Bassist Spotlight: Steph Jerkova (Regional Justice Center)

Photo: Furn Zavala

Miracle Drug was able to open for Regional Justice Center a few months ago at Spinelli's. It was a great show for us, and it was a treat to get to see RJC. If you haven't checked them out yet, do yourself a favor and change that. I was super pumped on the rhythm section. Steph, their bass player, was really killing it, and in total sync with the drummer/singer, Ian Shelton. After they played, I asked Steph if I could send her some questions. Check out what she's got to say about our favorite instrument.

Introduce yourself to everyone.

Hey! My name is Steph! I'm from the PNW and I play bass in Regional Justice Center and most recently started singing in Punitive Damage.

How did you get into playing bass guitar?

I started because of my siblings who are punk musicians! My brother-in-law played in a prominent punk band, and my other brother had just started playing in bands when he was in high school. He had switched over to guitar and would often let me borrow his bass. I think I was about 11 and I'd try to play along to the Green Day and Bad Religion CDs that my older brother let me borrow.

For a long time when I first started, I was actually trying really hard to distance myself from playing bass. I didn't want to be the stereotypical "girl bass player," because at that time a lot of people would make disparaging comments that women only played bass because "they couldn't play anything else." But eventually, I got lured into playing in a Youth Crew straight edge band that needed a bass player, and since then it kinda stuck. As it turns out, it's an instrument I really really love and enjoy, and I ain't too bad at it either.  

Do you play other instruments? Can you play, and sing at the same time?

I've played guitars in other bands before RJC and its something I've been working at improving. Progress is slow, though.

I play in some other bands where I have to play bass and sing at the same time, and in a lot of ways, it felt like learning how to play music all over again. Especially since these aren't hardcore bands where it's just you trying to play as fast and hard as possible. One could even argue that I did, in fact, have to learn how to actually play music.

Does your family support your music?

My siblings are by far my biggest cheerleaders and supporters, my older brother M. especially. My sisters and brothers were huge musical influences for me — they showed me so many bands, they would always make me mix CDs and take me to as many Warped Tours, and shows as possible. I wouldn't be where I am right now without their support and encouragement.

My parents, on the other hand, could not give less of a shit about my music [laughs]. They're immigrants who either came from poverty-stricken or war-torn countries, so hobbies are something of a foreign concept. A "weird North American luxury" as my mom likes to put it. To their perpetual disappointment, they're hoping I'll one day get over it.

Photo: Krissy Marie

How do you write your bass parts for Regional Justice Center and your other bands?

Ian writes everything for RJC, so I usually just show up and learn the new songs and hit the ground running. For other bands, I find I work best bouncing ideas off someone else. I find that I get quite tunnel-visioned and need someone to break my perspective to get somewhere. If someone shows me a riff, I can usually build off of that.

Do you ever come up with great riffs at home or being out and about? Do you record them on your cell phone or remember them for later?
I find that a lot of cool riffs will pop into my head when I am the furthest away from an instrument at the most inconvenient times possible. There have been countless moments where I would have to excuse myself from a business meeting, dinner, or an event to go into the restroom to hum out a riff into my phone before I forget it and lose it forever.

Do you prefer playing with a pick or your finger?

I only play with picks — I prefer the tone and the attack that comes with it. I used to play in jazz and concert band when I was in high school and my music teacher would get so mad at me for playing with a pick, and constantly try and have me play with my pointer and middle finger. I eventually learned to hide it by taping a pick under my thumb and wearing long sleeves, so all he could see were my four fingers.

I have gravitated towards down picking as much as possible. Are you up stroking or down stroking more?

I would say I'm downstrokes almost 95% of the time. It feels much more comfortable to me, and I feel like I can channel a lot of my aggression and attitude into it.

Are there any bass players who have influenced your style of playing?

I'd say that there haven't necessarily been bass players and their technique that influenced me, but there are musicians who were pretty influential to me in terms of stage presence. Something that surprises a lot of people is that I used to have, and to some extent still do, crippling stage fright. I was so stiff and so afraid to move even an inch — I just wanted to blend into the wall most of the time. But I had a change of perspective I watched a video of myself playing in an old band and I thought "wow I am fucking BORING".

The most notable person I can think of is Reba Meyers. My first time seeing Code Orange was during Rainfest and I remember being floored that someone could move that much and flip their hair around and play so wildly and aggressively. Like my brain couldn't register what was happening. I was so psyched to see someone who wasn't playing 'cutesy' and taking a large amount of the stage.

Dee Dee Ramone was the major influence in playing strictly in downstrokes, and at the risk of sounding corny, my friends are my biggest influences. Just watching them have fun and push themselves to their limits is pretty inspiring to watch.

