STAL translates to steel in more than a few languages. As a result, the word conjures feelings of coldness and evokes imagery of a modern, industrial life. On his new EP, Fresh Blood, Pierre-Marie Maulini (the man behind the STAL moniker) strikes the perfect balance between the cold, sleek varnish of this picture and something decidedly more harmonious and human. In doing so, he creates a perfect example of how one can keep their humanity in the age of twenty first century digitalism.
Maulini has always shown an exceptional proclivity for music; even as a child growing up in the South of France. This love and talent would first manifest itself in the form of A Red Season Shade, the post-rock outfit he formed with his older brother and a few close friends. The band signed to Gentleman Records in 2006, an opportunity that would lead to Maulini connecting with local shoegaze legend, Anthony Gonzalez. The two grew close and Gonzalez would eventually invite Maulini to be a touring member of his band, M83. The next two years for Maulini would be spent touring the world, opening for acts like Kings of Leon and Midnight Juggernauts or headlining their own international tours. It was here, on the road with M83, that Maulini was first exposed to the world of synths, keyboards and other electronic elements that would soon be so prevalent in the music he would create.
Upon his return home, Maulini wanted to delve deeper into this new world of musical possibilities he had discovered. This desire would lead him to move to Ireland where he would work with renowned sound engineer, Patrick Walsh, to help broaden his horizons regarding what keyboards and synthesizers were capable of. Still, Maulini hadn’t forgotten his roots and a lot of the guitar work on which he first made a name for himself would remain integral to the new songs he was writing. Post rock is “all about atmosphere” and Maulini tries to “bring a degree of epicness to his music” as a result of his background in the genre.
These first experimental demos would be released in 2011 under the name STAL, introducing the project’s epic, raw rock energy with a decidedly French touch to the world for the first time. Since then, STAL has released an EP, We Are Two, and his debut full-length, Young Hearts, and the band has toured with acts like Nothing But Thieves and Matt & Kim. Young Hearts also saw STAL become the first ever band to release a music video set entirely in a virtual reality world, which they did for the single “Gone.”
As Maulini transitioned into writing for a new record in early 2017, he took a leap of faith and moved to Los Angeles. Soon after the move, his music would catch the attention of producer Eric Palmquist (Bad Suns, Mutemath, Night Riots), leading to a friendship between the two. Just as Palmquist was a fan of STAL, Maulini was quickly taken by Palmquist’s process and efficiency. “First time I came across his studio in El Sereno, I immediately loved the vibe and, above all, the man”. After a short time, Maulini was impressed enough with their shared musical heritage and vision for what the project could be that he settled on Palmquist to help elevate his next batch of songs into new territory.
Much in the same way that Gonzalez opened Maulini’s eyes to the level of professionalism needed to be successful on the road, Palmquist would instill in Maulini the need for diligence in the recording studio. Whereas Young Hearts was recorded in a straightforward process, with a great deal of spontaneity and clumsiness, for Fresh Blood there were countless hours of pre-production. The initial days in the studio consisted solely of listening to the artist and producer’s greatest influences, as well as, Top 40 pop and rock. This led to an extended demoing session that saw their creative direction pulled in many different ways before the two settled on a final vision for the EP. Lyrically, Fresh Blood shows just how much maturity Maulini has gained over the past few years. While he speaks largely to the true and simple happiness one can find in life, love and hope, there is certainly a new level of profundity to his lyrics. “Working with Eric on my lyrics has been an amazing experience. He’s an amazing topliner and being in the studio with him helped me obtain a new level of confidence as a musician.”
While Fresh Blood maintains a lot of what made his previous work so addictive, it definitely represents a new creative chapter in Maulini’s career. His distinctive vocals and the signature synths sounds that drew people to Young Hearts are still present, but there is a level of maturity as a songwriter that points to something fresh and exciting on this release. The EP was also heavily influenced by the major change in the way people consume music over the past few years. “People don’t listen to an album or EP like before. I always thought albums should have been a story from track 1 to 10; now it’s mostly singles released one by one”. To make sure he was giving his listeners a complete experience, Maulini wrote each track on Fresh Blood in a manner that would leave room to “find their own interpretation and connection to their favorite tracks.”
While STAL is largely a one man show in the studio, the project takes the form of a raucous power trio live. Maulini is backed by Renaud Rodier and Jeff Di Rienzo on drums and guitar respectively. Rodier has performed with the band since 2011 and has played on every record and tour that STAL has been a part of. Di Rienzo is an exceptional guitarist, whose chemistry with Maulini is uncanny; pushing both men to new creative heights as they play off each other on stage. Di Rienzo is also the owner of The Office/The Artist mastering studio (TOTA) in Paris.
In the end, the five tracks on Fresh Blood converge with a message that life can be really tough, but in the darkness there’s always a light that guides you. With everything going on in the world today, we could certainly use this sort of uplifting message set to an epic, inspiring soundscape to help us continue to strive to be our best selves, no matter what life throws at us.