How would you classify Suntrodden’s sound?
I usually lump Suntrodden into the broader ‘indie rock’ bucket, because that’s the style of music I gravitate towards. Sonically, I try to create an ethereal, laid back atmosphere with the melodies and production. Lyrically, I have a tendency to write from a positive outlook about the challenges I’m encountering either personally or those that I observe. Lately, I’ve started to jokingly refer to it as ‘opt-pop.’
Who are your all-time or current top 5 musical influences?
I’ve gone through a lot of musical phases in my life, but I think the two that have stuck most are the Beatles and Elliott Smith. I can put them on anytime, and it never feels tired. More contemporary acts that stir my creative spirit are Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Tame Impala, Cloud Nothings, and the War on Drugs. Those five acts are all pre-order purchases for me these days.
What do you want fans to take from your music?
Someone told me recently that my music made them feel safe and calm. I don’t really set out to achieve that feeling, but it made me happy that someone found peace in my songs. This record was partially inspired by my own struggles navigating the pitfalls of a digital lifestyle. I find that as the world speeds up, I turn more and more to music for solace. If my music can provide that same feeling to someone else, I’d consider it a success.
How’s the music scene in Atlanta?
The music community in Atlanta is really vibrant. I think it’s partly been spurred by a talented arts community that has developed here over the past few years. That community’s receptiveness to experimentation is really encouraging as an artist, because you have more permission to stretch your band’s identity.
What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing out?
I go to a lot of concerts, so this is a tough one. If I narrow it to three, it’s fourth row for Wilco at the Classic Center Theatre when they were promoting Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, shoved against the stage at the Georgia Theatre for Beck’s Bonnaroo warm-up gig in 2006, and the Flaming Lips at the 40 Watt on the Soft Bulletin tour. All three were in Athens, GA where I lived for several years before relocating to Atlanta. They were also all several years ago meaning I need to get out and catch some more life-altering shows! More recent standout shows I’ve attended were Father John Misty, M83, Diiv, Cut Copy, and the XX.
As for me, I like the immediacy of playing live. You find out pretty quickly which songs are connecting and which ones are falling flat. You figure out the nuances of the song that turn people on and you can pull those strings to keep people engaged. I’ve been focusing on recording for the past year or so for this project, but I’m looking forward to getting these songs in front of people!
Is there a song on III that stands out as your personal favorite?
I think the most meaningful song on III for me is There’s A Place. It went through several iterations, and I’m proud of where it landed. It also set the tone thematically and tonally for the record, so it’s pretty important to the broader context of the EP. The subject of the song nods to a brief encounter I had at a music festival I attended alone where someone asked me if I had ‘lost myself.’ I have no idea what that person meant, but the phrase stuck with me. I wanted to discover what it meant to lose myself.
How have you evolved as an artist over the course of these three EPs?
I think the biggest evolution is how it shifted my approach to songwriting, tracking, and mixing. Prior to this project, I was creating iterative versions of songs I had previously written over the course of several years. I must have 5-6 finished versions of several of them…I got to a point where I was living in the past with those songs rather than being present and capturing the sounds I was passionate about now. The Suntrodden series flipped that mentality and became all about what’s new…oftentimes, brand new with a ‘first guess, best guess’ approach to how the song should be presented. Setting ‘deadlines’ for myself to get these three EPs released in a timely fashion also really pushed me to keep moving and accept some of the lesser-evil imperfections to maintain the project’s momentum.
If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?
Probably Keith Richards – I read his autobiography, and I feel like he’s holding on to a few good stories. I’m pretty sure a few whiskey drinks would pry those loose.
What’s next for Erik Stephansson?
I’ve done some writing and recording for what will likely become the next Suntrodden release. It’s all super-preliminary at this point, but I’m planning to do a full-length record. I’ve got six or seven songs I’m considering, but which songs make the cut will ultimately depend on the overall vision that begins to form over the coming months. Part of me is dragging a bit though, as I need to re-energize creatively. I’m still looking for the spark to set the record in motion.