Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Jessica Mickey0
Stefanie Santana Admits That She is Glad
Upon the first listen to her sweetheart of a debut album, I Admit That I Am Glad, you can’t help but be tickled when singer/songwriter/uke player Stefanie Santana (also known as Stefanie Bannister) says that she spends her days in Columbia as a process server. “I spend a lot of time knocking on strangers’ doors and delivering bad news,” she shares. A lot of her album seems to deal with working through bad news, overanalyzing the maddening coming-of-age issues that pop up in one’s young adulthood, before walking away with a heart still hopeful and open.
A cheerful 24 year old whose lyrics suggest she is wiser beyond her years, Santana began playing ukulele when she was 19 years old and wrote her first song while studying abroad in Santiago, Chile.
“When I came back [to Charleston], I lived in a house that hosted an open mic night called Bean Night. I would play my songs when we would run out of performers, and it was a really positive experience,” she recalls.
Santana began developing the courage to jump on local public stages, including one at a food truck rodeo, where she caught the ear of Steve Tirozzi, the guitarist and co-songwriter of the Specs. “He asked me if I’d be interested in singing on the album that he was working on,” she says. “We started practicing together, and he learned all of my songs, and I learned some of his, and we started playing shows together, just like that.”
About eight months into playing around town with Tirozzi, Harper Marchman-Jones (of YR LAD) approached Bannister after a gig at the Tattooed Moose about possibly recording with him. “Honestly, it was one of my worst shows. He must have been drinking that night,” she laughs.
From there, Santana’s one-woman uke show-turned-duo started transforming into a full band, though it was through very little effort of her own. “Nick Jenkins had been a friend of mine for some time, and he mentioned that he’d like to do some drumming for me so we pulled him in,” she explains. “Kevin Hanley is just one of those stand-up guys who is really reliable, and he has known Steve for a long time. He volunteered his [bass] services, and then it was party time. Anyone who asked to help or play was welcomed on board.”
Outside of recording ditties on her phone so she wouldn’t forget them, Santana had never been involved with a recording process, even one as DIY as the one behind I Admit That I Am Glad. The main lesson she took away was one she most likely found she could also apply to life in general. “I learned how to ask for what I wanted,” she confesses. “It was surprisingly tough to ask for a whole remix of a song or to ask to mute someone’s part during a song. I felt like it was hurtful or ungrateful or something. But then, I got over it … because you just gotta!”
Though she says modern poppy-rock, technically tricky grrrl acts like Free Kitten, Marnie Stern, and Erase Errata are currently in heavy rotation on her turntable, on this work, the majority of her musical style swims in and out of the same streams of artists she claims to have binged on in the past — Joanna Newsome, Barbara Dane, and even Billie Holliday and Kate Bush — while keeping true to her own light-handed yet heavy-hearted approach. Subtle and clever lyrical touches and tones like that of Kimya Dawson and Lullaby Baxter float in and out from track to track.
It’s not sparse so much as brightly simple in the most complimentary sense of the word. Marchman-Jones instinctively seems to know when to add in fancy bells and whistles and when to pull it all back and let the lady glide. Tirozzi’s plucky and ambient guitar skills are a real MVP on the album, though they never take away from Bannister as the focal point. “A lot of the songs on the album wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Steve leading me through the whole process,” Santana admits. “I’d come to practice with 45 seconds of nonsense, and he’d help me make something out of it.”
Jenkins’ percussion is the perfectly sized dollop of icing on the cupcake, as especially demonstrated in “Moonspeak” and the final track, “Starfish Song (That’s What You Get for Living in a Tidal Pool).” Santana’s voice is softly supple, comforting, and relatable, as are the plucks and strums coming out of her baritone ukulele. She comes off as incredibly genuine in every song. The soft vulnerability that shines through as she sings, “I broke up / With a boy I love / I broke up / With a boy who loved me,” in “Grown-Up Joke,” sends an unexpected pang to the heart. She never showboats or gets pretentious. It’s an incredibly refreshing listen.
Since moving to Columbia last June after living in Charleston for about six years, between playing out in support of her debut, growing tobacco and vegetables, and bumming people out with lawsuits and foreclosures, Santana is working on a project that leans more toward the type of music she’s been listening to as of late.
“We haven’t played a show yet, but the band is called Bruises, and I’m on electric guitar,” she says. “If we ever make it out of the living room, it’s going to be very different from the music I write now … a lot heavier and louder.” Sounds like she’s finally comfortable asking for what she wants.
Stefanie Santana will perform on Sun. April 27 during the food truck rodeo at the Freehouse Brewery (2895 Pringle Street in North Charleston).
To listen to her full album and find out about upcoming shows, visit StefanieMadeThis.bandcamp.com.
Top photo John Sease.
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