An Introduction to

First landing

by Steve salett by craig finn

I’ve known Steve Salett long enough that I don’t remember our first meeting. I do know that we met in Minneapolis, where he had a post college band called Deformo that I really dug. He sang better and more musically than the singers of other local bands. Sometimes he’d switch from a low baritone to a bratty higher register in the same song-  the affect being like a conversation between two different characters. Our bands played a few shows together. One year Deformo was named “Best Band in the Twin Cities” by mainstay local weekly City Pages. Their song “Mr. Saturday Night” was a Minnesota college radio hit. 


Despite the band’s local popularity, Steve and his future wife Estella left the Twin Cities for NYC in 1998. They married in NYC and eventually became parents, with two kids born two years apart in the mid 2000s. 

 I moved to Brooklyn in 2000 and ran into Steve sporadically. He had started a new band called The King of France. He also started building and renting out rehearsal spaces in a building in Dumbo. In 2007, he opened Saltlands Studio in the basement. The spaces and studio put Steve at the center of a vibrant music community in Brooklyn- clients included Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, Josh Ritter, Dawn Landes, Josh Kaufman, Thomas Bartlett, and many more.

 In early 2011, he emailed me to tell me about the record he’d been working on, called The Poison Tree. He was very proud of it. It was a musical move forward, and felt more natural to him than being a part of a band. The record came out in early 2011 and garnered strong notices from music and culture publications.

 Around the time of the release show for the album, Estella was told that she had cancer. It spread quickly. Only months later, at the end of 2011, she lost her battle with the disease. Steve was now a widower and a single father of two young children, aged 4 and 6. As the family tried to navigate their new life without Estella, making music was put aside for a bit.

 One night after a show in NYC in 2014, Steve and I huddled at the side of the bar and caught up a bit. It was my first time seeing him after Estella passed, and I tried to express condolences. He talked openly about grief, about trying to move forward. He said he was starting to write and play a little bit.

 So it is with great pleasure that this album has arrived into my life, and plays as a triumph of music and life. I hear it as a reentry of sorts, a rebuilding -the songs contain specific wisdoms alongside sadness, elation, and wonder. To me, it is the sound of someone moving forward, while still acknowledging the things they have to carry to get there. 

 The oldest song on this record is “Little Ones”, which was started in 2015. It asks the question “What should I say to the little ones now?”, a fittingly heavy and human place to start the process. But I also hear a lot of light in tracks like “Heavy Shoulder” and “J’Amore”, which consider the possibility of new love and a life ahead. “First Landing” is about a horse, but also feels like tentative steps in a new atmosphere. Finally, the inclusion of a live audience on “Torn to Pieces” underscores the overall feeling of reemergence the album gives me. 

 The last decade has changed us all. Steve is remarried now. He met Dara in 2016, they moved their kids in together in lockdown and married in 2020. His voice still speaks to me, but it does so in a different way than it did in the mid-90s, when our biggest heartbreaks were still up ahead.

I’m thankful to be listening to this record right now. I’m happy for the comfort and familiarity of an old friend’s songs and voice. I’m excited to see all that he has (re)built. But I’m mostly ecstatic to see what comes next, to see how these songs greet the world, and what they might have to say to us all. 


–Craig Finn

album artwork by DM Stith

photo by jessie salett





Lost My Mind

I should have taken every step 

Oh I should’ve known a little better 

Because I’m so bitter 

I swear I lost my mind

See that man 

He’ll be sewing up the rest of time 

Oh my love, my lover you can’t break it 

This little thread of mine 

Should’ve taken some time away 

Take every little step around it

Still there’s no coming down from this 

No my love, my lover you can’t waste it 

And it’s on my mind 

No i don’t need a reason 

I don’t care much

Maybe they all went to Jesus 

Or some other crutch

Ooh look at all those people 

We should’ve taken our last escape 

Use the river like all desire 

Oh my love my lover you can’t break it 

And it’s on my mind 

Steve: guitar, organ; Josh Kaufman: electric guitar, drums, bass, piano; Thomas Bartett synth strings


