Steven Pelland, a singer/songwriter from Boston, grew up in the music industry. Inspired by the history around him and art, forever a force in his life, his latest album explores a deeper understanding of meaningful connection. Catch one of his soulful sets as he tours the southeast this spring.
What would you want people to walk away thinking or feeling after listening to your music?
SP: The underlying message to most of my songs is that constant yearning most of us have for meaningful connection. I think we all want intimacy in all forms. Folkies will say, “We’re tired of hearing about love and relationships. I need a story,” and my comeback to that is, “Isn’t life all about relationships? How can you write a song that doesn’t include a relationship to someone or something?” There are a lot of subtleties in my lyrics and guitar-playing that take someone more deeply into their own journey of relationship.
I find it fascinating how self-liberation and hitting your creative stride were intrinsically linked.
SP: It was instantaneous. We have to shed our skins again and again to morph into something more. If you stay comfortable, you stagnate. The secret is to believe what you’re doing. No one else can talk you out of or into something. We all have to be our biggest advocates and believers in order for other people to make that connection. I think self-acceptance is the key to moving forward. In my songwriting I try to strike that line between personal and over-sharing. Hopefully my honesty allows others to take part in those universal truths.
You grew up in a creative household with a professional musician father. How did that influence your character and career?
SP: I saw the enjoyment that he had for his craft and wanted to experience that too. He was a showman, flat picker, and incredible guitarist and mandolin player. I’m a finger-style player who had to find my own way. At 35 years old, I got down to business and learned some technique because I wanted the craft to have more meaning. I started off by learning blues, which totally separated me from my father, and progressed to Irish and Celtic contemporary finger-style music. No other music has as simple messages as the blues, which I love because it allows you to bring your own emotions to the playing. Playing blues gave me a technical and emotional challenge.
How did you cultivate patience? It’s a quality that is lost upon our culture.
SP: Because I’m so passionate, I am willing to do the itty-bitty details of what needs to be done. Art has to be incremental and you can’t escape doing the work. That is the litmus test, which tells you where to put your time. It has to give something back to you, which doesn’t always come in monetary means, but rather a connection to your craft. I see the long-term relationship with my songwriting and worth that lies in it.
If we were at a cocktail party together how would you break down your musical style?
SP: At the music store, my album would be between Jackson Brown and James Taylor. My listeners seem to agree my music has a soulful, Motown edge.
What accomplishments, both personally and professionally, are you most proud of?
SP: I am self-educated, independent and have been self-employed my entire life. Literature and language are my passions. I know how to read Greek and latin, and have read well over 2,000 books, which I filter throughout my music. On this new album I cite a lot of literary works, from Jack Kerouac to Shakespeare sonnets to The Odessey. My writing style is very much influenced by classics and my study of theology over the course of 17 years. In this last quarter of my life I want to accomplish something greater with music than I’ve ever done before.