Thursday, January 17, 2019

An Interview with Steffanie Christi'an

photo by Myron Watkins

Music is not a casual thing for Steffanie Christi'an. Melody, tonality, indelible choruses..., she has exceptional technique as any other artist, but few will reach her all-or-nothing exigency. When you hear Christi'an on a record, be it It's Complicated or Way Too Much, you get the feeling that you are in the studio with her, that this is live, that this is real, that this is urgent, that nothing else matters but this song, this next note... It freezes you, this power that she exerts, and it's a graceful berserker mode, an elegant ferocity, from the tenderness of soul to the coarser propulsion of rock.

Presence is the word. That dynamic voice doesn't so much demand full attention, but soars and envelops any space, be it a club of a few dozen or an unceilinged festival in a park full of hundreds to thousands. She keeps that fiery energy on each recording, but it naturally thrives on a stage. She's been making music all her life, strongly intent on following whatever muse she chooses...and that muse is usually inclined to rock n roll, which we'll talk about here.

It's Complicated is completed, and coming out at the end of next month.Tell me about those songs and what the creation process and recording experiences were like..., and how they might be distinguished from the previous release, Out of Time....
Steffanie Christi'an: Ahhhhh. It’s Complicated is the musical baby birthed by myself and Dean Beanz. It is my first full-length LP and I couldn't be happier for people to finally hear it. It has been a labor of love and I am very proud of it in its entirety.  Out of Time and It’s Complicated are completely different while still both very good in their own right. All but 1 of the 4 songs on Out of Time were recorded with my old band FluxPhonic and we had never properly released those songs. Even though the band is no longer together, it was important to me that those songs still had the opportunity to be heard. In all honesty, I have been recording songs for It’s Complicated since like 2010.  When Dean Beanz and I started working together we were just vibing and creating.  It wasn’t until much later that we decided to move forward and create an album. He is an awesome creative all the way around from marketing, design, production and songwriting.  He is a one-stop shop if you know what I mean.  We just work and write very well together and I feel lucky that we found each other. In short though, It’s Complicated, with every song, encapsulates every fiber of my being.

The New Year has begun.... when you look back on the last couple years..., getting to perform at those events for Aretha Franklin, doing the Thanksgiving Day Parade, putting out the album, what are your big takeaways? Or, are you one to look forward, look back, live in the moment?SC: Around a year or so ago, I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen but I decided that it was time that I start performing at more high caliber shows and to be honest, it just started to happen.  Touring with Taylor Mac for two years didn’t hurt either. Performing with him also gave me a lot of confidence to develop my Tina Turner tribute show.  Whatever the case, the past two years showed me that I can accomplish whatever it is I want as long as I put the work in.  It’s counterproductive to doubt my talent. To be honest, I believe I live in a combination of all three.  Whichever situation lends itself best to my sanity at that time, is the one I live according too.

You've got some dates coming up in the summer that take you out of the states and across the pond. Can you talk about what it's like to perform for audiences outside of the states? And how any of those shows on tour compare to a hometown show here in Detroit?
SC: I have the honor of touring as their vocalist with Detroit’s own techno pioneers, Inner City, to celebrate their 30 year anniversary.  I just love performing in general.  The stage is where my heart is and it is always so exciting but also nerve-wrecking to perform in front of audiences outside of the states. While the audience may love the show, there just may be cultural differences and they don’t react the same way someone in the states would. It’s not a good or a bad thing.  Just different. I don’t think I am going to have that problem on this tour though because fans coming to these shows know exactly what they are coming to get.  And every stop on this tour loves techno and loves Kevin Saunderson.  I’m going to be icing on the cake.  It’s always great performing in front of a Detroit audience.  They are always interactive and you can feel the love. It’s been great watching people sing my songs from the stage.  Really, really, great.

What do you think is the biggest source/influence or experience that led to you becoming such a powerful, passionate, give-it-all performer on a stage... Is there something about the live-ness? about an audience? or about music? something else?
SC: My mom loves all types of music and she had me at 15 so when she was going to all these different concerts she totally brought me along.  Since I was a little girl, I have seen it all and live music has always resonated with me. I also watched the birth of MTV and I was glued to the television.  Once I saw the video for Private Dancer by Tina Turner I knew what I wanted to do and she showed me how to do it.  I actually built my stage presence through performing traditional West Afrikan dance all throughout from middle school until I was in my twenties with different dance groups here in Detroit.  When I first started to professionally write and record songs, it was just me and a guitar.  The first time I recorded with a full band something seriously happened inside of me. I came alive.  I changed in that studio and my voice and presence has never been the same. On that note, I’m super socially awkward and when I’m on stage, I can be whomever I want and all that awkwardness goes right out the window. I guess at the end of the day, I could say being on stage is a total release. When I’m on stage, my alter ego Grace Guns is the one you’re seeing.

I recently spoke with The War & Treaty, and they talked about how their new material was going more toward the direction of Americana and Rock..., but that they were anxious about what the reaction might be, saying that it seemed like they've essentially been initially hemmed into the soul or gospel category by now. Did you encounter anything like that within the rock world, or do you have any advice for anyone who is eager to experiment with their genres? 

SC: I have been asked this question before and it’s such a conundrum because I just find it ridiculous that it even has to be asked! Rock music doesn’t belong to anyone and if you want to get technical, we all know who invented Rock and Roll.  Music is universal and I just find it disheartening when ANYONE feels put into a box.  Rock music is not a gimmick for me.  My mother was punk rocker with a purple mohawk and wore safety pins as earrings and yes she was black!  I grew up listening to The Clash, Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zepplin and many others.  It’s just who I am and I’ll be damned if anyone thinks they can tell me what kind of music I can enjoy or create because of the color of my skin.

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