By Paula Ann Solis
She has shared the stage with music greats like Toby Keith, Jack Ingram and Ronnie Dunn. She won Collegiate Songwriter of the Year just as a freshman. But for McGregor junior Trannie Stevens, her headlining performance Nov. 2 has the potential to make the greatest change in her pursuit of a serious music career.
Stevens sat at her piano and talked about the importance of her upcoming show, her latest EP, why her music no longer falls under just the Christian genre and what the future of Waco’s music scene looks like. She even reveals how one of her friendships was the result of a Facebook message and pain medication. She’s Nashville bound, but while we still have her here, she’s telling it all.
Q: Can you tell me how and when you got your start in music?
A: When I was about five, I started writing songs. They were not the best songs at that time, they were mostly about candy and gymnastics, but that definitely sparked that passion in me.
Q: And what is a 5-year-old’s writing method? From where did you find your inspiration?
A: My first songwriting journal is probably the funniest thing in the world because in all the songs I spelled every single word wrong. A lot of time, the lady that was giving me piano lessons at the time would write it out for me. But the ones I wrote by myself were mostly about candy and about gymnastics. That was pretty much my inspiration, but I started writing a lot about the Lord even at that age. One of my first songs is called “Sweet Jesus,” and it’s a metaphor for how Jesus is like candy. I just talked about the Lord like he was candy all through.
Q: OK, so you started your song writing at five, but when did you start singing?
A: I think the first time I performed was when I was eight.
Q: So writing came more naturally to you then singing?
A: Yeah, I mean that’s really what I would like to do someday is be a songwriter specifically. That’s kind of the progression of how that happened. I started writing, I started singing, and I started performing.
Q: I know that you are a native Wacoan. Another Wacoan, or someone from the area, is Holly Tucker. Did you watch her during her time on The Voice and did that make you consider doing something similar to launch your career?
A: Yeah, for sure. Holly’s more of a voice then I am. Holly would tell you this too, she’s told me this a million times because we’re friends all the way through. We didn’t hang out all the time or anything but we knew of each other and we would always talk when we were singing at the same places. She would definitely say she is more of a performer and I’m definitely more focused on the songwriting side.
Q: As a native Wacoan, why did you choose to stay in Waco for college when there are so many other schools and cities known for their music scene? Why not go where the music industry is big?
A: I would not change anything because I’ve realized that I can take a different road to where I want to go and it can give me a much better experience for myself personally. And what I mean by that is, if I had gone to Belmont where it was completely music-focused, I would not have enjoyed myself, I don’t think. I wouldn’t be the same person that I am because I think there are two things that can happen to you when you go to schools like that. You get really into yourself and what you want to do and how to get there and very competitive. Or you get discouraged because everybody’s way better than you. So I think I did the right thing because I came to a place where I’m one of the few that is doing this very seriously and that’s cool. That makes me feel unique. I wouldn’t feel that way if I went to Belmont but I also like being here because I think it’s given me a very well-rounded life that I wouldn’t have gotten at a school like that. So it’s been fun for me to really get the whole college experience and then to grow in my songwriting as well. I have to make myself practice. Just make sure I’m doing what I need to be doing. I spend summers in Nashville and when I get breaks I go to Nashville. I’m going to Nashville in December to record an EP, so that’s exciting.
Q: So you’ve been to Tennessee several times. When was your first time?
A: When I was a freshman in high school, my mom surprised me for spring break and she took me to Nashville and I got to record in a really nice studio and that was my first taste of that. It was addicting. I just wanted to go back.
Q: What did you record that first time?
A: I recorded two songs. I was still primarily a Christian artist at that time, so I recorded a song called “Let Praise Rise,” and a song called “You Are Everything.” I’m proud of those. They weren’t my best songs ever, but I was also like 15. But I love those songs because they’re huge stepping-stones for me.
Q: You say you “were” primarily a Christian artist. So what are you now and how does that fit in with the Baylor Christian vibe?
A: I think what I’m trying to make myself out to be is an artist that is a really strong Christian and that will sing about life experiences but always be there to speak my mind about big issues. Just because I don’t specifically write Christian songs only, I still write Christian songs, but the majority I perform now are about love or life. But I’ll always speak my mind if I’m asked and even if I’m not asked. I’ll mention that I’m a really strong Christian and that’s important to me.
Q: Going back to your songwriting, is everything that you perform now original work?
