If you have something to say, say it with style. Stepha Murphy and Benjamin Dawson-Sivalia, aka Uruguay, are looking to make a big impact on the world; from their socially conscious lyrics to their carefully curated clothes, they are two artists working their image from the ground up.
“Pretty Pretty Rampage,” their latest track, is dedicated the underdog. “The song goes out to all those kids/people who have been bullied. People were and still are constantly underestimating me and telling me what to do (I know I’m not the only one). So, I wrote PPR as a dream character badass little assassin girl. She represents doing what you want, being proud of you! It’s saying “F*@# YOU!” to racists, sexists, abusers and just a$$holes. She’s already a misfit so she has nothing to lose, and she is so strong!” Murphy says of the surprisingly upbeat tune.
It’s Uruguay’s ability to address serious matters with humor and panache that really make their music stand out. Their latest message is clear: fuck the haters. Be yourself.
Listen to “Pretty Pretty Rampage” and check out our interview with the band below:
AF: Ok, let’s start from the very beginning. Because that’s a very good place to start. Tell us about how you two met.
Stepha Murphy: We met at UNC Chapel Hill, I was in school and Ben had just come back from London and Spain. He was couch surfing at the time and we just hit it off!
AF: You’re kidding! I’ve always wanted to do that. Mama Kuske said “Hell no” unfortunately.
Benjamin Dawson-Sivalia: It was cool for a while for sure. Lol, probs for the best!
AF: How did you end up moving to NYC together? Was it a spur of the moment decision?
S: Well, I was scouted for modeling at the mall in Chapel Hill and Ben was super into music production. So, we decided to go… school wasn’t really for me at the time so we didn’t really have anything to lose! It was kind of spur of the moment but we planned ahead with a place to stay, etc.
AF: How was the initial transition? I know for me it was quite a culture shock.
B: We actually got scammed out of our place and our savings and were left without anywhere to go. So, the city definitely gave it to us from the get go. But, that was good because it was the most intimidating that it could be, which doesn’t leave much room for fear. We were homeless for a little while and stayed on people’s couches until we ended up in Brooklyn for a couple of months
Culturally though, it was amazing! Super diverse, and super stimulating. Coming from the South to NYC was great in the sense that the racial tension wasn’t as bad. For me, it was a bit overwhelming with so much stimuli, but over time I got over it, and that was really personally empowering.
AF: Your first single “Sabrina Segment” has such elegance to it; I love the layering you do throughout. How did you go about building a song like that?
S: Thank you so much! Ben was working on scoring a documentary about Drag Queens in Brooklyn and I was sitting around watching him do it. I started to give more and more input but finally I was like, “Let me give this a try!”. He was kind enough to let me, lol. And I sat down and wrote “Sabrina Segment” in a couple of minutes. Since I was kid I’ve always done little jingles, so it just came out. I really connected to a specific character in the doc and so it became about her and me.
B: I literally stepped out for like 10 minutes and during that time Stepha laid down the vocals. The ones we used for the song were her first take, which I’m still amazed by! We both worked on the music together, Stepha told me the vibe that she wanted and it came together really naturally.
AF: Did you both come from musical families? Or is music something that became an interest in adulthood?
B: Yeah, definitely! Both of my parents were in active musical groups since I can remember. My Dad is a violin maker and I grew up playing guitar, messing around with piano and playing drums. I went to school for jazz saxophone at UNC and Kings College London. So, music has always been a HUGE part of my life!
S: My Mom is a trained opera singer and, fun fact, my Dad sang backup for Rick James in the 80’s hahahaha! So, singing has always been in our household. I never did anything too concrete (until recently). But, I taught myself piano when I was 11 y/o based off of Regina Spektor songs! Also, my Dad made my sisters and I do a girl group when I was 5, which was 90’s R&B based, so that’s pretty badass
AF: I’m picturing the Star Search outfits I’m hoping ya’ll wore…
S: OMG, I wish I had pictures!
