Soul/Pop singer Casii Stephan discusses being a part of the Tulsa, OK music scene, her latest single “Letters”, co-founding and co-producing MisFEST, Tulsa’s first female-driven music festival, and what’s next for her
By Emily May
Having grown up in South St Paul, MN, shy and afraid of your voice, how did you come to find your voice through music as a teenager?
A family friend encouraged me to write my own songs, instead of me singing other people’s songs. And he encouraged me enough that I actually tried and I liked what I wrote, so I kept doing it. Along the way, I kept studying other songs and how other songwriters show vulnerability and artistry.
Honestly, the people. I love the people in Tulsa and in the music community. There’s such an uplifting spirit and so much encouragement in this city. People want to see you succeed and it’s a weirdly wonderful feeling.
I read that when you decided to move to Tulsa, that you had given up on pursuing music. What made you decide to not quit? What/who inspired you to keep going?
My friend/manager/percussionist, Amira Al-Jiboori heard my early stuff and told me I couldn’t give it up. It took me awhile to believe her and after I did, she’s the one that keeps pushing me to never give up. She’s a great friend and anyone that knows her in Tulsa fully agrees with me.
Your songwriting skills have received National attention! What is your songwriting process? What do you feel goes into writing a good song? How do you feel that you have grown as a songwriter since you began writing at 16?
I’m much more in tune with my emotions than I was when I was 16. I think it’s important to be in tune with your emotions as a songwriter. You have to figure out what you’re feeling and then for me, I always want to try and write it in a different way. How can I write this in a way that makes you think about it differently than you’ve thought about it before? Also, am I being truly honest? That’s a hard one sometimes. It’s easy to fudge and make the emotions more pretty or digestible.
How did it feel for you to be featured in American Songwriter Magazine as one of the artists contributing to making Oklahoma the “next big music scene”? Who are some other talented Oklahoma artists that are making a difference in the OK scene?
It was super cool to see my name amongst some really amazing Tulsa musicians, like Paul Benjamin and Branjae. I always look to them in the Tulsa scene, so to have my name dropped in the same article as them is pretty cool. As for musicians making a difference in the OK scene, I would say there’s many. It depends on what genre you’re in. For soul, Branjae is at the top like the Queen she is. If you’re looking at what is defined as the Tulsa sound, Paul Benjamin does his Sunday Nite Thing and creates space for other artists from other genres to join him. For songwriters, Kalyn Fay is such an amazing talent. For the hip-hop scene, there’s Steph Simon. And then for the alternative scene, you have acts like Cliffdiver and Roots of Thought among others. Tulsa is more than you think. (I know you asked for the OK scene, but I’m partial to Tulsa.)
You were influenced by Jack White’s philosophy of valuing emotional expression over technical perfection. What was it about that philosophy that spoke to you?
You recently released your latest single “Letters”, your first fully self-produced single. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the song? What was the process like for you of self-producing and do you have more plans going forward of self-producing your songs?
You recently had a release show for “Letters” that had costume changes, special guests, 2 stages and a lighting production. What do you love about the IDL Ballroom, where the show was held, and why do you feel it was the only venue that could host the type of show you wanted?
When I was going through the set list of how I wanted this show to be done, I knew I wanted the 2 stages and that cut our venue options. We ended up with IDL Ballroom, because the owner was willing to work with us on the 2 stage option. The 2nd stage was actually just the drum riser moved to the center of the Ballroom. The venue also had the option of letting us decorate and set it up how we wanted it to be and that was super valuable for us.
You are the co-founder of Tulsa’s first female-driven music festival, MisFEST. What can you tell me about the fest, it’s mission and your decision to help found it? Who are some of the female artists that have been the most inspirational for you?
The festival started out as this idea to just do an evening showcase for female-fronted musical acts in Tulsa, cause there is some amazing talent in this city. We then happened to run into the guy that creates events for a local park authority called River Parks Authority and turns out he had a similar idea, so it went from being a showcase to a festival. Our goal is to primarily showcase female led musical acts, while also making sure that the acts are diverse and show inclusion. No one should put a box around what it means to be a female in this music industry and we want to encourage younger females by showing them this what you can do/be. We also include female art collectives and have art installations built by women in Tulsa. The festival is a beautiful, colorful array of talent from admin to singing to songwriting to painting, and year 3 will hopefully be the best yet!
What’s next for you?