Casii Stephan is a soul pop/rock artist hailing from Minnesota. Now based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the impassioned songstress evokes subtle vibrato notes and roller-coaster-like melodies, which immediately grab the listener, while her emotional lyrics share intimate stories. She has been compared to the likes of Florence Welch, Fiona Apple and Carole King, as her vocal timbre possesses a full and warm quality.
Stephan’s voice is fierce and fearless, but this was not always the case. She grew up shy and afraid of her voice until she started writing songs on the family piano in South St. Paul when she was 16. In music, she discovered something extraordinary that allowed her to transcend everyday life and find a deeper sense of self. Stephan moved to Tulsa in 2014 with the intent to give up her pursuit of a music career, however with a little encouragement from a friend, she continued her journey and started releasing music. Her songs were promptly applauded by critics and have since been racking up a number of awards, as well as garnering acclaim from media and fans across the globe.
An underlying theme throughout Stephan’s music is hope, she explains, “Its such a cliched word and yet there are so many layers to it. Hope keeps us alive. It keeps us moving. But it also feels flighty some days like a pixie that does what it wants. But it’s not a pixie. It’s more like the air we breathe. Some days it’s presence is stronger than we realize and some days we forget in our day-to-day lives that it’s there… keeping us moving forward”. Her music combines her love for the storytelling elements of Disney ballads and the bold, brilliance of The White Stripes, as well as the soul-wrenching R&B melodies of H.E.R.
Tell us about the genesis of your project. How did you get to where you are now?
I started writing songs at 16 in Minnesota. Kind of thought music was done when I moved to Tulsa, but thankfully I met my friend/manager/percussionist Amira Al-Jiboori and she pushed me to do music again. Once I started playing music live in Tulsa, I started getting more gigs and the band kept building as well. Until 2020. Then that took a nosedive, but this song came out of that.
What is the favorite song you wrote and why?
Gosh. I don’t think I have a favorite song. I think I have favorite lyrics from songs. Like These Hard Days – my favorite lyric is “It’s okay to scream at silence ’cause you’ll never be the same.” That lyric came out of my emotional growth this last year and I’m proud of that. Or in “Here Comes the Light” which was released earlier this year – I like the lyric of “followed by a dark, dark morning” in the chorus. When you’re depressed, the morning light isn’t always bright. Sometimes the mornings are just really hard and dark.
Who are your all time musical icons?
Menken & Rice. Everyone knows at least one of the songs they’ve written for Disney musicals.
What are some things to do to keep your inspiration alive?
Listen outside of my musical genre comfort zone. It’s really easy to get stuck in genres that I know and love. It’s inspiring to listen outside and appreciate what makes each genre great.
Who are you binge listening to these days?
Kacey Musgraves. Her lyrics are just so good.
Favorite movie or TV show?
My top two favorite movies are Beauty and the Beast and Gladiator. My favorite TV show – New Girl.
Tell us about your latest release and how it came about
These Hard Days was written towards the end of 2020. Just everything was building and there wasn’t a tension release anywhere. So I just wanted to write a song that both “Keep your chin up” and “Yeah. The depression is real.” Recorded it in December 2020 and then planned to release it early 2021, but things happen. So unfortunately 2021 brought remnants of 2020 into it and here we are with a still frustratingly relevant song.
Do you have any peculiar pre or post show rituals?
Yes. Pre-show I just remove myself from people and talk myself through how I want to be on stage. I’m such an introvert and I get anxiety before shows, so I need to kind of breathe and picture how I want to be on stage and engage with people. Depending on the venue and the atmosphere, the way to engage with people can change.
What’s the future looking like for you?
Ha. Breathing. One step at a time. Just moving forward. Recording some more. Doing some outdoor shows in Tulsa. And just learning to be okay with what I have right now, because getting frustrated with what could have happened isn’t healthy.
Who inspires your style and aesthetics?
I take inspiration from whatever mood or story the song or performance needs. I like to try different things out and see what works. But if all else fails, I wear black.
What is the achievement or moment in your career you are the most proud of and why?
Getting to play SXSW a couple times has been a highlight. But also just getting to play for people that listen and want to hear what you have to say. As a songwriter, it’s the best feeling in the world when someone relates with something you wrote.
What do you think is the best way to make it as an artist nowadays?
My first question is what does that mean to the artist. Every artist has different goals. Some want to have fame and make it that way. Some just want to be able to play in their hometown on a regular basis. Some just want to be able to make the music they want with a steady fanbase that can support them. So it really depends on what the artist wants.
What would you change in the music and entertainment industry especially after this past year?
Streaming royalties. So many people relied on online ways to supplement their income after being shut down. And if streaming could earn artists more income, then maybe it wouldn’t have been such of a jolt to people’s income.