interview: Stef Chura
words + interview: Lauren Rearick
photos: Chloe Sells
On her second album, Midnight, Stef Chura returns with a resounding roar. On this follow-up to her debut record, Messes, Chura embraces an emboldened sound, delivering on an album that feels limitless and unstoppable. Inspired by musical elements ranging from Courtney Love to The Strokes, it’s no surprise that this record, in short, just completely rocks/shreds/rules.
Joined by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, Chura leans into a new identity of experimentation, ranging from brief, surprising bits of piano (“Trumbull”) to catchy, swinging garage rock that’s razor-sharp and brash, and it all culminates in a finish that practically knocks you back with it power.
In celebration of the new album, we chatted with Chura about the difference between Messes and Midnight, the moments of aggression that fueled her writing, and how this album all came together.
The Grey Estates: I wanted to start by telling you that I love Midnight a ton. I can't stop listening to it. It's so good. That being said, I feel it's really different from Messes. Was that intentional?
Stef Chura: Maybe in a weird way it was. I don’t think that I very specifically in my mind thought it had to be different from Messes, but working with people the way I did on this album, it was gong to be different.
I love the way Messes turned out, but some stuff, the way it was recorded, didn’t turn out like I pictured. I would say Midnight sounds much more different than Messes, and than what I thought it would look and feel like. It sounds further along than what I thought that my second album would.
When you had done Messes, were you working with as many people as with Midnight? I know you work with Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest on this one.
It’s a pretty similar size. With Messes, it was three people: me, my drummer, and Fred Thomas. Fred also played bass on the album.
On Midnight it was me, my drummer Ryan Clancy, Will, and engineer Adam Stilson. Will did some engineering, too. He would take the tracks home and record stuff at his house.
It’s not that this record featured a big fancy team; I just think some different choices were made with the mixing of this one. With Messes, Fred and I mixed most of it. Clancy mixed the drums. Heba Kadry mastered it So, there was a slighter bigger array of people on Midnight that I think lends to having a more dynamic sound, because you have all these different voices involved.
Me and Will really worked on a lot of these tracks, and this album really lends itself to sounding much different than Messes because of the arrangements, and also because Will played a lot on the songs. Will plays bass on the album, and he also plays a lot of guitar, and a bunch of synths; he also plays organ, and like all this other shit. The band was different because of his involvement, and Collin Dupuis mixing was definitely an aspect, and the people who did the mastering did a wonderful job.
It’s so weird when you make an album, because you’re like "Maybe this needs to come up, and maybe this needs to come down. And then you’re like, I don’t know, I think it all still sounds so weird, but I have to turn it in because it’s time and I’ve been meandering over this for a year or so.” It got mastered, and now it does sound like there’s something about it, and everything is leveled out. I was like, “Oh shit, it’s a real record.”
What were you trying to say with this album and what were some of the subjects that you wanted to explore?
I wanted to explore taking some of the songs that I had always wanted to release but hadn’t. I personally never worked with a producer before, so I had an opportunity to do songs that just weren’t there for me yet, but that I had always wanted to play, and record, and see cross the finish line.
Some of these songs (“Jumpin’ Jack” and “3D Girl”) were demos that I loved, but hadn’t finished necessarily. Even “Sincerely Yours,” I had always really loved that song, and it was vastly different to play — it was from when I was in a punk band. I wanted to see more of my own growth and what I could do with songs that I had written. It’s still my songwriting, so I still connect to it in a way that I did with the songs off of Messes. It’s cathartic for me to write, and I do it for specific reasons, mainly passive aggressive reasons. I probably need to sit down and have some talks with people.
It’s not exactly thematic for me, it was just getting to take some of my work to a place that it hadn’t been before. I saw Messes as such a learning experience, and I wanted to have some clarity with Midnight. I wanted to be what people could really hear, and I wanted the vocals to be something that people can really hear. In a way, Messes was definitely a stepping stone.
I had remembered reading that you said in maybe another interview that on Messes, your vocals weren’t as prominent.
I look back on Messes, and I can’t believe we made the record in the way that we did. It was done in a room with just us and a mixer.
Do you have any favorite tracks or tracks on this record that you feel really showcase what you wanted this record to be or to sound like?
“3D Girl” turned out really, really strong. I sent Will a bunch of demos and that one wasn’t even on there. We were arranging something, so I pulled out a really shoddy demo of it, and Will did some really cool stuff to it.
“Jumpin Jack” and “All I Do Is Lie” and “Scream.” “All I Do Is Lie” turned out really good. We did some stuff with that song where we extended it at the end. I like that ending, and it’s really fun to do live.
I didn't expect to do a cover. You knew there was a cover, right?
I didn't know there was a cover. Way to go me!
Yeah, the closer, “Eyes Without a Face” is a Billy Idol cover.
“Trumbull” was another demo that I had just kicking around in my brain. “3D Girl” and “Sincerely Yours” turned out really nice, and I love Courtney Love’s album America’s Sweetheart, and and I feel that “Sincerely Yours” sounds like that a little bit.
What else inspired you on this record?
For “Trumbull,” I had always pictured that being like Daniel Johnston’s song “Grievances.” I feel “Jumpin’ Jack” even had a bit of a “Reptilia” thing from The Strokes
I know your new album is not technically even out yet, but what do you think you’ll do next?
I’m gonna make another one.
I mean, well, do you mean next in terms of recording or anything?
Just in life and anything!
Well, I wanna do another record for sure. My boyfriend and I are gonna buy a house. I’m not exactly sure. Right now, I think I want to tour a lot and do this album for the next year.
I’m into it. I can support your life plans anytime.