Dan Stefik is 46 years old. He’s a teacher of film theory and production at a local CEGEP, a voracious reader and a passionate musician.
Just over five years ago now, he did something a little unusual for someone his age—for the first time in his adult life, he joined a band.
Whereas most men in their forties might be content to live in the glory days of their youth, recounting past exploits, Dan, a late bloomer creatively, has been busy making up for lost time.
Paul Mattsson grabs his brother’s guitar— an aqua blue Stratocaster knockoff—and jacks it into the family’s ‘70s era stereo receiver. There’s a cackle as electrified metal hits metal, a little fumbling of the strings, then Paul kicks out a near-perfect lick from Bryan Adams’ Run to You.
This memory Dan shares had a profound impact on him. His friend Paul’s parents were pretty liberal and culturally adventurous. As a teenager, Paul’s home was a source of discovery, not only music but for films such as A Clockwork Orange.
Dan was a competitive hockey player in his youth, which consumed much of his time. But it became evident before long that he stood little-to-no chances fighting for the puck in the corner against the farm boys from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield! Once his hockey hopes were abandoned, and after two weeks of hearing Paul play, he begged his parents to buy him a guitar and an amp.
Over that year, Dan would continue to practice guitar—music a near-constant companion in between his studies and working at HMV and Cinema du Parc. What may have been a passing hobby and nothing to take seriously grew into a driving passion of his.
“I’m pretty serious, not in the sense that I want to be a rock star, I just want to create. I just want to be creative and express myself. Music enables that to happen.”
Dan wasn’t above occasionally using his talents to get a laugh, at one point donning a pair of cowboy boots, his guitar, and running on a treadmill while playing a version of Riot’s Thundersteel!
But behind it all there was a serious musician perfecting his skills. Music—tirelessly playing guitar, writing songs—was a constant pursuit. Just not in a way you’d take notice. At least not yet.
Life and as it is wont to do takes over, it distracts and takes you in directions you least expect. What Dan certainly never expected into his college years was a brush with death. But then that’s exactly what life threw his way.
It’s a Sunday night in January, dance night at La Brique, a heavy metal bar on Montreal’s best-known street — Saint Catherine’s. Inside, the music is pounding, the place vibrating like the inside of a drum, people are drinking and partying. At some point Dan grabs another drink, but not his own. During the night people make their way up onto the stage. Dan, following some unknown instinct, joins them.
He’s barely up there before it happens. One moment his feet are firmly in place, the next he’s lost his vision and his footing. When he drops face first, his hands never come out to break his fall.
Later in St-Justine hospital, the doctors perform reconstructive surgery to replace the shattered bones in Dan’s face with titanium plates. In a sense he knows he was lucky—the damage was mostly cosmetic and it could have been far worse.
Looking back on the experience Dan says it was “a real game-changer” for him, it changed his physical appearance and shook him to his core. “At 18 you’re so self-conscious and self-centred. After the accident, I started to take a look at my relationships and who I was as a person. It was a hell of an ordeal to go through.”
He never did discover what caused the fall.
Music and Cinema
Time moves on, things that we live in one moment, in retrospect we see them weaved together in serendipitous ways. The mesmerized 15-year-old who watched A Clockwork Orange in Paul’s basement is the same who studied the film in CEGEP two years later, and who would go on to teach it some 16 years later to a different generation of CEGEP students.
Teaching film studies (production and theory) is work that Dan feels grows more important with each passing year.
Today’s cinema, he’d tell you, is about distraction. And while he sees nothing wrong with a bit of distraction and escapism, there’s also nothing wrong with engaging cinema that reflects life and society back to us, like a mirror. The kids he sees today in his classroom haven’t seen a lot of stuff outside the commercial mainstream media.
As a teacher, he sees nothing better than to try to open the minds of young people to the potential of cinema, to expose them to different ideas through cinema: politics, psychology, philosophy, or whatever it is that interests them.
Music factors in as well. He sees parallels between film and music; both are really popular forms of communication, both are really powerful.
Sadly he says these make them targets for the mega-corporations who cater to the masses and eschew the idea that these mediums can be avenues of art and creativity.
The idea that now in the algorithmic age, students have no idea where to go to find new experiences in music or cinema, is a huge source of anxiety for Dan.
Part of his job—which he takes very seriously—in addition to opening up students to music and cinema, is to have them dig a little deeper.
“It just might yield long-lasting rewards,” he says. “You have to put in some work, it’s not just a two-week hobby. But if you put in some time and commit to it, there are incredible rewards at the end of those two roads.”
Gigging in your Forties
For the past five years, Dan has been playing drums in a band called Room Control. Along with bandmates Richard and former member Byron—friends he first met selling CDs at HMV Fairview—they play instrumental music that is not easily defined.
Cinematic Psych Groove? Post-Rock? The band simply take pride in knowing they are making their own contribution to making music that is unique and different.
For Dan who made the switch from guitar to drums some time ago, Room Control reflects his personality and what he wants to do as a drummer. Drumming also provides him with plenty of opportunities for flow.
“Finding flow comes over weeks or months of practicing and working out the [musical] ideas so eventually I can master the thing I couldn’t two months ago. It brings up my game, I know I’m getting better as a drummer, and I know my bandmates appreciate it. To me, that’s one aspect of flow that I really look forward to. ”
In addition to playing in Room Control, Dan also plays drums in The Ember Glows, a new-wave infused four-piece band. He and Byron also deejay as DJ Sons of Suns.
Musically speaking, it’s a full plate. One that has come relatively late in life. But then Dan doesn’t see that as a bad thing at all.
“At 17, I was just a kid that was far too easily distracted,” he says, “when you do it when you’re older, you know what you want more. When you are on a good and mindful path and you have goals, objectives and dreams, with maturity, it’s even better.”
With age, he’s learned to block out a lot of the outside world (needless distractions, the media, the market, negativity) and to focus more attention on the inner world, of dreams, the subconscious, imagination, etc...
That voice, strong as ever, compels him to keep creating and playing music.
“If one day I see myself hitting 65, maybe retiring, those could be the best music-making years of my life hands down!”
Looking back over his experiences, the path to music was not as direct as some. If you’d told him when he was in CEGEP that music would really start happening in his 40s, he would have said you were crazy.
But that’s the way things turned out. Life deliverer of wonder, delight, and calamity, in equal measure, ran its course.
Musically, things fell into place, exactly the way it was meant to be.
Dan Stefik has a Master of Arts (Film Studies) along with two Bachelor degrees, the first in Business Administration and the second in Film Studies, all from Concordia University. He has taught at both the Cegep and University levels.
Room Control is Alex Martin (synths, guitars, effects, and sampling) Richard Bunze (bass, guitars, and effects) and Dan Stefik (drums and percussion). The band launched their debut Ep, Past the Breakers in 2016, and their debut album, Maybe too Broken, in 2019.
The Ember Glows is Richard Bunze on guitar, Kevin Hills on bass, Martin Saint voice and guitar and Dan Stefik on drums.
The deejaying duo DJ Sons of Suns (Byron and Dan Stefik) play Music from the 1950s to the present. They play two times a month, Thursdays at Pub L'Annexe St-Ambroise (5080 rue St-Ambroise).