Indie-electro artist Stephen has been creating a stir with his thought-provoking music, touching on themes from politics and societal issues, to relatable life experiences in the 21st century. His latest release “Delilah” follows suit, narrating his own involvement with drugs, discovering his sexuality and finding his true-self. Not afraid to honestly express his own thoughts and feelings, Stephen doesn’t hold back. Through clashing electronic soundscapes and oscillating melodies, “Delilah” is a passionate release, bursting with vitality. The Virginia born, Los Angeles based artist has concocted and perfected an unmistakably distinct sound and image, that you won’t come across anywhere else.
The new visuals for “Delilah” reinforce the track’s plot, delving into the songwriter’s inspiration of Jungian psychology and uncovering one’s own shadow. Dressed in a lady’s nightgown, with a bloodied nose, Stephen stares deeply into his own reflection, before deciding to take a walk at dusk. The eccentric visuals represent the ideology of Stephen trying to uncover his inner-self and becoming at peace with who he is, beneath all the distractions of modern day life.
LADYGUNN had the pleasure of talking to Stephen, discussing his own battle with Lyme disease, his love of traveling and his upcoming album Akrasia.
How did you first become interested in Jungian psychology? And how does this play out in the new video?
A couple years ago, I was at my recording studio at my record label’s office and my friend Shell Cove and I were on the roof. She just pulled out of her wallet like three tabs of acid and me, her, and my buddy Max just spontaneously one afternoon at 2pm just dropped the tab of acid which isn’t something I do that often. This whole series of events unfolded and it climaxed as I was sitting on this overlook of all of LA and this mountain. I was looking at the city and I looked up into the sky, and all of the sudden it felt like my entire being was cut in half and I was two people. I didn’t really know either of them and they felt incomplete or something. Every time I leaned to my left I felt totally female, maybe female is the wrong word, but I was lost in feeling, freedom, chaos, and empathy. It was like this sweet melting, beautiful feeling. Then I would turn to my right, and lean my head to the right and it was like all of that was gone. All I felt was order, organization, rigidness, structure, and boxes. This was a crazy ass trip, but I would put my head in the middle, and it was like I was talking to some spirit thing, and it gave me these two scepters and I had to hold them up. Essentially it was telling me to embrace both of these sides. I don’t know, it was super intense, and I had no idea what the heck was happening and it was honestly pretty scary. But eventually that stopped and the next morning I was drinking coffee and trying to figure out what the heck happened because it made a lot of sense in a strange way. I was just Googling and I stumbled into Carl Young because he has this process of individuation, which is really synonymous with the Eastern philosophy of enlightenment. In enlightenment, you have the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, you have this sort of call to action to become whole and to become totally free. In Jungian psychology, this process is called individuation and essentially it’s the process of self actualization of becoming whole. The reason I stumbled into him was because part of the individuation process is to integrate into and have experiences with and to understand what he calls your anima and your animus. I don’t remember which ones which, but one of them is the part of yourself that is your gender. So for me that would be my male part of myself and then the other one is the opposite of your gender. So for me, that’s my female counterpart. He believed in his science/mystical research, that we are both 50% anima or 50% animus or 100% of both and we are both equally male and equally female. I didn’t really know what that meant. I still don’t to be honest. But that was how I kind of discovered him. Then I got his book and I started reading about stuff and it’s really dense. His shit is really dense, but really fascinating.
I know you battled Lyme disease, which you were diagnosed with in 2016. How has it shaped you as a person and how has it affected your music?
I remember the day that I said to myself after getting the diagnosis and realizing, you know, the kind of the journey and the battle that was ahead of me. I said to myself, for the first time since maybe I was like 16, “Everything that you want in this life, everything that you’re fighting for or that you’re working towards, it all has to take a backseat right now, you have to be graceful. You have to stop putting pressure on yourself to accomplish those things. The only thing that matters right now is getting better.” That was a really powerful memory because really, what I was saying to myself is “I surrender control” because the process of getting better wasn’t really in my hands. I mean, all I could do was listen to what the doctor told me to do, which is obviously not that hard. Take your medicine, show up, get your IVs, sleep, eat this, eat that, don’t do this, don’t do that. That stuff’s easy, but what’s scary is whether or not it’s going to work and how long it’s going to take and if the doctor even knows what she’s doing. Lyme disease is sort of weird and the medical community is still perplexed by it. So, anyways, to answer this question, getting sick really helped me build a relationship with forces in the universe that are out of my control. It was a very humbling experience up until that point in my life. I really felt like everything that had happened to me was because of choice and because of will and because of my rearing head and my actions and that my life was in my hands. But getting sick and then reflecting on my whole life while I was sick, I realized how much was actually out of my control and how lucky I am to be and have the things that I have and to know the things that I know and just everything. All of this really helps in the creative process because as you asked how it affects my music, the creative process is this really elusive thing. As I get older I find more and more that the more I can surrender control in the studio when I’m writing, the more I can tap into a deeper creative power and a deeper wisdom. So Lyme disease was this strange blessing and this weird guru teacher thing that humble me and helped me learn how to surrender control. It taught me some powerful lessons, gratitude and patience.
I hear you are a fan of traveling. What are some of your latest adventures and how have these influenced your music both thematically as well as sonically?
Well, COVID has put a damper on all my travel plans. My last travel was to Thailand and I was there for a couple months last year right before moving into this house. A lot of the journeys I’ve taken recently have sort of been in this town. I’m getting kind of poetic here but the process of writing this album was a journey, not necessarily to look at a faraway place or anything, but to some faraway places within myself.
