Musical premiere: Stefanie Joyce takes us on a true Southern Gothic journey in the new EP “Marlboro Reds and Motel Rooms”

We here at Guitar Girl Magazine are pleased to exclusively present the new EP from Americana darling Stefanie Joyce Marlboro Reds and motel rooms. A sonic masterpiece filled with authenticity, all wrapped in a country-folk arc, the experience of fully listening to this project is one that cannot be replicated. One minute you’re headbanging, and the next you’re staring out the window deep in thought.

The first track “Presidio” has a smooth drum beat with some soft electric guitar solos. It gives the EP a smoother feel than you would expect. The lyrics of the chorus “I still don’t trust myself when I’m alone” address a reality common to some of us listeners. It’s hard to trust yourself and not always rely on someone else, especially when that person is someone you have a romantic relationship with.

The third track, “Tulsa”, features lyrics from the EP’s title track “Marlboro Reds and Motel Rooms”. However, the lyrics that really stand out are “You can’t have something just because you want it, and I want it less a little more every day.” In life, we often cannot have everything we want, unfortunately. It’s especially painful when that “something” we want is a “someone.” It’s like everything you do, even the most mundane things, is somehow tied to that person and you can’t have them. A cruel punishment. Joyce really nails that awful feeling in this track.

The closing track, “Ticket To Atlanta” is a beautiful ballad that perfectly crowns the EP. Leaving someone after you’ve done something to hurt them is a feeling that’s hard to put into words, but Joyce captured that feeling lyrically. It ends the EP’s story on a sad but realistic note. Not everything in life works out, especially when it comes to love, some people just aren’t meant to be together and that’s okay.

Exclusive interview with Stefanie Joyce:

What are your biggest musical inspirations for this EP?

My roots are in folk and bluegrass music; I love how so many old folk songs look unflinchingly at the darker parts of life. You get stories of murder, heartbreak, drinking, cheating, all told with such honesty. That, and the acoustic, violinist nature of bluegrass and folk are hugely influential. However, my biggest influence is probably the fact that I spent the last 4 years as a songwriter working in the music business. Nashville has a wonderful approach to the art of songwriting; I learned to write tightly and coherently. There’s such an emphasis on storytelling, catchy songs where every line counts. I love the technical know-how of Nashville-style songwriting, but I was exhausted on the subject of songs suitable for radio. I like to think of this EP as a fusion of Nashville craftsmanship and more grounded subject matter and production. I also like the sound of Sturgill Simpson, Turnpike Troubadours and Tyler Childers, and I think that comes through on the record.

We are Guitar Girl Magazine, do you have a favorite guitar to play?

My dad “lent” me his Martin D-35 when I moved to Nashville – I still haven’t returned it! I wrote almost all my songs on it.

You have studied a lot of literature, how has this knowledge spread into your career as a songwriter?

Oh my god, where do I start. My love of Southern Gothic literature (Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Eudora Welty) is what brought me to Tennessee. The music came later. I studied creative writing in college and spent an undergraduate semester at the Iowa Writers Workshop; I thought I was going to write short stories for the rest of my life. But there’s something very lonely about spending your twenties alone in a room, talking to imaginary people. I have a very calm and introverted side but I also like collaboration. Songwriting and co-writing was a way for me to write in a more public and performative way.

Yet I constantly read and study literature. I want to bring the same focus of language that you see in great literature to songwriting. For me, songwriting is primarily a literary art, and I want songs to tell stories that point to universal truths; I don’t want to create entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with music being entertainment – most people just want to listen to something that helps them have a good time! But I know I’m stronger when I approach songwriting from a literary perspective. Evan Felkner of Turnpike Troubadours is a HUGE influence in this regard. His songs are as good as any short story.

Also, my new favorite Southern writer is Crystal Wilkinson. I read his book “Birds of Opulence” this year and loved it.

What three words would you use to describe the Stefanie Joyce brand?

Rigorous, unwavering, honest.

Marlboro Reds and motel rooms: What made you decide to name the EP like that?

It was the working title of the song “Tulsa”. It’s a line in the first verse. My wonderful producer (Kyle Manner) and I decided it was too long to be a song title, but for me it summed up the project so well.

What do you want listeners to take away emotionally from this project?

I want them to be able to feel their feelings! I think every song is about a character that’s stuck in some way. If you’re someone struggling, these songs might not solve your problem, but hopefully they make you feel seen, understood, less alone.

What does being a woman in music mean to you? It can be difficult to be a woman in music, tell us about your experience.

I was pleasantly surprised by Nashville in this regard; I didn’t really feel my gender as an obstacle in the writing rooms. I’m lucky to have wonderful male co-writers and mentors. Curiously, I experienced a lot more sexism when I was working in film and literature in my very liberal hometown (Vancouver). Obviously there are people in the industry who don’t take female songwriters seriously, but I think the love of great songs in this city creates a more level playing field than in other cities. However, I know that my story is not representative of the experience of women in the music industry in general. I’m not blind to the fact that there’s still a huge lack of representation from female/queer/bipoc perspectives, especially in country music, and I want to hear more songs that tell stories about what it is than being a woman in 2022.

What’s next for Stefanie Joyce?

I plan to play lots of gigs throughout the fall to support this project and hopefully tour in 2023. Any bookers or managers out there, contact me! 😉 I’ve written a bunch of new songs that I’m really proud of and would like to go into the studio to work on a full album once I get funding. I collaborated with my brother, Harry Bartlett (a wonderful guitarist and songwriter – we share a love of bluegrass and early music) on the sound of a full record and I want to dig even deeper into a sound based on the ‘grass . I also intend to continue writing for commercial artists. Mary-Heather Hickman, Kimberly Atwood, SJ MacDonald and Zoe Cummins are all making waves in country music and I’m so excited to be a part of their upcoming projects. Another up-and-coming mainstream artist I’m grateful to work with is Chris Moreno – we have very different sounds but a ton of mutual respect. We have been writing together for 4 years – they are good people.

Steeped in the tradition of country and folk music, with a decidedly contemporary cinematic twist, Stefanie Joyce’s songs tell stories in image as much as sound, weaving well-crafted tales of sin, redemption and everything in between.

Stefanie grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has loved telling stories for as long as she can remember. As a teenager, she told these stories through dance, training with Canada’s prestigious Alberta Ballet. As a young adult, she told these stories through film and literature, earning a degree in film production and creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

She also spent an undergraduate semester cutting her teeth on short stories at the Iowa Writers Workshop. It wasn’t until she graduated from college that her love of southern literature brought her to Tennessee and she began to write songs. So while she counts singer-songwriters such as Gillian Welch, John Prine, Brandy Clark and Evan Felker (Turnpike Troubadours) as major musical influences, her first love will always be songwriters; Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx.

Since arriving in Nashville in 2017, Stefanie has won multiple songwriting trophies with artists including Mary-Heather Hickman, Gabe Lee, Zoe Cummins and Ryan Lindsay. She became a regular star on Nashville’s early writers’ tours and had the opportunity to perform at major country music festivals such as the Lynchburg Music Festival. In 2020, his songs caught the attention of famed editor Woody Bomar (formerly of Sony/ATV) at Green Hills Music. Since then, she has worked with Bomar to develop and market her catalog of songs.

In 2021, her single “Treasure” (co-written and performed by Mary-Heather Hickman) made its country radio debut and was featured on iHeart Radio’s The Bobby Bones Show and Next Women of Country.

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