Nine Songs: Stef Chura
Stef Chura has been writing songs since she was a teenager, taking inspiration from her Dad’s record collection and recommendations from friends who proved to be as important as the songs they shared with her.
Her debut album Messes gets a welcome re-release this month, but she’s already looking forward to finishing the new songs she’s writing. “It’s exciting that we’re doing Messes and it’s not just going to be released in America, which is how we did it before, but I’m excited for the new songs. We were working on new stuff all of last week with Will Toledo from Car Seat Headrest as the producer and that’s really cool.”
Reflecting on the songs she’s chosen, Chura describes them as formative, songs that ignited a passion to write her own music. “A lot of these songs are from the same time period, from when I was a teenager. It’s that time period in your life when you’re more likely to absorb because of your age.”
Whilst the pivotal songs of her youth cover a range of artists and genres, taking in the early work of Elvis Costello, the pop-punk expression of Sleater-Kinney and art-pop of Silver Jews, Chura feels that what they have in common is great writing, rather than genre. “I don’t care about the genres of songs, in order for me to like a song it has to have that certain element of presence and that’s what unites all of these songs for me.”
“Buffy Sainte-Marie is such an important artist for me. I found her on Myspace when I was a teenager, it was on someone else’s favourites; I thought ‘What an interesting name’ and I clicked on it.
“I have so much respect for her as a songwriter and as a human, who really gave her life to a cause that was bigger than herself. She’s indigenous from Canada and she was supposed to be really famous in the US, but all of her records that were sent to the US went missing, like thousands of records. This song was after ‘Universal Soldier’, which was a really political song, especially for that time period.
“I like so much of her music, but ’Guess Who I Saw in Paris’ is one of my favourites. Her music and her guitar playing had a big inspiration on me, which is one of the reasons why I picked this one in particular. It’s off Illuminations which has the more psychedelic stuff that she does on it and it’s an amazing album; if you like indie-rock, or any music, it’s such a foundational album. It’s a beautiful, eerie and amazing song, I love the mood of it and it’s a song I always return to.”
“When I was growing up my Dad had every Elvis Costello album but My Aim Is True was a huge record for me. I was a child when I first heard it, so there’s an element of it being ingrained in my memory. My Dad had albums by The Clash, he had all The Cure records, I remember listening to ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ as an eleven year old and I didn’t know what I was listening to, I was just putting stuff on, so ‘Welcome to the Working Week’ is a bit of a childhood favourite.
“It’s the opener on My Aim Is True, every single song on that album is good but ‘Welcome to the Working Week’ is such a perfect opener to a record, because it’s short and sweet and snappy. I’m really heavily influenced by music like this, where it’s just this moment that’s so short, it’s under two minutes long but you can’t get enough of it, you want it to be ten minutes long.
“It’s an unforgettably catchy pop song but it’s also the lyrics, how wordy it is and the way it rhymes. I really like stuff like that, that’s wordy and vocally led. I think that all of these songs have that commonality actually, of being really wordy.”
“I found out about Bikini Kill when I was fifteen, I met a friend called Dylan when I was a freshman in High School and he burned me a CD of their songs, it was the album Pussy Whipped and it had other songs at the end, he probably thought the title Pussy Whipped was funny. When we met I was wearing red lipstick and he said ‘I think you’d like Bikini Kill.’
“Bikini Kill are known so much for Kathleen Hanna and their politics, which were really important, but I think they’re a little bit underestimated as an amazing rock band. With this song there’s something about the tone of her voice - there’s this desperation there - and something in the content that’s inherently female, but the lyrics for ‘Strawberry Julius’ are a little bit less direct in that sense.
“She’s always been a huge influence for me, the way she’s screaming on this is just perfect and I’ve always been drawn to this song because of the guitar riff, there’s a little lead guitar part that she’s kind of singing and yelling along to. It’s instantly really heavy and it really grabs your attention, it seems like it’s important that you’re listening to it."
“This song came into my life when I was seventeen or eighteen, during a time period when I got very focussed on the writing of songs and the words. I listened to a lot of music like this and it really shaped what I admired in writing.
“It was shown to me by a friend who was obsessed with the intellectual aspect of writing, which was maybe a little overkill at the time, but I think it left me with something good. I was talking to him just the other day actually, he called me up for the first time in five years, he’s had kids and stuff over the last four years and we talked about this song. I actually wrote ‘Speeding Ticket’ from Messes about him, he said ‘Is ‘Speeding Ticket’ about me? And I was like ‘Yes!’
