you got to fight tooth for nail to get anywhere and get any kind of recognition. There are so many amazing bands out there that are trying to do exactly what we are doing. Especially as we are a Female-Fronted band we have that little bit extra to prove ourselves. It’s a difficult industry but we have chosen this path and we’re gonna walk it all the way.

Is there anything you would like to add or say to the Fireworks readers?

O – Firstly, well done for getting this far! Thanks so much for taking the time to have an interest in who we are and what we do it is hugely appreciated. Our debut album is out on 18th of August and you can pre-order it from our brand new merchandise shop at And lastly we would love to see you all at The Alley Cat in Soho on 14th August for the launch party, its going to be one hell of a night and we can’t wait!

L – I would like to thank the Fireworks crew and readers for featuring us, as I’m well nervous about this interview, and as it’s my first one, I tend to say silly things sometimes. I hope everyone reading will enjoy what I have to say and hopefully I will see you at our album launch at The Alley Cat in August. Thank you very much!

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