Gymnast turned piano focused singer-songwriter Stefany Bryan joins us for some yummy organic goodness at Culver City, CA cafe Destroyer to chat about her debut album The Death Of The Songwriter, the double standards that women in music face, and her decision to trust her heart in her new musical journey.
You’re riding the highs of the recent release of your debut album The Death Of the Songwriter! Congrats lady!
Stefany Bryan: Thank you!
Would you care to share with us a little bit of insight as to what inspired the songs lyrically and instrumentally?
Stefany: Yeah! Well in general, all my songs are basically forms of therapy for me, but also kind of give me a chance of exposing a more vulnerable side of myself. A lot of people don’t get to see all sides of me, especially as a personal trainer, you kind of have to put on a certain face, you know? A lot of times my songs will stem from an incident involving me being really upset and emotional, like, a single instance or something that’s accumulated over time, and then I’ll just turn into a song. That’s why I kind of like to joke that my songs are ‘sad girl songs’ or like, me just being moody. *laughs* It’s really just the sad side of Stefany Bryan!
But we need to see the sad sights though! It shows you’re a real person, and a lot of the greatest songs come from sadness.
Stefany: For sure!
And which song would you say was your favorite to write and record? If there’s two separate songs.
Stefany: Definitely my favorite to write was “I Don’t Look Like Her.” A lot of my other songs are a little bit more cryptic and more ambiguous, but this one was very straightforward, like, you can tell exactly what it’s about. It’s like, ‘This is how I felt, and I’m putting it all out there.’
And good for you on that because a lot of women, and maybe even men too, can totally relate to that type of topic.
Stefany: Yeah. When I tell people the story behind it, they’re like, ‘Yeah, you know what, I would feel the same way too.’ As much as you’re not supposed to feel a certain way because you have to be strong in situations, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, I get it. I would feel that way too.’ Like for me, I take rejection personally, and everyone always says, ‘Oh don’t take it so personally. It’s them, it’s their problem, it’s their loss.’ I get that they’re trying to put it in a good light, but like, you’re just naturally gonna take any kind of rejection personally no matter what. And I think with the recording, I already had it so ready and I was just so ready to release it that it was really easy to record. I think we actually did only two takes of my vocals, and we were like, ‘Ok! Cool! It’s perfect!’ *laughs*
Was “I Don’t Look Like Her” your favorite to record?
Stefany: I would say that was my favorite record, but I also felt like each time I recorded a song, it would all just get better and better, and I would enjoy it more and more. I also really liked working with my engineer. Like, at first I really didn’t know what to do, but working with him just made the whole thing easier. He had all these options and things that you can change on the songs, and I didn’t realize the complexity behind all of it. It was a great learning experience though!
If you had an unlimited budget to do a music video for any song off the album, which song would you choose? And what would your concept be?
Stefany: Ahh! This is like the hardest question out of all, and the reason is because I’m always so torn about music videos. I don’t think there’s ever been a music video where I’ve been like, ‘Yes! This is exactly how I imagined it would be!’ I’ve just never felt super satisfied with the final music video when it comes to songs that I like, you know what I mean? So I don’t know if I want to do a music video. Is that a thing? Can I just not do them? *laughs*
There’s always lyric videos! Then you can do really cool graphics and stuff!
Stefany: Yeah, that’s true. I think when I try to picture myself doing music videos, it’s so hard for me to imagine because I don’t want to box my music into one interpretation. I guess it’s because when you see a music video, you associate the meaning behind a song with the music video.
Or vice-versa. I feel like a lot of people are just so visual now that even if a video is not exactly what you might have imagined it to look like, because you’ve seen it already, sometimes it’s easy to just automatically go to that particular version of it.
Stefany: Right! So I guess I’m not really sure about whether or not I want to do music videos. *laughs*
So if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Stefany: Oh gosh, three artists?
You can do it! I believe in you!
Stefany: *laughs* Ok. Well my favorite band is Local Natives, and I would just love to tour with them because they’re so awesome! I’ve watched them live, and they’re honestly better live than on the album, which is weird because that’s not common.
It’s very rare, especially for pop acts.
