With the imminent release of her sophomore EP First Move on the horizon, STACEY is a Toronto-based singer-songwriter that should be on your radar right now. Her lush and cinematic songs manage to sound both classic and sharply contemporary at the same time, but carve out her own very unique sound. Her latest single (and video) is for the retro, synth ballad “It’ll Be Alright”, which will have you dreaming of California sunsets in absolutely no time.
We sat down with STACEY on a sunny Dundas West patio to talk about the importance of vibes (especially California ones), her upcoming EP and what inspires her.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
Into The Airwaves: So, let’s talk about your new single, “It’ll Be Alright”. It has this excellent 50s/60s kind of vibe, but all the hallmarks of a contemporary dream pop song. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the track?
STACEY: I was kind of flailing and going through a weird time in a number of ways, and I kind of felt like I needed to go away and take a little trip. I went to California for like a week and half maybe, a few years ago and I had this really cool Silver Lake Airbnb and it was really great. They had a little pool and this guest room above the pool where I could see the skyline. It was ceiling to floor windows. It was beautiful out there. I lugged my keyboard out there (up like 4 flights of stairs), and the people I was staying with were musicians, so they had everything I needed to get set up. I wrote that song while I was out there on piano. It was actually going to be a little bit more of a mellow song. I just want everyone around me to feel good and be happy and to be comforted if they’re going through a hard time, but I’m like the opposite to myself.
Into the Airwaves: It’s funny how that works sometimes.
STACEY: I know a lot of people are like that too. Sometimes you forget to not be so hard on yourself, and that it’s going to be okay. Those are the words that I would say to someone else, so I tried to take myself out of my own situation and just kind of talk to myself as if I was someone else. And I think it just kind of came that way. I wrote it in that week, it was pretty quick.
Into the Airwaves: Is that your writing process, generally?
STACEY: Everything so far has been grounded by some kind of personal situation. I might accentuate here and there, but yeah, everything is very personal. And that’s why this whole thing is kind of scary. It feels very much like just opening your diary and like, printing it out onto a billboard and saying “Hey look over here!”
Into the Airwaves: How much did the geography of being in California play into the writing of that song as an inspiration?
STACEY: Honestly, I am so susceptible to my environment, and I’m a sponge for vibes. I think that’s why, that synth line – I think that was definitely inspired by the California sunset and the way that the sun feels. Like every day you wake up and you walk out, and it’s so beautiful out. It’s like this soaring synth line – that’s what that feels like in a sound for me. When I was writing in my living room in my old apartment in the winter, you would get songs that reflect that. I’m very sensitive to what’s going on in my life, where I am. The songs are very much a parallel for all of those factors combined.
Into the Airwaves: The music video for “It’ll Be Alright” has some really great imagery. Can you talk a little bit about that process?
STACEY: So, I really love fashion from the 50s and 60s. I’m a vintage lover, I just go and shop. Those are all my clothes. I’ll know that this or that will be good, and it’s a pretty organic and intuitive process. Every element of that video came together really naturally, and the way that it’s shot, that’s Laura Lynn Petrick. She’s just so talented. We sat together and she was nice enough to let me sit with her through some of the edits. I’m very hands on, so there are times where we were sitting there at like midnight, and I’m like “Move this over off the beat for half a second” [laughs]. She was very kind to entertain me and not get too frustrated.
Into the Airwaves: So, when I was watching the video, I couldn’t help but notice some really cinematic vibes, maybe even a David Lynch-esque cinematic feel. This got me thinking about the relationship between music and film/TV. Your songs have also been placed in a few TV shows, like Orphan Black and Wynonna Earp. What is that process like for you as an artist?
STACEY: Honestly, to me, that’s one of the coolest parts about doing this. That’s so cool to me as a kid that grew up watching The OC. I think as a musician now, I definitely notice soundtracks and a good song placement. I know that’s it’s really lucky to get those placements. I’m still independent, I don’t have a team behind me – I do absolutely everything. Obviously I rally people to collaborate with for videos, and you obviously need more people to make things go, but I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a label. I don’t have any of those things. So, when something like that comes in, it’s some reassurance that you’re on the right track, these songs are good enough to be placed here. Also, my taste is that I really gravitate towards really cinematic songs, really luscious, really grandiose kind of epic moments in songs. I’m lucky that the vibe kind of fits.
Into the Airwaves: If you could place one of your songs in any movie ever, where would you want to place it?
STACEY: That’s a good question. Maybe like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In terms of goals and aesthetics, the Great Gatsby would have been awesome. In terms of fit and goals, I think that 50 Shades of Grey could have been cool, or like Twlight. I would love a Twilight placement, I don’t care [laughs].
Into the Airwaves: When I first heard your cover of “Build Me Up”, I couldn’t help but notice that your voice feels like it comes straight out of that era. Do you draw a lot of inspiration from that era of music?
