Q&A1234: Stephen Dawes

Stephen Dawes is focused around building a community for his music. The man simply doesn’t stop. Whether it’s creating TikToks and Instagram Reels to build his following to give his music a chance to reach the audience it truly deserves, or putting on live shows that people go wild for (and rightly so might I add). He’s an artist on the rise who’s been proving himself with every track he’s dropped and he certainly isn’t stopping with this momentum anytime soon. I had the pleasure of chatting with him about songwriting, his viral success and his favourite Katy Perry lyric in this edition of Q&A1234

How’ve you been this week? All good?

It’s been super great, just got back home to San Francisco a couple of days ago. The weathers been super nice, been able to go outside for a bit which is sweet.

For anyone who hasn’t stumbled across your music before how would you describe it without using any genre terms?

Tough question, I like it though because I know a lot of people are saying these days that genre is a thing of the past. I’m really into saturation and distortion. I feel like a lot of the music I like has parts that are super clean and then have a lot of distortion. The music I love and want to make is the stuff where it’s so clearly made super intricately on a laptop, like you can kind of imagine them dragging and dropping each of the audio clips. That’s the music I create.

I believe you started writing music in the fourth grade if I recall, I was curious about A) what you wrote about and B) who was it that got you into songwriting that young?

My parents are super into music and I’d always been writing music my whole life. I was always making stuff up on piano and in the fourth grade we got given an assignment where we could write a song, so I did about a book Island of the Blue Dolphins. It wasn’t super structurally sound, I mean I was in fourth grade, but I realised that it was pretty fun and started doing it more in my free time.

When I got to high school I joined the Jazz band and that had me learning about music theory and the educational side of it. Sophomore year I took a break, got into film and photography then got back into it in Junior year, I even got an Ableton at the end of it. I tried Logic but it felt like there was a seperation between you and what you’re making, but Ableton feels so much closer and after the first month it feels so perfect compared to Logic. Then I dropped my first song and it all felt real.

And from your first song to Losing you which got a huge reaction on Instagram Reels and Tik Tok. Can you remember when you started sharing the content this way? And I know a lot of TikTokers have said it feels quite mundane to upload content consistently to keep people fresh, how do you keep it fun for yourself?

My whole friend group was making music because we were all doing the same major at NYU. I kept finding music on TikTok I was enjoying, I’d already been posting but inconsistently but my friend Isabella was big on the app and was doing these big vocal challenges. She told me to stick with it, be consistent even if you get 60 views. I began doing it all the time in October, in December I began writing Losing You and not too much later it got that reaction.

I think for keeping it fresh, every time I get bummed about TikTok I think about how much easier it is to get traction now because of it. I adore performing, but the ability to share music from the comfort of your own space is such a blessing. It’s truly incredible to share it from your bedroom.

With all this viral success has their been a moment where you’ve had to pinch yourself because of what just happened?

I feel like when you’re surrounding by people who have success on TikTok you forget how many views you’re getting. Some people might see 10,000 views as nothing but it’s so many people, I’d of been so happy with that a couple of months ago. We kind of disregard that number, my friend Hannah Hill even got one with 6.6 million which is so many people! It’s crazy.

On top of all that Teenage Dream has had a huge reaction from your fanbase. It’s coming out soon, is there anything you want people to take away from your version of this Katy Perry track?

It’s so funny, this year I spent so much time listening to the Benny Blanco era of Katy Perry and I rediscovered the Teenage Dream song. The lyrics are so well written, I sat down with my acoustic guitar and was like ooooh this is kind of cool. One of my big inspirations is Ritt Momney who did a cover of Girl Put Your Records on and I was in awe of it. I wanted to release a cover for a while to show people another side of me and its been my biggest one to date and I’m so excited about it. Katy Perry is one of my favourite pop musicians, I will defend my take on that because she has so many hits. Benny Blanco is one of my favourite producers too so it’s crazy to think I’m releasing a song where he’s technically on the writing of the track. The end has this cool distortion part, M83 vibes and when it was finished I was so happy with it.

With Katy Perry being one of your favourite pop artists, what lyric of hers do you love the most or feel the most connection to?

I know this song gets a little bit of hate, but I Kissed A Girl is so good. Right when the song kicks in with “this is not the way I planned, not my intention” it’s so good from a production standpoint and a lyrical one. It’s so memorable and as an intro it’s so good. It’s the same with Teenage Dream too, the guitar riff in that is one of the best guitar riffs in pop for me. Man Katy Perry is so under-recognised because she has songs that are so iconic.

You also had a live show a couple of months back. How was it to finally perform live after the pandemic? Was the rush still there?

I’ve never performed before, music was very much an in the bedroom thing for me. After sharing it on social media I was more interest in the idea of performing it to people live. I was expecting to be nervous but after the first show I was hooked, I was scared I would like it but I actually really enjoyed it! There’s some videos around some of the performances too of me and some friends in the crowd dancing with the final song, it was so much fun.

If you could have anything in the world right now what would it be?

This is going to be such a cop out but I’m pretty content with where I’m at right now. I was thinking about this earlier that I just pasted 100,000 listeners on Spotify, which was such a big goal for me and I didn’t take time to take that in. You’re always reaching for something more. Actually one thing I’d love to do is a track with my friends Mercer and Hannah. I want something on Spotify that’s a collaboration between us because we’ve spent so much time writing music together that’d it be cool to have a track that’s fully us.

Is there any piece of advice that you’ve been given that you’d like to pass onto others right now?

I go to school for music business technically, one of my favourite things from this year is connecting people with certain people. Connect people to others and you’ll be connected to others. Fortunately we had Blake Slatkin to talk to us at the beginning of the year and he gave this piece of advice, build your community of people that are on the same level as you, doing the same things as you and are in the same space as you. That’s how you’re going to find success. You’re not gonna find it reaching for people so above you. Build a community of people who’re all going through what you’re going through and it all becomes so much easier when you’re dealing with it together.

What’s next for Stephen Dawes?

If only I knew! I would really like to release an EP, I’ll tentatively say I’ll drop one in Summer but there’ll be another single before that. Teenage Dream wasn’t even meant to be a release but it had such a reaction that it kind of just happened.

Who’re you counting in?

Mercer and Hannah Hill, they’re making the coolest music and I’m happy to be apart of it. Jacob Maul, he’s got a song called online girlfriend, he’s one of my favourites. Ayleen Valentine is so cool too. One more is 2 star, his song bleach is so great. He played it at our end of year showcase and it was amazing.