If you are a fan of John Mayer’s smooth vocals and Ben Rector’s soulful sound, you will be a fan of Stephen Day. Day, a Nashville based singer/songwriter, released his debut album “Guess I’m Grown Now” this past year. The album features tracks that make you want to dance and reminisce.
ECHO had the chance to talk with Day about the album, writing, performing and how his journey started.
What can fans expect from your upcoming Fall tour?
The record is pretty heavily produced and manicured in a way that the live performance would not be. We were honestly almost headed towards a four piece – me on electric or acoustic and then a bass player, keys and a drummer. It was pretty simplified, but still very big sounding. Kind of like a rock version of the record.
Do you have a song that you really enjoy performing live?
This is what I was talking about with the studio versions being different than the live versions. There’s a song on the record that’s pretty restrained called “Dreams Tonight.” It’s kind of like a slow chug still moving, but it’s going to be pretty upbeat live – almost rock. It’s going to be fun.
This record is less acoustic than your previous work. Was that something you did intentionally or did it just happen as you were writing?
Maybe a little bit of both. I think some of it was just growing up. When I did my first EP, I had songs and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them, but I knew somebody that could record it. I knew I wanted them recorded and I knew I wanted to make an EP. When I made the first EP, I was like ‘I want to record these songs and see what happens.’ We had my acoustic guitar and then we called people to play on them [songs]. For the first one, it was a little more of like a root-sy, organic jam band vibe almost. Once I started writing for the new record, it was like what are the records I love and how do I make these songs sound like those records? For me, it meant let’s find a way to produce these so they feel like studio versions of the songs. Each part was thought out.
For people who are not familiar with your sound, how would you describe it?
I would definitely put it in a retro-pop category with some soul influence.
What did the creative process look like for this record?
This record was the first time I ever felt like I was sitting down to make a record. I feel like the first EP I did was kind of like a conglomerate of songs I’d been writing since I started playing guitar. This record was the first time I spent a month or two months writing. I’m somebody who has to have a deadline and my manager was like ‘okay we have to make a record.’ And I was like ‘ yeah, that’s what we want to do.’ So she was like, ‘how are we going to make that happen?’ And I was like ‘well, you might have to say we need this done by this time.’ Then we came up with this whole strategy that I would have to write everyday and if I didn’t then I had to pay her ten bucks. It was this little exchange that was honestly super fun. We did it for a month or two months. It taught me to sit down and write every day whether it was good or bad and that’s where the majority of the songs were written for the record- over a two month span. Then after that, we went into the summer and started recording.
Did you find that after writing everyday that writing got easier?
In a way, I definitely got used to the routine. Writing maybe didn’t get easier, but the routine got easier. I got used to sitting down and making myself do it.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a writer from doing that?
Oh yeah! I think so. I learned that inspiration came after I got started. Rather than vice versa.
If you could set up your fans in the perfect environment to listen to “Guess I’m Grown Now,” what might it look like?
I think, for me, a lot of times my favorite records and the music I aspire to make are records that are pretty easy listening. So something that makes you smile or dance or just think when you’re on a road trip or around the house, honestly. Something that can get you moving even when you’re not doing anything. I would say road trip or just sitting around the house.
You were set to play the Wanderland Festival before they chose to cancel it due to Covid-19 concerns. How does it feel to see that your music resonates with people all around the world?
What’s crazy is that it was at the start of the pandemic; so they actually cancelled on us. But we are getting it rescheduled, just like tour. I’m very much looking forward to that. My manager, Maddy texted me a picture of that email the day she got it and I was waking up and I looked at my phone and I was like that’s not real. I took a shower and whatever and I must have texted her back and been like ‘haha that’s spam.’ Then when I looked at my phone again, she was like, ‘it’s real. You’re going to the Philippines.’
Do you remember when you first discovered your love for music?
I was maybe in 7th grade. My Mom had a nylon string acoustic guitar in her closet and I found it one day and I was like, ‘Mom, I didn’t know you played guitar. Teach me something.’ And she taught me the three or four chords she knew and from there I started looking up YouTube videos. I guess my parents thought I had a knack for it and we ended up getting lessons. Pretty much at that point I was really drawn to writing songs, immediately.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Actually, yeah, it’s not the first one, but pretty early on I wrote a song “Cabin Fever.” It honestly might be my Mom’s favorite song still to this day.
Where do you get the inspiration for each of your songs?
Usually, I’m very much inclined to the musical side of songs first rather than the lyric side. So a lot of my songs are melodically inspired. I’ll be trying to write then a melody will come up and catch my ear. A lot of times that melody lends itself to a certain mood or topic that I end up writing about.
What is one quote that you’ve heard or that you go by that you want to ECHO out to the world?
In my favorite movie, Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams’ is the teacher. He has a real heart to heart moment with his students. He just reminds them that words and ideas can change the world. I like to hold on to that idea.
Check out more from Stephen Day here.
A previous version of this article included a date for the Wanderland Festival. The date as not been confirmed.