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Introducing… Rhona Stevens

Rhona Stevens discusses her debut single Melanin

After spending the last few years crafting and developing her sound, Glaswegian newcomer Rhona Stevens now looks to blow us away on her fresh and vibrant debut single Melanin.

Taking her cues from the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Lianne La Havas, and Chet Baker, Melanin makes for a wonderfully bright and soul-infused introduction to her sound. Filled with laid-back hooks and her own intoxicating vocals at the helm, this initial offering sets the stage for an incredible year ahead.

So with the new single available now, we wanted to find out more about her background as well as what we can expect from her in the future.

Hi Rhona, how are you today?

Doing great thanks. It’s been a day full of remote arranging some new material via Zoom. Feeling pretty energised to be making music in live time- regardless of it being through a screen. 

For those that haven’t heard of you yet, how would you best describe your sound and who have been your biggest influences so far?

This is a difficult thing to pin down! I think because the music I make is influenced by a variety of genres that’s the end result: mixed. I’d say as a rough ballpark it sits within alt/indie with reference to jazz and folk. My background is in folk so I suppose subconsciously there could be a fair presence of that in my song delivery. 

My biggest influence is my community, the artists around me; their dedication and continual graft, especially throughout the past year. Watching my friend’s unwavering dedication to music, because it makes them and the audiences to whom they share with feel good and connected is something to marvel at and take positive influence from. Being surrounded by hard working people, pushing against the odds, and government’s blatant lack of support to recognise music as a viable living is what really pushed me towards releasing my own material, formally. 

At the heart why I chose the middle of a pandemic to launch a solo venture is mainly owed to what I believe music represents. Throughout the past year, what matters most has been put into perspective. Ultimately, I believe a fundamental is connectivity. In a year devoid of tactility, music as a language; energy; spirit, and vibration, it is the next best thing to human touch and connectivity. To pour energy and nurture into music for sharing translates that thought process. 

You are also from Glasgow, can you tell us how the music scene there has influenced your sound?

Glasgow is such a hub for music. It is truly the heart of the city and is the reason I stay – even the constant, cold drizzle can’t put a dampener on Glasgow’s music energy. Practically all of my memories and associations to the city are through music-related events and/or food which is probably a pretty resounding review of what living here is like. There’s so much history here, musically. I think the thing which sets it apart is the encouragement of its residents, Glasgow folk love a party and to celebrate- especially when there’s music involved. 

Specific to influencing sound, there are outrageous jazz, folk, and alt scenes happening here. Best of all- its often within the setting of a humble jam session or in small venues for very reasonable ticket costs. This makes music really accessible and it possible to cross between different styles, learning from each other’s backgrounds. 

These sessions are truly the best way to have an immersive music education. In real time you get an idea of what engages people, how chord progressions, melodic movement and patterns, tempo and rhythm interplay; consequently, creating a mood and visceral response from both the musicians themselves and the punters (like me) listening and observing. There’s so much to learn through watching and listening. 

For me, music is about sounds rather than notes so the best way to learn is to immerse myself in it. I think most of my learning and music influences have happened through osmosis; feeling things out. This can be a bit difficult to translate when collaborating with musicians who prefer to work to charts and manuscript. However, I think – for me at least – works in favour of song potential; for a more individualistic flair.

I work closely on tracks with a good friend of mine, Euan McLaughlin. He’s been brilliant to collaborate with over the last year as similarly to me, enjoys such a variety of genres. He often plays quite a big part in the textures added to arrangements. 

You have just released your debut single ‘Melanin’. Can you tell us how that track came about? What is the story behind it?

I have found so much comfort indulging in feel good songs as a way of keeping in touch with the fun elements we normally are able to celebrate freely which is why I chose to start with ‘Melanin’. It’s relatively simple in its form, approachable, and relatable. I wanted to start out with an intention that lots of people could identify with. Hopefully Melanin serves its purpose: to simply bring comfort and positivity. 