STACEY: I have a playlist of like 50s/60s/70s music that I’m going through now to do more covers. I was working on one last night. That’s like what I listen to the most – I like a good modern pop song, but I find that I have better luck if I put on a retro playlist. I love the vibe as opposed to when I put on a Viral 50 playlist, the vibe’s just not for me. It’s funny because my mom always just had the radio on, my parents weren’t super musical, relatively speaking. I grew up listening to music on the radio in the 90s.I didn’t really come to all of the classics like Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, all those amazing classic people, until I was probably 20. So, I’m just been obsessing over all of that for the past couple of years, and I feel like I’ve been making up for lost time. This is the time where I’ve been working on my own music for my own project – I played piano growing up but I wasn’t really writing or singing very much until I was like 20 and not even professionally until I was 23. And being so sensitive and susceptible, that’s been what I’ve been listening to for the majority of my 20s.
Into the Airwaves: Do you find that you listen to music in a different way as a musician?
STACEY: That’s changed over time as I’ve made and recorded songs. Like, a few years ago, I could pick out the lead guitar parts and other things that are obvious. But, now, I’m trying to hear all of the things that are going on as opposed to the sum of the parts. I think the average person can listen to the sum of the parts and think something is good, but don’t necessarily know why. But as I’m trying to be a stronger songwriter, it’s my job to know why. Now, I can sit, listen to music, pick out the bass line, notice an interesting change, and deconstruct things. The more you do that, I think, hopefully, the better your songs are going to get.
Into the Airwaves: You mentioned you were working on another cover, how do you choose what songs to cover?
STACEY: I’m right in the middle of that process, so I haven’t chosen a song yet. I have a list. It’s kind of two things: one, I want to do something that’s recognizable enough for people, but obviously I have to like the song. Number two, I want to be able to put my own spin on it. On “Build me Up”, it came very naturally and all those chords were so different – they’re all minor, but you still sing the main melody. I’d never heard it done that way. It was done accidentally – I was actually playing the chords wrong – I wasn’t trying to do that, it just sort of happened and thought that sounded good. That song sort of set a precedent where I feel like I did a good job because I was able to really flip it on its head. If you can really change it and provide a new perspective for the song, then that’s a strong cover. If people are listening to it and are like “Oh, I didn’t realize that this song is actually really depressing”, that’s a good cover.
Into the Airwaves: Let’s talk about your upcoming EP, First Move. What was that writing and recording process like?
STACEY: It’s a 5 song EP and I worked on it the last two years. It’s been a long process. I made my first EP, and released it in 2013, made a little remix EP in 2014 and I was thinking that I’d be able to quickly release another one. I just ran into some issues. I didn’t have the right producer fit. That first EP was easy because it was mostly piano and I didn’t know what I wanted, and didn’t know who I was really as an artist. This time around, I had more songs and wanted more production, but didn’t really know what that was. I made an EP, it was kind of a little bit all over the place, so I scrapped it and I didn’t know how to find a new producer. I ended up working with Alan Day, who plays in this punk band Four Year Strong and he messaged me on Instagram. He found me in his Discovery playlist, liked my songs, and was interesting in producing more. He was coming into town on tour, so I met him and Derek (Hoffman) at Derek’s studio that day and we recorded “First Move”. I took it home and I sat on it, and I was like “This is it. This is definitely the direction.” They totally understood me and my references, and we nailed it. So we went back two months later and did the rest of the EP. That was last January (’16), and I did some mixes in May and ended up bringing in some other people to help with vocal harmonies and other stuff, which was very minimal but made me feel like it was more “done”. Mixing took it to this January (’17), so it took a year to finish. I spent all of last year working on shooting videos and album art. It’s been a long haul.
Into the Airwaves: Do you have a favourite song on the EP? Or are they all your babies and loved equally?
STACEY: They’re all different for me. They serve different purposes, and each one has a different emotion. It’s so hard to choose one. I don’t know if I have a favourite. I think that “First Move” is the strongest, most accessible song. It’s done well so far (as a single). “Trouble Is” is kind of cool because the words sort of tumble out in this way as if I’m just talking to someone and I just had to get it out. I think it’s the most unique. Also, “It’ll Be Alright” has this tempo change that everyone thinks is cool, but it was an accident so I can’t take credit for that [laughs].
Into the Airwaves: Have you been able to road test these songs yet? How was that been?
STACEY: These songs are the first time that I’m playing with a full band and sort of leaving the keyboard behind. I was playing solo for a while with my piano, and so it’s a cool change. It’s a very time pivotal for me as an artist and as a performer. It’s been really exciting to test drive it. The first show with a full band was actually at the Christmas Market in the Distillery District. That was cool and it went really well and then the Silver Dollar, and the recent shows in LA. I’ll probably have a few more in Toronto (after the release show on September 20th at the Drake Underground).