Artist Spotlight: Alisa Stepura’s ‘Strike Me a Smile!’ EP
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Artist Spotlight: Alisa Stepura’s ‘Strike Me a Smile!’ EP

Alisa Stepura is an emerging singer/songwriter who has gained significant traction with her refreshing, vintage sound. Drawing inspiration from iconic acts like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and the Bee Gees, Alisa Stepura delves into the art of creating music that pays homage to earlier eras while adding their unique twist. Behind each of her releases, there is a dedication to remaining authentic and true to herself and her fans. With her upcoming three track EP “Strike A Smile”, Alisa Stepura has the potential to become an industry wide sensation. Idols 2 Rivals was excited for the opportunity to sit down with Alisa Stepura for an exclusive interview, transcribed below, to preview her upcoming EP and talk about what it’s like recording on vintage equipment in the digital age.

Idols 2 Rivals (I2R): What inspired the vintage sound in your music?

AS: I think my personal musical taste, more than anything. Most of my favourite songs do happen to be from before the 2000s. Some of the artists I’m very fond of, like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, all made timeless music with much lesser technology available, which has always impressed me. With every song on the EP, I wanted to place myself into a specific era and see what I would come up with.

I2R: Can you tell us more about the recording process for ‘Strike Me a Smile!’?

AS: The recording, mixing and mastering process lasted around a whole year. I constantly had excellent mentorship from my tutors, as I’m currently a student at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, studying for a BA in Creative Music Production. Every time I made significant changes or would need opinions, I would bring the songs to class and have 15 or so of my friends and fellow students, and tutors, analyse them and offer their ideas. It was a great experience and I’m very grateful to every piece of advice that ended up changing the record for the better.

I2R: How did you decide on the tracklist for the EP?

AS: Since it’s only three tracks long, the songs share one common theme – in one way or another they’re supposed to be energetic. The first track, being quite punchy sets the scene for the EP, then comes a much darker side of it, one where lots of energy and frustration is released through the lyrics, and to finish it off – a feel-good disco inspired track that leaves the listener with a aftertaste of elation.

I2R: The title track ‘Strike A Smile!’ is quite energetic. What was the inspiration behind this song?

AS: I really wanted to immerse myself into 80’s pop rock. It took some time researching what instrumental and melodical arrangement would set the scene on my track correctly, and I ended up drawing lots of inspiration from Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”. Much cleaner than rock-n-roll but rougher than traditional pop, a little nostalgic, would not be complete without a bell synthesiser, and after compiling all of the above – the song started taking shape.

I2R: ‘Ratched and Divine’ explores a darker side. Can you tell us more about the story or emotion behind this track?

AS:The song expresses my frustration with drunk driving. After having learned that someone I knew got into an accident where they fatally hurt people because they were driving under the influence, I got quite angry with how lightly everyone around them reacted. So, I took my anger out in the song. Even though I focused more on the driving part, it’s also about how lightly addiction is taken sometimes and how destructive it could be to people and relationships.

I2R: ‘Get Up’ is a motivational anthem. What message do you hope listeners will take away from this song?

AS: To, sometimes, just let it all go. No matter the hardships of life, it’s human nature to find the means to let go and “let loose”. It’s a disco song, where lots of the inspiration I drew came from Chic’s “Le Freak”. The whole era of disco music captivates me. The genre has the power to get people together and just have them enjoy the upbeat funky rhythm, without overthinking its meaning due to a lack of substantial depth in the lyrics. I wanted to make something that would be reminiscent of the 80’s in a fun, catchy way.

I2R: What challenges did you face while creating this EP?

AS: I had to setup my own studio at home because with the way I make music, renting out a studio would not be as efficient. First of all, I like to work late into the night because I feel like I can totally concentrate on what I’m doing. Second of all, I always want to have the means to record and implement, right into the record, ideas that come to me at random points during the day. So I had to invest into quality gear and build a little music cave for myself, in order to really finish the EP and make sure it’s as polished as possible.

I2R: How has your musical style evolved since you started making music?

AS: I would honestly say I didn’t have a style before getting half-way through the previous album of mine. I tried to do a bit of every genre to prove to myself that I can, and then realised I wasn’t progressing significantly in any of them because I wasn’t focused. I went from trying to do hip-hop, to then writing rnb, and then finally settled on what I enjoyed the most – alternative rock.

I2R: What artists or bands have influenced your musical style?

AS: I take bits and pieces of instrumental tones from various rock bands, even more precisely – specific songs. My “own” drum mix is always distorted and crushed, as well as very tightly compressed. I really liked the drums in “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, they played a big part in my vision. From time to time I try to emulate the guitar tone in “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse and “Slidin’” by Paul McCartney. There’s almost always a saw synthesiser present in my latest work, I really like when those are mixed in with electric guitars, like in (probably the most famous synth-based rock song) “Jump” by Van Halen.