AF: In comparison to your first two singles,“Sabrina Segment” and “Pieces”, your latest track Pretty Pretty Rampage (death by girl) features playful, almost coy vocal stylings. Was tone something you purposed yourselves to experiment with?
S: Regina Spektor was a huge influence for me and something I love about her is how she literally uses her voice as a dynamic instrument, which is something we are playing on in our works. Also, we made this track directly after “Sabrina” and while it is more playful in sound the lyrics are rather dark, which is consistent with a lot of our other music.
B: But, we definitely enjoy experimenting creatively!
AF: Is there a specific message or vibe you’re trying to get out there with Uruguay? A common theme you come back to in the writing process?
S: Definitely! In a world that is overcome with technology Uruguay is an outlet for a more human experience. Our music is a bit raw and grungy, dark and beautiful, complicated and simple. It’s all the things that life portrays. There is a mystery to it and to us but also we want people to feel our vulnerability and heart! That is always evident in our writing process, we write about what is happening and has happened to us. So, you know that it is always honest.
B: Yeah, we write about our personal experiences, but I think the purpose of what we are doing with our music is to bring people together. It’s an outlet for us, which is nice. But, we also want to be able to use our music to help others. Whether that’s someone being able to relate to a track and have it help them through a hard time or using our platform for philanthropy, we want to help. So vibe wise: Pretty Pretty is a bit of an outlier but generally our vibe is a little darker and grungier.
AF: Stepha, you got your start in NYC as a model. Uruguay’s first videos featured local designers. Both of you modeled in an editorial piece for KALTBLUT Magazine. How does the concept of style intersect with your music?
S: Ooh! For me, Uruguay is an outlet for fashion, art, and music! Strictly fashion was such a huge part of my life for a long time and now we get to extrapolate on that in whatever ways we want. We are currently working with local brands and pairing up with them for editorials and also merch exchange so we are definitely intertwining the two realms.
B: Fashion and style isn’t something I thought about growing up. Moving to NYC with Stepha really opened my eyes to how much fun and expressiveness you can have with personal style. It’s art and a reflection of self, which is exactly how we view music. They parallel in my mind which is why it’s fun bringing them together in our videos and shoots.
S: Also, we get to bring our visions to life through fashion, it’s like adding another layer to a project! I’d rather play in 3D than 2D.
AF: You just finished two new videos, with Stepha directing / producing and Ben taking up the camera. What have you both learned since the first video shoot?
B: I’ve learned how to better prepare for shoots and knowing what to expect. There is so much that goes into it from coordination to conceptualizing ideas and pulling people together to work on it. It’s a huge and super fun project.
S: I’ve learned that I cannot compromise what I want for anyone. I’m soft spoken, and despite being in my 20s I look like I’m 16. Also, I’m a minority female. All of those things put together means a lot of people don’t want to listen to me. However, I know that the vision is the vision and I can’t bend for anything. I am open to better ideas but ultimately we have to make what we think is true to our art.
So, I’ve learned to be tough, not to give in and not to let anyone belittle or bully me. That’s a power that goes past making videos but its something I’m grateful for. Also, we have learned that having a good team is crucial!
AF: Do you have plans for an EP or are you focused on releasing singles as they come?
S: We have like 20,000 songs (literally). We could release an EP but we are waiting for the right time, place and resources. Right now we are releasing singles, videos, and fashion collaborations!
B: We are also digging our feet into philanthropy and involvement in causes we find important, so there is a lot to come! #benefitshows
AF: I love how artists are incorporating philanthropy and activism more and more into their art.
S: Us too, if you have the opportunity to let your voice be heard why not make it mean something that can help others?!
AF: Uruguay has a show coming up here in Los Angeles. What can fans expect from a live performance?
S: For our live performance I would say it is an opportunity to let us suck you into our world. We are intimate but also we give you everything we have (and we have a lot to give).
B: I feel the same! I would expect a personal, intimate experience. Also, Stepha as a vocalist and performer is so immensely talented. To get to see that in person is incredible.
S: Thanks Ben! I feel the same about you.
Are you a Los Angeles native? See Uruguay LIVE August 22nd at The Study!