Heavy Shoulder

That’s the weight of my heavy shoulder

you’ve got to choose my love

better leave the stage before I lose control

I can see you fall in slow motion 

my baby can play the role

Oh you left them all back home

They never understood you’re like water 

Careful when I ask you did I try

Did try too much 

Was I kind 

Was I kind enough

Did I hide 

Did I hide my love my love my Love 

5x That’s the weight of my heavy shoulder 

Steve: organ; piano; bass, electric guitar; Ray Rizzo: Drums; Dean Graham: Yamaha synth; 


First Landing 

There’s a lie in the meadow 

and it falls through the trees 

and the moment I wake up see it’s buried in me

Still I wait for the world falling on me

Oh I let it pass by 

wait for my whole life 

Something I never got 

still back to my old fights

Hey— a fist in my hand

gonna walk on me?

I was born in the Meadow 

the son of Hildene

who was blind to the shadows

that fluttered in me 

still I was hopeful for some 

other side to turn to 

but fast times they followed me 

I turned on the clover 

and tied to the weeds

And let the rain fall on my poor Hildene

I was over my head and 

as much fool as you’ll ever see

That was the last time that she was aware 

There were holes in the roses 

and I fell down the stairs

still I held her head in a cradle 

to be the man she wanted in me

then she left me


Steve: drums, electric guitar, synths, piano; Josh Kaufman: bass, percussion; Thomas Bartlett: Op1; Stuart Bogey: saxophone 


Spun the Wheel

Do you ever just tire of the sycophants 

There’s a better way to say that but my mind forgets it 

My turn is over I spun 

A thorn in my shoulder 

A twist my heel 

Last time I saw you 

I remember laughing 

Some of those good times were real but most were imagined 

What is the matter

What’s the price to pay 

When something you never wanted 

Still you let it get away 

oh you say know her 

just a kiss on the cheek 

I can’t imagine 

that you see me so weak 

My turn is over I spun the wheel 

A thorn in my shoulder 

A twist my heel

I wish I could see myself 

when we were still kids

But I close my eyes 

and stare at the back of my lids. 

What is the matter

What’s the price to pay 

When something you never wanted 

Still you let it get away 

I couldn’t hold her

A soul turned to steam 

The turns of a vulture 

A stitch of a seam 

My turn is over I spun 

A thorn in my shoulder 

A twist my heel

Last time I saw you 

I remember laughing 

Last time I saw you 

I remember laughing

Thomas Bartlett: piano, Op1, synth


Skipper on the Reef

[Steve- Forgot what that thing was — Josh- Start with other part… 1 2]

Oh when they sent you on your way last night— you just had to ask— you could’ve made it through. 

Out of luck and sense, you rose, and laughed —still you had to ask gentle favors you keep pushing like a little babe. 

Huh!  You oughta know it’s very to hard to fake— all the wishes that waste away when you want them staying on your side. 

With no where to go oooh

It’s an unpaid debt it’s a fools regret 

You keep fishing yet. 

Like a skipper on a reef. Like a zipper without teeth you keep pushing 

With no where to go Aah 

Oh you came and left oooh 

See they laughed and waved 

Oh they’re calling out your name right now. Ooh ooh 


Josh Kaufman: drums, bass, piano, percussion; Thomas Bartlett: synth strings, Op1



Before I met you

I was working at the magazine 

And when I met you 

I was cooler than I should’ve been 

I was counting the seconds 

I was working frame by frame 

Before I met you 

I didn’t count on anything. 

Oh that’s not everything still it’s everything— you know what I mean.  

I know it’s my nature 

Some things are hard to find 

And the memories that I crumbled 

I keep them tangled up in my mind 

There were no calculations, 

no angles to play — 

when I met you— 

I couldn’t help but play it straight. 

