Stephen Simmonds believes in certain truths. That music is a powerful force. That ultimately its all about the feeling and the vibe. That living for love and trying to spread a positive message is the best thing one can do . That life is a journey filled with ups and downs and inbetweens and theres something to be learned and gained and experienced from every emotional state.
Those truths, that belief system, anchored to a collection of often achingly beautiful and potently soulful songs form the core of Stephen Simmonds American label debut, Spirit Tales. Embracing R&B, jazz, and pop, reflecting influences like Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and The Beatles, and featuring collaborations with Soulshock and Karlin and Raphael Saadiq, Spirit Tales heralds the arrival of a singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist/producer whose deeply evocative songs have already earned him critical and commercial praise throughout Europe and in his native Sweden.
I wanted to have a feel that with this album, you were taking a journey, that theres a beginning and an ending, Stephen offers. I tried to think of a word that I felt best describe my songs and that was spiritual. And that makes sense cause in many ways I am in a spiritual state when I create and what I create, hopefully are small stories.
That spiritual, seductive and richly musical journey begins with “Alone” a track that Stephen describes as moody, a word he uses often when talking about his multi-textured work. Written four years ago, “Alone” is a song about the down time in between romance and expectation. Deceptively breezy, and driven by Stephens solid piano playing and a percussive, finger snapping beat, “Alone” may be about solitude but like most of Stephens songs, carries a double message. I hope people can relate to it. That it will raise a hopeful feeling and give them inspiration, Stephen explains. Cause even when youre sad, you need to hear something that can pick you up.
One song particularly close to Stephens soul is “Now Is The Time”. Jazzy and undulating, “Now Is The Time” was one of the very first songs Stephen ever recorded and its one that he says represents him the most lyrically. I dont think I have all the answers but love is a universal thing and if you have love as your goal then you really cant go wrong.
Keeping on the love jones, is “For You”, a soft sway of a shout out to a particular someone. It was written about someone specific, and I wrote it a few years ago. Now looking back at it, some of the song seems a little over dramatic! Stephen laughs but you know back in the day, thats how I felt. And I really believe that music should represent what your standing for at that particular time.
Along with the complete European version of the CD, Spirit Tales contains two new steps on Stephens journey. One is the hip shaking grooves of “I Cant Do That”, written and produced in tandem with Soulshock and Karlin. The other track brings Stephen together with Raphael Saadiq (Tony Toni Tone), with the infectious and sexy “If I Was Your Man”. Im a huge fan of Raphaels, and even before we met I knew that he was a vibe person, and that the sessions would be really relaxed and fruitful, which they were! The song is great, its about that feeling you have when love is naïve and you think its the best and anything is possible and you just know that you are gonna be the man to change that one girls life. Stephen was born and raised in Stockholm. His father is Jamaican and his mother is Swedish. His parents met in Spain, where his father was playing bass in a band and his mom was on holiday. They met, fell in love, got married and moved to Stockholm where they stayed together until 1979. In the early 80s Stephen and his mother moved briefly to the US. It was sort of tough being there, Stephen recalls and eventually my mom and I went back to the comfort of Sweden.
In 1984 Stephens dad moved to Israel and Stephen began visiting him during his summer vacations, along with visiting family in Jamaica. I really cant say that all that traveling directly influenced the music Im making now, Stephen says because even though I had been playing piano since I was 12, I didnt start writing my own stuff till I was a bit older. But music was always a part of my life because of my dad, though he never pushed me into a career. He just exposed me to a lot of great artists like Marley and Stevie.
In 1996 Stephen became friends with Peter Catries, who serves as Spirit Tales co-producer. Peter had a makeshift studio and one day the two began to throw some beats and chords together. The next thing I knew we had made a song. It just happened and if it hadnt been for Peter pushing and supporting me, I wouldnt have had the courage to send anything I did to a label or even really pursue music.
What had started as a lark soon became a reality and soon Stephen had recorded enough songs to secure a label deal in Sweden. In 1997, Alone (the European title of Spirit Tales) was released. The haunting single “Tears Never Dry”, also included in the US,. earned the Swedish equivalent of a Grammy and charted high on the pop charts. The buzz from the single and the CD led to interest from American labels and in the beginning of 1999, Stephen signed with Priority.
Still based in Stockholm, Stephen sees himself as a Swedish artist with a global view. Im definitely proud of who I am and where Im from. I think that growing up in Stockholm, has given me a somewhat unique take on making music and the industry. Im not part of the Swedish Sound but Im not an American or a Londoner either and I feel like I have my own story to tell, with my songs.
Asked to sum up Spirit Tales and Stephen is thoughtful. Theres all these different ingredients, love hate and so many things going on and I try, with my songs, to combine them all together. Its all about the vibe. For me, if Im feeling it, it happens.
Feel it and take the journey as well.