Steph Sloan grew up listening to her father’s jazz records which influenced her song stylings.
Photo by Emily Stevens
"I want to tell honest stories,” says singer/songwriter Steph Sloan, a Wood River Valley native. “I want to let you in, to show you that we’re all in this together, and maybe even to make you hum a catchy melody as you’re driving to work in the morning.”
Between the ideas and the melodies, before they made it onto her new CD “Bloom,” Sloan’s process included Red Bull, being awake in the wee hours and numerous cleansings.
“When I’m feeling creative, it’s usually past 2:30 a.m. on a weekday, when the city is quiet and shutting its eyes. Though it often takes me 15 minutes or so to settle into work-mode, as soon as I write a line or melody that’s remotely interesting to me, I’m hooked.
“I’ll spend however long it takes to carve out the idea and start shaping a new tune. If I get stuck, I’ve found that a hot shower is my go-to source for inspiration. It may sound weird, but I’m pretty sure that at least 90 percent my favorite work has been hatched while singing in the shower.
“Maybe it’s the reverb of the room … maybe it’s a metaphorical cleansing as well as a literal one. Whatever it is, I trust in the steam and suds to sort it out.”
The result is a lush, seven-song-strong debut from Sloan released last week, within weeks of her graduation from Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“At midnight on the 24th, I pushed the “publish” button on my Bandcamp page stephsloan.bandcamp.com, popped open a bottle of delicious champagne, and toasted to my first big release and all of the people who’ve helped it come to fruition,” she says hours later, as kudos roll in on her Facebook page.
Among those being toasted by the former Wood River High School homecoming queen is her mom, Bea Sloan, and older brothers Matt and Nick. There are also the Wood River music programs, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, St. Thomas Playhouse and Company of Fools, where she made a name for herself through hard work and great performances. And then there’s the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, for the scholarship that got her to Berklee, and the residents who supported her in local venues, including the annual Northern Rockies Music Festival in Hop Porter Park in Hailey.
For “Bloom,” Sloan wrote all the music and lyrics with some assistance with the arrangements.
“All of these songs are, in some shape and form, autobiographical. I was in a long-distance relationship for two years, and “These Miles” is absolutely about him. It didn’t work out for us, but I think that the feeling of missing someone so much and playing ping-pong in your head about what’s going to happen next can be found universally, and I really wanted to share how that felt in mine at the time.”
Self-doubt is not something she regularly contends with, but when the internal voice is really hard on her, and she thinks about how many people are “trying to pursue my same dream, she concludes, “I don’t think it’s healthy to dwell in places like that, so when I feel overwhelmed, I step back and try to give
myself a little break from the negative energy by submerging myself in another creative pool. I have a growing passion for food, and I think opening a bottle of wine and cooking a nice meal can be the greatest therapy.”
As far as production goes, fellow student Brian Phillips “is kind of a genius. He’s a songwriter himself, so he really pays attention to every detail to cater to the song. His technical skills are already ridiculous, but matched with his musicality and passion, he’s really a force to keep an eye out for.”
The recording process continued even after Phillips graduated and moved to Los Angeles from Boston in December.
This meant that the rest of the process was challenging. Recording overdubs, editing, mixing and getting the final product ready for duplication would take place over emails, phone calls, Dropbox, WeTransfer and countless text messages.
“I will admit, I was a little skeptical when we discussed that half of this process would be taking place on different coasts, but I’m so glad that we did it. I think the industry is changing in such a way that remote sessions and players are going to be more and more commonplace, so I’m happy that we were kind of on the cusp of that revolution and got to see what does and doesn’t work for the next time around.”
Sloan rounded up a band of fellas who visited her last year to play at the Northern Rockies Music Festival when she opened for Brandi Carlile. It was Jack Johnson on keys, Brad Bahner on drums, Zack Kardon on electric guitar, and Pete Brownlee on bass (he also produced and mixed two of the tracks, “Upside Down” and “Undone”).
She had 76 Kickstarter backers, too. And now, the album is for sale on iTunes and on her website.
With the foundation laid, what does her dream look like now?
“It isn’t my intention to be the next Beyonce. Though, I’d totally settle for hanging out with her in hopes that her ferocity and beauty would rub off on me,” Sloan says. “Truly, though, I’m doing this because I’m passionate about the stories I have to tell and the way that I can connect with people on a level I didn’t even know existed.
“I’m so lucky that on more than one occasion, I’ve had people come up to me after a show to explain just how much a certain song of mine resonated with them and their story. It’s a really special thing to be a part of. If that’s fame, I’m all about it.”
And beyond “Bloom,” and graduation?
“For now, I don’t have big plans other than returning home for a week or so in the summer to teach music theory and rock band at SPACC with St. Thomas Playhouse,” she says.
In the fall, she will choose Seattle or San Francisco “to chase my dream, but I have a little bit of time to decide which city will steal my heart next, so I’m just going to enjoy the ride.”
Get your ‘Bloom’ on
Right now, you can download digital copies of ‘”Bloom” at stephsloan.bandcamp.com and at iTunes. Hard copies of the CD are available at the website stephsloanmusic.com.