Isaiah Steinberg (Bad Child) enjoys his privacy, except when he writes, he’s naked, bearing all to the world.
It’s takes a lot of courage to reveal your pain, poke at the scars, all on the world’s stage.
We spoke about the crossroads in his voyage to be a performer, the source of his scars and how he’s no longer a Bad Child…but once was.
Montreal Rocks: I caught part of your Osheaga set.
Bad Child: That was a really fun day.
MR: What kind of impact can a Festival have on your career?
Bad Child: There are multiple layers to it. One is the fact that most of the time, the audience is built in. If you have even minimal traction, you have people there.
What it really comes down to, playing festivals, is the rendering. Even if you land on a really bad stage, let’s say at Lollapalooza, as an artist just starting out…you have to understand how to amplify that and say: “I played Lollapalooza!” You have to lead with your marketing mind.
I’ve had a really good first festival run, being placed on some great stages, so it’s pretty exciting.
(NOTE: Bad Child has appeared at: Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and Osheaga.)
MR: Not everyone gets to start that way. Let’s talk about your music. There is a lot of healing within your music. Are there any wounds that are still fresh or scars that simply won’t go away?
Bad Child: Yes. It’s a very tender and delicate process. I like how you said “healing.” When I write, I think about it as if I’m picking a scab. I know I’m writing something that is true to myself when I write a line and it actually hurts me.
“I know I’m writing something that is true to myself when I write a line and it actually hurts me.” – Bad Child (Isaiah Steinberg)
A lot of my life, over the past few years, has revolved around death. I got diagnosed with a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are also a lot of subconscious things that have creeped into my life. I’m constantly trying to find solid ground.
MR: I was at a Nick Cave concert recently and he described the grieving process over someone so close. He said it was as if your life is shattered into a million pieces. You then reach out for those pieces to put yourself back together again. You will never be the same person you once were, but you become someone different. For him, it was more empathy. Is that something that you found as well, that you are a different person, but gained something from that experience?
Bad Child: Yeah. I really like that view. When it happened, it was such a traumatic experience. She (his mom) quite literally died in my arms. It was very unexpected, in her home, the safest place.
MR: The inner sanctum.
Bad Child: Yes, the sanctum. From the inside out, everything had rotted. When it comes to rebuilding yourself, what I’ve noticed is that you don’t come back the same person. You learn this contrast. I realized that I was laughing, enjoying my time before, without really understanding how lucky I was even being able to laugh. How appreciative I should be for all the smallest things.
MR: The gift of waking up in the morning.
Bad Child: Yeah, that contrast. After she passed away, and I dealt with everything in that time period, about a year or two after, it was like: OK. I deserve to be happy.
When I am happy, I’m really happy because I know what real agony feels like. It’s being able to face them up against each other, that contrast.
There is a lot of things you need to dive into because you can get into the headspace where you look at people who never dealt with trauma and you could hold a grudge against them.
MR: Like saying: Wake up…there is more to life. You are leading a fake life. Until you see tragedy, you can’t appreciate life.
Bad Child: Yeah. I used to think like that…I was just a bitter old man. Nineteen years old, feeling like sixty years old.
MR: Were you a “bad child” growing up?
Bad Child: I was a pretty good kid until I got to high school where I experimented a lot with drugs and being in the wrong crowd. I also went to the wrong parties, where the police were involved and all that jazz. I had my bout of doing some bad stuff, but I think I came around.
MR: I think we all do. When the pendulum swings, especially if you are a good kid, and you go to the bad side…sometimes it will swing to the extreme. That was the same with me, I was involved with a bad crowd, but eventually, you find your center again.
Bad Child: There is a fullness in life to understand: That’s inside of me too. I can be that guy, but I don’t want to because I understand what I’m like when I’m that guy.
MR: When you write your songs, you’ve mentioned a few times that you start with a visual aspect, like a drawing, which will translate to a textual aspect, the lyrics. Is there anything you do, or listen to, when you are drawing to get into a flow state? Maybe a specific location where you do this?
Bad Child: It’s always different. I find that the chaos helps, and keeps it exciting for me. If I’m in France, for instance, I will pull up a seat at a café and have a cigarette. I’m drawing the people that pass by and contemplating their lives. I’m overhearing their conversations. One of my favorite things is to eavesdrop. Sometimes, you will hear things that people say and its poetry, quite honestly. Speech is poetry. Some people are way more poetic then they even realize.
I do try to draw a lot from my own personal architecture, the things and people I grew up with. It’s important to stay true to self, your own personal imagery and iconography.
MR: Eavesdropping is interesting because you will often be thrown into a conversation with no context whatsoever. Have you ever had a moment when you come into a conversation with no context and wonder: What the heck is that about?
Bad Child: That’s what life is. You come into the movie halfway. Who are these characters? Who is everybody? Why is he the bad guy?
“That’s what life is. You come into the movie halfway.” – Bad Child (Isaiah Steinberg)
It’s the same with a conversation. That’s what excites me: What’s this movie about? Then your own pre-dispositions will guide you to think a certain thing, which probably isn’t even true.
MR: That’s true, the director in our head is different for everyone. Your latest album is “Signing Up” which starts with this free trial announcement. Which applies to you: Heartfelt, Intelligent or Attractive?
Bad Child: I would say: Heartfelt.
MR: I had a feeling you would pick that one.
Bad Child: Dude, I’m very emotional.
MR: In the past, being a man meant being strong and being emotionless. Crying was for women…not even women…for girls. In this modern age, being strong is being vulnerable.
