Bethlehem Steel at DRKMTTR, photo by Annie Mullins

A few Sundays ago on October 6th, myself and WRVU events coordinator Annie Mullins interviewed Becca Ryskalczyk and Christina Puerto of Bethlehem Steel after their show at DRKMTTR. The band released their self-titled sophomore album in September on Exploding in Sound Records, and is currently on tour with Kal Marx in support of that project. The group has been steadily growing a following since making waves at SXSW in 2016, where they were named one of fourteen bands that impressed the festival, and we expect them to only get bigger. Their most recent record is beautiful and winding, both casual and divulgent. They also put on a fantastic live show. Give them a listen, check out their DIY music videos, and read WRVU’s interview with them below.

Ayden: This is WRVU with Bethlehem Steel. Would y’all mind introducing yourselves real quick?

Becca: I’m Becca

Christina: I’m Christina

AY: So could you just tell us a bit about how you got your start, how you met, your origin story?

B: So me and Jon started playing together when we both moved to New York. So we were a two piece for a while, and then we got Pat. I wrote a bunch of guitar parts that needed another member, so then Yazan over here played with us on a tour, but he was doing his own thing and couldn’t be permanent. So then we put out a call into the wild and Christina sent me an email and I was like “Oh cool, this is a no bullshit kind of gal,” I like that. And then we met. 

C: And then we wrote a record.

AY: So how’s the transition been then from a two piece to a three piece and now a four piece?

B: It’s great.

C: I mean I never knew the three piece but I’m having fun with the four piece

B: It’s fun. It’s good having another woman to hang out with, and someone to write with. It’s good.

AY: Could you talk about the new record a little bit?

B: We did it! What can we say? We wrote so much crap for all this, we should just say some of that. We applied for grants, we wrote a lot about the record. This was like the first thing where we decided “Alright, we’re gonna write a record now,” instead of just compiling songs. So we took time to write.

C: We had plans to do a big tour and then it fell through so we were like “Alright, guess we’re just going to focus on this instead.” So all of last winter and spring we wrote it, and then we recorded it in the spring over the course of ten days, and that’s kind of what happened. I feel like we wouldn’t have put it out when we did if that whole tour cancellation thing didn’t happen. We were like “Well we’ve got to do something, we have a lot of energy.”

AY: The record is self-titled. Can you talk about the decision to do that?

B: We were throwing a lot of names around.

C: That ended up being mostly bad ideas.

B: Well they all wound up being kind of song titles.

C: That’s true. Like, “Sponge” is the first track and that was an option at one point. But then we thought it was a better song name. And then, I don’t know, someone… who threw out the idea of self-titled?

B: Pat, probably.

C: Yeah. And we were all just like “Yeah, alright.”

B: Self-title it. That’s a power move.

C: As soon as he threw out the idea it was clear that that was the choice.

Christina Puerto, photo by Annie Mullins

AY: What about your guys’ influences?

B: We made Spotify mixes called Young Becca and Young Christina, and we found out that we have some overlap. We really like old Weezer and Elliot Smith, that’s the definite overlap among all of us. We all like Don Henley.

C: We all kind of have different musical backgrounds, like the things we listened to growing up and stuff like that.

B: Pat, our bass player, and Christina grew up in New York City, so they listen to different things than me and John, who are from upstate New York. We listened to a lot hardcore and emo music.

AY: What are you guys listening to now?

C: Every time this question happens it’s like everything melts out of my head. I listen to music all day long and I just can’t think of any of it….So today I actually— it’s kind of embarrassing— but I saw something on NPR music maybe. It was like “Why John Mayer’s Debut Album was Actually Really Good,” and I was like “Really?” And so I started listening to that whole thing.

Annie: Was it really good?

C: Everybody knows those songs from it. “No Such Thing,” you know? But it wasn’t great, I won’t lie. 

B: On my playlist of things I really want to listen to I’ve got Train. I guess we all listen to a lot of 90s shit? I don’t know. Pat DJs in the car a lot. He’ll just throw shit on that he knows all of us will be into. Angel Olsen.

C: Yeah we listened to that new record. I’ve been listening to Kal Marx too because we’re on tour together.

AY: How did you get connected with them?

B: Well we’re on the same record label. We met at South by Southwest like four years ago, and our car broke and we got stuck there. We got stuck in Austin for two weeks. It sucked, but they were playing so we went to see them and then we met and have been trying to do a tour for a long time. 

AN: What does your writing process look like?

C: We each write separately in our own homes, and kind of come up with mostly the structure of the song, and the lyrics, although they can change. And we’ll send voice memos and be like “yes do this!” or “change this” or “add this.” And then, at least for this record we would meet up and then write guitar parts together, just second guitar parts and figuring all that out. And in that process we’d change the structure if we needed to at all, and then bring in the boys.

Becca Ryskalczyk, photo by Annie Mullins

AN: Do either of you have songs that are like your musical baby? 

C: I really love… I didn’t even write this song, Pat wrote the chords, but I love “Not Lotion.” I love playing that song. 

B: That one was really weird because I started writing it… this doesn’t make much sense but I make voice memos and I won’t let myself move on from writing another song until I finish one. Sometimes they get abandoned. 

