Steph Stewart And The Boys

By Greg Tutwiler –
Before Stephanie Stewart formed Steph Stewart and the Boyfriends, she grew up on a steady diet of classic country and traditional Christian hymns in the foothills of North Carolina. “I grew up listening to my Grandfather’s classic country records and singing traditional hymns with my Grandma in church,” Stephanie recalled. The voices of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb were among several of the first influences in her early life that made her want to sing. In 2013 Stephanie formed her first official Americana string band, and they just recently released their second album, Nobody’s Darlin’.
Although she couldn’t play an instrument yet, Stephanie began writing songs in fifth grade. “It was just lyrics with a melody I had created and memorized,” she said. It wasn’t until years later that she decided she wanted to accompany herself with guitar. “At that time, only teenage boys were playing guitar in the small, rural town where I grew up, and I got tired of singing along to all of the music they wanted to play. I wanted to make my own songs, so I picked up my dad’s old Kent electric guitar, and got a small amp that year for Christmas, along with a book of chord charts and Beatles songs, and I taught myself the basics.”
At 16, Stephanie was a regular at the local coffee shop’s open mic nights where she performed original tunes and other things from the infamous Lilith Fair cannon. “I suppose that was pretty much the beginning of where I am today,” she recalled.Putting It All Together
Stephanie met her first band mate Omar Ruiz-Lopez in the summer of 2011. They were both playing with different people and happened to be on the same bill at a show in Chapel Hill, NC. “That fall he sat in with me and a friend and the rest is pretty much history,” Stephanie said. “The following year he convinced his friend from music school, Mario Arnez, to move from Florida, and the three of us started playing together regularly.” In January of 2013 they met Nick Vandenberg at a Mandolin Orange concert and he has been their bass player ever since, as well as produced their first album and mixed the current one.

In describing their music, Stephanie said some songs have a more classic country feel (like “Pearl”) while others lean more towards traditional Appalachian folk music. “Americana is a catch-all phrase really, but it’s probably the best way to describe our sound,” she said.

New Influences
Stephanie said her childhood influences were very informative as her foundation in music goes. “But as an adult,” she added, “I have continued to actively seek out new music and find inspiration from new sources. As of late, I have enjoyed binging on old Alan Lomax and Bill Ferris folk music documentary films, which has definitely made an impression on the songs I wrote on this current album. I love the rawness and emotion that comes through in the music of folks like Clarence Ashley, Roscoe Holcolmb, and Sarah Ogan-Gunning. They weren’t just performers – they actually lived the tragedies and strife they sang about, and I think you can hear that in their voices.”Everyone in the group is a songwriter, and everyone contributes to the songs the band chose to call their own. Two of the songs on the new record were co-writes in terms of lyrics. Stephanie wrote “All Over the City” with Nick, and “Promised Land” with Mario. Mario wrote one of the songs on the new album too; “Songs & Arms.” “Everyone pretty much forms his own parts and contributes to the arrangements,” she said.

All For One
“I think it’s pretty unique how we constantly motivate and inspire one another to be better. For example, I never had plans to play banjo, but Omar heard it in my music and loaned me his, saying I needed to learn. Finally I broke down and took some lessons. It’s been the best thing. So many new songs and sounds I had never known were inside of me came out through that instrument, and I owe that to him.”

All the guys studied music in college; while Stephanie was an English major who liked writing songs. “I’ve learned so much about music theory and song craft from working with them.”In addition to fronting her band, Stephanie is a full time Montessori teacher for children three to six years old as well as an outdoor educator at Learning Outside. “I do all the booking and publicity along with my husband and gig in my free time (weekends, holidays, summer),” she said. “Our goal is to keep getting our music out there for people to hear and writing songs together that we enjoy bringing to the stage. It’d be great to reach that place where we can afford to hire an outside person to handle the business side as well.”