Stevie Jean Gets Raw and Real On Her Debut Album “The Dark”

Photo Credit: Jett Street

Stevie Jean is an honorary Melbournian. Hailing from Humpty Doo – a small town about 30 miles North of Darwin – she’s transitioned to the considerably colder, wetter city and embraced it as her own. And Melbourne has embraced her, or it will, once her album The Dark gets heard in live music venues around town.

“Honestly, the transition from Darwin to Melbourne was not too bad. I was dealing with hectic stuff in Darwin so coming to Melbourne, living with two of my best friends, and having my own room was a great transition. I’ve been going to gigs, it’s been a good old time,” says Jean.

Released on May 14th, The Dark is a mishmash of her influences from rock and hip hop that she’s made entirely her own. Determined to face her fears, Jean has eloquently revealed what haunts her most and given herself and her listeners permission to be vulnerable but also merciful through the scars we share.

“I was between 17 and 20 was when I wrote The Dark,” says Jean. “Some of the songs took 20 minutes and some took years, and I write alone. The only song that was co-written was ‘Menace.’ That’s got Kapital J on it, and Tasman Keith wrote a little bit of it. I co-produce with an amazing producer Kuya James, based in Darwin. He’s been in the industry a long time.”

Indeed, James is an ARIA-nominated producer, touring musician, songwriter and DJ who has worked with many artists based in the Northern Territory. Kuya means big brother in the Filipino language of Tagalog, and he’s certainly been a guiding force for Jean’s music.

Likewise, Jean credits her mother’s choice to send her to a Steiner school – an alternative educational model oriented more towards holistic learning and social skills than academic achievement – with her embrace of her own creative skills. “I had the privilege of going to Steiner school. My mother was involved in the school opening. She didn’t want me to go to a mainstream school, so the first day of that school opening was my first day of school. There wasn’t enough funding and there was only about 50 kids, so I graduated year 6 [primary school] and it was mainstream from then on.”

At home, Jean’s parents raised her in a music-loving household. “My mother loves R&B and folk and I grew up with rock. I was also hugely inspired by a woman named Netanela Mizrahi,” she recalls. Mizrahi is a composer, music therapist, and music teacher. She’s also the Darwin Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Second Violinist. “She does fellowships all over the world. She was my violin teacher and got me into choirs. She was one of my biggest influences growing up. When I graduated, we started working together on a different basis where she would call me in to do certain projects with her.”

Through primary school, Jean was exposed to “a lot of Vivaldi and folk music” but once she entered the mainstream school system, hip hop became her biggest inspiration. “I found Eminem and then Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and then later, Princess Nokia, so much amazing hip hop: it’s rhythm and poetry, an incredible thing,” she says. These artists directly influence the EP she made with Tasman Keith, called Evenings, released in 2019.

But The Dark is much rockier and bluesier than her influences in hip hop would suggest, and is more akin to her Blame Game EP, also from 2019. “[The Dark] is my first album and I really wanted to pay homage to the rock that raised me,” says Jean. “So, Led Zeppelin and Black Keys, but then a lot of hip hop too with trap beats, 808… it’s an amalgamation, so you could call it psych rock or punk rock.”

Its title hints at the demons that inspired much of Jean’s lyrics. “I don’t talk about this very often, but for a few years I suffered from [an undiagnosed mental illness]. My brain tells me that nothing is real. I’m dealing with that in my own way – it’s an exaggerated lust for life, because if nothing is real, do whatever you want,” Jean says. “That’s where a lot of music on The Dark comes from. I’ve got it under control, but when you’re 17 and the world is a video game, it’s pretty scary. There are those moments where I felt ‘This is not okay, I don’t want to be here.’ I went to a counsellor who freaked out and booked me in with a psych who told me not to smoke weed, so I just never went back. I don’t want to be put in a box and judged based on having a psychiatric record, so I went on a really strict diet and that took the cloud out of my brain for a year, then I gradually reintroduced things back in, embraced exercise and that is still really important to me.”

Photo Credit: Jett Street

The raw, steely guitars that kick in on the opening track, “Send Me Home” merge with a groovy, boxy beat, and then Stevie Jean’s singularly beautiful, old school blues voice comes in. There’s something timeless about her voice, channeling both Erykah Badu and Rickie Lee Jones in its throaty melodiousness.

Things get much more hectic on “Menace.”

“’Menace’ happened so fast,” says Jean. “I was going to be in a movie, but that didn’t happen. They’d asked me to make a punk song for it, and Kuya James and Kapital J were in the studio and I sat down and wrote the song in about 15 minutes. It was a laugh, to be honest! Tasman Keith put his vocals on it then my backing band in Darwin, Draft Day, played their parts live over the track. That’s why it’s so hectic.”

The Dark was recorded across Park Orchards Studios in Victoria, with Benjamin Edgar sending his guitar tracks, recorded remotely from his home in Germany. The rest was recorded in Studio G (named after Gurrumul Yunupingu) in Darwin. 

Jean’s plan is to play the album live around her new home city, accompanied by “the cool kids” in her band: Miggy Zamba on keyboards, Takoga Smith on bass, and “an incredible drummer,” Myka Wallace.

What would her dream lineup be, if she could perform with a couple of other acts?

“My dream lineup would be Haarper, Ashnikko, Princess Nokia and if The Black Keys showed up, I would probably cry,” she reveals.

But when she’s not performing, she is a prolific writer. “I’m actually halfway through production on my second album – I love writing, I’d do it all day if I could,” she says. “I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m enjoying just creating every day. I’ve taken this album I’m working on in more of a hip-hop direction. The Dark has elements, but the next record is more balanced between rock and hip hop.”

Until her next album arrives, there’s enough soul, rock, and raw, honest truths on The Dark to warrant repeat listens. It is easy to believe Stevie Jean could be the next Australian artist to garner major international interest and shiny, big deals. But, like many talented artists in this nation and worldwide, she’s working a couple of casual jobs to get by.

“As artists, we get treated like we’re replaceable and there’s so many amazing artists in Australia working in [hospitality]. There’s nothing wrong with hospo, but it’s really taxing to work two or three casual jobs and try to write an album. I’m trying to be a poet, an actress, and a musician on top of a couple of hospo jobs. I’d love to see a change in the music industry, I really would.”

Follow Stevie Jean on Instagram for ongoing updates.

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