Words: Elvis Thirlwell / @ging3rjazz
With only a handful of releases to his name, Strawberry Guy – the adopted moniker of Welsh-born bedroom-pop artist Alex Stephens – had already enjoyed his fair share of success. Aside from memorable stints twinkling keyboards in well-loved indie outfits The Orielles and Trudy and the Romance, his uber-dreamy ‘Mrs Magic’ became an unexpected Tik-Tok sensation in 2019: the song verges on 50 million Spotify hits at the time of writing.
Two years later, Strawberry Guy is braced to attack the universe with his most ambitious release yet. His debut full-length, ‘Sun Outside My Window’, primed for launch at the end of October via Melodic records, boldly redefines all expectations of what bedroom-pop is capable of. Where his previous ‘Taking My Time To Be’ EP nestled itself in a four-poster serenity of pillowy synths and low-light textures more typically associated with the genre, ‘Sun Outside…’ pulls back the curtains and ushers in bedazzling, sun-kissed soundscapes from beyond the glass.
Drawing from a life-long obsession with film soundtracks, 70s songwriters, and in particular, the art and music of the 19th century – the romanticism of Ravel and Debussy, as well as the evocative impressionism of Monet, rank among his all-time favourites (the latter’s ‘Meadow at Giverny’ takes the album’s cover) – Strawberry Guy delivers a lavishly sculptured debut. His diaristic songwriting, blessed by his DIY orchestra spun entirely from keyboard samples and plug-ins, conspires to mark him out as a unique voice in contemporary pop.
During a video-call with the man himself on a sunny Monday afternoon in his Liverpool flat, amid a somewhat tangential discussion about Ravel’s ‘Daphne and Chloe’ (during which I became audience to his passionate retelling of the original Greek myth), we delved into those aforementioned influences and inspirations, discussing the making of the record, and how he’s finding life now as a bona fide solo artist.
But first, the conversation began with an unexpected turn…
…What’s your opinion on Magic Mushrooms?
I took mushrooms once three years ago and it terrified me! ‘Mrs Magic’ is about the trip! I became so insulated. I don’t think it was for me. Or maybe I took too much. I forgot who I was. It was really scary. Everything I’d learnt to become really comfortable with myself just disappeared. I was like: “I’ve spent so much time on that and now it’s all gone!”. I felt like I’d been away for years.
‘Mrs Magic’ did pretty well in the end. How did you feel about that song and how it blew up? How did that happen?
[shrugs] I don’t really know. I didn’t have TikTok for ages, then my manager was like: “you need to get TikTok…”. I didn’t really try to do anything. It’s a bit weird really. I don’t really believe it.
Moving on… how are you feeling about your album finally coming out?
I have a weird answer: I feel a bit sad! It’s like the end. I’m really excited for people to hear it, I am! But it’s kind of like letting a baby go. It’s like I’ve raised a kid and it’s leaving to go to uni.
I want to talk about that creative process a bit more. How do these songs come together?
I’ve never sat down and thought: “I’m going to write a song, right now”. It has to come quite naturally. That’s why I think it’s a slow process
I’ll have this very heightened sense of happiness, or sadness, and I’ll write when I’m at the top of one of those emotions. When I feel sad, it helps me a lot to deal with my emotions and get my thoughts down. I feel like in the album, there’s elements where I’m sad but the music is quite uplifting, so I’m taking that sad emotion and trying to use it to uplift myself and see things in a clearer way. And there’s definitely elements to the album that are really happy too. I hope people can hear that.
It starts off with this emotion. Before writing any of the lyrics, I’ll find the music that sonically sounds like the way I’m feeling. I’ll find chords that sound like this emotion, or something I’m trying to create. With “As We Bloom” [a track from the album], because there’s no words in this track, I wanted to create this sound of this relationship or friendship blossoming like flowers. I wanted to do that just with music.
I listen to a lot of classical music and film scores; they have to create those emotions and try to represent what’s going on on the screen, or in the literature, with the music. So I try to be inspired by that.
What are you hoping people will get out of the record? The record is generally quite private and intimate.
We all have these emotions. We all get down at times. I’m lucky that I can use music as a healing process. Not everyone can do that. In my head, if I didn’t have music, I wouldn’t know how I would deal with emotions! What I would like for people to get out of the album is to use it in the same way that I do, I guess. And also, just casual listening!
What kind of world are you trying to build with Sun Outside My Window?
It’s just an obsession with the 1800s and Impressionism. I grew up in Wales. My Mum had a lot of Impressionism and Monet paintings around the house growing up. So being there, living in the countryside, having a piano in the house… it’s always been in the background.
So I think I’m trying to create this mix of Classical music and impressionism, but also with this 70s songwriter thing, but done in a modern way.
I also love this idea of Bedroom pop. People have always been “you’re a bedroom pop artist”. At first, my music was a lot more synth-y. But then I had the idea of squashing this full orchestra in my room, and just like urghhh [makes grunting noise], drop it on the bedsprings. I was like: “guys, we can make this work. This is going to be ‘bedroom pop’ it’s got to be recorded here!”
I want to talk about you as a solo artist. Some people might know you from your time in The Orielles and Trudy and the Romance. How has the transition been, from largely contributing to other people’s projects, to finally putting yourself out there in your own right?
I’ve always been writing songs on my own, even when I was in those bands. But as the [solo] project grew bigger, I realised I couldn’t be involved anymore. It felt natural to leave. When I was playing in The Orielles, it never really felt like my music. It was just really fun!
To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it. It just happened quite naturally. It didn’t feel forced that I’d leave the band and pursue this solo career.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve got a couple of dates in London and Manchester. Other than that, write some more music, maybe a collaboration could be on the cards. But I don’t want to say anymore about that…
With that, our conflab came to a tantalising end. During our discussion, it became clear that Strawberry Guy, armed with a unique array of eclectic inspirations, is coming into his own as a musician and songwriter. The success he’s achieved thus far, no matter what he might say, is clearly no mere fluke. ‘Sun Outside My Window’ marks a new chapter in the career of Strawberry Guy, and does more than enough to live up to the hype.
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Twitter – @_strawberryguy
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