The Steph Pappas Experience might not be what you expect
by Bethany M. Dunbar (Barton Chronicle)
WEST GLOVER — The Steph Pappas Experience came to Parker Pie on Saturday night, and the small crowd won't soon forget it.
Steph Pappas is a woman who dresses like a man, plays the guitar with her teeth and behind her back, improvises constantly, yodels, does some kind of skat and a song that sounds a little like a Native American chant or song. As if that's not enough, she adds harmonica to the mix.
She sings to the crowd instead of speaking to people, about the music, about life, and she encourages people to sing along.
It's far more than a concert. It's a show in many ways.
The most astounding part of it is the music. Steph Pappas' voice is like a combination of Michelle Shocked, a female Eddie Vedder, and Melissa Etheridge. It's deep and earthy and edgy but she can hit dramatic high notes as well.
Her guitar playing does not sound the way one might expect from her look, which involves a cowboy hat, extremely short hair, old blue jeans and cowboy boots, and a flannel shirt buttoned up tight around her neck.
With this "aw shucks" look, it would seem likely that the guitar playing would be simple, quiet, folksy, that this would be a folk artist whose show was all about the lyrics.
Instead, she wails on that guitar like a rock star, intentionally rolling it by her sound system to create feedback noises that become part of the show. Steph Pappas, who has been described as Jimi Hendrix' little sister, rocks. The small crowd rocked with her, including two little boys who did some impressive break dancing.
Not that the lyrics are lacking originality either.
From her album Three Wishes, here are some lyrics from the song "Yer Cowboy:"
I'd be the prettiest cowboy you ever did see
I'd be the most rugged cowboy there ever could be
I'd do anything better than a cowboy could do
I'd be a real cowboy I'd be with you...
There ain't nothing like looking for gold
There ain't nothing like hanging by the river
On a hot summer's day
Hoping, searching, gold will find its way
To your heart.
"Life is impromptu," she sang to the crowd as she thanked her two drum players and bass player.
The band members were Joshua Clever on bass buitar, Emily Lanxner on congas and percussion, and Davis Sutherland on drums, Jembe, and congas. Ms. Pappas said Mr. Clever is part of her usual band and the other two agreed to play with them for this particular show.
Originally from Massachusetts, Steph Pappas came to the Northeast Kingdom years ago and then Burlington. She was part of a band called Miss Bliss that got a Magic Hat beer variety named for it.
She's written songs and performed for award-winning independent films and has two albums. Her current tour is around Vermont, and she notes on her website that most of her tours have been elsewhere. So she's calling this tour the Vermont U.S.A. tour.
Next stop is the Monkey House in Waterbury, then some gigs in Burlington. She will be back in the Northeast Kingdom on February 12 at White Rock Pizza in Woodbury, according to her website: www.stephpappas.com.
A Newport show is penciled in at Jasper's on Sunday April 10, from 4 to 7 p.m. So locals who missed the experience will get another chance.
(Thanks to the Chronicle, The Weekly Journal of Orleans County for permission to reprint original article.)
From Reverb to Yodel
by Devin Travers
From a long-standing base in Burlington, Vermont, indie folk-rocker Steph Pappas has been building her personal empire with lively, original compositions strung together with steel guitar strings.
Originally from Jamaica Plain, Mass., Steph felt the calling of the North Country and followed her heart to find her future. "Somehow I knew I needed to escape the city. I hawked the two underground papers at the time (the Phoenix and Boston After Dark) to raise enough money for a one-way ticket to Vermont."
Her songs are the end product of her travels and observations through personal experience, and some of them take on a rough crust gained by duking it out with the world. Settling in the harsh beauty of northern Vermont has also influenced her writing.
"Despite some tough tunes, I have lyrics painted with a brush full of maple syrup! The listener gets an infusion of Vermont's icy cold rivers, all the phases of the moon's wild ways and other sorts of descriptions - all part of the landscape that helps me to create.
"Climbing Vermont's mountains gave me the experience to yodel with tons of reverb. I even got caught once. Someone called up the trail, "Steph Pappas, is that you?". I was gonna hide, but I decided to find out how she knew it was me. She said, "Why Steph, who else can yodel like that?""v
Steph was inspired to learn music early on when her mother encouraged her to try trombone, guitar and piano. "During a Junior High summer I got involved in an orchestra band thing. It was led by an instructor who taught us our instrument of choice -- I chose the trombone. Somewhere around that time, I got a twelve string Harmony guitar."
In the ensuing battle, the guitar came out on top and her developing style fell victim to the combination of an uncle's teaching of old folk tunes, combined with the unforgiving draw of Led Zeppelin's reverb. The result for Steph is an edgy kind of folk blues, with guitar work worthy of a Hendrix clone.
