Interview: Stephen James Orr

Stephen James Orr is a Toronto-based producer and multi-instrumentalist who I recently featured in a round-up review of underground folk music. I really enjoyed his latest song Wake Up so decided to have a chat with him and find out more.

By Jane Howkins

You recently released a new single titled Wake Up. What can you tell us about the track and where can it be purchased?

It’s a song about overcoming grief from losing someone and bringing their memory with you throughout your life. The vocals, guitar, and cello play off each others melody and words as they immerse you in the song.

Each single I’ve released has custom artwork by an artist I admire and this one is by Amy Frueh, a Canadian/Mexico based Illustrator, painter, and muralist.

You can stream the song on any of the platforms and can purchase it from Bandcamp if you wanna support me!

Have you got any plans to release a full length album/EP anytime soon?

I released 5 singles this year and will release them as part of an album next year! The album will feature a few more songs with vocals and a few instrumental interludes.

What is the writing and recording process like for you?

I am constantly playing/recording ideas, be it on my phone or into the computer. I play a few instruments so I usually start off with guitar, but then add bass, drums, and keys. Once I’ve got it arranged into a song I share it with vocalists to see if they want to write over it.

Writing music is something I love to do and I’m lucky enough to have amazing collaborators in Toronto / around the world.

Do you plan to release any more singles at any point in the near future?

Actually, I’ve got a new single coming out next Thursday entitled Losing Time! It features Michelle Challice on vocals and is more of a step in the hooky, rock direction!

You’re based in Toronto. What is the music scene like there at the moment and are there any local band/artists you can recommend?

I’m a huge advocate for the Toronto music scene so YES! There are tons of amazing musicians that live/play in the city, and a great scene to grow in. Some of my favourite local acts are: Gisun, Paula Sofia, Kaili Kinnon, Carleigh Aikins, Claire Davis, Kyla Charter, Conor Gains, KC Roberts, The Riches, Aphrose, J3M, Shannon Chapman, Mike Celia, Eunice Keitan, Chara Kai-Le, June the Destroyer, Fraser Melvin, Bad Luck Woman, Kubla, Anh Phung… this list could go on forever.

What/who influences you most as an artist? What have you been listening to recently?

I listen to neo-soul, funk, and R&B the most but have grown up with so many different music styles that I have a pretty vast taste in music. Anything with a groove is my favourite though. As an artist I’d say Jon Batiste is someone I look up to as he creates amazing music, supports his cities music community, and puts positivity out into the world!

Some recent artists I’ve been obsessed with are Monsieur Periné, Louis Cole, Jacob Collier, Megan thee Stallions tiny desk performance, Courtney Barnett, and Fleece.

Has the pandemic hindered your work much?

The pandemic really helped me hone in on music and take the time to learn home recording techniques / dive deeper into music theory. I usually turn to music when life takes an unknown course and very much appreciated the time off work to write and collaborate musically.

Do you have any tour dates lined up?

Not for a tour but I play lots in Toronto. I have two gigs with Good Enough Live Karaoke in the next week, and one with Kaili Kinnon. In terms of my own stuff I had a big gig at Lee’s Palace in October, and am planning something currently for February.

What can people expect from one of your gigs and why do you think people should come and see you perform live?

They can expect to dance, cry, laugh, and cartwheel. I’m a big fan of having live versions of songs that bring it up a notch so if you wanna hear all the parts live, with a little more spice, come out to an upcoming gig!

Any last words for the fans?

Thank you for supporting! Every encouraging comment, show request, stream, Tik Tok dance routine is greatly appreciated.