C: Yeah I have the same thing. I actually lost all my voice memos from before this record, it was really sad. I don’t know what happened. It was when my phone got hit by the car I think.

AN: How did that happen?

C: I just dropped it when I was getting out of an Uber, and then it was raining, and then I realized and went back down 10 minutes later and just saw it on the street and was like “Yes!” Picked it up and it was completely cracked and soggy like sponge. Like you’d squeeze it and water would come out. 

AY: Do y’all have any other fun tour stories? Other than your phone being hit by the car.

C: We cut our feet.

B: Oh yes. We were outside of Austin and we went swimming in a lake at three in the morning. It was really nice, I loved it. But there were zebra muscles, so, we all cut our feet. Our friend who we were staying with lives on this lake, it was beautiful. And we saw them and we thought it was fine, and then…

C: We were just kind of drunk.

B: Yeah, and the next morning it was like, there was a trail of blood.

C: I came downstairs and her feet were wrapped in giant toilet paper bandages.

B: It was worth it. That was just three nights ago.

AY: How are you recovering then?

B: My feet hurt.

C: You did the peroxide this morning, right?
B: Yeah. That was definitely the most recent crazy story. Just having two, nine hour drives in a row was also kind of maddening. 

C: We made it, but we’re definitely hitting a wall as a band. Both bands. So tomorrow is going to be great.

AY: Are you guys staying in Nashville?

B: Yeah. We might go see Joker.

C: We were gonna see Hustlers. I don’t want to see a movie about an incel, dude! I just don’t. All I want to do is see J. Lo. I’m gonna go by myself then.

B: The thing is finding two movie times that work. You don’t know, you didn’t check Fandango.

C: Usually they all start at relatively the same-ish times

B: But isn’t Joker like really long?

C: That sounds awful! Seeing a really long ass Joker… We’ll figure it out. Either way we’re gonna get popcorn.

B: We’re seeing one of those movies, and we’re going to get to sleep in. We’ve had kind of early mornings.

C: After no sleep. The lake night we went to sleep at six and woke up at nine.

AN: And then you drove for nine hours?

C: She did!

B: But the boys usually drive because when we drive we just put on podcasts.

AN: What podcasts are you guys listening to?

B: Oh boy, I’m really into Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It’s just really sad, really human stories. It’s good. It’s this woman who, within three weeks of each other, she had a miscarriage, her husband died, and her dad died. And then she wrote a book first, and then she started this podcast where she talks to other people that have had really sad things happen. It’s really good, I highly recommend it. That, and Spooked.

C: Spooked hasn’t been grabbing my attention this season, but we’ll see. I have to give it another chance. 

AY: Is Spooked what it sounds like?

B: Yeah it’s just ghost stories. That’s generally it so far, but we still have about a month of touring after this. 

C: I want to listen to the one about the abominable snowman. Haven’t sold it yet to the rest of the crew, but apparently it’s really good.

AN: What stops are you looking forward to on the rest of the tour?

B: Where are we even going?

C: We’re going to Asheville. Asheville was fun last time. I have no idea where or who we’re playing with but I’m sure it will be fun. 

B: It’s in the mountains, it’s going to get colder. It’s been so hot the past few days it’s been awful.

Bethlehem Steel playing “Not Lotion,” photo by Annie Mullins

AY: So this is WRVU’s signature interviewing move. We have a bucket hat full of questions.

B: I love bucket hats!

AN: So you’ve got to read the question out loud and answer it.

C: Okay. “Artists/band your mom or dad is randomly into…” My dad really likes the new Tool record. He’s like, “This is my new favorite record. It’s my new favorite band!”

B: “What American city represents your vibe?” Buffalo. I’m from Buffalo and it’s very… there. Or Milwaukee, but I’m not from Milwaukee. Milwaukee and Buffalo are pretty similar, I feel.

C: “If you had to carry around a fanny pack with you everywhere, what would you put in it?” I do carry a fanny pack with me everywhere!

AN: So what’s in it?

C: My wallet, cash, my headphones, my ear plugs, bag of makeup stuff, and gum. That’s it. 

AN: What flavor?

C: Spearmint. I always go spearmint. 

B: “What is your favorite sandwich?” Eggplant parm.

AN: Sandwich? 

B: Oh yeah. 

AN: What kind of bread do you put that on?

B: Any bread. It’s always better on a sandwich. Or if you can make it into a melt.

C: “What’s your favorite/least favorite place to perform?” You gotta do this one, I don’t know.

B: I don’t want to do least favorite, that’s mean. Favorite place I know. Our friend’s house, the cat farm, in Brooklyn. That was really fun and I want to play there again. 

B: “What was your favorite band when you were in the seventh grade?” Incubus. We were listening to Incubus today. It wasn’t on Young Becca because we picked up right after that. 

C: No, I did middle school, I had Good Charlotte and stuff. That was middle school, I will not let anyone think that was high school.

B: I couldn’t get on a plane without listening to Incubus. I couldn’t fly without listening to Incubus or I would have a panic attack.

C: That’s kind of how I was about the A Walk to Remember soundtrack. 

B: Yeah. Alright.

C: Alright.