Are there any drummers who have changed how you play the bass guitar?

Wow, I am blowing it with these questions! I can't say that I can think of any specific drummers that influenced me, but I can tell you the first time I came across drumming that completely opened my scope of what was possible with drumming and how it can make you feel.

There was this Vancouver band called In Stride that been one of the first shows I went to by myself. They started playing "Backside Disaster," which starts with this short and fast bass intro, and the drums just took it to a whole other level. My 16-year-old brain just melted because I never ever heard anything like that before. It was so unbelievably fast and so mean. I was so excited but also so scared haha. Midway through the song, there's a part where the snare goes 'SNAP SNAP' and without missing a beat everybody in the room claps right along to it and then resumes obliterating each other. 

To me, it was the equivalent of discovering fire [laughs]. It made me want to play the music that invoked the same kind of excitement and anger and energy. 

What is your current amp, pedal, bass guitar combinations?

At home, I use an Olympic white Mexican P bass with Seymour Duncan quarter pounders. I've recently switched over to an Ampeg SVT after using an Orange Ob1-500 for a few years. I'll usually use a compressor,  a VT Bass Tech 21, and a tuner.

On the road, with RJC I use an American P bass with a Bass terror, and I'll plug in a tuner and an American Metal pedal.

I don't like to collect a bunch of bass gear. I'm pretty picky about what I like, and I only buy things that I know I love. I'd rather have a small amount of really cool stuff than a million things that I'm "whatever" about.

Photo provided by Steph Jekorva

How do you like touring?

I think being on tour is the happiest you'll ever get to see me. Getting a chance to explore new cities, meeting lots of interesting people, seeing friends, and seeing bands I might not have ever been exposed is without a doubt my favorite thing on this planet. No matter how much time I spend away, I always want to be back on the road. I could be gone for months, and then come back home and after the second day think "alright, I've had enough get me out of here" For whatever reason sleeping on the floor of someone's house, in the van, or in random hotel rooms just feels like the most normal and sane place for me.

How well do you eat on tour?

My eating habits fluctuate a lot on the road. I'm vegan and paradoxically, also an abhorrent eater. I like food way too much to make healthy decisions. If there's a cool vegan spot, I want to hit that up and eat whatever bomb options they have. Occasionally I'll have a moment of rationality and eat something like a salad, or I'll eat a veggie power bowl at Taco Bell. But those moments are fleeting and few and far between [laughs].

Photo provided by Steph Jekorva

Miracle Drug had a blast playing with you guys at Spinelli's. Your playing with the drummer/singer blew me away. Are you guys coming back to Louisville any time soon?

Thank you so much! It was cool getting to play with you guys and that venue was really sick. Ian [RGC drummer] and I have been good friends for years, so it's been awesome getting the chance to play music together. I'm not sure what's on the books yet, but hopefully, we'll make our way back soon!

Is there anything going on in your personal life you'd like to tell us about?

Honestly, if I'm not sitting on the couch with cat Salami — most of my time is spent playing music and in other bands. I feel a little boring and predictable saying that [laughs].

I sing in a hardcore band called Punitive Damage that I'm super excited about. We're gonna be announcing a lot of cool stuff in the next month or two, including playing Wild Rose fest for the first time. I also play and sing in a shoegaze jangle-pop band called Applewhite and after a lengthy legal dispute with a major label band that shall not be named — we're hoping to do a lot of playing and releasing some recordings sometime this year.

Are there any bands past or present you would love to play for?

I get very starstruck with people and bands that I love so I almost wouldn't want to for fear of just embarrassing myself and babbling like a fool. That being said, If I ever had the chance to play for Los Crudos, I think I would legitimately lose my mind.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for someone picking up the bass guitar for the first time?

I'm a firm believer in continuous learning, so you should always be willing and open to learning. Expand to learning different types of music, as it'll add to your knowledge and give you a way more holistic understanding of your instrument. You can play punk or hardcore? Cool, now go learn to play something completely different and out of your comfort zone.

Surround yourself with people and friends who are not only supportive of your playing but also are willing to push you to develop further!

Also, I can not stress the next point enough. Every non-bass playing dodo on the planet is going to have an opinion on what bass gear you should own and without fail they'll always tell you to buy an Ameg SVT — all the while refusing to help you carry it. Don't listen to them. Go try stuff out and find what you like, and ask other bass players for opinions. If you want the Ampeg, then that's great! If you want an Orange Bass terror that you can throw in your backpack? Also great.

Also, this is corny but just have fun with what you're doing. There's always going to be someone bigger and better than you, and comparing yourself and tearing yourself down won't do anything other than make you quit. 


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Tagged: bassist spotlight, regional justice center