Surpassing his former 'emerging' status, multi-instrumentalist Stevan has been gaining traction and well-earned fandom for some time for his woozy, dreamlike RnB songs, evocative of the likes of Frank Ocean and Moses Summey. His natural songwriting, musical sensibilities and unexpected maturity provide clarity as to how a 19-year-old could write such a nuanced single about living without regret. We can only guess that Stevan has definitely been here before.
Though set to play some of the biggest music festivals in the country, Stevan remains gracious and humble throughout our conversation, tipping his hat to industry peers and recalling what it’s like to come home to university after playing sold-out shows to festival-goers who chant his name and his lyrics. As revelatory as this is to the Wollongong-based singer-songwriter, he never misses a beat in articulating his gratitude. His outlook is contagious, and I find myself smiling within minutes of our phone call due to his charming vulnerability. Today, we talk Stevan's main sources of inspiration, tall poppy syndrome, and anticipating the release of his best ever music. Scroll down for your first look at his new film, No More Regrets.
Tell us about No More Regrets ...
No More Regrets is a song that I started during high school. It was looking back at a whole experience being over, and at the time I think I was getting bogged down in little moments like, 'Is this wrong, is this right?' But by the end the whole high school experience for me was like, I regret nothing. All of it was worth something in terms of experience, I learnt and grew a lot from it. It’s just about taking experiences as they come and as lessons, not as these big things that are going to define your whole life.
Does the single apply to anyone?
For sure. I mean, I think that’s the bigger message to be had there, that experiences are probably just experiences and it’s never going to be what you think, and you have to take stuff as it comes.
Do the 90s influence your work stylistically and visually?
For sure, it’s a big point that I like to go back to. Me and the guy that I ... did the last two videos with, his name’s Ollie, and he grew up around the same area I did and we went to the same school. He was in the grade above me. But yeah, we just pull from a lot of similar inspirations and listening to the song, we got heavy 90s vibes for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because when I was producing the song I was like, this feels nostalgic in a way. When he was pitching the treatment to me he showed me all these different styles, and I was like, "Yeah, we should definitely make it feel like an old video."
Is [90s RnB] something that’s at the root of your music?
I feel like the RnB that got me into music making was more so Pharrell, back when he was producing songs for different people. I want my music to feel fun but I also want it to feel, I don’t know ... I used to really appreciate how Pharrell’s music wasn’t ever like alienating. Especially when I was a kid I used to be able to listen to it and be like, I somehow relate to it. It wasn’t too much, it was somehow just enough. A lot of RnB that predates the Pharrell days was really sensual and stuff, and as a kid I couldn’t really get down with it because I didn’t know what they were talking about. Even like now with RnB a lot of it goes down that sensual lane and obviously I’ve grown up and have more life experiences, but I just mean like at the moment when I started making music, I needed something that was accessible. And yeah that time period like the early 2000s, all these different types of musicians, their work was the perfect middle ground between being a bop, but not much out of my experience. So, I definitely try and make my music as accessible as that time period was.
Having gone from an emerging talent to someone who is playing at festivals, and playing alongside people that you listened to who are now actually your peers ... as an artist what is that like?
It is other-worldly, it is a very strange feeling. I can probably say we’re at least on a friendship level now but I made one friend last year from a show we played in Perth, I was just surprised that someone of that sort of calibre was just so humble and so nice. And it really put stuff into perspective, meeting someone and, you know, it doesn’t feel like it should be happening.
Was music ever a priority in your family growing up?
Yeah, my dad was a huge music listener - not so much a musician, but he just loved music. I remember he used to have a lot of cassette tapes because when my parents came to Australia, at that time, it was in the 2000s. Dad had heaps of cassettes of like old performance videos of Bobby Brown, all these RnB boy bands back in the day. But I don’t know, at the time I don’t think I was going to pre-school or something, so sometimes I’d just sit in my room and we’d be watching it together. I got hit with the bug when a cousin of mine came over and he showed me some music and after that, I was 12 years old, and we tried to make a beat on garage band and stuff like that. We’d try and show people in our class that sort of music and ... after that I became hooked. It was something I didn’t stop getting better at, so it was really interesting for me at the time.
"No one in my class knew anything I did. It was very strange for me at the time and very strange for me now to think about."
Do you experience tall poppy syndrome amongst your peers back in Wollongong?
It’s been a really weird mixed bag in terms of that experience, because where I come from they’ve definitely noticed and acknowledge everything I do. Within my community and everything it’s amazing, but on the flip-side it seems so weird. Let’s say I’ll play a show and there’s heaps of people there and they’re screaming, and I see people and they’re like “We like what you do”, it’s a high, it’s a huge high. Then I come back home and everything’s mellow and it is almost like you’re two people. I was also going to uni and doing music and we flew out to Perth and played the biggest show we’ve ever played, and I came back and went to uni.
Our current issue is centred on desire - what song always sets the mood for you?
Groove with You Part 1 by the Isley Brothers from their album Showdown. That’s my track.
Do you have any addictions?
It’s going to sound so cliché but, in a way I’m addicted to the music making sort of thing. I like doing what I do so much I could spend hours on end doing it and not notice. Sometimes I’m in my bedroom and I’ll be trying to work on a song, and I’ll go in while the sun’s up and I come out and it’s night-time.
What are you daydreaming about?
At this stage, because I’ve had a bit of a preview of what could happen with music, I will daydream about getting to the level where it’s a solid thing. I feel like I’m an up-and-coming artist, I daydream a lot about being that artist that other younger artists look up to and go, “He made that album, he made that song” or “He has good solid stuff or his visual look like this, his personal style the way he dresses looks like that”. I daydream a lot about being noticed in that sort of capacity, quite a bit.
What’s next for Stevan? What are your plans in 2020 and beyond?
So much. So much that I can’t specify how much, but so much. I will say this - I think I’m going to release the best music I’ve ever made this year, which is super exciting for me because I’m excited for that music to be out. Shows, you know, as much as I can do really this is the year to buckle down, I guess keep my head down and get it down.
"I think I’m going to release the best music I’ve ever made this year."