Tangentlemen Stories

“Trying to balance the real with the esoteric or eccentric nature of our game due to all the personalities involved—and also just what we’re trying to do—it’s that balance that comes straight out of the subconscious mind,” Stephen explains. “That’s where that interplay between authenticity and surrealism is super potent.”

Being a longtime DJ, musician, beekeeper, and father to a healthy pond of koi fish, Stephen’s development palette is dripping with an array of colors more diverse than some full environment teams. And while you might not see a swarm of guitarist fish sting a rogue DJ within the actual game, each outside interest adds a layer of bizarre character to the hypnagogic experience.

“My love for baking rhubarb pies, beekeeping, koi husbandry, and DJing all comes into play. It all informs what I do,” Stephen notes. “We put ourselves into our work, and thus, we are our work.”

Stephen’s beekeeping goes well beyond a hobby. His brother was a beekeeper, his grandfather kept bees, and really, these winged insects have always been a lingering element of his nature from the beginning. After listening to a radio story about beekeeping and discussing the possibility of adopting a few colonies with his wife, Stephen decided to establish hives in his backyard, join beekeeping groups that saw exponential growth, and even lobby for beekeeping rights in Los Angeles—which were granted, thanks in big part to the efforts of his better half. Together, they now own and operate Sticky Acres—their own personal honey and pirate marmalade factory.

“We dove right in. We knew what we knew, and we made mistakes along the way, but they’re just part of our lives now. There’s a certain rhythm and meditative quality to checking them out and seeing how they’re doing,” he says with a smile. “The longer we’ve had them, as a colony, it’s been like having a neighbor, or a lodger, or a friend that you’re sharing a space with.”

And these winged, pollen-storing neighbors’ source of available water is the same pond that houses Stephen’s much adored koi fish. As a self-proclaimed koi husband, Stephen maintains a 2,500-gallon pond full of healthy fish who are lucky enough to swim in a body of water free of “fish fudge.” If you’re wondering, this fudge is comprised of decomposed leaves, urates, and bacteria that produce a foul, eldritch brew of nitrates and nitrites.

"Trying to balance the real with the esoteric or eccentric nature of our game due to all the personalities involved—and also just what we’re trying to do—it’s that balance that comes straight out of the subconscious mind. That’s where that interplay between authenticity and surrealism is super potent."

“Koi husbandry is nothing short of managing a biological hazard on a medium to large scale. Imagine you are a small, plastic diver in a fishtank. You’ve got your opening and closing clamshell, treasure chest, maybe a little castle. And amid all of the algae and scum is that hapless diver, surrounded by a world of filth.”

Stephen feels a responsibility toward his aquatic allies, and does his best to protect them from both the dangers of fish fudge and the reality of natural predators. Raccoons, herons, hawks—there are a cavalcade of creatures with sharp claws and deadly jaws ready and waiting to feast upon the happy koi fish that greet Stephen during each morning stroll.

Thankfully, his creativity in environmental development carries over to his backyard ecosystem.

“I used some of my skills from the game world to design a ‘koi-zebo’ and formulated a plan to construct a safe house for them,” Stephen points out. “I contacted a local contractor who specialized in repairing local Victorian homes, and he took my plans to construct such an enclosure with removable, screened side panels that is both functional and now a structural element in my backyard tiki garden."

“The herons and raccoons still skulk around my yard at night, but the likes of my koi: Sparkle the Wonderfish, The Caped Crusader, Albert Finney, Strudel Von Karpenburg, the Iron Chef, Studio 54, and Captain Jack (he was promoted) can all sleep in relative safety from enemies of an avian and mammalian nature.”

The rhythmic buzzing of the bees and quick fin strokes of the koi are far from the only musical influences in Stephen’s life. As the frontman for the thunderous, lumbering noise band, Slug, Stephen provided vocals and banged on metal stuff—from fire hose-box covers, to stolen bike racks, and all the way to jet fighter exhaust pipes—from 1989 to 1996. The six-man group produced multiple albums comprised of rapid songs with lots of feedback, metal clanging, and noise. When live, experimental improvisation led to scratching LPs with knives to make skipping loops to woo hungry crowds of audiophiles.

“Threads of collaboration came into play for me and there were no wrong answers for us as a collective. We were loud, ugly, noisy, and at times, contemplative, quiet, mysterious, and even pretty,” he recalls. “Live, we wanted to put out a heart-thudding, body-vibrating show of trance-like monotony. Eventually, in the end, our songs got longer and longer, and we started incorporating everything from sampling, scratching, breaking sheets of glass, to building our own microphones, amps, and effects pedals.”

Slug may no longer be active, but Stephen continues to feed his love of the medium through a weekly radio show, The Molotov Cocktail Hour, that he’s lovingly produced for the last 28 years.

"My show is the thing that’s remained constant over the years. I definitely have a particular lens for music, but my show is about connecting the dots. It comes through my ear, the sounds that I like, and I mix them, blend them within this certain sound period or sound idiom."

Defining this sound isn’t easy, but Stephen has specific musical inclinations that he attempts to pull from his brain, through his ears, and onto the airwaves.

“I try to spin tunes and weave a tapestry of what affects me deeply: Original Ska and rocksteady from ‘60s Jamaica, film noir tunes, spy and crime jazz, primitive electronics from the yesterday’s future, eccentric soul, cumbias from the golden age of Columbia, vanity albums from never-was-beens, forgotten funk… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg."

“That’s really what my show’s about. I’m always interested and curious in what’s out there, and all I’ve ever wanted to know about music is...well, everything.”

But here’s the big question: What does Stephen do at Tangentlemen, and how do his many outside inclinations color his work? Primarily, Stephen breathes life into the nightmares haunting the heads of Rich Smith, Cory Davis, and Toby Gard, adding his own expertise along the way.

“My job is to refine the ideas, give them more character… and by that, I mean modeling buildings out—taking big, rough shapes and honing in on an architectural style,” Stephen clarifies.“In our process, we try to get it in there, get some lighting in, and then just live in that space for a while.”

Crafting objects that reach the right environmental peculiarity, balancing surrealism with verisimilitude, broaching the outer corners of eccentricity without falling off the edge and into an endless void of aberrance—this is Stephen’s dark art. All these elements bleed into one another, blending into a psychedelic experience unlike anything else out there.

From his pond of koi fish to his backyard littered with colonies of bees, Stephen has a wide array of unique hobbies. But it’s through his world-building work that Tangentleman’s eclectic, curious environmental storyteller finds personal and professional balance.

“This is the strangest game I’ve ever worked on, and that’s what makes it so satisfying. Our game is coming straight out of the Tangentlemen’s collective subconscious, unconscious, and post-consciousness. There are so many times when I finish the day and I want to shout with my coworkers I love working on this game, and I love working with you guys."

“I’m so fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.”

Check out the rest of the Tangentlemen Stories by clicking the links below:

To learn more about Here They Lie and the Daedalus Project, please visit http://www.heretheylie.com

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