A: If it was I think people would hate me. I like to do covers too for sure. That keeps it entertaining and people love it when they know songs at concerts. But I play a lot of my stuff.
Q: And when you do cover someone, do you base it on “This is an artist I admire,” or “This is a songwriter I admire?”
A: Well, songwriter for sure, which usually ends up being the artist anyway because most of the artists I listen to write their music as well. I cover a lot of Sara Bareilles. She’s my favorite. We’re covering the new Ed Sheeran-Taylor Swift song “Everything Has Changed,” Saturday.
Q: I believe Taylor and Ed wrote that together. Is Taylor someone you look up to as far as her songwriter to singer transition? Or is there someone else you admire more?
A: In ways I look up to her. She’s not the kind of songwriter that I like idolize but I do love her music. I know everybody hates on her sometimes but I think what she does works and it reaches a lot of people so I respect that about her. I admire Sara Bareilles more. I think she says mainstream things in un-mainstream way, if that makes sense.
Q: Going back to your own work. You’re headlining Nov. 2, but you’ve headlined before. What’s so special about this show?
A: This show is really special to me because I recently decided to go ahead and make an EP and it’s going to be expensive. I am very independent financially with my music, my parents help me a little but not very much, and so that’s cool because it’s going to be so satisfying when I get it out. I want this to be an awesome turnout because it’s going to help pay for my EP and that’s huge because I can’t grow if I don’t have a product.
Also, Jonny Stimson is an amazing artist and I’ve always wanted to play a show with him. I have a hilarious story about how I’m friends with him actually.
I’ve never met him before but we’re online friends. I know that sounds super weird but in the musician world it’s really not. If you want to be friends with someone you message them and say, “Hey, we should play a show together.” About a year ago, I got my wisdom teeth taken out and I was on pain medication and during that time I messaged him on Facebook and told him how much I love his music and how much I love him and I wrote “Oh, I just want to play a show with you! You’re so awesome! Ah!” and I had no idea I did it. When I was OK again, I got a message from Jonny Stimson. Then I was like “Oh, God!” He has no idea that’s what happened and I’m going to tell him when I finally meet him on Saturday. We’ve become friends since then and talked occasionally.
Q: And what can people expect to hear on this upcoming EP? What’s the theme and how would you describe the songs?
A: It’s going to be three tracks. I’ve really waffled back and forth with what I want to call the EP. I’m not sure because in the past year I’ve gone through so many phases of growing. I was going to call my EP “Wild Birds in Cages Sing,” and I don’t think I’m going to call it that any more because I don’t feel trapped like I did then. I think it’s definitely going to have a positive message like: “Go get it!” I don’t know yet but it’s going to be released some time in the spring.
Q: Has there ever been a time when you thought maybe this wasn’t for you and you wanted to quit?
A: Honestly it’s been recent. I’ve never rejected my dream but it’s changed. I would say if we had had this conversation six months ago I would have told you I wanted to be a singer-songwriter and that I wanted to go on tour and that I wanted to live that life. That’s not the case anymore. I think I’ve become a lot more real with myself and I’ve just really grown in a lot of ways. I just feel like a different person this year and I think I’m a lot more true to myself and who I’m being called to be.
Q: What’s up ahead for you? After Baylor and Waco, what do you have planned for yourself?
A: My plan right now is to move to either Nashville or to Austin and if I can’t get a publishing deal right away it would be to just work for a company that I really liked and respected. Probably a smaller company so I could get individual attention and just learn a lot more. Something I’m really interested in is artist development so something like that. I’ll have a business degree; I’m an entrepreneurship major so I wouldn’t be worried. If I’m really true to myself and listen to the Lord with discernment and he tells me to go to Nashville for three years and nothing happens, I trust that there’s a reason for that. That doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious about it, because I do. I’m really just trying to trust that I feel passion about this for a reason.
Q: You’ve already done so much and seen some great music cities like Nashville and Austin. How does Waco compare? What does Waco have to offer future artists?
A: I think Waco has potential because it’s right between two really big music cities. Waco is just a growing city and everything here is getting better and better so I don’t think that means the music won’t. I think that it will get better, too. Especially if we get more bars, venues and coffee shops, I think that music will just automatically get better because of that. But Common Grounds is so random and it just works, I mean, we’re getting NeedToBreath the day after I’m playing. So sic ’em Waco, and sic ’em Common Grounds.