By Karina Espinosa
Before her debut album Messes in 2017, Detroit-based indie songwriter Stef Chura was playing bass in various local bands while writing and self-releasing her own music on Bandcamp. After gaining the attention of a few music blogs, comparing her sound to that of a buzzy indie rock band, Car Seat Headrest frontman, Will Toledo, reached out to Chura with a special request.
“It’s funny, because literally that day I was listening to NPR and there was a segment on Will talking about his album, Teens of Denial,” she says. “Then I checked my inbox and there was a message from his agent asking me to go on tour with Car Seat Headrest. I had to check multiple times to make sure. I was like, ‘Wait, is this the same person I was just listening to on the radio? What the fuck!’”
The serendipitous pairing would result in Chura opening for Toledo’s band in 2016 and then working with him on a seven-inch record the following year. The two hit it off, bonding over their Bandcamp beginnings and their mutual love of rugged guitars. Chura knew she trusted him enough to produce her next project and sent him 25 rough demos.
Her sophomore album, Midnight, arrived last June. Toledo’s fine-tuning is evident, but the record is still firmly rooted in Chura’s experiences. She takes inspiration from the different interactions she’s had in her Detroit base, a place that’s seen its fair share of both collapse and resurgence. But it wasn’t so much the city as the characters she encountered that added to the emotional core of her album.
“There’s a music scene out here that I’ve been in forever. A lot of the people that I met at house shows or dive bars are still running around in my mind, even after they moved on and grew up gracefully,” says Chura. “I think because I still know them, and because I live in Detroit, a lot of my songs are pretty personal.”
Chura grew up listening to music in the 90s and early 00s, and it shows. On Midnight she’s gathered all her influences in a hefty mixture of gnarled guitar riffs and spirited vocals. Whether she’s jagged and disjointed on “Method Man” or playing with dynamics on the epic “Sweet Sweet Midnight,” every decision seems deliberate. The biggest difference between this record and Messes is the renewed vigour and self-confidence in Chura’s voice. Her distinctive yelp takes centre stage, drawing comparisons to such alt-rock powerhouses as Alanis Morissette, Karen O and Liz Phair.
“I actually don’t think I sound like Liz Phair, only because I tried to cover her songs in a Liz Phair cover band and could never sing as low as her,” she laughs. “But I guess my voice wasn’t something I was thinking about too much; there wasn’t a reference point or guiding light for me. I think singing live each night just helped things come together naturally.”
Intelligent and furiously exciting, Midnight is a product of the fruitful collaboration between two like-minded artists. But more than anything, it’s a testament to the growth of a budding musician with a lot more to show.
Stef Chura performs at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on August 1.Biltmore Cabaret, stef chura