It was written last January during a snowstorm. Fed up of the Scottish climate, I decided to write a song about an opposite reality from the one I existed in. Melanin is an unusually straightforward song for me – something that will become more apparent as I release more of the material I’ve been working on over the past year. 

We’d actually set a week of recording in the diary for the week that ironically coincided with lockdown being introduced to the UK back in March. As such, recording was delayed to September and was done in stints rather than live- as initially planned. The more restrictions, complications, and delays added to the recording schedule, the more appropriate it seemed to release a song simply referring to escapism as the debut. 

And was there a particular style you were going for when you wrote it?

I was feeling super drained by how much winter can drag. It’s such a difficult time of year. It was a case of either sitting moping about how I felt or do something productive which takes the focus away from the negative. All I had in my mind was ‘I want to write about something which isn’t this, something that feels good and light’.

Typically, I have a tendency towards writing much more metaphorically, exploring things pretty specific to my personal experiences and thoughts – sometimes laid bare and other times, fictionalised versions of a truth to tell a good story. 

Melanin was good craic to write. Although I’m indulging my dramatic woes; I am also sort of taking the piss out of myself. See chorus: ‘Baby I just want to feel the sun on my skin’ etc. I think it’s good to be able to sing something with wry conviction; how passionate you can feel about something in the heat of the moment but in the grand scheme of things, the topic matter is really a minor problem. Melanin is intended to be taken with a pinch of salt. 

The song has a little bit of a lazing in the sunshine at a festival during the afternoon sort of feel to it; an image that was only brought to life through the bunch of close friends I got together to play on it. I wanted to keep an organic human element to the song where a little bit of all their personalities stayed in the mix. It makes for a fun sound I reckon.

At the mixing stage there were tracks we referenced for feel. Mattie Foulds who did the mixing really brought that to life! 

The pandemic is still affecting everyone’s plans right now, but what have you got in store for the year ahead?

Some really exciting stuff! I am working in a full-circle way right now. I work freelance to support sustainability in the arts and then put that into the music that I make. I have a single releasing in March, recorded at the same time as Melanin. It’s much more layered than Melanin and has a fuller story both musically and lyrically so I’m excited to release it. 

Currently, there are three more tracks in the works. Luckily, I have been able to go into the studio and start laying these down. 

February will be a busy month finishing off new songs where I’ve collaborated with some really amazing industry specialists. These three in particular will set the tone for an EP I’m beginning to plan and hopefully beginning to start work on after summer. 

This year, my focus is primarily on regular releases and getting my music out there. It’s not an easy feat releasing music in times where gigging isn’t possible; it’s much more difficult for people to get acquainted. 

Making the most out of online capacities, creating a listening base through regular releases so people can get to know me and my music is the best thing to do in the meantime. I have so much quality collaboration opportunities lined up, it’s just a case of seeing them through so watch this space! I am hopeful in the later part of 2021 to return to live gigging as it’s something I love and miss doing but really the main objective is to building a strong discography, networks, and audience base.

And finally, what is the best piece of advice you have for those also looking to release their first record?

Map out all the things you require beyond the actual recording- write out a timeline and costing sheet so you can keep on track if you’re releasing independently. That might seem obvious but in reality, all the nuts and bolts required to set out a good foundation for releasing (present and future) can get a bit confusing. Having everything laid out in terms of what you need, how long it will take, and its cost is really useful and can be a checklist to refer to; rather than trying to recall everything off the cuff.

  • Understand and read up on the ins-and-outs of releasing and distribution requirements as the process is more nuanced than I initially had anticipated. 
  • For example: Setting up a PRS account for royalties and assigned ISRC codes (especially during a pandemic) took more time to process than I thought. 
  • Considering which distributors to go with, what you need from them. 
  • What/who your audience is and how you present your material to those groups visually and sonically. 
  • Knowing and understanding the practicalities before setting a release date make things run much smoother and significantly minimise the stress of releasing!

Rhona Stevens’ new single Melanin is available to stream and download now. Watch the new video for it below.

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