I2R: Why do you prefer using analogue gear, vintage compressors, and tape recorders instead of digital technology?

AS: Almost every analogue instrument, due to its wiring and mechanics, adds colour to sound. Most of them add warmth and saturation to audio, which is something I really enjoy implementing into my mix. As for tape recorders, they tend to compress audio by a lot because tape has dynamic range limitations due to its thinness. The sound produced ends up being very warm, put-together, and a little distorted. It’s definitely a big part of my style.

I2R: How does your music reflect your personal experiences or beliefs?

AS: Half of the time I write to express emotions that I feel like I need an outlet for. It’s usually something dark and infuriating, “Ratched and Divine” being a perfect example. The other half, I write from the point of view of a character who is going through experiences I wouldn’t necessarily call my own. For example, “Strike Me a Smile” is about someone falling back in love with their high school classmate who’s gone onto become famous by the time the narrator comes back to their hometown, consequentially offering to become their secret and run away together from the latter’s lack of privacy. Never happened to me! At least not yet.

I2R: Can you share some of your favorite moments during the recording process of this EP?

AS: Some of those took place in the classroom in which I’ve shown the songs to my peers. It became the ultimate brainstorming headquarters. I was offered so many great ideas, from overall comments on the mix, to little (but crucial) details, like making three little pauses in the instrumental only part of “Ratched and Divine”’s chorus. Another one would be me obtaining a genuine analogue spring reverb unit. I put so many of my vocals through it and it gave me amazing results. Lastly, I can’t not mention hitting a very high, for my register, note in the very end of the bridge in “Strike Me a Smile”. It was completely out of my usual range and I have no clue how I did it, but it was the first, and last, take of that vocal line. I think it was out of the upper fifth octave.

I2R: How do you see your music evolving in the future?

AS: I definitely want to experiment more with basslines and various synthesisers instrument-wise. As for the actual writing, making music from various characters’ POVs and creating dark and twisted alter-egos sounds quite interesting. Those are just some of the ideas I have, I’m sure something else might pop into my head and send me into a different direction.

I2R: What advice do you have for aspiring artists who want to create their own unique sound?

AS: Take an idea you might’ve gotten from somewhere else and experiment with it enough to make it yours. I liked compressed drums in various songs, so I completely drenched mine in it and now I can’t make a song without something crashed to the maximum being the drum line. Coming up with something completely new might be incredibly hard and take way too long to figure out, but reworking something pre-existing into something you could make your forte is much more fun.

I2R: What can fans expect from you in the near future?

AS: I’m currently in the process of another album, which would be coming out in the summer of 2024, as well as a single that would be on it. Lots of vocal experimentation to be anticipated. I even recorded a choir with 52 tracks of vocal harmonies to make it my best vocal production as of right now.

I2R: Do you have any rituals or practices that you follow before performing or recording?

AS: Depending on what kind of vocal I need from myself, I always take a few sips of some drink. If I want something really smooth I usually go with green or ginger tea. If I want something very dry, rough, and maybe even raspy for a strong lower harmony or strained rock vocals – wine is very good for that. Vocal teachers might say to steer clear of it because it dries out your throat, but I use that to my advantage.

I2R: How do you deal with creative blocks?

AS: I simply listen to the new music that’s being released. It’s instant inspiration for me. If someone else can craft an amazing record with great sounds and interesting writing, why shouldn’t I try? I’m always excited about new releases because it’s fascinating to me how much great music is out there and how much more is in the works as we speak, and I simply can’t not partake.

I2R: Can you share any memorable experiences from your musical journey so far?

AS: Starting my academic journey in music is definitely taking first place on this list. I knew I wasn’t aware of every little thing in the production world, but after getting to be surrounded by professional producers, engineers, equipment, and getting to know how to really work a studio I realised I knew incredibly little. From having first touched a Solid Slate Logic console to getting infatuated with the world of tube microphones, it’s all been a dream come true so far, and that’s only the beginning. Setting up my own studio would definitely be another one. I got to collect all of the things I love in one room, completely to my liking. It’s been a captivating experience to build this one big mechanism that I can steer in any direction I need.

I2R: Lastly, is there anything else you would like to share with your fans or our readers?

AS: I happen to release a record every single year on my birthday, June 21st, to track my own progress. That’s been a tradition since 2020 now, even though I’ve taken down some of the previously released works because of heavy self-criticism. This year I will still be sticking to it too, however I do plan on releasing a single sometime before that date.