Stefany: Yeah. They just have this really great energy, and I’ve loved them since high school, so Local Natives would definitely have to be on the tour. And then I love Ingrid Michaelson. I definitely draw some inspiration from her in my own music, and I love how she just has this amazing control over her voice. I just love listening to it, she’s amazing. I also think I draw a lot of inspiration from Regina Spektor. She’s a lot more piano based, and she released her first album herself also. I’m just like, ‘Ok, if she can do it, then I can do it too.’ I feel like we’re really similar in our styles and how we’re getting our music out there. So I guess those would be the three, and the name of the tour would probably be the name of my album, ‘The Death Of The Songwriter.’ I was thinking I’d be kind of a cool tour name, ‘The Death Of The Songwriter Tour.’
I love it! And kind of going into your influences, you already named a few of them, but clearly you’re very piano based, which is rare nowadays and very refreshing.
Stefany: Aww, thanks!
What other experiences, and also people or artists, inspire you as an artist and why did you choose to go with the piano as your instrumental base camp?
Stefany: I’ll answer the last part first. *laughs* So I chose piano because I was classically trained in it for twelve years. I played piano for a very long time, but it was all about reading music and playing the melody by hand, not singing the melody. That’s really the instrument that I know, and I mean, why not stick with the instrument I know? *laughs* I picked up ukulele when I was in high school, but I haven’t done any of my songs with the ukulele. For me, I think there’s way more options when it comes to piano. There’s so much more you can do with it. And it’s funny because one of the biggest criticisms I get from people, I know that’s a little off topic, is like, ‘Oh, you should learn guitar,’ or ‘Oh, you should get a band, or ‘Oh, you should add more instruments.’
It’s like, ‘Umm, there’s a reason why I’m doing this style of music.’
Stefany: Exactly! Like, the point is it’s acoustic, it’s low key, it’s chill, it’s not a band, it’s me being a singer-songwriter, you know? I think that’s funny, but I think people are just so used to hearing a full band all the time.
Yeah. Especially people here in L.A., we’re so spoiled!
Stefany: Because the music scene is like, everyone’s in a band here.
But even when you’re a solo artist, you still have your band.
Stefany: Yeah. It’s funny because I did try the band thing in, like, high school and middle school. I was in a band and I didn’t like it. I found it really hard to write songs, and now I kind of refuse to have anyone collaborate with me because I really want a be able to make all the decisions myself. But going back to what you said, where I draw my inspirations would be Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson. Like, sometimes I’ll just take a song that I like to play and I’ll take the key and use it for my own music. *laughs* A lot of times I’ll be like, ‘Ok, where do I start? Oh, what’s a song that I like to play on the piano? What key is it in? Let’s use that key and make my own song.’
I mean, when you think about it, there’s only so many keys and notes to work with. *laughs*
Stefany: Yeah, exactly! But you know, it’s hard because there really aren’t a lot of piano-focused musicians. When I was younger, or I guess, really when I was in high school, I remember I really liked Atmosphere because they had piano. I was like, ‘What if I was a female rapper that played piano?’ But then that didn’t work out because I can’t rap. *laughs*
It definitely takes talent to do rap successfully.
Stefany: Yes! *laughs* But hey, Awkwafina is a rapper and she’s Asian! Some people can do it! *laughs*
I always forget that she raps! *laughs*
Stefany: Yeah! Crazy Rich Asians is what everyone thinks about. It’s so funny, so many people have said that I remind them of Awkwafina after they saw that movie. *laughs*
I saw her in Oceans 8 first.
Stefany: I need to see that still!
It’s so great! I loved the cast and the story was fun. It was a good pace. I mean, it’s your standard heist movie, but it’s fun and I know what I’m getting into when I’m watching an Oceans movie. *laughs*
Stefany: True. *laughs* But it’s also gender forward!
Yes! So good! Anybody who’s reading, go watch Oceans 8! *laughs*
Stefany: *laughs* A little recommended movie plug there.
So with the way that modern music listening has been focused on the streaming aspect as well singles based releases and EP styles as opposed to a full length album, why do you think consumers are more likely leaning towards those types of releases and how do you feel as a newer artist whose released an album?
