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Meet stef, the Small-Town Country Artist Turned Pop Singer on the Rise

Photo courtesy of stef.

It was the afternoon of Wednesday, May 26 when I hopped on to a call to meet with Nashville-based musician, stef. She artist greeted me with the warmest of hellos and the brightest of attitudes.

We covered all the important items, like her latest EP and what’s next for her career. Behind the scenes, we spoke on our mutual love for Bratz dolls and our mild obsession with astrology — she’s a Libra!

Without further ado, meet the next Dua Lipa, stef.

Shifter Mag: Where did your love for music start? What fuels your musical fire?

stef: I would say my love for music has always been there. I grew up in the South, so, you know, the classic story: I grew up singing in church. I was involved in theater, I did acting, I was always listening to music. It was always something that I was involved in, but I never considered it a career just because of my environmental circumstances. No one was really doing anything like that. It was always, you know, go to a four-year college, get a degree and do a normal 9 to 5 job. I wasn't surrounded by anyone super creative while growing up — now I am, of course. But I would say my love for music has always just been a part of me. I've always been singing with my dad. I didn't really get into songwriting until high school, but I think it's just in my bones.

SM: What inspired the music behind your latest EP "A Glitch in Our Virtual Reality?"

stef: I had been going to LA to write some songs and we had "kickin all the pieces of my heart," "here's what we're not gonna do," "i used to build dreams about you" and "hi, my name is lonely." And I knew that I was going to be releasing the EP, I just didn't know what or how at the time. I was like, "I really like all four of these songs. I want to release them, but I want to do like a five-song EP." And I love concept albums. Like when artists really put time into the order and intro and filler tracks and just the whole artistry behind it — I'm so obsessed with it. So I really wanted this to be an artistry piece for me. So I was like, “I have these four songs. How am I gonna make this EP into a storyline?” and I was brainstorming over it. And I was like, "Oh, this could be a representation of the life cycle of a relationship!" — but I needed another song. So, in the storyline, I would rearrange the songs and try to figure out what type of song I needed. Once I did that, I knew I needed a second song that I wanted to represent the switch in a relationship where you can tell that your significant other is falling out of love with you right in front of your eyes, even though you're still in a relationship. I don't know if you've ever felt that feeling before, but it's definitely not fun. You're like, “Wow, you really got to break up with me.” So that was when I went to Palm Springs with a few really good friends, like my producer and my best friend, who also writes a lot of stuff with me and we wrote "switch" and the EP was done. But I also wanted to have an intro and outro track. For the intro, I wanted it to represent the feeling of a romcom, like all the sounds that represent love to me. Then the outro track was wrapping everything up, but still on a positive note because you're going to go through hurt, you're going to go through trauma and whatnot — but hopefully at the end of the day, you end up happy again, even if it takes some time and you're happy in a different way, but like everything changes you. So that is a very long version of the EP for you!

SM: In general, I resonate with music more than I resonate with just spoken word, but even still, music has to do a lot for me to feel anything and your song "switch" and the message that it conveys is very powerful and sparks so much emotion from me.

stef: I'm so happy you feel that way because that's definitely the emotion I was trying to get from it. Honestly, I don't really write from my personal circumstances. I mean, obviously, I've been through a bad breakup and everything, but I'm not a super emotional person. I'm very logical. So if you did me dirty, then goodbye. Like I'm not going to sit and dwell on it, but a lot of people aren't like that. So I write from my friend's perspective and "switch" is actually about one of my friend's old relationships, but now it can represent, or it can relate to one of my other friends current relationships. So I'm glad you liked the song because I think it's pretty sad. And I think the songwriting is good. So, I'm glad you like it.

SM: What was your favorite song to write and create for this EP?

stef: I think "switch." was, just because it was really fun to write about that circumstance. "hi, my name is lonely" and "here's what we're not gonna do" were really fun to record because they're upbeat songs. And then "i used to build dreams about you" was written about my boyfriend that I have now. As I said, I don't write anything about myself, but that is one song that I have written about my current circumstances. So yeah, I think they all are just different, like "kicking all the pieces of my heart" is super quirky and that was fun too. They were honestly all fun to work on.

SM: Back in 2019, you came out with a really small, three-song EP titled "Why Do I Laugh When I Cry?" Besides the length, what was different about these two EPs?

stef: So, I honestly started making pop music in 2019. I started with country before that, which you probably can't tell, thankfully. But I was writing a lot of pop music and stuff and I wanted to come out the gates swinging. I wanted to do something different that no one else had done before. And I'm sure some people have done this, but not to my knowledge. But I was like, "This is my first song ever, why not just drop like three at once and see what happens?" And so I did just that. I think the difference between them is just the growth in me as a person and a writer. I had only been writing pop music for a few months prior to my 2019 release. I still hold a lot of country music writing true to my heart — like, I love a good hook, words that are meaningful and certain melodies. So the transition isn't as dramatic as I'm making it, but I think you can see the growth and artist development. I think my sound has developed and my writing has grown. I'm excited to release more.

