As a 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist, producer and singer-songwriter with a discography that spans multiple genres, it’s clear that Stevan is unlike many other Australian teen musicians.
On a surface level, the Wollongong musician’s work unites the grooves and rich percussion of hip-hop and R&B with mannerisms taken from elsewhere; an intertwining of genres and sounds that makes Stevan’s work distinct, and unique to himself. Go behind the soundscapes Stevan creates, however, and you’ll find that his discography - spanning back to demos written, recorded and produced when he was in his mid-teens - is in fact a melting pool of his upbringing, wide-varied influences, past experiences and changing surroundings, each uniting to build the personality of not just Stevan himself, but his music too.
Immigrating to Australia with church minister parents, Stevan’s sound is rich with the sense of musicality that underpins gospel music - a genre of music that Stevan grew up with, and resultedly, makes itself known in his music today. At first, his relationship with music came through his father’s cassette collection, which included the founding artists of R&B and soul - Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder included - alongside traditional African gospel music, the latter of which being a constant influence in his life due to the church culture he grew up alongside.
The African percussion in gospel and its intertwining with vocal arrangements inspired Stevan to begin to learn the drums, playing in his church to sharpen his skills; the evidence of which still present through the rich, raw instrumentation that links Stevan’s work together with his long-time inspirations. “I feel like it’s an important thing to have a part of your life that’s dedicated to be in service to others” he explains, and with his church beginnings laying the foundation for his music today, it’s become a pivotal life moment - he still plays there today, all these years later.
Eventually, his interest in gospel and R&B began a spiral-shaped dive into modern-day hip-hop and contemporary R&B, ushered into his life by his older cousin that would show him mixtapes from Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino. As a way for Stevan to connect to black culture in a predominately white town, hip-hop became an important part of his life not just musically, but as a person as well. The relatability of rappers like Kendrick Lamar spoke out to him, giving him confidence in his African background and the culture that underpins it. “I struggled with finding figures in the media who looked like me and represented my experience,” he explains.
In his early teens, Stevan’s journey to becoming a multi-instrumentalist began to take shape. He taught himself the guitar by watching John Mayer clips on YouTube and then, when he felt like he was good enough at that, he moved into his next obsession: beat-making and production, inspired by hip-hop greats such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. Soon after, he’d learn to intertwine this multi-instrument-spanning musicianship together, and in his mid-teens, begin putting up still-existent demos to Soundcloud, where he’d find a cult audience entranced by his ability to merge and layer genres in a way still at the forefront of his sound years later.
Skip forward to the present day, and Stevan - now 20-years-old - is using his charismatic sound to become one of Australia’s most promising forces in R&B. Since releasing his debut single ‘Timee’ in 2019, he’s shared a multitude of releases that showcase a growing number of strengths spread across a combination of different flavours: the nostalgia-blooming ‘LNT’; the rich and romantic ‘Warm’; and a cover of Bill Withers’ era-encapsulating ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Together, they welcome the nostalgia of the acts he’s influenced by from his past with other genre-pushers within the R&B sphere that give Stevan’s music its modernised edge: Steve Lacy, Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote, Moses Sumney.
Over the last year, it’s become clear that Stevan isn’t afraid to blur the lines and break free from artistic boundaries, and that’s something that shines on his new mixtape, Just Kids. Arriving through US label Honeymoon Records (Rejjie Snow, Anna Of The North) and Astral People Recordings/PIAS (Wave Racer, Milan Ring), Just Kids is a 12-track mixtape that encapsulates Stevan’s adolescence and the complexities growing up can bring. It’s a reflection of his high school experiences that takes him “straight back to the simplicity” of that time; a time where his biggest problems concerned tests and high-school crushes, where things like rent and bills weren’t anything to worry about.
In a way, this simplicity shines through on Just Kids. The mixtape’s 12 tracks capture the innocence of high school adolescence in a way, with Stevan’s knack for storytelling and rich songwriting entering the forefront amongst dancing grooves and soft, funk-intertwined productions. On the sun-soaked ‘LNT’, Stevan’s vocal dances amongst a summery combination of melodies that feel amongst as warm as the romantic lyricism, while ‘Timee’, the mixtape’s first tease that was written, recorded and produced when he was just 16 years old, reminisces on a time where one of his songs circulated amongst his group in high school: “I remember that moment so vividly,” he explains, “and listening to this track takes me straight back there.”
On the live stage, Just Kids’ rich melodies and sun-soaked brightness is sure to prove a national highlight, especially as his skillset as a live performer continues to grow. In the year since releasing ‘Timee’, Stevan has already supported Winston Surfshirt and Omar Apollo on national tours (the latter being a cult-adored force who connected with Stevan via Soundcloud years before their respective break-outs), and played festivals including BIGSOUND and Fairgrounds. Live, Stevan’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist and a master-of-all-trades really shine; his R&B grooves and the layered instrumentation that fuel them becoming only more potent and indulgent when brought to life by his live band.
In the future, there’s plenty to be excited about in Stevan’s world. In his work to come, he’s sure to showcase his evolution and how far he’s come in the time since high school. He’ll also play Splendour In The Grass this October, and it won’t be surprising to see that show joined by more to come in the future. In the meantime, however, immerse yourself in Just Kids and take the time to travel back to the past while you listen, and relish in the simplicity of a time before you had to pay the bills.
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UK / EU