Where you go

Steve: guitar, organ: Josh Kaufman: drums, electric guitar, bass, piano, atmospherics


Little Ones

I’m working the wheels 

I’m breaking the tide 

Stay if you will 

No I’m not that kind 

Look at how far you’ve gone now 

What should should I say 

What should I say to the little ones now. 

“Ooh it’s over oooh”

I’m okay but I spin it 

In a couple years worlds end 

Where the edge is sharp we walk in it 

Ah forget about it anyway 

What should I say

What should should I say 

What should I say to the little ones now. 

I’m working the wheels 

Breaking the tide 

Look at how far you’ve gone 

Look at how far you’ve gone 

And what should I say 

And what should I say to the little ones now. 

“Ooh it’s over oooh”

Steve: baritone guitar, Josh Kaufman: drums, percussion, synth, bass; Thomas Bartlett: synth strings, piano



Pictures on the Table

In a minute gonna tell you the way I feel tonight 

There’re pictures on the table that I left out just so we could fight 

On the bottle there a paper 

You up and say you’re too sad 

But I’m asking from the pedals 

Just where the shadow ends 

I wanna hold you babe

Still I’m never gonna understand.  

Steve: guitar; Josh Kaufman: lap steel, drums, bass 



See Your Light Disappear

I know the facts are rough

And I can’t hold on

Speak to me through the flight of dove 

We’re tied to a stone 

If you lie down 

some bitter fool 

Still I’m the only one 

who didn’t leave 

See your light disappear 

See your light disappear

I know the way to go back 

but I’m just so far you know 

Speak to me through the eyes of another 

Some bitter lonely cold and lonely lonely. 

See your light disappear 

See your light disappear

See your light disappear



Steve: piano, guitar, bass, synth; Matt Barrick: Drums; Thomas Bartlett: Op1 and other synths; Annie Nero: backing vocals



Simplify Us

Don’t ask so many questions 

There’s a fog on the other side 

Your hair (You’re here) by the window 

You left it there to hang 

And I’m only half kidding 

But you kinda knew 

What you were doing 

Still it got me through 

And I’m sorry now 

And so are you 

We broke on passengers 

Oh we told them lies. 

Where the pavement bellied 

And the cars went by 

I wish I was kidding 

I know all the rhymes 

And I followed you 

to where the fog turned to vapor 

And my sweetness to vice 

Still won’t simplify us 

Steve: Guitar, field recordings; Josh Kaufman: Drums, acoustic guitars, piano, drums, bass, synths, electric guitar



I For One

Little ruin 

Did I have too much to show 

It shouldn’t matter 

Oh I for one 

Can only say that 

To let you go 

Was the only way back

Til at last it all disappears 

Did I ask her 

“Oh I might be over you at last”

Falling backwards 

through the pavement 

Oh I for one 

can only say that

To let you go 

Was the only way back

‘Til at last it all disappears 

Little ruin 

Oh I might be over you at last 

It shouldn’t matter 

Oh I for one can only say that 

To let you go 

Was the only way back

Til at last it all disappears 


Steve: whistle doodles; Thomas Bartlett: piano, frogs, synth strings, Op1,



Torn to Pieces 

[Steve- And it’s just wonderful to play music with your friends as well— I wish they were here] 

I was born from the ass of the Paris Hilton 

They chucked me on the street 

And I barely had to ask before I got a beating 

‘til there’s nothing left of me. 

In the center of the city where they pulled the sinners high lifted to the balcony oh those souls careful what you ask of me

Why do you ask 

why do you ask 

why do you ask this if me. Huh

When I turned my back you were barely breathing but I felt so obliged and the shadow that I cast some call it treason but it swings side to side 

Watch what you move 

It’s torn to to pieces 

It’s torn to pieces 

Watch what you move 

It’s torn to pieces 

It’s torn to pieces 

Watch what you do

It’s torn to pieces.


Parts of this recorded live at (le) poisson rouge Burgundy Stain Sessions Sept 5, 2017


Steve: piano; Thomas Bartlett: wurlitzer, outro synths; Josh Kaufman: electric piano



You might not be familiar with Steve Salett, but your favorite artists know him well.


