Great interview, Michele! I love hearing about artists growing into their own, especially when you feel like you've followed them from the beginning. Steffaloo is just an incredibly like-able artist.
Interview: Steffaloo Discusses Her Latest Album, Would You Stay
Sometimes writing songs is a perfect way to evoke catharsis. You never quite know when you might be hit by the urge to write songs, but if the inclination strikes, just go with it. You can discover some of the most eye-opening outlooks and communicate some of the most powerful messages through song. The music through which these messages are conveyed has the power to change someone’s whole mindset, make someone smile, or maybe even spark some social change. Here to comment on her journey through the richly satisfying world of songwriting is LA-based Stephanie Thompson, who records under the moniker Steffaloo. Her second album, Would You Stay, was just released on October 23rd via Mush Records. The collection of songs is hinged on simple songwriting, sparse arrangements composed of acoustic guitar, piano, ukulele and percussion, and very personal lyrics. It’s all wrapped up in the delicious hiss of reel-to-reel recording. Sometimes the hardest thing is trying to communicate that which words cannot. That’s where music comes in.
“Music has always been very present in my life,” says Thompson, whose stage name comes from the nickname “Steffaluffagus” given to her by a former Starbucks co-worker. The young songstress used to sing with her mother and sister as a child at church functions, but didn’t really make music a staple in her life until she moved to LA six years ago. She began playing with some friends in California, which started to get some momentum going. “We’d go to each others houses and just play until our fingers were numb and we lost our voices.” That was the point at which Thompson found herself playing alone more and more, and had to make music to be able to function. She initially delved into the scene by playing a song with shoegaze artist Blackbird Blackbird, and the positive reaction inspired her to play some of her own music. “I never expected to get the warm response that I have,” Thompson notes. The first song on her first album, Meet Me in Montauk, written after a break up with a first love, would come to mark the beginning of her relationship with music.
Thompson’s second release, Would You Stay, symbolizes love, loss, and growing up. One of the things she focuses on is the idea of one door closing and another opening, which is something everyone can relate to. She started writing the album the summer that she got laid off from a job she had had for five years. “This album became a painstaking exercise in learning to let go of things, and then to bravely walk into new ones. This is how I began to approach each song after those first months of not having a job and not knowing what the hell I was going to do with my life”.
But life is a mystery more often than not, and not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next keeps life a little exciting, albeit slightly anxiety-invoking. The song “Would You Stay” became the keystone of the record because it was about a relationship that neither Thompson nor her boyfriend at the time could either let go of or hold onto.
“I began to see that this is how life can be a lot of times- a back and forth between losing and gaining, holding onto and letting go. It was the turning point of the album because it was the moment I truly did just let go… of everything. The songs on this album were what helped me navigate through the unknowns of this crazy life, and to realize that a little panic is OK every now and then,” Thompson reveals.
During her career as a musician, ( a career that seems to be gaining some forward momentum) Thompson has already had the privilege of collaborating with several other musicians. One of them is the electro/shoegaze musician Blackbird Blackbird, who really sparked the beginning of her delve into and subsequent success in the music scene. She has also worked with Sun Glitters, Chrome Sparks, Teen Daze, Germany Germany, Beat Culture, XXYYXX, DanielRadall, and more. The indie/psychedelic/shoegaze style of most of Thompson’s collaborators stands in stark contrast to her own folk-y, minimalist MO. However, when musicians of contrasting genres play together, the outcome is, more often than not, more pleasing to the aural palate than if birds of a feather flocked together. Steffaloo’s wispy voice in Sun Glitters’ trippy, repetitive pop makes the listener feel like they’re floating on a cloud.
When asked which musician she might sit down and have coffee with, Thompson’s first answer was Feist. “…She is and has been one of my all time favorite musicians since I first laid ears on her. Imogen Heap would be another amazing person to sit down with. Both of these women are artists who I really look up to and admire for what they create, plus they have such great charisma and personality.” Bits of Feist’s writing style can certainly be heard in Thompson’s simple and sometimes bluesy melodies.
Her own writing process is a fairly personal endeavor, in which she usually shuts herself in her room for hours, getting lost in the song she is working on. “With my solo music a lot of times I don’t really know what I’m getting into when I start to play things. Some nights it will just be because I need to get something off my mind, or heart, so I’ll pick up the guitar and wait and see whatever starts to pour out,” explains Thompson.
As far as how she’s grown as a musician, she has certainly made great strides. Music is infinite in depth, and an infinite amount of wisdom can be attained from making it. But there is also the technical aspect of playing music, and that just comes with doing it as much as possible and playing with other musicians.
“I think the biggest thing is that I know a lot more now than I did then. It just started as a way for me to get what I needed to get out, to let myself feel again. So the songs I wrote didn’t have any structure to them. Half the time I honestly didn’t even know what chords I was playing. What I got in the end was just raw scribbles of words and guitar strums I like to call songs. Now, after a couple of years of playing live and working with other artists, I’ve learned to recognize some of the basic attributes of music and know how to use them to create a new song.”
These musical attributes can certainly be heard on her new record- a little more variety in instruments and a bit more structure to the songs. “It’s a beautiful process really, and it’s one that has led me to finally feeling able to have a band play behind me. I’m extremely excited to see where everything continues to take me as I just let it all unfold and see what I can learn along the way.”
“Would You Stay”