Brooke Stephenson’s latest single, “Backbone,” sounds like driving down a street that goes for miles and miles, no one else on the road, your best friend in the passenger seat, and the radio blasting loud. “When your troubles are overgrown”, Stephenson belts out in the chorus, “I’ll hold you up, be your backbone”. In a time of great uncertainty, this Americana songwriter reminds us of the importance of having one another’s back.
In dreamy vocals over folksy melodies, Stephenson harmonizes out a seamless blend of soul, country and rock n’ roll, an ache in her voice like a nod towards home as she heads into a bright future.
Hailing from the tiny town of Bolton, Connecticut, Stephenson grew up performing in community choirs on local stages. It was the strength and clarity recognizable in her voice that carried her across the country, finally landing in the City of Dreams, the metropolis of Los Angeles.
It comes as no surprise that the young songstress would list musicians such as Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi among her idols. Taking inspiration from the musicians she cut her teeth on, Stephenson captures moments in lyrics and portrays deep longing in the richness of her voice.
“Backbone” is set to be part of Stephenson’s upcoming EP of the same name. A collection of 7 songs detailing the universal vignettes of a 20-something, the EP was produced by John Spiker (Tenacious D) and is set to drop later this year. Stephenson was also excited to work with artists such as Scott Seiver and Alex Palazzo on her newest body of work. However, that is not her first experience collaborating with other major musicians.
Just last year, Stephenson worked side by side with Kelly Clarkson on NBC’s The Voice.
It’s not often that a casting department would reach out to a potential star via sliding into Instagram DMs, but Stephenson’s talent shone through in the videos she’d post and that was exactly how the songwriter ended up on the 17th season of the show.
After quitting her music industry job in Los Angeles and spending her days making her own music, the opportunity to compete on the show came at the perfect moment for Stephenson.
In a blind audition, Stephenson belted out Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” causing Gwen Stafani, Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson to turn their chairs in awe. Kelly complimented Stephenson’s gift of storytelling and her effortless ability to draw an audience into her performance.
Stephenson hopes to use her musical and lyrical gifts throughout the rest of her life, continuously making music that moves its listeners. Whether it be performing at NBA games or local L.A. venues, Stephenson’s passion for music shines through, a flame that will never die. Her premiere EP is only the beginning.
We were lucky enough to chat with Stephenson about her dreams, songwriting process, and plans for the future, as well as get an inside-scoop on her time on The Voice, some of her favorite spots around Los Angeles, and more.
So where did you grow up, and who or what got you into playing music?
I grew up in Bolton, Connecticut, a tiny woodsy rural town. No one in my family is musical, so we are all genuinely curious where my love for music came from. I’d say it was a combination of my love of singing, combined with my parent’s/uncle’s love of rock and classic rock. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and The Beatles, and as I got older, I discovered excellent singers who inspired me, like Bonnie Raitt, Jewel, and Whitney Houston. Singing and songwriting have both always been my outlet. Nothing else tops it.
How long have you been living in LA?
I moved to LA in 2014, and have been living here ever since. My dream in college was to be on the business side of music, and that’s where I started when I first came here. It didn’t allow for much room to be making my own music, so I soon discovered a piece of me was missing.
I see you have your new single, “Backbone,” coming out at the end of the month. Can you talk about the influence and inspiration behind this track?
I am a huge Foy Vance fan, and I’ve always loved his song “Burden”. The hook of that song is “let me carry your burden”. I’ve always wanted to write a song that had that same message, because it is such an important universal feeling. “Backbone” is all about resilience and being there for one another. I wrote it in 2018, but it ended up being very fitting for the chaos that the coronavirus has caused, and how important it is to be there for one another during a global crisis. In regards to the recent uproar regarding injustice on black people in America, most (if not all) music created these days was built from and/or influenced by black culture and music. My song would not be here without black culture and music.
Where was it recorded, and who was involved in its production?
The single is from my upcoming debut EP, also named Backbone, which was recorded at John Spiker’s (Tenacious D, Beck, John Carpenter) studio. John produced the entire album. Some incredible musicians played on it, including Scott Seiver (John Legend, Jason Mraz, Tenacious D), and Alex Palazzo (performed on The Bachelor, America’s Got Talent, The Masked Singer). I am so honored and proud to work with all of these talented people.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I have had several notebooks and random pieces of paper around my house since I was a kid, as well as notes in my phone, of melodies, song seeds, titles, random words – anything that inspires me or that could be song material. They usually come to me when I’m in the middle of something, such as driving, taking a shower, or procrastinating on other work, so I tend to write them down and tuck them away for another time. When I can finally sit down and dig in, I’ll go through my lists and see what inspires me. However, I am usually most inspired to write about my family, or life’s trials and lessons that I have learned in my 29 years.
What artists do you try to emulate in your music?
One artist I try to emulate in my music is surprisingly Beyoncé. I am a huge admirer of her vocal technique. I also incorporate the influences of Bonnie Raitt, Grace Potter, Susan Tedeschi and Whitney Houston. These are five female vocal powerhouses with a lot of grit.
So last year you were featured on The Voice and chosen to be on Kelly Clarkson’s team. What was that experience like, and did you have a relationship with her behind the scenes of the show?
The experience on the show was amazing. I’ll be honest – it was also a rollercoaster of emotions, but I would do it all over again if I could. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot as a singer, but mostly as a performer. I did not have a relationship with Kelly Clarkson behind the scenes of the show. I’m sure when the show first began she had more of a relationship with her teams, but now the show is so big and she’s had two teams of 12 people per year. That’d be a lot on anyone.
Did you find the show to be an authentic and valuable experience, or more on the phony side?
I was expecting the show to be phony. However, it is actually a lot more authentic than I thought. I now can’t watch blind auditions without tearing up, because I remember how exciting that day was for me, and how real the process and emotions are.
What do you hope the next five years will bring to Brooke Stephenson’s musical career?
I’ll be making music until I’m old and grey. It’s who I am. So my goals are simply to be constantly creating my art, and getting my music out there to a real audience who feel something from the music I create. You won’t see followers who have been bought, or anything inauthentic from me. I just hope to move people. Anything after that is just icing on the cake.
What are a few LA establishments you can’t wait to get back to once it’s deemed safe and acceptable?
Oh, so many. I was scheduled to sing the national anthem at The Lakers game at the Staples Center last April, as well as play a set at the Grand Ole Echo show at The Echo, so I’m excited to get those rescheduled. But as far as venues go for shows, I miss going to the Hotel Cafe every couple of weeks, as well as the Troubadour. I’m sure I can speak for all of LA that we hope these historic venues can survive this pandemic, as they provide a musical home and lots of memories for many.