‘A dream come true to say the least’: Steve Lacy x Fender – An interview with the Gen Z guitar icon

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‘A dream come true to say the least’: Steve Lacy x Fender – An interview with the Gen Z guitar icon

Steve Lacy Fender
Words by Isabella Venutti

Steve Lacy chats his evolution as a guitarist, his multi-faceted songwriting process, and the surreal fruition of his wildest dreams that a Fender collaboration represents.

Steve Lacy is perhaps the Gen Z Stratocaster icon, having breathed glittering, deliciously textured life back into guitar music with his melodious pop, rock and Rn’B ear worms over the past several years. 

The cross-genre appeal of his devastatingly honest lyrics about love lost, underscored by the chug of his signature lush, twangy treble, have skyrocketed the 24-year-old California native from his iphone bedroom pop production roots to a Grammy Award win, a Billboard #1 hit and studio sessions with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Thundercat, Tyler the Creator, Kali Uchis and more. 

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

Today marks the announcement of Steve’s collaboration with industry stalwarts Fender on what is effectively the guitar fanatic’s equivalent of a knighthood – his very own custom Signature model – suitably named the Steve Lacy “People Pleaser” Stratocaster® evoking his trendsetting reputation, crowd-pleasing sounds, and striking stage looks. This guitar truly embodies Steve’s evolution from a hungry musician into a chart-topping artist and guitarist through its distinctive, vintage-inspired design elements, as well as it’s ability to create a mirage of sounds.

The People Pleaser is emblazoned with a play on Fender’s icon Sunburst finish, featuring a bold slash of hot pink akin to the haze of an LA sunset, perfectly personifying the emotive warmth of the artist’s discography. 

In celebration of the launch, I sat down with Steve to chat about his evolution as a guitarist, his multi-faceted songwriting process, and the surreal fruition of his wildest dreams that this collaboration represents.

You are undoubtedly one of the key players who has proliferated what is one of the most influential guitar sounds of the past decade – sitting at the axis of hip hop, indie and even 80s jangle/slacker rock. Having perceived such a range of genre roots in your work – I would love to know who some of your holy grail guitarist influences are, and what your journey to developing your tone and playing style has been like.

Well I think, you know, for starters, I really started off listening to Jimi Hendrix a lot when I was in my earliest days of learning the guitar. I fell in love with it through Jimi Hendrix, watching him just be himself and create his own sound… Jaris [Mosey] who did Demo, he taught me how to play, and he was a huge influence on me… Joe Pass… João Gilberto… those chordy guitar players rather than speed and quickness. It was more about beauty and accentuating a song. I’ve kind of developed my style through all of these things.

So a little more on your guitar tone, what has been the process of crafting your tone between guitar and amplifier selection? Is it ongoing? Or do you feel like you’ve figured out your staple range of sounds at this point? 

I’m still learning about tones and stuff like that… in my early days I was trying to just play the chords and make the song but now I’m starting to pay more attention to amps and guitar tone and all that stuff. I kinda never thought about it! I was just going, you know?

Your evolution as a producer has been fascinating to witness – your iRig bedroom recording roots have brought you into the studio with some of the highest profile musical artists working today. Have any aspects of your DIY ethos/any of your lofi techniques remained in your current writing and recording workflow?

I don’t really know! I think the lofi thing wasn’t a choice, it was literally just where I was at the time, so I can’t speak to that as much. I guess the answer to that question would be whatever you think Gemini rights sounds like would be the answer… is that lofi or is that hifi, you know? I’m not really sure how to separate the two… I think in general, overall I love texture… I don’t like things that are too clean… I guess I do like a lofi aspect but maybe I don’t call it that or look at it that way. It’s just a matter of intentional textures.

Steve Lacy Fender Strat

Moving on from the gear talk, I’d love to chat to you a little bit about your songwriting process – do you work predominantly in the box, do you start on an instrument, and if you do, I’d love to know if there’s a particular guitar do you prefer to write on vs play live?

I think it starts off so many different types of ways with me… lately it’s been very organic and I’ve been doing a lot of singing and playing at the same time. But I think, like, for the demos and Apollo and even some of The Internet records it kind of started off with a beat first. You know, I was like more so a beatmaker and then I would try to find a hook in the beat and I would like, fill in the blanks and write the verses. But Gemini Rights was a different process of editing and trying all types of things… like, “Bad Habit” was edited so many times… I had a beat that was already and then I changed the chords and then me and Fousheé started to write the song. There was a lot of different versions of that song.

What was the first Fender guitar you ever played? And what/who initially drew you to playing a Fender? Has it always been a Strat that’s lit your fire?

It depends on what I’m going for, I record with my strat the most, and then for more strummy things I like the twang of a Rickenbacker, but I don’t really play those live, it’s mostly my Strat.

My first guitar was a Squier strat.  It was [because of] Jaris, he was playing at my church. But I think overall I fell in love with the instrument and like, I just wanted to touch it, play it, I would go to guitar centre and just be like wow… you know, these things are like, people or like, like aliens to me, and I just wanted to be a part of that world. I think Jaris and people like Jimi Hendrix really got me started. And guitar hero, also… in a way that was [his first exposure to] a variety of guitar music.

I’d love it if you could give me a bit of a rundown of your signature Fender Strat Model, what are the particular customisations and features you were adamant should be a part of a Steve Lacy guitar? And what was it like collaborating with the custom shop?

I think that having pink on my guitar and getting the fuzz circuit right were my favourite details. But I wasn’t too picky about it, I just kind of wanted to mess with the idea and I think it came out really cool… it’s such an honour, I mean, I still can’t really believe it, you know, coming from playing a Fender Strat Squier to having my own guitar is a dream come true to say the least… I don’t even think it was in my realm of thought at that age, I never even dreamed of it… I was like nah I gotta be like, some, old guitar legend or something for that to happen. But, the idea came to me, and I took the opportunity!

Steve Lacy Fender

Steve Lacy “People Pleaser” Stratocaster® Key Features: 

  • Player plus noiseless pickups – The new Fender Player Plus Noiseless pickups deliver crystal clear high-end, throaty mids and fat low-end – all without the hum.
  • Fuzz circuit – Activated using the S1 switch, the custom Steve Lacy Chaos Fuzz delivers aggressive distorted tones for howling chords and solos.
  • Vintage-style synchronized tremolo – One of our most innovative designs, this two-screw tremolo offers proper intonation, full adjustability and easy access to cool vibrato sounds.
  • The Steve Lacy sound – The Steve Lacy Stratocaster goes from Steve’s soulful, R&B tones to his outrageous singing solo sounds and everything in-between.
  • What makes it unique, including a custom neck plate and trem cover that are stamped with Steve’s original artwork, a back plate with a unique blue and green checkered pattern, and a custom dice inlay that provides a subtle, visual motif to denote Steev’s signature touch

Keep up to date with all things Steve Lacy here. For more information about Steve Lacy x Fender, head to Fender Music Australia.