A “musician’s musician,” the New York City singer/songwriter, producer, and musical advisor has led a multifaceted career since the mid-1990s, playing in several bands, performing his own music as The Poison Tree, and forming music collectives that have been a sustaining creative center for many musicians and beyond. Salett also runs Reservoir Studios in Manhattan and the Saltmines studio complex in DUMBO, Brooklyn, and recently founded his own label, Historical Fiction Records.


But he’s never released music under his own name – until now. Released July 13, 2023, First Landing is Steve Salett’s long-awaited debut solo album, and one he had to own in every sense of the word.


“I’m excited to be fully connected to the music that I’m making and to basically say, This is who I am, and feel comfortable in that,” Salett says. “There is no band name or project name that’s going to help people make sense of it or connect to it faster than just having this fully be part of my identity. The only way that it makes sense is that it’s me.”


A confessional, deeply vulnerable, and brutally honest record, First Landing finds Salett picking apart and piecing together the past decade of his life since the sudden and unexpected loss of his wife, Estella, to breast cancer in 2011. In the years since, Salett’s focus has been raising two young children and working with artists behind-the-scenes – but in 2022, he reemerged with the six-track Estella Jane EP, comprised of recordings he had been sitting on since the mid-2010s. Whereas that EP was an unflinching distillation of intense grief and loss, First Landing looks to the light as Salett finds himself anew – carrying the weight of his past, while discovering love again in his wife, Dara.


Music was an outlet that made me feel human; my former life felt erased. Much of making this record was about connecting to the people around me, looking at my baggage and my anxieties, and determining the kind of person I wanted to be. It’s me, trying to figure out how to be happy and engaged, and just letting whatever I wrote inform me. I feel fortunate in the life I was able to rebuild. I met and married Dara, we combined our families, and we’re raising our kids together.”

First Landing is intimate yet kaleidoscopic, with Salett often calling in musicians and producers whom he has worked closely with for years. 

Tracks like “Heavy Shoulder” and “Simplify Us” showcase his unfiltered and unflinchingly honest songwriting.


There are also tracks that he wrote with his good friend Thomas Bartlett (St. Vincent, Florence & the Machine, Yoko Ono), like “I For One” and “Spun the Wheel,” a cinematic narrative that finds Salett singing from the perspective of an older man who had his chance, and is now at the end of his life and looking back over it. “I loved feeling like I was in this other time and inhabiting a character,” Salett notes. “The music and lyrics all feel circular; it all falls together. I think there’s something true about creating the character.”


Lastly, there’s the music he made in a shared studio spot with Josh Kaufman (Bonnie Light Horsemen, Bob Weir), like “Skipper on the Reef” and “J’Amore” – songs that have a lighter warmth and immediacy about them. Pianos glow gently around the cinematic “Skipper on the Reef” as a wayward Salett struggles to figure out where his life is headed.

In “J’Amore,” he seems to have found his new home, as he sings a Dylan-esque love song about meeting his wife, Dara. “That’s definitely a more joyful song,” he smiles. “Here I am, this tangled mess trying to get out of my own way and find love.”

Heart-rending at the best of times and gut-wrenching at the worst, First Landing is a no-holds-barred reflection of real life tragedy and its aftermath. Through his own hauntingly beautiful storytelling and richly textured soundscapes, Steve Salett invites listeners into his world.

As Salett’s friend and The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn describes, “This is the sound of someone moving forward, while still acknowledging the things they have to carry to get there.”

“For better or worse, I had things to share and experiences that were so intense for me,” Salett adds. “If I’m an expert in anything, it would be that. It would be grief.”


He’s been the “musician’s musician” and the “songwriter’s songwriter.” Now making music under his own name, Steve Salett is ready to be the people’s songwriter, conveying raw truths directly to whatever audience needs to hear them.


First Landing is out July 13, 2023 via Historical Fiction Records.


artist biography © Mitch Mosk, 2023