Electric Lady: machineheart’s Stevie Scott on the Importance of Following Your Instincts

The first thing you notice about Stevie Scott is her uncanny similarity to another famous blonde Stevie, a comparison that the machineheart frontwoman apparently gets quite often. Tall and lovely, with tousled blonde waves that frame her face and hands that flutter theatrically, there’s no denying she calls to mind a young Stevie Nicks, but the magnetic Los Angeles based musician radiates an ethereal and enigmatic energy that is all her own, with a warmth that feels otherworldly and a wisdom that feels far beyond her years.

To say she is easy to talk to is an understatement of epic proportions: she speaks with the kind of luminous thoughtfulness that makes you want to listen very carefully, whether she is talking about the accuracy of the Enneagram personality test (she’s type three: adaptable, ambitious, self-accepting, and authentic) or her newfound obsession with Bob Ross: “He says when you look at it and you like it, stop. I love that sentiment because it’s so simple and it’s so true.”

Simply put, she is as multi-faceted and mesmerizing as the music she makes. Formed in 2014 and rounded out by guitarist Carman Kubanda, bassist Jake Randle, and drummer Harrison Allen, machineheart’s darkwave indie pop is synth-driven and shimmeringly atmospheric, scorched with an evocative darkness that is driven home by Stevie’s rich and dreamy vibrato. Brooding and instinctive, it’s the kind of music that pulls at the muscle memory of your heart. In honor of the release of their highly anticipated debut album, People Change, which delves into the bittersweet beauty of change in all its myriad forms, we chatted with the songstress about the band’s instinctive creative process, the importance of listening to the little voice in the back of your head, and how Kate Bush reminds her to keep it weird.

Q&A

Live FAST: Hi Stevie! Tell us a little about your creative process. For you, does it start with lyrics or melodies?

Stevie Scott: It’s funny because, in songs, the melody is always king but for me, lyrics drive where the melody goes. I write poetry, and I’m always writing down little thoughts or things I hear people say. Something will remind me of something else and I’ll make those connections. It’s just important that it feels organic. I’m so instinctive and intuitive when it comes to writing. I used to do a little writing for other artists but when we started machineheart I found it to be really distracting. My brain felt too involved in the structure of the song, like it had to be A plus B equals C. So when we started writing the record, I decided not to do any of that because I wanted to be able to follow that instinct and intuition which we so often turn off. If you’re not careful, you just don’t even hear it because there’s so much going on. I like to let it lead me down a weird rabbit hole. That’s the great thing about writing – you can go down any weird path you want to and somehow end up right back at the start. Instinct is always key.

LF: Your debut album just dropped, but you’ve been in kind of a holding pattern with it for awhile now. How are you feeling about this transitional phase?

SS: We finished the album a year ago and this has been the longest year of my life. You’re like, “Ok, I’ll take a break!” but instead I just want to write more. It’s funny how that works. I’m so excited for the album to be out. It’s hard not to be able to see the fruits of your labor. It’s been a season of being underground, in that sense. That’s where “Overgrown,” the first song we released on the album, came from – that feeling of being very hidden because that’s what we did for the whole writing process. We locked ourselves in our rehearsal studio for a year and a half and just did it. And when we finally emerged, it was like, “Who am I? What day is it?”

LF: Were there any reoccurring themes you found yourself returning to while making the album?

SS: “People Change” is the last song we wrote on the album. Late one night, when everyone had already gone home, it was just me, my manager, and our engineer, and I just started playing piano. I had run into a friend earlier that day and it was really interesting to see the changes they were experiencing in their life and how it kind of paralleled the changes we were going through both individually and also collectively as a band. Change is a weird thing. You need it to evolve and grow, but it can also be so painful. That push and pull felt like the perfect summary of what we had gone through in making the record so we decided to use it as the title. We’re figuring ourselves out, both as people and as musicians.

LF: Give us a little insight into the origin story behind machineheart.

SS: We met through friends. The guys are all from Seattle and they’ve all been playing in bands since they were little emo teenagers. Once they moved to LA, we started writing and hanging and jamming. We knew we wanted to work together, we just didn’t know in what capacity. Slowly but surely, we were like, “I guess we should name ourselves because we like this and we like each other and we like what we’re making.” So we named ourselves and went from there.

LF: You have such a distinct sound: synth-driven pop tinged with this dark and ethereal tone. It evokes a lot of feeling without necessarily being sad music. I watched a few of your live shows and it feels like that juxtaposition flows through you very effortlessly.

SS: I love that. I do kind of feel like a bit of a medium – not like a medium in a spiritual sense, although maybe a little bit of that too – in that  when you’re onstage, you become this thing by which the music is being given to people. Music is so spiritual, and I feel grateful to be a vessel for it to pour out of.

LF: You’ve been in LA for ten years. When did you start making music? Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?

