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Becca Stevens

A Separate Plane: An Interview with Becca Stevens

15 July 2016 Tom Faber

Becca Stevens is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who has won wide acclaim for her warm, complex compositions situated somewhere between pop, jazz and folk. She’s playing at Lauren Laverne’s Wonder Women series at Shakespeare’s Globe next week, and we caught up with her before the big day.

London Calling: You’re coming to London soon for Wonder Women at Shakespeare’s Globe. What attracted you to the concer?
 
Becca Stevens: I’ve been a huge Shakespeare fan ever since I was a kid, so the idea of performing at that space is really cool.
 
LC: It’s unusual to be a Shakepeare fan as a young kid.
 
BS: My parents used to take me to see performances at the Shakespeare festival in North Carolina. A lot of the cast members there also performed in the Christmas Carol that we were in every year, so we would go and see these productions and see our friends onstage. Some of the content went over my head – even as an adult there are parts of Shakespeare that are difficult to follow on your first listen – but I remember always appreciating the rhythms and the sound of it.
 
LC: Poetic theatre dialogue is not miles away from writing lyrics.
 
BS: It’s similar. With lyrics you have to find the amount of syllables and fit it into a melody, with Shakespeare it’s already there. Before I knew about the number of syllables in a line I was hearing something, picking up on something different. Probably I would’ve said at that age, “mommy, why does this sound weird?” It sounds like people reading song lyrics as if they’re speaking.
 
LC: When you write new songs, do you tend to start with the music or the lyrics?

BS: It depends on the song. The most natural approach for me would be to start with the music but different songs surface in different ways. Sometimes I’ll challenge myself to start a song in a way I’ve never tried before to get different results.
 
LC: You’ve also performed a lot of covers on your records, from unexpected artists like Frank Ocean, Seal and Animal Collective. How different does it feel to arrange or perform your own music compared to a cover?
 
BS: I love to arrange covers because when I work on them there’s a lightheartedness. Regardless of the tone of the song there’s a sense of familiarity. I’m aware that the majority of the music that I write is not familiar. If anything it’s a bit heavy and strange and so I think having that aspect of familiarity makes it inviting, like a gateway drug.
 
LC: When you’re performing a cover, do you feel that you make that song your own?
 
BS: The goal is to make it your own without jeopardizing the integrity of the original. I want to tell the story with my voice without squashing the story that’s already been told.
 
LC: When someone writes a song, do they own it?
 
BS: I don’t want to get too philosophical or spiritual about this, but I don’t think we can really own songs. Legally there’s the person who owns the copyright, but as far as art in general, it’s coming from somewhere beyond us. It always exists there because you can’t hold it in your hands, it exists on a separate plane that reaches everyone and no one.
 
But that said, I would still be upset if someone played one of my songs and said that they wrote it. I’m not saying that we don’t take ownership, but I think we don’t truly own it.
 
LC: You’re also writing a new album, Regina. Tell me about it.
 
BS: Regina is Latin for queen. I wanted to make a record whose theme was the word ‘queen’ in some way. One song is made up of quotes from Freddie Mercury interviews. But the original inspiration started with Elizabeth I. I had a late night Wikipedia session on her. I was reading about that era and I got sucked into the rabbit hole of Elizabeth and the mysteries surrounding her life. Like her virginity and the supposed love affair with Robert Dudley.
 
LC: What do you enjoy doing when you’re in London?
 
BS: Aside from playing music for the awesome audiences there? Drinking tea with milk in it. Going to the thrift stores. I love walking around. I love just talking to people there. Everyone’s really nice.
 
Becca Stevens is playing on Monday 18th July at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe. Book tickets online.
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