I’m sure you’ve often heard the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s true. The first time I heard a description of my favorite book I repeatedly rolled my eyes and thought it sounded ridiculous. I have since had to buy four copies because every time I loan it to a friend they can’t help but keep it. Sometimes, though, the title is titillating and tempting and makes you want to be enlightened and get some insight. That was the case with What Great Fangs (who wouldn’t hear that and at least be kind of curious?), and so is the case with Too Cruel to be King.
Too Cruel to be King is Ian Estep, who, though he is the sole person that plays, adds a little something extra to his acoustic accompaniments. Although he is the sole music-maker nothing about his music is monotonous – it’s magnanimous and musing. He comes from all kinds of creative fields, but he’s finally found where he fits in: “I started playing guitar at ten years old then later in life I picked up the bass and drums. I’ve been in punk, metal, rock, alternative, and hardcore bands but solo music is where I feel I belong…I just want to play and write music” his information implores.
Ian has performed at a few places around town, formerly Yesterdays Draught House and Stage and Goodfellas, and surrounds himself with some correspondingly music-committed company – Tim Napolitan of Crow Hardly and Dalton Hancock. He writes catchy choruses that capture contemplative emotion. “What would you do when you see me drown in the sea singing this song for you? Would you come and save me or would you let me drown? I think you would let me drown,” he concludes in “We Don’t Need a Referee for This Snowball Fight.” “I hope my piano doesn’t lose it’s teeth,” he states in “Lost Teeth.” No matter what catches your attention about the open book that is Too Cruel to be King, he will always have you wondering and waiting for the next chapter!
Sara Fincham: What inspired you to pick up an acoustic guitar? Do you remember the first time you ever played? Was it something that you tried and put down and then picked back up again later, or was it something you’ve followed through with from the start?
Too Cruel To Be King: Well when I was about 9 or 10 my mom told me and my brother we were going to start taking guitar lessons. I hated the idea cause all I wanted to do at the time was play video games and watch t.v.. My mom got us a cheap fender strat and I took lessons for about a year and quit but my guitar teacher did show me better music than what was on the pop radio stations. I didn’t pick the guitar back up until a year later. I don’t know what it was but I haven’t put it down since. As for acoustic guitar, it was a while before I got one and I didn’t really get into it right away. I just wanted to play loud, heavy music. Acoustic didn’t come until I started writing music.
SF: When it comes to writing – do you have any formulas that you follow, for instance verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness songwriter?How much emphasis do you put on rhyme and melody?
TCTBK: When it comes to writing music I’m always thinking of phrases or hooks all day, every day. Then at the end of every week when I get a day off of work I sit down, grab the guitar and just start playing. I usually go over some older songs just to get started. Then try to write some new stuff with the phrases I think of. I do try to rhyme a good bit cause I think that makes the song really come together. Most of my songs are verse/chorus/verse/chorus. I’ll put a bridge in every once I awhile.
SF: Being an acoustic act, how do you keep things interesting – for yourself and the audience?
TCTBK: I think it’s a lot easier for me to stay interested in the songs rather than the audience because I’m a musician and most of the crowd isn’t. I’ve been told by different people that a lot of acoustic music sounds the same to them, which I can understand because an acoustic guitar isn’t as pronounced as an electric sometimes. I try to keep my lyrics easy to sing along with and the guitar stuff catchy. I also throw some cover songs that people know in my set list. I think that helps.
SF: As a music fan, what does music mean to you, and as a music maker, what does making music mean to you?
TCTBK: This is probably the same answer everyone gives an interviewer. Music to me is life. Music is always playing in my car, I’m always singing along to it, and tapping my hands and feet to a beat. Without music life would be so dull and boring. Movies wouldn’t be as funny, sad, scary, or happy. Most commercials wouldn’t exist and I’d be out of a dream. Music is what makes the world go round. As for making music, it’s something I can’t stop doing at this point. I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. I hope to have people connect with my music. I want it to have a special meaning to them as well as myself. I write music to hit the heart.
SF: Your name, Too Cruel to be King, and your song titles in themselves are incredibly interesting. Can you tell us the story behind the name, and any titles you’d like to elaborate on (obviously you elaborate in the songs themselves, but if you’d like to talk more about them, feel free!)?
TCTBK: The name Too Cruel To Be King came from me not wanting to just be called Ian Estep as a solo artist. I use the name to give me the freedom to become a whole band if I choose to. I’m not sure what the meaning behind it fully is yet but it’s like something’s out of reach. Like a dream.
I’m always saying don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be something. Like you’re too young to do this or you’re not smart enough to do that. I’m making things that people say I can’t into something positive with music. My song titles usually mean nothing. They don’t always have anything to do with the songs. I make the song names like I do to grab your attention. I feel like it’ll keep the listener entertained and you’ll have to listen to the song to know what it might be about.
SF: How is the acoustic artist community? Do you find places to play, support from other singers who make the same type of music, is there an acoustic audience?
TCTBK: When I started doing shows as an acoustic artist around 2006/2007 I was the only one I knew of but over the years I think the acoustic artist community has grown very much. I’ve met some great musicians over the years. I think the venues around here (Ohio Valley) are opening up more to acts like myself. The audience for this type of music is growing as well since more people are starting to play acoustic music.
SF: Do you have a song or any shows you’d like to promote? Shout-outs to friends or fans? Let’s get the word out!
TCTBK: My newest song out is “Lost Teeth.” Just go to my YouTube channel and all my songs are there. I’d like to give a thank you to Jessica Andrews Photography for taking all of the pictures of me, she’s on Facebook, and Crow Hardly, What Great Fangs, Jason Trueman, and Dalton Hancock for all the support and shows I’ve played with them.