SS: I moved here after high school. I got signed to my first indie label when I was 15 up in northern California. It’s so funny the different phases you go through as a musician. When I was a kid, I wasn’t exposed to that much music. We listened to a lot of classical music in my childhood home and a lot of Enya. So much Enya.

LF: My dad is the same way! I swear it took me years to get Enya out of my head. Maybe you should do an Enya cover?

SS: I know! I need to. I just listened to her for the first time in years (because I needed that separation after it was basically in my bloodstream for all of childhood) and I was like, “Oh my God, I can hear so much of my musical influence.” I love the gentle, ethereal, somewhat Celtic vibe. I think that definitely made its way into the album.

I started making music at 15 but it just takes a while for you to figure out what you like. I was by no means cool growing up. I was the theater kid. I was weird. Everyone liked me but I was this strange juxtaposition of student body president and weird theater kid. But then I moved out to LA after high school and started listening to Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush and the Cure and the Cocteau Twins and the Talking Heads and the Smiths and slowly just started unraveling this giant ball of yarn of music that I liked. It’s hilarious to look back on the progression but also really rewarding to land on a sound that feels like you, and to know who you are and what you love.

LF: What is your experience as a performer? Do you feel like it comes naturally?

SS: Oftentimes I’ll step off stage and just feel like I blacked out for the last 40 minutes. We love playing live, the boys and I. It’s such a rewarding thing. You make the music alone, but the best part is actually being with the audience and the people who listen to the music. It’s such a dialogue because we’re singing to them but they’re also singing back to us. We can’t do it alone. Our shows always feel very electric.

LF: Who would you say are the influences that helped mold your sound? How do you feel about all the comparisons to the other famous blonde Stevie?

SS: I love it! I didn’t really know about Fleetwood Mac until after high school, but now I love them. I’m named after my dad but I do think it’s funny. She and I both have one dimple.

The boys love Radiohead, which makes sense with them coming from Seattle – they have that stormy sound. Kate Bush is huge for me. She’s so theatrical. Even though I’ve abandoned my old theater ways, there’s a little bit of her still in there – amidst the rock and roll, she still rises up, like let me come out and play! That’s why I love Kate. She’s wild. She’s rather just make art and dance around in the forest than go live on a tour bus. I just feel so understood by her. You have to watch her music videos because she’s so visual. We’re kindred spirits. I have a big poster of her on my wall by my piano and my guitar. She’s always watching over the songwriting process. I don’t know if it’s living in LA or if it’s just because of social media but everything gets so watered down these days! You don’t realize it’s happening but you lower your level of weirdness and it all becomes monochromatic. Kate helps me keep it weird.

We channeled a lot of 80’s for this record, like Phil Collins and Sting, but it will probably make more of a presence on the next record, which we already started writing. The 80’s were very dramatic so maybe that’s what I like – the drama and the flair.

LF: Who inspires you, either personally or creatively?

SS: My sister and my mom. My mom is so great because she created a very creative and free space – our house was very loud and boisterous but there was also space where you could retreat to and have this very contemplative, introspective time if you needed to. We would literally just dance in my room to classical music for hours. I still do that for fun sometimes. I’ll go to ballet class. There’s so much emotion in dance and it’s the yin and yang to music. I like getting to flip over to the other side.

LF: How would you describe your personal style? Do you feel like it has changed as you’ve evolved as a performer?

SS: As with music style, I think my personal style has changed and solidified. I love styling my own shoots because you get to wear what you feel good in and what expresses you. I would describe my style as a graceful tomboy. I feel strong in my power suits but I’m not afraid of femininity either. Being in a band with all boys, there is that very complementary masculine and feminine energy that also translates into our music, with the strong rhythms and the gentle synths.

LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?

SS: Don’t give too much ear to what people think. Go with your gut. Listen to the small voice inside until it becomes a big voice inside. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Try not to care about all the little things. It’s so freeing when you can embrace yourself and not care about what people think. That’s so key as an artist. You can’t give too much weight to other people instead of your own artistic voice. Don’t make art because you’re looking to be successful, make art because it’s satisfying to you.

LF: What do you like most about LA?

SS: I love how big it is and how you can always find somewhere new. I love that you can drive 30 minutes in one direction and feel like you’re in a totally different town or city. I love how rich and dynamic the culture is.

LF: What do you do when you’re feeling creatively burnt out?

SS: I just have to find my other forms of inspiration and step away from music. I have to just leave my computer and go do something I enjoy, like painting or playing piano or watching a good movie. I love movies. I love other forms of art. Art begets art, so read a book or go thrift shopping and find beautiful things or go look at beautiful things or go be out in nature, just get out of your own head. Time and retrospect gives so much perspective. When you step away, you see what has value.

LF: How fast do you live?

SS: It depends what season I’m in but I think I do a bit of both fast and slow. I do like being slow because it gives space to think new thoughts and create, but the performing side is the fast side and that’s just as fun.

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