Stefany: I think it makes sense with the way society is, you know. We very much want things right away, we don’t want to wait for them, so it makes sense that singles and EPs are successful. Also, like, in terms of attention span, more people are likely going to like sit and listen to like a fifteen minute EP than a forty-five minute album, you know?
Unless it’s your favorite artist, and then you listen to everything, even if it’s bad. *laughs*
Stefany: That’s true! But how many times have people said, ‘Oh my God, you should listen to this artist,’ and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll look them up,’ and you just never do. *laughs* At least if it’s a shorter release, the likelihood for someone to listen to it I think will go up because, you know, people tell you all the time, ‘listen to this person,’ and then what? Like, how often do you actually go and search that person and look for them?
You have to write them all down because you’ll forget, and then you just end up with this giant list of people that you forget to listen to because you got back to listening to Simple Plan. Oh wait, that might just be me. *both laugh*
Stefany: Same! *laughs* Well, for me, I feel releasing an album is the next step, regardless of if it’s maybe not as conducive to the way that people want to listen to music nowadays, it’s my next step.
And with social media being the most prominent form of marketing right now, do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for independent artists to make a name for themselves?
Stefany: I think that it depends on the person. What I’ve learned is that I’m very bad at self-promotion, but I think if you’re very good at self-promotion, then it’s a really good platform to use. You have to have that confidence to put yourself out there all the time, or even if you don’t have the confidence, you have to be good at pretending that you do have that confidence. That’s really all it takes, and isn’t that what all influencers are anyways?
You fake it till you make it.
Stefany: For real though. It’s really hard for me because I feel like I’m just this tiny fish in the sea, you know, because everybody here is trying to be someone. It’s like, ‘Ok, what makes me different or what’s gonna make me stand out?’
Well for one, your music style.
Stefany: I hope so, right? But how many listeners do I really have right now? Not as many as I would like, and I think part of it is being able to self promote, and it’s just always been hard for me.
Us shy girls!
Stefany: Yes, shy girl life! *laughs*
It’s like, no one cares about my life. Why do I supposedly need to post a billion times a day? *both laugh*
Do you feel that social media also kind of adds on a pressure for artists to constantly have something going on, whether it’s a show or a song or, I don’t know, ‘Here’s my breakfast,’ kind of thing?
Stefany: Oh yeah, for sure! Like, when you’re booking a show, they ask for all your social media links.That’s what they’re going to look at and that’s how they’re going to decide whether or not they want to book you. That’s how they judge you now.
I don’t quite agree with that tactic of booking shows.
Stefany: Oh yeah, but I get it all the time. People are like, ‘Send me your links,’ and I mean, if you look at my links you’ll know that I don’t have a lot of followers. I don’t, like, post my breakfast for everyone to see. It’s hard because you have to pretend like everything you do people will care about, even if they don’t.
As a female musician, you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful.
Stefany: Yeah, I mean the whole ‘sex sells’ thing applies to that for sure. What I think about is this whole debacle with my EP cover, and it took forever for it to get approved because it was like the torso of a man. Even if I tried to post a link to my Spotify with that picture on my Facebook, they’d be like, ‘Yeah, we’re taking it down. It’s inappropriate. I couldn’t even post the actual version that I wanted on Instagram. It was ridiculous! This is literally a man’s torso, and then when you look at all the album covers of female musicians, like, all of them are half naked. They might have a little flower over the nipple or something, but it’s still in the same vein as my cover.
But that also goes into the question of, like, we can sexualize a woman, but not a man?
Stefany: Yeah, it’s not cool at all, and it just shows the double standard of the music industry. But going back to what you said about the standards, I mean, yeah, I guess if I posted the show myself in bikinis and stuff I’d probably have more followers. *laughs* Sometimes I just like to satirically approach the whole situation because it’s me understanding that it’s messed up. It’s like, if I need to be naked for a cover, eh, I would consider it for money. *both laugh*
I mean, you’re a personal trainer so you have nothing to be shy about!
Stefany: Just don’t let my mom and dad see it.
Just don’t tell them, they’ll never find out.
