Songwriting and ReverbNation proudly present the fourth winner of our ongoing monthly competition for songwriters – European synth-pop pixie Stefany June
n our unquenchable thirst to find the ‘next big thing’ from an ever-expanding world of songwriters, it’s not often we find the complete package – the image, the sound, the potential hit song, the right mix of quirkiness with potential mass appeal, and of course that mysterious x-factor. Even an established act can find this a tricky chemistry experiment, but the fourth of our monthly songwriting competitions with ReverbNation has unearthed a unique singer-songwriter who might just have the perfect blend of pop ingredients.
Working our way through the several thousands of entries, it takes something extra special to catch our eyes and ears, and Stefany June’s striking tiger-face was certainly an intriguing image. Although we’d all like to think that our aural judgement is entirely independent from sight, first impressions last and successful songwriting involves grabbing your audience’s attention and holding onto it, so there’s no denying that image is also important. To our delight, Stefany June’s showcase song Burning Like A Firefly met with expectation and, in our opinion, is a surefire hit. Bursting with energy, crammed with hooks and structured with classic synth-pop immediacy, it’s a song which begged to be played over and over and over again. And we certainly have!
So it didn’t take much debate before declaring German popster Stefany June this month’s winner, and we were curious to find out more. Songwriting caught up with her in The Netherlands, where she’s currently based…
Is Stefany June your real name?
“No, it’s my artist name… but it’s really close to my name and I’m born in June! My real name is Stefanie Martens.”
How did the band get together?
“It’s not like session musicians – we’re really a band. We studied together at a pop academy, so we’re old friends from school. It’s four guys and me. They’re on drums, bass and guitar and one multi-instrumentalist who does Ableton, percussion, keys and synths. I play keys on some songs, but mostly I’m performing and just running wild on stage!”
With your family and upbringing, did you have a musical background?
“Not really. I could always sing a little bit, but I didn’t know that you could make a profession from music, because it wasn’t in my family. I always thought that, for the people that make music, it’s fun and it’s a different kind of world – that you need to be born there to become a musician! So I did school then I had to decide what I wanted to study, but everything looked so boring to me. I was like ‘Oh no, what should I study? Everything’s so dull!’ Then I watched a movie called Raise Your Voice with Hilary Duff – one of those typical American teenage movies – the girl wants to study at a pop academy and she has to do auditions, work really hard and get better. I saw that and it really inspired me. Then I auditioned for the pop academy, they picked me and I started making music and discovered that it’s actually my passion, and that I only really wanted to do that.”
Did they teach you songwriting at the pop academy?
“Yes, singing and songwriting. The bachelor was four years and I went there when I was 19 years old, and I continued with the master for two more years. I’m in my last half year now.”
“Actually it’s the other way around – school is in the background and my music is what I do all the time. Now it’s my last year and I need to do research and a little bit more for school, but I have a plan with my album. I started playing seriously with my band three years ago and I played 200 concerts in two years, mostly in the Netherlands, Germany and also concerts in England at Hyde Park. I had a little summer hit on the radio here in The Netherlands, but then I stopped performing because I wanted to focus on my album.”
When is the album going to be ready?
“It will be released in January. It’s already recorded and in the mixing process. I have a really cool mixer who I’m so proud to work with – Lars Iversen, producer of The Asteroids Galaxy Tour. I sent my songs to Lars and he said it was cool and asked if I wanted him to mix it, and I said ‘yeah cool!’”
What’s the story behind the song Burning Like A Firefly?
“I started with the bass line and I was just jamming with myself on the piano, and the whole song developed from there. I was still working on it for a few days to improve it, but the basics were set on that first day. With my lyrics in general, I’ll use nature and animals as metaphors, like with my artwork. That’s my thing. It’s actually like a heartbreak story, but I don’t want to leave my audience with a negative feeling – I want to spread positive feeling – so I wanted to add some humour with the image of the firefly.”
Is the artwork something you have a hand in?
“Yes, well I designed the idea. I have many ideas of what I want to do, then I find people to work with, and we worked it out together.”
Tell us about the album. Is it going to sound like Burning…?
“Burning Like A Firefly is definitely representative of what my album’s going to sound like, but there are also two ballads and a song that is more like speaking or rap. Everything will be kind of different, but with my voice, it’s still going to sound the same.”
Did you play any of the instruments on the album?
“Sometimes I play some keys or organ, but mostly my band played.”
How about when you’re writing music, do you just use the piano?
“Mostly use the piano, but I also make beats. Not full production – a mini production.”
Where do you like to write your songs? Nature’s a theme for you, so do you write outside, or in the woods?!
“Most of the songs are written in my bedroom. I’ll just go ‘I need to write a song’ and then I’ll jump on the keys. Of course sometimes I’m travelling and I’ll get inspiration, and I’ll write it in my head as a melody, but I’ll have nothing to record on. So I’ll just record the idea on my mobile phone, then when I come home I’ll find the right chords and stuff”
[cc_blockquote_right] IMPROVISING IS TOTALLY NOT WHAT THEY TAUGHT ME AT SCHOOL [/cc_blockquote_right]
What inspires your songwriting?
“Music from other artists can inspire me. Or if I read a line somewhere and it’s a really nice sentence. Travelling and seeing so many different things inspires me as well. But mostly songs come from jamming. I’m not sure what I’m going to write about, but I’ll go to the piano and I make the lyrics up right at the moment. Then a sentence comes out like ‘you got me burning like a firefly’ and I think ‘what could that mean?’ and then the story develops. It just happens.”
Did you learn any techniques like that at the pop academy?
“Actually this technique of improvising is totally not what they taught me at school! I figured out that it works so much better. If I say ‘I want to write a song about something’ then mostly I don’t like the song and it’s not how I want it. It’s like if you go shopping and you think ‘I want to buy a red dress like this’ then you’ll never find it. It just doesn’t work for me.”
Are there any particular singers or songwriters who influence you?
“Yeah there are a lot of artists like Regina Spektor, Feist and French singer called Camille – she’s really creative – Ladyhawke, Lykke Li. Mostly female singers who have their own style and that probably sound a bit weird, but over time people like them. Also Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Björk.”
What else have you got coming up?
“The most important thing is the album for now. I’ll be releasing one or maybe two other singles this year, then the album in January. I just hope people like it in The Netherlands and Germany, and of course England, Sweden, Denmark and wherever! It’s my first album, so it’s very special to me.”
Interview: Alex Miles
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, our monthly songwriting competition is still open. To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation, and submit a track for consideration via this link. Each month, we’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one. Good luck!
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about Stefany June, pop along to www.stefanyjune.com and watch the video for the excellent song Burning Like A Firefly here: