“Making music is as natural as breathing for me, and just as essential,” says Becca Stevens. “Music is an anchor in my life, one of the few constants. It allows me to express things that are beyond words and communicate on a very personal level, even to people I don’t know.”
The North Carolina-bred, New York-based singer/composer/guitarist’s status as a lifelong music-maker is more than apparent on the Becca Stevens Band’s Sunnyside debut Weightless. Although she’s already won significant acclaim for her membership in Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra and her prestigious collaborations with such esteemed musicians as Taylor Eigsti and Brad Mehldau, the sparkling 12-song set reveals the accomplished young songstress to be a startlingly original, refreshingly distinctive talent in her own right.
On such original compositions as “Weightless,” “I’ll Notice,” “Traveler’s Blessing” and “The Riddle,” Stevens’ intimate vocals communicate both immense warmth and effortless urgency, while her exquisitely understated arrangements and seamlessly crafted tunes embrace inventive acoustic textures and idiosyncratic rhythmic and melodic elements. The resulting music offers a beguiling blend of head and heart that resists easy categorization, drawing upon elements of pop, jazz or folk without limiting itself to the rules of any particular genre.
Stevens’ work has already received copious praise from the likes of The New York Times, who described her as “a best-kept secret” and called her debut indie release Tea Bye Sea “impressively absorbing.” The Boston Phoenix noted Becca’s “big voice and no-bull—- emotional delivery.” Her hometown paper The Winston-Salem Journal stated, “Stevens’ singing is remarkable, soulful, pitch-perfect and subtle in its controlled acrobatics. The arrangements are exquisitely produced, and her acoustic songs boast musical textures and colors that embrace the adventurism of jazz.”
In addition to its eight original Stevens compositions, Weightless also features a quartet of distinctive reworkings of songs by other artists. Those cover tunes—The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” Seal’s “Kiss from A Rose,” Animal Collective’s “My Girls” and Iron and Wine’s “Each Coming Night”—demonstrate Becca’s stylistic versatility as well as her impressive ability to find an emotional connection with material from wildly divergent sources.
Stevens recorded Weightless at Manhattan’s Sear Sound with veteran producer Matt Pierson (whose extensive resume includes influential work with Joshua Redman, Jane Monheit and Kirk Whalum) and her close-knit band, which includes Liam Robinson on accordion and keyboards, Chris Tordini on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums and percussion. Her bandmates’ instrumental skills complement Becca’s own expressive work on guitar, ukulele and charango, while their earthy harmonies provide a compelling counterpoint to her own personally-charged vocals. Several of the album’s tracks feature guitarist Larry Campbell, who’s known for his work with the likes of Bob Dylan, Rosanne Cash and Levon Helm, and others. Singer/songwriter Gretchen Parlato guests on the haunting waltz “No More.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that Becca Stevens has been making music for her entire life. The daughter of musicians, she began singing in her family’s band, the Tune Mammals, when she was two years old. She spent much of her childhood on stage, singing, acting and dancing, including a year-long tour in the lead role of The Secret Garden when she was ten. She became fluent in jazz and classical guitar, and in the folk music traditions of her native North Carolina—influences that still echo in her songwriting.
After graduating from the high school program at the North Carolina School of the Arts with a major in classical guitar, Stevens attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, where she received a BFA with high honors in vocal jazz and composition. It was at the New School that she met the musicians who would subsequently become the Becca Stevens Band.
“My parents are both working musicians and performers, and they’ve always been very supportive of my choices, so I’ve never doubted this as my career path,” Becca notes, adding, “The first sounds I heard in the delivery room were my dad playing an Irish slip jig on the fiddle. The tune was ‘The Kid on the Mountain’; I still cry when I hear it. I grew up with the sounds of music and composing and singing and rehearsing around me all the time, so it was always a very natural thing for me.”
The sense of musical community that was instilled in Stevens early in life would help to prepare her to collaborate with a wide assortment of musicians in a diverse array of settings. Since 2004, Becca has served as lead singer of Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, fronting a genre-bending 18-piece jazz orchestra interpreting the songs of Björk. She has also toured and recorded with, and written lyrics for, jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti, singing on five songs on his 2010 album Daylight At Midnight. She recently performed at Carnegie Hall as featured singer with pianist Brad Mehldau. She’s also toured as part of drummer/composer Eric Harland’s all-star band; and has written and/or recorded with such notable players as Clarence Penn, George Garzone, Julian Lage, Kendrick Scott, Jeremy Pelt, Logan Richardson and Andy Milne.
2010 saw the debut of Stevens’ first choral composition, Soli Deo Gloria, commissioned and performed by the Melodia Women’s Choir in New York. Becca also moonlights as one-third of Girls Gone Mild, a trio with fellow singer/songwriters Rebecca Martin and Gretchen Parlato.
In addition to those projects, Stevens has also worked extensively as a teacher, teaching guitar and songwriting to students ranging from juvenile delinquents to senior citizens. She also recently rekindled her childhood affinity for acting, playing the lead role in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and supporting parts in Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company.
As diverse as her musical experiences have been, Becca Stevens’ creative objectives are impressively focused. “Every day I learn from the music of composers who have come before me and on whose shoulders I stand, and from my experiences from the profound to the trivial. My focus as an artist is to cast those experiences in a musical and poetic language that will resonate with the listener and affect a moment, a day or a life.”