The last year has been a pivotal moment for queer artists with an explosion of representation for LGBT+ pop stars in the musical limelight. One such artist pushing for change for queer artists is San Francisco’s SUMif, aka Steph Wells.
Since the release of ‘Take Me’ in 2015, the out and proud queer artist has been making bright pop bops which unapologetically explore gender and sexual fluidity through her lyrics, videos and performances: “Girl I wanna know you / Breathe me in so softly / Tell me where you wanna go” SUMif murmurs over the hazy staccato chords and enticingly dark, crunchy bass synths of her latest single ‘Know You’.
It’s refreshing to see an artist like SUMif live and breathe their truth in their music, a facet which made up some of our conversation. The DIY electro-pop artist also gives a small insight into her technical process as well as the freeing nature of music for SUMif.
SheBOPS: Is there a quote you consider to be your life motto?
SUMif: Make it happen.
What got you into music?
My brother was a brilliant musician, never took a lesson, but could improvise for days on the guitar and piano – it was always inspiring to hear him play. I started taking piano lessons when I was young, and that evolved into guitar lessons…
Did your upbringing influence your relationship with music at all?
I have so many memories of listening to The Beatles cassette tapes as a kid, but the defining moment was when my parents took me to see Sheryl Crow – watching her onstage I remember thinking to myself “I need to do that.”
What’s been a real career highlight so far?
Playing on the mainstage at Pride in San Francisco was a total pinch me moment.
How do you feel about this quote from Aldous Huxley? “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
I don’t know what I’d do without music; when I’m going through any kind of emotional struggle, I write about it and then am able to send my feelings off into the universe in a nice little package. Music frees me and allows me to say the words I wouldn’t otherwise say aloud.
You write and produce all of your music! How do you feel about the underrepresentation of female music producers and songwriters?
Most of my songs are a collaborative effort – I work with a lot of different producers, but I unfortunately haven’t collaborated with any female producers. It totally sucks that there are so few female producers out there – it’s tough to break into such a male dominated industry. I’ll use this as an opportunity to plug one of my friends – she just released her EP that she produced entirely herself. Check out Neek’s words I shouldn’t have.
Which software, tools and equipment do you use to produce your music?
When I start a song myself, I pretty much just use Logic and my midi keyboard, along with samples from Splice. I usually produce a bedroom demo version of the direction I want to take it and send it off to other producers for them to add their own magic and perspective to it
What are your favorite sounds to incorporate into your music?
I love incorporating organic sounds as percussion – turning everyday household sounds into percussion.
What’s been the biggest difference in terms of writing and recording your next project compared to your first, Pretty Cage?
I’m in a very different headspace now in terms of writing, and I’m also collaborating a lot more. It’s been so fun to work with new people and get a new energy in my music.
Which female artists have inspired you in your life?
Are there any female artists you’re particularly into at the moment?
How do you feel about the representation of female musicians? Is there anything that you’d like to change?
There are so many incredible female musicians, but they are so underrepresented in general – at the Grammys – at music festivals. It makes zero sense. They’re out there, and killing it. Put more females on major festival lineups is the easiest thing I can think of to better represent the incredible artists out there.
As a woman, is there anything about the music industry that frustrates you?
There are many many things to be frustrated about the music industry, as I mentioned before the underrepresentation is sad; it kind of goes along with the times where I’ve been in sessions with men only, who have just taken control of the session, not even giving me a moment to let my voice be heard. We are silenced all the time.
What advice would you give to young girls and women looking to work in music?
Get out there and do it! Want to be a producer? Teach yourself – there are a million resources on youtube and if you put in the time you will be just as good as any man trying to do the same thing. Carry yourself with confidence and trust your gut.
You are an openly queer artist – have you noticed any challenges faced by queer musicians in today’s industry?
There will always be challenges, but I’m seeing way more queer artists in the limelight these days, we are slowly starting to have more of a platform. I am optimistic for the future.
Do you think the music industry places a high value on physical appearance? If so, why do you think that is?
Yes, definitely, for the same reason it always has – sex sells and people are theoretically more likely to follow an artist they find attractive.
How do you think musicians can create a sustainable income from their music?
Great question – I wish I had an answer. I have a full time job to support my music career.
What do you stand for as an artist?
I stand for authenticity – I think it’s important to be unapologetically yourself and hope that everyone at my shows feel like they can truly be themselves.
What’s left to come from you this year?
I’m excited to be playing a show with Youngr this weekend in San Francisco, and I have another single coming out next month and I’ll be releasing my second EP early next year! Other than that I’ll be in the studio writing and recording.