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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

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

Tulsa, OK Pop/Soul artist Casii Stephan has been gaining momentum over the past several years, making a name for herself in the music industry.  With a voice that has drawn comparisons to Florence Welch, Fiona Apple and Carole King, Stephan grew up shy and scared of her own voice.  She began to write songs on her family’s piano when she was 16 and found her voice through music.  Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, Stephan moved to Tulsa in 2014 at the invitation of family who lived there, thinking the move would be temporary.  She had tried to launch a music career in Minneapolis but was unable to achieve the success she had dreamed of and intended for Tulsa to be a fresh start.  Music didn’t give up on her and she has since found success in Tulsa as a musician, winning an Independent Music Award in 2016 for “Best Love Song” with her single “I Like The Way” with many other recognitions to come.  In 2017, she was named “One of nine Oklahoma musicians to watch” by the Tulsa World Magazine.  That same year, she and her band The Midnight Sun performed an official SXSW Showcase opening for Hanson and performed at various Oklahoma festivals and venues including MisFEST (short for Music Is She), the first female-driven music festival in Tulsa that Stephan co-founded and co-produced.  She has been making her mark on the Tulsa music scene since moving there in 2014 and has been featured in American Songwriter Magazine as as one of the artists contributing to making Oklahoma “the next big music scene”.  She recently released her latest single “Letters”, which is also her first fully self-produced single.  With plans to make a music video and then hopefully an album, Stephan is forging full-steam ahead with her career!  You can follow Casii Stephan and stay up-to-date on all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase her music, via the following links.  You can check out her latest single “Letters” below. 

 

 

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.

In 2014, family members in Tulsa, OK invited you move there for a change of scenery, a trip you thought would be temporary.  What was it about Tulsa that made you decide to stay?  What do you love about living in Tulsa and the music scene there?

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? 

I always want things to be perfect from a musical perspective. It’s hard for me to let things go when I hear a song and I hear the mistakes. I’ve gotten so much better at letting go, but I still always strive for perfect. So, hearing Jack White’s philosophy gives me permission to let go when I need to.

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?

“Letters” was written after going through a depressing amount of no replies and ghosting through online dating. I just needed to get out that frustration/sadness in a song. 
The process of self-producing was scary and so after much doubt, I plunged in knowing that it would be better to face my fears than hide from them.  Overall, though, I have really talented musicians in the band and they help me with ideas and arrangement suggestions, and then I make the final decision about what stays and what goes. I am planning on doing more self-producing on the album later this year.

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?

What’s next is a music video and then hopefully an album!
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