The pursuit of music is more than a career; it’s a calling.
Some rise above and are able to make a name in the cut-throat industry, while others wane, sell-out, and call it in.
John Allen Stephens is a musician who has been hard at work in the Houston scene for well over a decade, and what he’s created during his tenure is enviable — to say the least.
Making a name as an engineer at premier recording studios throughout the city, Stephens moved on to create his own home studio which is now based in the city’s Eastend. Stephens has been able to make a living doing what matters most to him: creating music. Anyone who’s tried the gambit can tell you that’s no easy task.
John Allen Stephens released his debut album Radioclub.lp back in 2018, solidifying his status as a true pop genius. His latest follow-up, a track ominously entitled Molotov, follows in the same vein while embodying a more carefree vibe, certainly putting it in the running for Houston’s track of the summer.
Stephens started working on the track over a year ago, and it started as an attempt to branch out, collaborate with more artists in the city, and see what happens when the artistic element is shared between creative minds.
Hearby sat down with Stephens to discuss his latest release and the rituals behind his art.
Hearby: How have you kept busy during the current quarantine?
John Allen Stephens: I’ve been working a lot. I’ve been definitely staying a lot in the studio, it’s definitely my comfort zone. Even when I’m not working for clients, I try to stay in the room just to stay creative and stay inspired, but definitely watching a ton of movies. I’ve been going on walks a couple of miles of days, that definitely helps. But, a lot of movies, listening to records, and podcasts.
Hearby: How do you think your music fits into the Houston music scene?
John Allen Stephens: I don’t know. I feel that Houston is so diverse. The difference in tone and sonics from my last album — it’s a definite departure I think. I’m just trying to incorporate more and more kinds of music, so hopefully, that’s representative of how diverse Houston is as a city. Hopefully being informed by other work I’ve done for other artists here. I think that all kind of comes together, and all the other players who are on the project are from here. So, it’s a very uniquely Houston thing.
Hearby: Who all worked on the track?
John Allen Stephens: Ejay Mallard, he did the adlibs with me, and he kind of sang where he felt throughout. Saxophone, Leo Reon; he played on “Addiction,” and he played on this whole album. And, Jon Durbin from the Suffers; he played Trumpet. I produced everything.
Hearby: You’re a professional producer and engineer. How would you describe your role in John Allen Stephens: songwriter, engineer, musician?
John Allen Stephens: I think producer can encapsulate all those things, and I think mostly the process for me working on someone else’s stuff and my stuff is the same, with the exception of the luxury of time. So I will put things down sometimes, I don’t have to rush, I don’t have a due date. I can be very selective about the sonics, swapping out drum sounds until I’m 100 percent happy with it. Definitely, I think the goal for my stuff is to show the sonics of what I’m capable of or how I can push myself. I see it as a portfolio of what I can do for others.
Hearby: That’s an interesting way to look at it.
John Allen Stephens: I feel that with producers, with mixing engineers or recording engineers, most of the gig is word of mouth, you work on something and someone thinks it sounds cool and wonder who worked on that or they’ll ask the person who put it out. I definitely see my own music as an extension, and I learn so much from the other artists I work with, and that’s informed my solo project so much.
Hearby: What was the inspiration for the single?
John Allen Stephens: It’s all true. Everything in these songs is very matter-of-fact, it’s all true. When I was younger, I threw a molotov cocktail into this local neighborhood kid’s front yard. He had problems with a friend of mine and I wanted to stick with my friend. I think we all just got wasted one night and just made such a poor decision. Something I’ve had regrets for this entire time, and being able to finally vocalize that, coming to terms with the same of fucking up that bad. My life took a different course after that. The chorus is me addressing this past version of myself, like, I have no idea what you were even thinking. I have no idea what I was thinking at that time. Then I kind of explore the mindset of where I was at that time and how it could have contributed.
Hearby: Pretty personal.
John Allen Stephens: Yea, super personal. It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been with my songwriting. I’ve explored elements of addiction or shame, and things like that in the past, but it was always a little bit veiled, at least, not so cut-and-dry, like this is what happened. It was very liberating to be comfortable enough personally to be able to communicate that in a song.
Hearby: What is your goal with your music? What’s your usual songwriting process?
John Allen Stephens: Creating a song is 100 percent a selfish pursuit. It makes me feel good. I want to make bangers out of very personal, a lot of times the lyrics are a little bit darker, more depressing. I like the idea of making something palatable out of something heart-felt, vulnerable. I just want to share the music with as many people as I can, and I think for the first time it’s not totally selfish. It’s looking back at it thinking it may be of use to someone else to kind of explore these thoughts and share them with other people. Hopefully, they can get something out of it. I don’t know if I start with an end goal, it’s really just that I had something to say, and it felt good to sing it over that musical phrase. It’s just an extension of where I was at during the time.
Hearby: Are you planning on releasing anything else this year?
John Allen Stephens: Yea, I’m working on an album. This is the second single from this album I’m working on. It’s going to be like 10 songs when it’s tracklisted. It’s basically much done. I have one more bass part to record and then all the recording is done, I just have to mix it then, master. I’m really shooting for no later than June, and that’s my working time table.