There’s a new up and coming artist on the block. Meet Steph Wells, otherwise known as SUMif, whose newly released EP, Pretty Cage, is just what you need to start your year off fresh. Wells has enjoyed organic success through the release of a handful of singles, many of which landed on the highly coveted Spotify New Music Friday playlists. SUMif has enjoyed organic success by relying heavily on streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud to reach a larger audience and dovetailing off of the ease and accessibility of technology. Pretty Cage is highly anticipated for Wells and her fans alike (and those to come). She stopped by Neuehouse in Los Angeles to curate an exclusive Spotify playlist for us and discuss her career, new EP, and love of performing live.
DSTLD: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Was music always your passion?
SW: I’m from outside of Los Angeles and started taking piano lessons when I was young. I really wanted to play the guitar and be in a band in middle school. When I was 14, my parents took me to see Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch for my birthday. I remember Sheryl Crow played the bass and I thought it was super badass, so I took my birthday money and bought one the next day. I played in a pseudo rock band throughout high school, then went on to NYU to study Music Business. After I graduated I knew I wanted to do music full time, but didn't really know how. I heard Nashville was the music city to be in, that everyone went there to make music, so I thought I would try it. I was only there for a year because I missed California, so I moved back to San Francisco. That was when Spotify was on the rise and I started consuming music in a new way. All of a sudden, there was so much accessibility to music than ever before. I could go to shows down the street for eight dollars because I knew about these small bands. At the time, I was playing acoustic guitar and thought electronic music production was too hard since you need software and a skill set I didn't have. At these smaller shows the openers usually weren't that good, but since it was electronic pop music, people were still dancing around and having fun. I thought I could product better music than what I was hearing so I found a few people to show me the basics, which turned out to be pretty easy.
DSTLD: What are the basics of electronic music production?
SW: You can use Garageband on a Mac which is where I started because it's free. You have to start with chord progression, such as four chords with a simple beat behind it, and then you can write a full structure of a song that way. Then you have to learn all the bells and whistles to give it a better sound. I still haven't mastered this but thankfully have met professionals who've spent thousands of hours mastering these skills to help me with my songs. I released my first song at Summit a little over two years ago and remember my first goal was to have one blog post on it. It happened easily, which I was thrilled about, and from there just kept releasing more music. It's going well so far I think.
DSTLD: Why the name SUMif?
SW: I was talking with a co-worker about band names and I wanted something short and easy to mis-pronounce because I think if people don’t know how to pronounce your name they talk about it more.
DSTLD: How much has changed in terms of how your music has evolved, your skills, and your goals since your first release two years ago?
SW: I fully produced the first song I released and took it to a friend of mine who mixed and edited it for me. Since then, I've started half producing and then working with more experienced producers to help me develop them further. I released my first song on Spotify in November two years ago, then a handful more and had five songs with no views. Then one day I woke up and saw 10,000 plays and could not believe it. One of my songs was put on an official Spotify playlist called Frescura Indie that had about 400,000 followers. I thought to myself, how could this happen? I had no publicist, manager, and no one pitching out my music. I started showing up more in Spotify's algorithm and was put on their Discover Weekly playlist. Now I have over 1 million Spotify plays and hoping for ten times that in 2018. I love performing live. Being on stage is my favorite thing in the world. Once I had about eight songs, I booked a show in San Francisco and it sold out. We had about 300 people. I thought no one would show up! It was amazing. I feel like I'm no longer as nervous as I once was. My goal is to have someone bring me on tour, but that can be hard without a booking agent. For now, I'm going to keep putting more songs out there and try to play as many shows as I can.
"I started showing up more in Spotify's algorithm and was put on their Discover Weekly playlist. Now I have over 1 million Spotify plays and hoping for ten times that in 2018."
DSTLD: What artists have you opened for so far?
SW: I've opened for a bunch of artists lately who I love and respect like Ella Vos, Vérité, and Little Boots. These are bands I listen to all the time. I've had fans who came to see them who tell me after the show they had no idea who I was, but loved my music. It's really cool to see people respond to my music. And it's very cool to be performing before some of my idols.
DSTLD: You've been able to connect with producers and other artists via Soundcloud, and your career has seemingly been enhanced by streaming. How much have these platforms helped grow your career?
SW: They've absolutely helped me. I live in San Francisco, which doesn’t have a huge music scene so I stand out as an electropop artist. The guy who books the electropop scene calls me for local support, knowing I'm at the top of eletropop cool in San Francisco. That is ot something I would be able to say in Los Angeles. These platforms have allowed me to work with LA based producers - we'll Facetime to work on songs even when we haven't worked on them together in person. Spotify is my platform. There's so much talent and competition out there, but the fact that people can actually hear my music using Spotify. If i didn't have it, I don't know if it would be this easy to be accessible to people.
DSTLD: Tell us about your new EP being released in January.
SW: I've released ten singles over the past two years and finally coming out with an EP. It wil l have a couple of new songs and over the past two months I've released two singles leading up to it. The EP is called Pretty Cage. Right now, I'm working while recording music. It's not my full time job, so while yes, I do have it pretty good, I'm not creating every day like I want to so in some ways it feels like a cage. It's a larger idea that even though someone's life may look wonderful from the outside, that isn't always the case. It's easy to feel trapped if you don't feel free.
DSTLD: Do you have any other songs being released that weren't able to make it on the EP?
SW: I have a song that I'm recording now that I'm super excited about, but it won't be done for a few weeks and will most likely be released in February. I took most of the year to focus on my live performances and writing as much as I could so recording kind of took a backseat. I'm really excited to keep putting more music out there. It's easy to get frustrated during the process, thinking maybe this isn't for me, but then I think about the people who come up to me after my shows to tell me how much they love my music and to keep doing what I'm doing. I've had a few people come up and ask "are you SUMif?" and I had to try to keep my cool. It happened at an Odeza show recently. I'm just in awe that people are going to shows, seeing performers I love and idolize, who also know me and are fans. It's incredible.
You can listen to SUMif's EP Pretty Cage on Spotify now.