Stefany: They don’t even understand how to get on Spotify, I’m not too concerned. *both laugh*
So the most important question that’ll probably ever be asked, how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Stefany: That’s such a good question. That’s something I always struggle with in general, it’s really hard for me to find a balance. I have a very nonexistent social life. That’s about it, so I don’t really balance it. *laughs* In terms of music and training, because my hours are weird, I do have time to go home. If I’m feeling it, that’s usually when I write my music. I think if you have those waves of inspiration, then you have the time to write the music. Maybe I should, but I don’t. It takes a long time to sit down and write music. I don’t do as much as people say to do it. Everyone is like, ‘You know, you should make that into your job as well’ or ‘You should write everyday for this amount of time,’ but more for me, I kind of like to wait for the inspiration to come. And then if I’m really feeling it, then there will always be time for it.
Yeah. And I mean, you can’t really rush art, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to force it. Maybe, like, to practice everyday could be good, but it’s always going to depend on what works best for you. And if you’re actually trying to take it seriously, then taking the time is better, and we as listeners appreciate it more.
Stefany: For sure!
If you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far with music or in life in general, what advice would you give her?
Stefany: Oh, this is going to be really sad, because I would tell her ‘You should’ve started way sooner.’ Like, when I think about it, it was all there when I started playing piano at like six years old. I had the tools to do more with music, and my whole life when I was growing up, I always had dreams of being a musician and I just never did anything about it. I know partially because gymnastics consumed most of my life, so it’s like, if I put more time into music, I might not have gotten a scholarship for gymnastics and stuff. But I think a lot of the reason why I didn’t fully pursue becoming a musician was because my parents really made me feel like I sucked at singing. They still give me backhanded compliments even to this day with my songs, and I think back then it really got to me and I was like, ‘Shit, maybe I’m not good.’ I think right now at this point in my life, I don’t really care anymore. Even if my parents or my family doesn’t like my music, there’s gonna be someone out there that does, and at least like I can rely on them. So that’s kind of sad, isn’t it? I feel like I was always embarrassed to sing and play piano, so I’d wait for my parents to be out of the house and then I’d sing and play and stuff. And then when they’d come in, I had to stop singing. I mean, I honestly don’t think they were doing it to be hard on me because they didn’t think being a musician is a career. I think they just really didn’t think I sounded good.
At least they still love you.
Stefany: Yes they do. *laughs*
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Stefany: I think in a way, this has been a way for me to show people another side of me. Hopefully they’ll kind of see that there is a more sensitive side to me, and that there is a lot more to me than just what you see on the outside, so hopefully they can see that. You know, we all have these complexities, and music is my way of exposing it. But also, I hope it helps people to take me a little bit more seriously when it comes to music, especially the people who have known me longer, like friends from high school and family and stuff. It’s like, I’ve played piano forever, but that wasn’t the big part of me that they emphasize, it was always me as ‘the gymnast,’ you know? So hopefully some of those older friends that have known me for a long time can see that there is a musical side of me. I feel like I’ve also had a problem of having too many interests in my life, and people tend to just stick to one and then identify me with that one of those interests. But there’s more!
Yeah! There are so many layers! It’s like in Shrek when he says that ogres are like onions because they have layers! We’re not ogres, but we still have layers! Life mantras from the greatest cartoon ever! *both laugh*
Stefany: Oh my God! That’s so great!
And now for our last question! Apart from riding the highs of your debut album, what other big, exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Stefany: So I actually haven’t told a lot of people, but the reason I really wanted to get my album out there is because I plan on moving to Europe.
*gasp* Oh my God! How fun!
Stefany: Yeah! I’m just everywhere. I’m going to take a backpack and buy a one way ticket. I mean, our visas only allow us to be there on travel for ninety days, so I’ll be doing the ninety days in Europe, and then I’m going to probably go to New Zealand. My mom’s from New Zealand, so I’m going to go to New Zealand because you have to wait another ninety days before you go back to Europe. My whole next year is going to be me traveling, so when it comes to music, that’s the thing, I don’t know if I’ll have time to write music while I’m traveling with a backpack. That’s why I wanted to kind of make sure I got everything out of the way before I left, you know?
Well, you’ll be having a great experience! And who knows! You could get inspired from your travels to write a whole new album!
Stefany: Yeah! Definitely hoping for more opportunities for awesome songs in the future!
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