Delilah is off of your upcoming album Akrasia due out later this month, can you tell listeners more of what we expect in the upcoming full length?
The album is like an adult playing in a sandbox, who is dealing with some of his heaviest traumas while simultaneously feeling the lightest, happiest and the freest he’s ever felt in his adult life. The album is sort of this contrast between melancholy and reflection but put in the context of these playful, bangin kind of party-esque type beats. The album’s very collage-like. The entire album and the concept of Akrasia is about our impulses. The definition of Akrasia is the state of mind and which we act against our better judgment through weakness of will. So the whole album is about me dealing with various impulses in my life and various cravings that are instantly gratifying but don’t bring me any fulfillment. The album is sort of a journey through all of the various impulses and little things.
During COVID-19 touring has come to a standstill. How are you staying connected to your fans as of late?
The main way I’m staying connected to my fans right now is actually this other phone number that I have. I’m just texting people. People drop me notes about advice on a personal issue or a life crossroad or somebody will just want to know where an idea came from. some people will send me art or some people will send me songs. I don’t know what it is about texting and why it feels different from other social media. Maybe it just feels more personal. Maybe the anonymity of it is cool how there’s no picture of a face and it’s just words. But yeah, I’m staying connected through texting. It’s really cool engaging with fans. I really do get a lot from it and it helps steer me in some sense because I think a lot of the time I’m not sure whether or not I should continue to do something. I have this website called https://sincerelystephen.com/ and when I was releasing my first album I was writing in it a lot. I stopped because I got in this headspace where I looked back at it and I felt like it just was kind of corny, or like it was just too preachy, or, I don’t know, I just was not necessary. Just seeing notes from fans being like “even if you don’t want to write anymore, I wish you could leave those posts up just so I could go back and reread them.” When you read a comment like that, when I’m in a place of second guessing myself, it can really help reinforce what it is that I’m trying to do which is just to express an outpouring of love and share the things that I’ve experienced and be brave in that.
Stephen your new single and accompanying visuals for Delilah captivating, and navigate to shadow Can you tell us more about what this represents?
So also in Jungian psychology, dealing with anima and animus is part of individuation. Then another step, and I don’t know if this comes before, after, or all at once, but it’s integrating your shadow. I understand your shadow to be your oppressed potentials and all of the things that you’re capable of feeling, doing, saying, and thinking that you’re not aware of. The reason they’re repressed is a bit more complicated, but I think it has to do with fear and shame, and pushing these things away. You’ve said that this isn’t who I am, and you’ve locked them in the cellar. It could be because you haven’t quite had the circumstances in life that brought them about, so you’re just not aware that you’re capable of acting in that way or doing that thing. But Carl Jung believes that the more unconscious our shadow is, the more unaware we are all the things that we’re capable of. A lot of things in the shadow, by the way, are not flattering and are bad, destructive, or toxic. He says that the more that we’re unaware of them, the more that we create problems in our life, and the more that we express our unconscious shadow consciously without even realizing it. So this last year, and maybe this can answer my traveling question, is that the journey that I took this year wasn’t one of distance on the planet, it was one of exploring parts of myself and I guess that’s a journey I will always be on and that we’re all always on. I really got to experience what you would call my shadow or parts of it. For me, that was my shadow being short sighted. I’m always someone who’s thinking long term. What Delilah represents is this repressed part of myself that is capable of such impulsive, destructive indulgence. I think something that I’d personally deal with is finding pleasure. My dad is a workaholic, my mom’s a worrier, my brother is an over-thinker, and I possess all of those things. Something that I never really allowed myself to do too much in my life was to just indulge in pleasure and just be hedonistic. I am a rebellious person and I am a wild person, but it’s always been sort of intentional, controlled and careful. What I experienced this last year was indulging in drugs, sex, and fantasies that felt so euphoric and were so destructive to my long term goals and how I was going to feel tomorrow. You know when you do a bunch of drugs and have a crazy night, you just can’t function for a couple of days after that. What’s really weird is all of this took the form of also a feminine energy in myself. Simultaneous to getting really high and indulging in sexual fantasies was a feeling of feeling like a female. I literally would put on lingerie and dresses and move in ways that I had never moved. It’s unfortunate that the only way I could get there and experience that was by getting really high because I’m not trying to make this connection that feeling like a woman is a bad thing. No, that was the beautiful part of it and that’s why I did the drugs and I needed the drugs to get to that place that I was trying to get to. When I got there I felt so accepting of myself and I think that’s the whole moral of Delilah. As we encounter our shadow and as we come to terms with the things that we’re capable of, for me it’s self-annihilation, impulse, pleasure, and feeling sometimes like a female, then I feel so much more whole and so much more self accepting. I had so much more conviction in everything that I said and everything that I did. I felt free. This is really hard and complicated and I wish I could talk to someone who could ask me more questions on the topic so I could expand more. To tie that all into the album Akrasia, it’s really funny how giving into my impulse, and sort of making what a lot of people would call mistakes, actually led me to some profound realizations and some profound lessons. I think there’s this theme in the album of forgiving yourself for all the mistakes that you have made. A lot of those mistakes were really important that you made them. Second of all, don’t be scared to make more mistakes, because all of the lessons that I learned through making this album and the experiences inspired the music, they all had something to show me. I’m thankful that I had the courage to be impulsive, go against my better judgment and to lose some control and to scare myself a little bit.
CONNECT WITH STEPHEN
photos / Rob May
story / Chloe Robinson