Bad Child: I think so, because you put yourself up for scrutiny. There is a self-awareness where I’m going to allow myself to be emotional. It’s my physical response. It’s what I need. If something bothers me, I will be upfront about it. That leads to a conversation that helps you grow, rather than grow a pit inside of you.
MR: Chris Rock mentioned in a comedy special regarding dating that when you meet someone for the first time, you are not meeting them, but their representative. Portraying someone they are not. That’s the danger now with Social Media, we are all meeting the representative of the real person. When you are vulnerable, you can show the real person behind the representative.
I believe that is why you are making stronger and quicker connections, not only with yourself but with your audience.
Bad Child: That’s a really good way of looking at it. There’s no middleman, nothing facetious. It’s all very: This is who I am. I don’t care if you like or don’t like me.
MR: Even with the instruments you got at the garage sale, like the Korg Poly-800 II which you got for $5. It’s a cheap instrument, but how valuable is that now?
Bad Child: That synthesizer goes from anywhere from $300 to $500 on eBay.
MR: But how valuable is it to you?
Bad Child: It’s very valuable, my mother bought it for me. It was my introduction to synthesizers. It was a very interesting time in my life because it was the step that would lead me to…
MR: The foundation that would lead you to your career in music.
Bad Child: My life could have gone any which way. That was one of the moments that solidified: You should really look at music.
MR: You had a choice to go into photojournalism or music. In my digging, I found an article in Vice…which was a little weird.
Bad Child: Yeah. (laughs)
MR: That was some adventure. I saw something on National Geographic, but it was only available cached, so I couldn’t see much. You had those two passions and you were at the crossroads eventually. What made the music side win?
Bad Child: I’d already filed my OUAC (Ontario Universities’ Application Centre) for Ryerson University in Toronto for journalism. Meanwhile, I was sneaking into a ton of lectures at local schools. Anytime I would hear a photojournalist was coming, I would pretend to be a student and walk in to listen to whoever was there blab about how you do it. I was set on exploring the world & telling stories for people who couldn’t tell their own stories.
I felt that was a very noble cause. When I was getting ready to go, I had written my first song “Bad Child.” I had never really written full length lyrics or finished anything. After losing my mom, I needed to finish something on that thought. It started taking off online. I told my father: “Hey, I might not (pause) go to university. I think I might try this music thing.” I’m pretty proud of that decision.
MR: You said how photojournalism is about telling stories for those that can’t. Maybe you did marry both the careers. Musically, and even visually, as you mentioned your songs often start with drawings…you are creating that story for others.
You can connect to those going through grief and relate to them. Your scar can help heal another person’s scar faster, like an ointment.
Bad Child: Yeah. I’ve thought about this quite a bit. “Yeah, I’m an artist that writes songs that pander to yada yada and to whoever…” I feel that music is manufactured that way. This is a song for this person. I came to a realization that my favorite artists and songs were about the people writing them. They were trying to explain their own grief. You get a glimpse into a real soul. It helps you understand that there is a reality there, like artists like Trent Reznor. He definitely helped me understand a lot when I was young. Obviously, some of his music is very angry…
MR: That Downward Spiral.
Bad Child: Yeah! That was the first album I bought at 10 or 11 years old. My dad said: “Don’t listen to that album”.
“OK”, I said.
The first thing I did was I went out and bought it.
MR: There comes a point where you do the downward spiral. You shared that you had that with your life as well. Sometimes, you have to hit that rough bottom, the point in your life where it could either go really bad or start going back up. Being able to get out of that, stick your head out of the hole and see the light, is something beautiful. If you can help give that to other people, it’s beautiful as well.
Bad Child: Yeah. The whole idea of the Phoenix rising, rebirth in general, being able to have conversations with people as opposed to just making a product and: “Here you go: Consume this!”
This is a piece of me, let’s talk about it.
That’s how I always considered my fans…not fans…they are just people. I’ve never been a person who idolizes people very much. So I think it’s super important to talk about these things. How did this make you feel? Does that ring true to you?
MR: Eventually you realize that musicians are not different from you and me. Just like a plumber, they happen to have a job. It’s just that their job involves making music and people put them up on a pedestal.
The worst for me is the selfie. When you take a selfie with someone, like a musician, you automatically raise them up, which lowers you. It creates this gap. I almost never take a selfie (anymore) with someone I want to have a working relationship with because I feel it puts us on an uneven plane.
Bad Child: That’s my biggest complication right now. I’m very personal. I like having my privacy. Yet, my music is very personal, where I’m sure people know a lot about me now because of it.
MR: You are as naked as you can be on stage in terms of your life.
Bad Child: Yeah. (laughs). It’s always boggled my mind how the modern celebrity works and how they are recycled. “Oh, we like this person so much!” Regardless of what they do and who they are as a person. It’s based purely upon marketing and perception. It’s so interesting.
MR: I have one last question: How are relationships like a free trial?
Bad Child: The nature of many modern relationships is very transactional. With apps like Tinder, you can look at an image of somebody and in a split second make a decision.
MR: Disclaimer to my wife: I’ve never been on Tinder…I don’t know what it is. (laughs)
Bad Child: OMG. It’s that sort of things where people use each other as free trials now. I want to have a bigger, emotional conversation. Just being humans to each other. We are not robots, just chill!
MR: I’m going to run this business idea by you, and you can run with it if you want. I wanted to make an app called Timber. Is it a lumberjack or a hipster?
Bad Child: I love that!
MR: I’m going to sneak one more question in. I was interested in the song Payback and the reason why it was written. If you could go back in time, before that toxic relationship, what advice would you give yourself? You need to live this, or you need to avoid this?
Bad Child: I would definitely say: Go through it and live it because you are going to grow and learn from it.
Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. His new Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs is coming soon.Share this :