By Aaron Wagner
Country newcomer Stephan Hogan is making his official debut today with the release of his debut album So Long California.
The songs on the album are a breath of fresh air in the country music scene. While other lanes are filling up with copycats of the hottest acts, Stephan has carved out his own sound, heavily influenced by growing up in California.
I’d love to help you out by dropping an artist comparison but I can’t do that. Stephan is an original and I think that’s going to do wonders for him.
There’s a lot to enjoy on this album. From the wheel turning road-trip songs, to the up-tempo rockouts, to the stripped down ballads that come with well thought-out stories, So Long California is a no skip album.
Even more impressive is the fact that as an independent artist, Stephan took on the recording and producing responsibilities himself, doing everything from his home.
I had the chance to talk with Stephan about what went into the making of this album and what he wants people to know about him as an artist. Check out the interview:
Raised On It: What was your goal when you set out to make this debut album?
Stephan: “As a songwriter and artist I’m writing songs continually. And for me I’ve just been like trying to just write good music. Then after a while, it’s one of those things where you like look up and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, I have a bunch of songs. I need to do something with these.’ With all the music that I had been writing I needed to release what I feel like is my best music.”
Raised On It: You recorded and produced everything on your own. When did you decide that was going to be your plan of attack?
Stephan: “I started recording my own music when I was probably like 15 or 16 and my dad got me this little recorder for my computer. So ever since a young age, I got into the audio engineering side of things, learning how to record and then I went to school for commercial music for recording. Now fast forward to where I’m at, it’s something that I’m real comfortable doing in terms of the production end of things. It is rewarding at the end of the day to be able to finish something and just see my fingerprints all over it.”
Raised On It: Was it difficult finishing the songs as we’re all our biggest critic?
Stephan: “It’s rough, man. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Like I’ll have a song and I’ll just be playing my guitar and there’s a million different guitar parts you could write for one song. And so that’s the hardest part. What fits the song? What does the song want? There’s this huge process of elimination and just trying different things out and finally arriving at something. A lot of times you just have to get away from it and come back and listen to it.”
Stephan: “The title track ‘So Long California’ was one of the easiest songs, production wise, everything just like fell in place and stacked perfect. Then there’s others that just took a copious amount of time.”
Raised On It: We’re always curious, which artists helped inspire the sound of this album?
Stephan: “I was raised on The Eagles, my favorite band of all time. I like all of that music that came out of Los Angeles in the 70s and being from California, I feel like the west coast has its own vibe of country music, country rock. And for me, in terms of some of the productions on these songs, I’m someone who likes a modern feeling and on others a little more stripped down, but I want to have songs that are somewhat timeless. That’s what I like about The Eagles.
Raised On It: Is there a song on the album that pushed you outside your comfort zone?
Stephan: “There was a song that I co-wrote with Thom McHugh (Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Happen Twice”) and Neil Coty here in Nashville called “Pulling Us Apart.” It was interesting because I had an idea going into this co-write and it ended up landing a bit far from where I had intended. I feel like that was just the experience of learning to let go and let the song write itself. A lot of the songs on the album, I wrote by myself, so this was the only one on the album where there were three people in the room writing. It was just an interesting experience and taking their lead because these guys are very successful songwriters and being like, ‘Alright, I’m going to learn.’ Versus me trying to control and micromanage.”
Raised On It: Is there a song on this album that is really special to you and maybe stands out from the rest?
Stephan: “Yeah, definitely. “Nomad Melody” is the song that started at all for me in terms of this record. I was in California working a job that was real comfortable and nice. I had written this song in a half hour and it just captured everything I want to be as a musician, in terms of just the overall vibe and feel. That song to me has been my favorite song along through this whole process. I don’t know. It’s just like a best friend.”
Raised On It: What did you learn about yourself in the process of making the album?
Stephan: “I think the biggest thing that I’m learning is continuing to be myself. So many artists are trying to sound just like who you hear on the radio. And that was me for a while. When I first started writing country music, I would hear something on the radio and be like, ‘Alright, I need to write and sound like Thomas Rhett or something.'”
Stephan: In 2016 I did a guitar competition called Guitar Center OnStage with Vince Gill and as one of the five finalists I got to hang out with him and his band. Vince was just like, ‘Man, you really have to be yourself when it comes to songwriting.’ And I have felt like I was striving for quite some time to sound like someone else or write something that someone else was doing. So these last four years has been this developmental time for me as a songwriter where I’m trying to figure out and be honest with myself, who I am as an artist versus who I think other people want me to be.”
Stephan: “I think that’s the biggest thing is just focusing on the artistry of it all. I mean, I would much rather not be a sell out or something and just be an artist, be able to like lay my head down at night and be like, ‘I’m proud of what I did,’ versus I’m just trying to do what I think other people want me to do.”