SM: Because your sound seems to pull from so many different inspirations and genres, how did you figure out your sound? What was your journey with that like?

stef: I think it’s really interesting that you say it pulls from so many different aspects because I would agree with that. People are always asking "What category do you fit in?" and I don't know. I know, like, I fit into pop, but I don't know what exactly. Depending on the song, there's some indie-pop elements, then there's also some hyper-pop elements and there's also some normal pop elements — lots of different elements. And I think we were able to develop my sound just because I know exactly what I like and exactly what I want to sound like as an artist. I know what I want to write about. I know what melodies I like. I know what sounds I like production-wise. Working with my friends this whole time, we've just been able to grow and get to know each other even better. We've really developed this cool, unique thing because Christian knows exactly what I like. Ricky knows exactly what I like when we're writing together; she won't even throw out a bad idea because we are so in-sync with each other. I think it's just finding your camp and knowing exactly what you want to say and what you want to sound like as an artist.

SM: What are three artists that you've really pulled from, whether it be for this EP or in your general sound?

stef: I think when I was doing country music, I was listening to a lot of pop — but honestly, in high school, I didn't listen to a lot of pop music. I listened to more rap music and indie-alternative. I don't know if that's a cool thing to do in high school, like no one wanted to listen to top 40 pop — at least the people that I was surrounded with didn't — so I never really listened to pop. Then I started making country music and I started listening to pop — like Billie Eilish and stuff and I loved it so much. I was always a belter, but I had never loved the sound in my belting voice. So [Billie Eilish] was someone that I was like, "Oh wait, I can sing low and still sound good and people take me seriously." Why would I not be a pop artist? But I think someone that I draw inspiration from now is Dua Lipa, I love her and I just think she's such a baddie. I think BENEE is super cool — I love all of her music, it's super different. I think girl in red's album that she just released is super cool. There’s this girl named spill tab who makes some cool indie-pop music. I don't know, I'm just kind of inspired by my environmental circumstances. And you know, if I hear a cool song with a sound in it, like this band called Sad Night Dynamite uses really quirky sounds and I love it — so, I think it's forever changing.

SM: How has your creative process with songwriting been affected by the pandemic?

stef:I was able to do a lot of Zoom writing [sessions], which I still don't even like that much, but that was the reality that I was living in. I think just the stillness of the world allowed me to really dive into myself and my thoughts and build this even stronger foundation for when the world does open up again. I really just kept pushing for it and whatnot because I was so young and I think I had a little bit of a jaded perspective in 2019; not jaded in a bad way, just like an unrealistic timeline for myself. But I think the pandemic allowed me to slow down a little and have a realistic timeline because I'm such a go, go, go person, but that's not really how this works. So I had to readjust slightly.

SM: What are you most excited to do post-pandemic with your career?

stef: I’m very excited to hopefully be booked on a tour and do some shows, play some festivals. I do get kind of nervous, but it's like a good nervous and I'm really ready to do that. So hopefully that’s in my near future.

SM: What do you hope for your music to achieve for your listeners and your fans?

stef: I definitely want to be a positive influence on people's lives. I'm not a sad girl, even though I write sad music. I have always been a really happy person. My dad and I were talking about this and he was like, "You need to write more upbeat, happy music like you're laying on the beach and stuff." and that's not what I want to sing as an artist. Obviously, he was loving about it, but I just want to be a positive influence on people. And I hope that people listen to this EP and are able to resonate with certain songs and certain stages of a relationship. If they're going through a breakup and see their ex with someone else, they can listen to "hi, my name is lonely." But if they're finally feeling like they're done with the games and done with being mistreated, they can listen to "here's what we're not gonna do" and feel really empowered. I just want everyone to have high standards for themselves and really put themselves first — we do not have time to be mistreated in 2021 — and I just want to be that kind of influence on people.

SM: So you re-imagined a couple of your songs throughout your career, like "SOUR" and "i used to build dreams about you." What pushed you to want to do that?

stef: For "SOUR," I think it was a pretty sad song that a lot of people were resonating with. So why not do a stripped-down version? They're not only acoustic but stripped-down versions of songs. I didn't want to be like "SOUR - Stripped" or "SOUR - Acoustic" or whatever, so let me just call it "reimagined." So I did a reimagined version of "SOUR." Then, "i used to build dreams about you" actually started off as a super acoustic demo and it was really sweet and pretty as it was, but the acoustic "newness" didn't really fit in with the whole EP. But I still wanted to release a more acoustic version to really shed light on the song and its lyrics. They're basically just a different way to say stripped.

SM: What is something that you know now that you wish you knew back then?

stef: I started implementing this into my life my senior year of high school — I'm still trying to implement it into my life to this day, but I think the world has set people up to be scared to follow their dreams. Obviously, we live in a capitalist society and so many other things, but I would just say to just do it and follow your dreams. I know that's really cliché, but you can find out how to do anything on the internet. If you actually want to do it, you have everything at your fingertips on your phone or on your computer or whatever — nothing is limiting you other than motivation. So I would just say that if you actually want to do it, look it up on YouTube — like how to draw, procreate, produce a song and get this job. There are so many informational things out there that can teach you all you need to know. Let's not be scared here.

f you want to keep up with stef, follow her on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and on the web. You can also stream her music on Spotify and Apple Music and follow her for updates on future releases!

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