By Sam Bleazard
In our second instalment of our new feature celebrating the new wave of British soul and funk artists currently making an impact on the scene, we catch up with the dynamic singer/songwriter Stephanie Sounds.
It’s Saturday afternoon and singer songwriter Stephanie Sounds is just back from the gym – but doesn’t her Twitter feed promote her love of cake? She laughs when this is put to her.
“I used to bake a little bit yeah, some cakes, and I also used to take some of my stuff to local markets. I’m a gym bunny, but I love shows like Bake Off, Masterchef, Jamie Oliver, cooking programmes. Kelis trained as a Cordon Bleu Chef didn’t she? To me it’s still part of your creativity, using your hands to create something, so it’s important that we have other things we love to do.”
And this becomes the theme of our conversation, artists who are prepared to do things for themselves, because their freedom depends on it, but also because a community of creative peers is a family to depend on.
Have you always been a solo artist?
I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, but the process of finding myself and self-discovery took me a few years. I think I always wanted to write my own songs from a young age. It’s just great to be at this point having finished an album of such personal songs.
How difficult is it to get an album out there?
Writing songs is the easiest part. Then you need musicians to play on your album, which needs to be mixed and mastered. That all sounds straight forward but it comes down to your finances ultimately. I found myself working on a lot of material while I was on tour, which kind of works as you can get back to the project when you’ve earned more money. You have to be focused on where the money’s going, so it can be quite stop and start according to the budget.
Were record labels ever part of the discussion?
I may be unusual in that I’ve never worked with a label. I know a lot of people who have, friends along the way, singers who’ve been in girl bands, that kind of thing. I’ve always written with my musical partner Ayo, who’s also my husband. We worked on this album together. And even now that the album is released I don’t have any massive desire to work with a label, as the music industry has moved on in many ways. These days it’s much more about licensing, promotion and getting yourself heard on the radio and other channels.
Would you include social media in that?
To be honest I’m still getting my head around it. It is really important, because people want to see what you’re doing – what you like to eat, what you wear, where you’re going. A bit more detail on who you are as a whole person. People buy in to the whole person, but it’s so time consuming when you’re doing it yourself, there’s a lot to keep up with.
It sounds like you have more than one string to your bow – how important is it to diversify?
Really important, you have to have other things to fall back on and other income streams, not least because the work comes in waves. Artist gigs are not consistent. I’ve taken Zumba classes because I love to dance. I still make clothes, African prints which are made to order (you can check out Stephanie’s clothing line here). I’ve also taken singing lessons and workshops. Trying to get your own projects going always requires real commitment and determination. I’m not a school-teacher, but I know people who teach music. You just have to find a situation that really works for you so that you can keep consistent money coming in.
Our recent interviews with UK artists stressed the value of the collective – how important is it?
It’s really important that as musicians and artists we support each other. It takes real courage to stick it out and get an album project finished. We do favours for each other, and ultimately look out for one another. The attitude is, let’s support each other, because if our musical family does well, we do well. I’m lucky that my family and friends are top musicians, that’s a gift.
Is it tougher being a female singer song-writer in terms of opportunities?
It’s difficult in terms of what people expect you to be. It was challenging at the start, to get recognition from radio and those kinds of things because my style of music isn’t commercial. It’s not the typical music that a black female artist might be doing right now. And because I’m not doing that it does pose a challenge. My music is about the stories, and the landscape. It also requires patience. People and audiences often want quick music with instant gratification. That’s been my biggest challenge, just being different to what people expect. I don’t see myself as a Soul, RnB or Gospel singer. Growing up my influences were very eclectic and very broad, as my album is. Pop rock, folk, Caribbean, metal, it’s quite varied because of that. We just wrote songs purely from my experiences. It just came out of me really, we didn’t try to steer it too much.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him many years ago, because he was my brother’s friend. One day I heard them jamming downstairs, so I went to check it out. From that point onwards we remained friends for years and then started writing songs together. Ayo is now my husband, keyboard player and producer on the album.
Plans for live shows in 2018?
My show at the Hoxton Square bar late last year was my debut show with a full band, which was pretty exciting for me personally and I was so happy that people came to support. We’re going to be releasing a couple of more singles, making videos for those and hitting social media of course. I do want people to get the bigger picture. We’ll also be doing more gigs in London and looking for opportunities further afield such as festivals. And September time I think we’ll be looking at a tour.
Immediate plans to kick off the New Year?
The next single will be Focus – which is a great song, and a big anthem. Lots of feel good energy and an empowering message, we want to keep ears twitching for that one. The challenge on filming videos will be budget, which is always the biggest thing, the post production and editing time. My husband taught himself video editing and post production, so all of us have learned that we can create things of quality by being very innovative. That makes it even more satisfying in a way. That’s what it’s all about, if you want to build the house, these are things you have to do.
Other projects in the pipeline?
I’m part of a band called Vintedge which is set up for corporate gigs, it’s good fun because again it’s friends and family in the band. It also means that when we’re away from touring, we still get to gig. My husband also leads a project called Spirit of House, which I’m part of – a group of singers and a house-band.
Any advice for young singers?
Look after your voice! Lots of water, herbal teas, sleep as much as you can, wear a scarf when you’re outside. Also make sure you warm it up, maintain a healthy diet. Some singers can just rock up and sing, but my voice tests me at times – it’s quite temperamental.
As our conversation ends Stephanie Sounds is in contemplative mood. “You know I have kids, I have a cat and a dog, and we’re doing it all ourselves.”
The Cocoa Diaries will be watching, and listening to Stephanie’s sound, with interest.
Stephanie Sounds debut album, Much Better, is available on iTunes and Spotify now.