Steph Barrak: Words to Break Your Heart

Originally from a suburban town in Connecticut, Steph was drawn to music at a young age. She often cites Freddie Mercury of Queen as her biggest inspiration and credits the band with her visceral initial reaction to music: “I was about seven years old the first time listening to music gave me goose bumps,” she recalls. “It was during Queen’s ‘Bicycle Race.’ There’s a brief solo near the end of the song that begins with bicycle bells jingling, then two guitars coming in and talking back and forth with each other. I get shivers just thinking about it. I was completely hooked.”

Steph attempted to learn piano and clarinet in middle school, but would frequently practice made-up melodies instead of her assigned sheet music. As a result, Steph never learned to read music—but she got good at memorizing her parts by ear. “I’m not proud of the fact that I can’t read music. I’d like to be able to learn the theory of it one day, to be able to talk about my music in a more sophisticated way. For now, though, I’ll stick with what I know. So far that seems to be working out fine for me.”

Steph quit her formal music lessons when she was 13. She picked up her sister’s acoustic guitar, began writing songs on just one string, and never looked back. She eventually learned how to play chords from the internet, and her songwriting began to develop in complexity. In 2006, Steph left home for Boston University and began performing live at open mics hosted by the school. “I was so nervous that I blacked out my first open mic performance. All I remember was walking off of the stage and being confronted by the director of the venue asking me if I wanted to headline my own show in the spring.” Since then, Steph has played over 50 shows around the East Coast, including The Knitting Factory in NYC, and has shared the stage with acts such as Jenny Owen Youngs.

Much to the relief of her parents, Steph graduated with an undergraduate degree in Business in 2010. “They advised me to get my degree before focusing on music. So I graduated, moved to San Francisco, met several inspirational songwriters, and then came back to Boston to begin recording my first professional album.” Recording for the album began in late 2010 and took nearly two years to complete.

As an unsigned, independent artist, Steph had a day job to fund the album. Studio sessions were therefore limited to late nights and weekends. To delay things further, Steph was diagnosed with mono just as recording was nearly complete. “I thought I was dying, that the album was literally killing me. Thankfully, I was over mono after a long couple of months.” Steph continues, “It wasn’t ideal, but it allowed us to be very deliberate with the recording. Nothing was rushed and everything was intentional.”

While Steph’s live performances are often acoustic, the album was recorded with a full band. It features appearances from musical heavyweights Duke Levine (of Peter Wolf and Aimee Mann), Jamie Edwards (of Aimee Mann and Ben Gibbard), and Steve Scully (of Francine and Melissa Ferrick). Steph credits producer Mike Davidson with always seeing the big picture, and bringing out the best version of each of her songs. ”The process was a collaboration,” she explains. “It’s our baby.”

Listeners of Steph’s music primarily comment on her vocal style and lyrics. Steph’s voice has often been compared to that of Suzanne Vega’s, and her lyrics are often described as heartfelt, simple, and memorable. Steph hopes to continue her recording and songwriting career long after the release of her first record. “I’ve got a lot of songs left in me. Words to Break Your Heart is only the beginning.”


1 CD
Cyber PR
# of Winners: 
Start/End Dates: 
2/1/2013 - 2/28/2013

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