Stevan on Overcoming Growing Pains and Creating Music to Destigmatize Mental Health
“[We need to] create spaces where men can truly express their complete pain without feeling that they’re being weak or being judged”
19-year-old Stevan learned how to play guitar after watching clips of John Mayer play on YouTube. The Australian artist, producer and multi-instrumentalist started uploading his demos on SoundCloud—while completing high school—until a music label eventually discovered him. His first mixtape released earlier this year aptly named Just Kids captures the feeling of being young and living with careless abandon. He shares, “There are certain pressures but it’s not the real world.”
With his sophomore mixtape Ontogeny, the alt-R&B star paints an intimate and raw portrait of his transition, from a teenager into a young adult, where he gets a better sense of himself. “Everything counts and everything matters so much more,” he explains. Stevan reflects on his journey through an exclusive tell-all, imparting words of wisdom to young creatives on how he manages to create in the coronavirus era, how music can help destigmatize mental health and how he’s unlearning childish mentalities.
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Wonder: How would you describe your sound, especially to a new listener?
Stevan: I think my music is very expressive, dynamic and diverse. If you listen to the earlier stuff I released this year, there’s a bit of a childish quality to it, but not in a negative way. It’s very innocent and bright. My vocal deliveries sound very open and very young. For some of the newer stuff, it’s a lot more mature, refined, a little bit more electronic. I thought it would be nice to contrast those two sounds ‘cause there [are different] sides to me. I’m just trying to show as many aspects of myself through my music.
W: I was listening to your earlier work especially Take It Slow. You’ve been lauded for using your music to raise awareness of men’s mental health. I find that so interesting since we’re all about destigmatizing mental health. What’s something you wish more people got right about mental health, and for men specifically?
S: I think for me, personally, something that I feel like people misrepresent in terms of what’s healthy for them is this sense of understanding male expression—the expression of pain, anger and frustration. I feel like it’s getting harder and harder for men in general to find a safe space to express pain, anguish and stuff like that. Whenever a male displays that sort of emotion…it needs to be encouraged. [We need to] create spaces where men can truly express their complete pain without feeling that they’re being weak or being judged. They should be able to freely do that. Telling people to suppress their emotions is the worst thing to do, and we just need to find healthier ways to tell men to express your rage, your anger, your pain, get it out and move forward.
W: Do you consider your music as a safe space to actually do that—express your emotions?
S: I do think so. I feel like with everything, my music is just an honest expression of myself. I, as a person and as a man, deal with all these things. I’m very open with my emotions and also with all my actions as well. A lot of the newer [music], I’m dealing with those, I guess, more “destructive or toxic” sort of emotions or behaviors. I’m dealing with them, I’m going through the process. I tell the listener, “This is how I’m doing and how I’m working through it.”
I feel like I’ve walked the line very well in being openly myself. I have masculine traits, I’ve never tried to hide that, but at the same time, I don’t think that overshadows me as a person and that consumes me. I’m able to do both. I hope people that listen to my music will be encouraged by that. My music is the perfect space, maybe, for an everyday person who’s working it out, you know.
W: Your new mixtape comes out this November and it’s called Ontogeny. I looked it up and it means a sort of “transformation.” Can you tell us more about it? Why did you choose that specific name?
S: When I made the Just Kids project, I was trying to capture the feeling of what it was like to be a child and a teenager. There are certain pressures but it’s not the real world.
The Ontogeny project was basically, I had lived a year out of high school, and I realized that there are now consequences to my actions. Everything counts and everything matters so much more. I think it’s a [transition] or growth from a teenager into a young adult. That’s where I’m moving in and that’s what I’m dealing with. It’s sort of letting go of childish days or childish mentalities, negative mentalities and moving into a positive and a more adult perspective.
W: Our theme for the month of November is “Get Your Shit Together.” How are you centering and grounding yourself under the strangest circumstances, with a global health crisis and also the Black Lives Matter Movement?
S: What I’ve been doing is I’ve been taking things in. I feel like when we didn’t have COVID, it’s really easy to just move on, but because we’re stuck inside, we’re being forced to notice a lot more things and to pay attention a lot more. That’s what I’ve been doing, I’ve just been paying attention and realizing how to take control of my life—and that’s with the things that I do, the way that I see the world and the way I treat people around me. That’s what that kind of statement means to me when you say “get your shit together.” I feel like it has to start with you, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’m trying to notice where I have faults and where I’m misstepping, and I’m taking that in.
With the Black Lives Matter Movement, that’s also been a huge step of growth for me. I went to a protest in Sydney, and I’ve just been able to meet a lot of like-minded people who have been so instrumental in my growth and understanding myself, my position and the position that other people are in.
I feel like the best thing that I can encourage other people to do in this situation is be informed. Be responsible for your knowledge and be knowledgeable, don’t be willfully ignorant. We’ve got the internet, sources to help us. In my personal life, I’ve just been taking accountability for what I can.
W: You are undeniably young and have already produced such a prolific body of work. What would you tell other young aspiring artists about creating, especially in a pandemic when dreams and goals are put on a back burner?
S: I feel like this is a time to really refine your sound and your voice, and just really have fun. This is a time where you build your whole image. I remember when I was doing it in high school—making all these demos and making these videos and covers and uploading it on Soundcloud and YouTube. I just did it because I wanted to find my sound. All these little steps led to the things I’m doing now. I’d encourage anybody, if you’re young and creative, to get out there and use the time COVID has created to get in. You can use that to your advantage. Keep working, you never know what would happen.
Special Thanks Alchemist Asia
Art Alexandra Lara