Performing in a steady stream of festivals and writing new material, Steph Macpherson is a busy artist, busy enough that certain details can fly under the radar. Details like the fact she is headliner for a show, in this case the Live n’ Unsigned Summer Folk Showcase in Victoria.
“I just found out,” she said laughing during an interview last week. The 20-something self-described alt-country musician has been on a tear over the past two years. She released her first full-length album Bells & Whistles with Cordova Bay Records last year, toured and showcased her music across Western Canada into the U.S., and is winning boatloads of accolades from the music industry, and more importantly, the fickle fanbase of indie music.
Raised in Gordon Head and a graduate of Mount Doug secondary, Macpherson has her roots and influences firmly planted in Victoria and Vancouver Island. An active songwriter and touring musician since 2009, she is on the trajectory from emerging artist to emerging stardom, making a headlining gig at Live ‘n Unsigned less of a surprise and more of an obvious choice.
“I’ve been performing all my life. At four or five years old my parents had me in voice lessons,” Macpherson says. “I was very vocal as a child, good at making sounds. Good on my parents for putting me in voice lessons.”
She started writing her own music in Grade 11 and landed her first gig in a coffee shop in downtown Victoria. In 2009, she started touring, won a talent contest to perform at Lilith Fair in 2010 and has kept a hectic performance schedule.
Her hard work has paid off. She won Island Artist of the Year for the 2013 Vancouver Island Music Awards, and was nominated for Island songwriter of the year, Island album of the Year and BC-Wide Artist of the Year. Monday Magazine readers voted her as favourite solo artist for the 2013 M Awards.
Cordova Bay Records released her album into the U.S. in January, and her music found exposure in Los Angeles at a music showcase with people who select music for major movies and TV shows. Where she spent much of last year on the road with Bells & Whistles, this year she’s more focused on festivals closer to home in Victoria, and writing material for her second album – “I’ve got a handful of new songs,” she says.
“Half the time I don’t know where the music comes from. Sometimes when I write a song, its my subconscious says what I want to say.
“I suppose I’m an analytical person and I end up writing about people, about what they do and why. I’m trying to write more abstractly, but whatever you write about, people think it’s about relationships.”
Somewhat shoehorned into the folk genre, she describes her sound as alternative-country, with elements of folk with an edge, in the vein of her influences: Jeff Tweedy, Kathleen Edwards, Fleetwood Mac and Credence Clearwater Revival.
Macpherson has had enough exposure that people are recognizing her on the street in Victoria, or in one case on the ferry, which she admits is an experience she doesn’t expect. Still, for Macpherson the cycle of performing and writing needs to be nearly constant to build a career that doesn’t necessarily pay all the bills yet.
“It’s a balance between performing and doing things to keep up a presence,” she says. “It’s challenging.”
Live n’ Unsigned also features Rifflandia veterans The Washboard Union, the teen-driven Royal Canadians and Emily Spiller, a 2011 Vancouver Island Female Vocalist of the Year, for the second incarnation of a show that prides itself on selecting musicians based on their live performance skills, not Facebook “likes,” says by Burley Music, the show’s production company.
“We’re all pretty varied in our having been discovered-ness,” Macpherson says.”It’s cool. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Live n’ Unsigned Summer Folk Showcase is July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St. For tickets see unsignedfolkshowcase.eventbrite.ca or burleymusic.ca.
By Edward Hill