Stevie Jean drops her debut album ‘The Dark’: “It’s a little less angsty and finger-pointing”

The singer-songwriter on growing older and holding yourself accountable, how Darwin is a"good breeding ground for authenticity" and more

Today (May 14), Stevie Jean has released her debut studio album ‘The Dark’.

The 12-track collection follows on from her two previous EPs in 2019: a solo effort, ‘Blame Game’, and a collaborative effort with rapper Tasman Keith titled ‘Evenings’. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter bunkered down in the tumultuous first half of 2020 to make the album alongside producer James Mangohig, aka Kuya James. The end result is a reflection on a wide spectrum of emotions, all of which fall under the umbrella of what Jean calls “the dark”.

“I was always scared of the dark as a kid,” Jean explained in a press statement for the album. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved it too. So many shattered pieces of glass emotions… can be pulled apart and made clinical to examine and explain. Personally, I’m someone who feels deeply on an extreme scale.”

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Ahead of the album’s release, Darwin native Jean spoke to NME from her new home of Melbourne to discuss the inner workings of this all-important debut effort.

Obviously, this record has been quite a long time coming for you. Can you trace back to the initial points where you realised you were onto something in terms of creating a start-to-finish record? Were the songs written with the larger piece in mind, or did that only make sense once you pasted these songs with separate contexts together?

“Whenever I write, it’s usually just because I feel like I need to write and then later, I’ll see if it fits together in some way. I’m always writing, but not necessarily with an album in mind. I love albums, though – I think they’re the coolest thing in the world. I’m always thinking from an album perspective, but I don’t necessarily write from it. I just write when I need to write.”

You wrote these songs between the ages of 17 and 20, and you’re 21 now. Even though it doesn’t feel like that long ago, a lot can change in a couple of years. How do you connect with songs from an earlier point in your life? There’s a challenge in bringing older songs into your current context – has your relationship with them changed?

“Not with this particular record. My previous two EPs that I released? Yes. [laughs] They’re from quite awhile ago. ‘Blame Game’, I wrote that between the ages of, like, 14 and 17. Nowadays, I’m just like, ‘Please don’t make me play ‘Hell in Every Religion’ ever again’. [laughs] I’m not 15 and scared of the church anymore! So no, not with this record. This record all still feels very relevant to my life and a little less angsty. [pauses] Angsty? Is that the right word? Yeah, a little less finger-pointing.”

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Do you feel that’s just something that comes with age? Or was there anything in particular that prompted that shift creatively for you?

“I think there’s a big difference between seeing the world as a 15/16-year-old and seeing the world after that point – even from 17 onwards. The older you get, the more you realise things. The world’s a messed-up place, but if you point the finger at people then you just lose your power. I think the older you get, the more you hold yourself accountable and the less you really care about certain things.”

Darwin is having a moment as a real hub of creativity. It was one of the first places to open up again after the pandemic hit, and a lot of great music has been coming out of there the last few years. You’re not living there anymore, but do you feel having that community and having that background plays into what you’re doing as an artist – particularly in relation to this record?

“For sure. I always say this when people bring this sort of thing up: Darwin isn’t really big enough to have cliques. There aren’t, like, different music scenes inside of the music scene. There’s just one music scene. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? You don’t really go in, slot in somewhere and then write that kind of music. You make music without genres in mind – at least, that’s what I’ve noticed. In the NT, it’s more about expressing yourself than anything. It’s too hard to pretend that you’re anything you’re not. I mean, it’s too hot up there – nobody can really wear makeup. [laughs] Yeah, I think it’s a good breeding ground for authenticity to show.”

‘The Dark’ is quite a musically diverse effort, on that note. Was there any degree of reticence in terms of how you were approaching these songs sonically with your collaborators?

“I just like what I like. I don’t really think too much about that. I get to play with a lot of musicians that I’m a massive fan of, which is incredible. Making this album was like a dream collaboration. I co-produce most of the music I release, so it was me and [Kuya] James in the lab, producing everything. I write my chords and stuff, but we got the guitar outsourced to a man named Benjamin Edgar. He was recording in Germany and sending over lots of different parts. We also recorded with Myka Wallace on drums, and we had Miggy Zamba – who’s actually a really good friend of mine, I used to play with him in bands when I was 15/16.

“It was just so fun, because it was just me and James in the studio with all of these different stems coming from all of these different corners of the world. You just build what you want out of them. You’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool’, or ‘I’m gonna make that louder’, or ‘I’m gonna make that quiet’. Maybe you’ll cut that out, maybe you’ll make this part big. You can just pick out little bits of things and make them into motifs. It’s the best part of making music, the producing. To me, there’s nothing better.”

“The world’s a messed-up place, but if you point the finger at people then you just lose your power”

The album is under your name and inextricably tied to you. As you’ve shown, however, there are a key group of collaborators and people that you’ve worked with on this record. One can imagine there’s a real element of trust at play there.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of trust. At the same time, though, when you’re in a producer’s seat you feel a little bit more in control. I never had to stop and think about trust, because I was like, ‘They send me the stems and then I just pick what I want out of it’. It’s a lot of trust to share those personal feelings with people, for sure. I’m also a chronic over-sharer, though. [laugh] I dunno, I just love interesting people – and on this record, I worked with a lot. I’m getting to play with two of them on Thursday night at my gig. That’s just so cool.”

That show is happening in Melbourne – how has the move been for you so far?

“Yeah, it’s been good. It’s fun. People think that the NT doesn’t have sealed roads, and that’s a lie. That said, I never lived in suburbia before. Now that I’m in Ascot Vale on the north side, I can just skate everywhere. I love it. That’s been probably the biggest highlight of the move.” [laughs]

Are you already sensing any kind of parallels and contrasts between the music community there and the music community back in the NT?

“I’m not so sure just yet. I’ll need to tell you that in about six months. So far, I’ve found Melbourne really welcoming. I’ve been rolling with some Melbourne crew lately; I’ve been invited out to gigs and stuff and that’s been really lovely. That kind of reception and friendship and support would be probably the biggest parallel. People just want to love and help each other out. The only thing that sticks at the moment is people can tell that I’m not from here. You can tell who isn’t a city kid if they thank people for coffee, like, three times. The barista is just like, ‘Bro, just take the coffee and leave me alone! I’m so busy!'” [laughs]

Stevie Jean’s album ‘The Dark’ is out now

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