The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Jack Stepanian steps into the spotlight of the Charlottesville music scene

The third-year solo-artist looks forward to sharing his first EP “Made for Us,” dropping Thursday when he headlines the Southern

<p>Playing The Southern this Thursday may be Stepanian’s first time headlining a major local venue, but it will not be his first big show as a solo-artist.</p>

Playing The Southern this Thursday may be Stepanian’s first time headlining a major local venue, but it will not be his first big show as a solo-artist.

Sitting down last week under overcast skies and impending rain, the unfortunate weather couldn’t dull third-year College student Jack Stepanian’s enthusiasm as he eagerly discussed his anticipation for headlining The Southern Cafe & Music Hall in the Downtown Mall Thursday. The performance will act as a release show of sorts, as his first EP “Made for Us” drops the same night at midnight. 

“This is my first true, big venue headlining show, I’m absolutely thrilled about it,” Stepanian said. “I’m very excited that the EP is going to be out that night — perfect timing.”

A double major in history and Spanish from Richmond, Stepanian has a broad appreciation for the humanities, but music has always had a special place in his heart. 

Starting the guitar at age seven and writing songs ever since, Stepanian has been a lifelong listener, lover and creator of music. Reminiscing on his musical journey, Stepanian laughed at his faint memory of his first live performance — playing “Jingle Bells” at a local coffee shop when he was nine, even adding his own original verse to the carol. 

With over a decade of practice, Stepanian now plays lead guitar and sings lead vocals backed by a local drummer, bassist and keys-player. This unique combination of leading both guitar and vocals gives him fine-tuned control over his sound, which he describes as a mix of blues, rock and pop with hints of secondary influences like funk and jazz.

Stepanian’s long-lasting passion for music is clear, but it wasn’t his main focus until two years ago. After one year of playing lacrosse at Hampden-Sydney College, Stepanian decided to fully commit to music and transferred to the University to increase his opportunities. Instead of regretting how much of his past energy he put into athletics, Stepanian said he views his former lacrosse career as something that now supports his musical abilities.  

“It's funny, I think because I have this background of athletics, I kind of view them the same, as just being solely performance based,” Stepanian said. “When I’m on stage, I view it [like] I’m on the field … trying to be the best you can be to get into that certain state of peak performance.”

Trying to hit this peak performance at the Southern Thursday will be a big step up from a quaint coffee shop, but it will not be Stepanian’s first big show as a solo-artist. After months of playing college parties and local bars, Stepanian opened for the Futurebirds’ — a Georgia-based indie rock band beloved by Hoos — sold out show at the Jefferson Theater last September. Through these experiences, Stepanian has recognized the incredible value of expressing genuine excitement when performing. 

“The first biggest thing is just having fun, you've got to engage the audience in that way … you’ve gotta trust the process that you’ve rehearsed and to trust all the work you’ve done” Stepanian said. 

While he has always loved performing, Stepanian said his recent top priority has been cultivating his own unique sound by creating and releasing original pieces. New to the recording side of music, Stepanian has been crafting his first EP “Made for Us” since last May with the help of local producers. 

“It takes longer than I realized … but you only get one opportunity to release music to the world, so I came to terms with the fact that I didn't want to rush it,” Stepanian said. 

When crafting his own sound, Stepanian said he is inspired by all types of music and hopes to transcend any one traditional genre, remarking that all of his biggest musical idols — like Prince and Stevie Ray Vaughan — are “larger than life.”  

Regarding lyrics, Stepanian said that he strives to be a good storyteller more than anything else, referencing influences like outlaw country legend Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger” album. 

“My favorite songwriters are incredible storytellers … You listen to their songs and their stories that could be fiction, could be about themselves, you don’t know” Stepanian said. Often, Stepanian’s favorite songs blur the lines between the songwriter themselves and the fictitious character they have cast in a more elusive setting, he continued. 

While talking about how he emulates these influences in his own music, Stepanian laughed with humility as he explained he doesn’t yet consider himself at the level of his favorite songwriters. Instead of becoming discouraged by this fact, however, he revealed introspective wisdom about how important it is for growing musicians to maintain a positive outlook on their own work. 

“The hardest part is trying not to pass judgment on your own work … instead looking at [it] from the lens of someone else, like a student, and being like ‘alright, I'm going to learn from this and try to get better’ rather than just judging it and saying ‘no, that’s garbage,’” Stepanian said. 

Stepanian said this advice not only applies to creating original music, but performing it as well. 

“When you’re up [on stage], it's such a fleeting moment … The biggest thing is that people appreciate your music and come out to see it, not wanting to see a cover song … and that’s why you can't be judging [yourself]” Stepanian said. 

Stepanian said he hopes to continue embracing these fleeting moments for years to come, viewing college as a catalyst for a long and fulfilling career in music. With the intent to book shows up and down the east coast this summer, from Atlanta to New York City, Stepanian is excited to get outside of the “Charlottesville bubble” and proudly share his original music with new energy to new crowds. 


Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.