Q&A with Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends

Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends is a folk group headed by Catawba native and UNC ’07 graduate, Stephanie Stewart. The group released their first album Over the World Below on June 21, and they will be performing at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro on Saturday.

Summer Arts & Diversions editor Samantha Sabin spoke to Stewart about her musical influences, her days at UNC and the origin of the band’s name.

Diversions: How did you get started with music?

Stephanie Stewart: I was always playing ever since I was a little kid. I started playing guitar when I was about 15 and writing songs then. I got tired of some of my friends in high school and having to play cover songs. There were a lot of guys who played guitar at my high school at the time, and they all wanted to play Sublime covers and things like that, and I wanted to do more of my own stuff. So I just started teaching myself guitar and that led to writing and singing.

I went to UNC as an undergrad and I was doing stuff like I had a Singer / Songwriter Night that I did down there in the student union — it was like a once a month kind of thing, featuring different songwriters. And I was kind of playing around coffeeshops and that kind of thing by myself. I didn’t really play with the band until about three years ago.

Dive: When you were a student at UNC, where were you favorite places to perform?

SS: I definitely liked that Singer / Songwriter Night. I don’t know if that’s still around anymore — it used to be at this placed called The Cabaret, at the bottom of the union.

I played at a coffee place on Franklin St. It’s called Jack Sprat now, but it went by a different name when I was a student. And I also liked Nightlight. It was different back then, it used to be called the Skylight Exchange, and I used to always play at their open mics. I loved all that stuff going on around town. The Nightlight was pretty different — I’m from a pretty small town in North Carolina, and the Nightlight was really obscene, kind of out there.

Dive: How would you say the experience is different now that you’re in a band and not playing solo?

SS: The songs have developed a lot more. They really fill out a lot. There’s a lot more space in my playing that allows for other instruments to shine. When I did singer, songwriter stuff on my own, I would play all the way through the songs, but learning how to let them breathe more is a lot easier when you play with other people.

I think the songs are a lot richer with the instruments that we have. And we even have a lot more on the album than we do on stage. Nick (the band’s bassist) is a multi-instrumentalist, and he was able to record drum tracks and a lot of other things that we weren’t able to recreate on stage.

Dive: Where did the name for the band come from?

SS: When I was playing with Jim and John a few years back, we were a doing a little radio show in Carrboro at the WCLN. And we were just going to go on there and play a couple songs and talk about our music. But we didn’t have a band name, so it was a funny joke, but they were like “Why don’t you just call yourself ‘The Boyfriends’?” And I guess it just sort of stuck.

Dive: What advice would you give anyone about to record their first album?

SS: I would say to give yourself more time than you think you need. You don’t really know what kind of setbacks you’ll come up against, and don’t plan your CD release and stuff until you have your album. I think we were a little bit rushed at the end because I had already booked a venue — but I booked it way in advanced, and it didn’t seem like it would be an issue.

But it would have been nice not to feel so pressured. But it definitely gave us the kick in the ass we needed to buckle down and get it done, and I think I work pretty well under pressure. I don’t know, maybe that’s what we really needed.

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