While developing her style, Steph listened to radio shows, which inspired her towards her destiny. "One time, I remember them talking about women playing in big bands, while men were off at war. This is also where I first heard Odetta sing. I was so impressed with her voice."
The radio also broadcast some live shows from a small Coffeehouse venue in Cambridge, called Passim. "One night, I rushed over there to see Wendy Waldman and Dave Van Ronk from the window. Somehow I got backstage. I was definitely attracted to this world."
These experiences planted themselves in her subconscious and soon Steph's own blend of folk rock and soul blues funk began to emerge. Her inspiration to continue creating comes from meeting new people and trying experiences not visited before -- a lifelong pursuit.
It wasn't until I got to Vermont that playing venues fell into place. First a duo, then Miss Bliss - an all-girl rock 'n' roll band. I've always maintained a solo stance alongside these projects. After that, there has been very little collaborating. I'm mainly a solo writer."
Steph is a professional musician, and in addition to the most-often-heard guitar and vocal work on recordings, she plays keyboards, harmonica, banjo, and flute, as well as dabbling in a little percussion and the original trombone. One day, she hopes to try the violin. She's a member of ASCAP and Indiegrrl, and has been known to jump in to help in community projects.
On writing, she says, "Music comes from different avenues. One blueprint is that I'll create a picture and write from that image. I'm painting, but in the form of music; just painting the music as a canvas."
Steph's compositions generally begin with an instrumental lead-in. Generally, it's a rock/americana blending - "not mainstream pounding into your head", says Steph. After the introduction, the song's personality takes over - you might hear it try to runaway on guitar slides, or a tightly controlled rhythm will emerge. Occasionally, you may even hear the famous yodel escaping. Whatever the mood, it's never dull.
Her themes are varied and prolific. "The road. Then there are love songs. I said to myself I'd never write one 'cause it's what's on the radio most. Mine all come with a bunch of twist though. I cover a blanket of stuff using those themes. I'll use them to evoke in the listener the two sides, or more, of a story. For example, the "Lombard Street Rendition" - for some listeners, it may be a road story. For others, it's about accomplishing simple dreams. Or yet still, a glimpse into what other people's lives are like."
Steph's favorite places to play are outdoor festivals - especially ones in Texas on a warm night. She has traveled from one side of the country to the other and hit many places in between, playing a literal smorgasbord of locations. Whatever the audience, there is something appealing to all in her music, which she adjusts appropriately for the venue and listeners.
"Teenage boys will eat up the heavy distortion and sounds I get out of my guitar and wah-wah pedal in a dark, all-ages venue. Then there are the folks who really listen to the words and dig the vocal expression in an acoustic coffeehouse venue - that's always a cool thing."
She's played city sidewalks, colleges, motorcycle conventions, birthday parties, indoor/outdoor festivals, women's festivals, benefits, dark smoky clubs, coffeehouses, and a few tours that took her down to Washington D.C. and Roanoke, VA. This past spring, Steph toured west through Nashville and Cleveland. Past tours include San Francisco, Toronto, and lots of time in Texas and New England. "People tell me I should play in Amsterdam and London - I'd like to!"
Steph has produced two CDs, released on her indie Guitar Girl label, which are available from a number of sources. They are sold through Borders, Barnes and Noble, and some local Vermont stores, as well as on the web through Amazon.com, CD Baby, and Steph's own web site, www.stephpappas.com.
Indie CD projects can be works of art in themselves - and not just the music. "A CD usually consists of artsie stuff. Many artists give it these little touches. There are stories behind the photos, catalog numbers, and everything about the CD. For instance, on my CD, Not on the Map, my catalog number is the license plate of the car I sold to raise money to make the CD."
Steph's most recent CD release, 3 Wishes, took about three months to complete in 2002. "The catalog number for 3 Wishes is the address where the CD was created. These days, for major record label artists, the catalog number is just like a shelving number, not personal. Fans like the extra touches an indie venture can provide - there are all kinds of things to find if you adventure far enough. The Beatles made the news with some of their CD artistry."
Live performances may find Steph playing solo, or with various configurations of her band. The full band currently consists of Steph on guitar and lead vocal, a second guitarist, a trumpet, a fiddle, a drummer and three do-wop girls. She would like to add in a keyboard and bass eventually.
The best way to understand the Steph Pappas Experience is to be there when it's happening ... Check Steph's web site for local appearances. For direct contact and booking information, you can reach her at email@example.com.
(reprinted from New England Entertainment Digest, Sept. 2003)