“I’ve covered ‘How to Rent a Room’ and it’s a really simple song but the lyrics leave you guessing, like the lyric “I don’t really want to die, I only want to die in your eyes. I'm still here below the chandelier, where they always used to read us our rights”, what does that even mean?! I always thought it meant something romantic, but it was kind of like you were being arrested.
“I admire that style of writing, where it’s meaningful yet it also seems like it was written in a dream. It’s not really a start to finish storyline and there’s something about the tone of his voice where you’re getting an aspect of the meaning. It’s one of those songs you can add your own meaning to, it feels like a little secret of a song when you’re listening to it, there’s a sadness and a specialness to it.
“It has a legit amount of sentimental value above most other songs for me, it’s one of the best songs. What I do doesn’t sound like this, but if I was going to give someone a foundation on the songs they have to listen to this would be one of them.”
“I don’t think a lot of people know ‘Gazebo Tree’ but it’s an amazing song. It was actually the same friend who showed me Silver Jews that introduced me to this. This song really had an impact on my music, the guitar playing is something that I return to and I really like that style. When I’m playing guitar I’ll write over little guitar riffs that I’m making and that’s kind of inspired by this song and music like this, where the guitar line is really working with the vocal.
“Kristin Hersh has such an amazing voice, it’s like a rock voice and she’s got a guitar playing style for rock, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that sounds like this before. There’s that lyric ‘Its moonshine from cactus, well I guess it can’t wreck us.” It’s just the way she says that, the sound of her vocals kind of touches you on the inside.”
“I love this song. I originally heard it when I was nineteen when I lived in Ypsilanti, which is forty-five minutes away from Detroit and my roommate and I used to listen to this song relentlessly. We had a little mosh-pit in a room and we’d just blast this song.
“’Youth Decay’ is just a great song; it’s probably my favourite Sleater-Kinney song, it’s the guitar line and the lyrical content, with all the wordplay; it’s kind of about dental stuff, but it’s also relating to feeling salty about your family and just being young. This song still really holds up today.”
“This is another one that’s kind of riffy like ‘Gazebo Tree’ and kind of wordy like ‘Welcome to the Working Week’ and another foundational song for me. I’m not a complete Bob Dylan head, I really liked it when he went electric on Highway 61 Revisited, but this song is amazing.
“It has a banjo on it and it’s not like the others I’ve chosen here, but it has a certain presence in the writing and something that’s hard to name, I guess its je ne sais quoi, but I feel a little lame saying that! I think ‘You Ain't Goin' Nowhere’ is one of Bob Dylan’s best songs because I have a sentimental value for this and a few of the other songs here regarding a person in my life that showed them to me, they made a really big impact on who I am as a writer.”
“I love Tilt, the singer Cinder Block is a great writer. I don’t know if it’s the kind of music that holds up for everyone though, I showed it to a friend and they were like ‘What the fuck is this?’
“This was more formative for me as a fifteen, sixteen year old. I had this friend, I was a freshman in High School when I met her and she was a freshman in college. She was obsessed with Tilt and used to look like Cinder Block, she had dyed short hair and they actually looked really similar, she was super punk.
“Again 'Yellow Bellies' is very digestible in that the lyrics get really ingrained in your mind and it’s very catchy. I found myself playing it on repeat even though it’s such a short song, I’m really attracted to music that sounds like that. The reason I picked this Tilt song out of all the other ones is because a lot of these songs are like gateway drugs to me - if you’re going to listen Tilt, this was my first favourite of theirs, so that’s why I'd want to share it with someone.”
“I liked Broken Social Scene before I heard Metric, the song that Emily Haines did with them that was really popular, ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.’ That was the start and then I got into Metric.
“I’ve always returned to ‘Wet Blanket’, I really liked this record for a certain part of my life. I like in the lyrics that it seems like she’s kind of shit-talking someone that sucks. It’s her vocal take and the way it’s almost kind of bouncy.
“It’s really poppy, I think a lot of these songs are, even the Tilt song is a pop song, which is something I’m really attracted to. This was always my favourite Metric song, they have a lot of amazing songs, but this is the one I put on mixes and the one I think about.”