Tanerélle Stephens, Singer/Songwriter & Actress | Los Angeles, CA
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Natasha Samtani: You're listening to The Fem Word on Rukus Avenue radio. I'm Natasha Samtani
Monika Samtani: ...and I'm Monika Samtani.
Natasha Samtani: Today we have an incredible artist with us in the DASH radio studios in LA, Tanerélle!
Natasha Samtani: Welcome.
Tanerélle: Thanks for having me.
Natasha Samtani: Tanerélle Stephens, you're a singer, instrumentalist, model, and actress, and you're from Atlanta.
Natasha Samtani: You're an independent artist and - I'm just giving some background here - residing in LA, where you debuted in the music industry with Siren in 2015.
Natasha Samtani: Ever since, your career has been on the up and up and we're so excited to have you here today.
Tanerélle: Thank you. I'm really excited.
Monika Samtani: Oh my gosh, I love your music so much Tanerelle. It's really, really good.
Tanerélle: Ah, thank you.
Natasha Samtani: So I just kinda wanna dive in. Tell me about your journey and a little bit about what has brought you to this point.
Tanerélle: Well it's been very interesting. I moved out here about seven years ago, June 6th, when I was 18 years old. I got my BFA and acting at, I'm not going to say the name of it, I'm very much in debt, so I was like, I'm not giving any free promotion unless they pay all my school! I graduated from a performing arts college, got my BFA there, graduated Valentine's Day four years ago now. And upon graduating I was performing a few shows at my school, and I was writing these songs and people were like, are you going to put those out? Are those out? Can I find those anywhere? Can I listen to them? And I was like, no, absolutely not. And my friends were just kinda encouraging me like, you should probably put these songs out. And so there was Siren and I pretty much saved all this money and what I had left to spend was from all of my closest friends, they gave me $50 each to come up with the rest of it. And I paid the producer, did the song, and held onto it for like seven months. I was hating it - like it was the oddest thing. Hearing my voice on a track and with music and all of that. Cause I was only doing like acoustic sets at first. And then my sister, she's like my best friend, she gave me this money and she was like, if you don't put the song up on Tune Court, you're technically stealing from me, so you need to put it up tonight. And I was like, I don’t wanna. So her and my best friend Matt, they were just like, do it! And I uploaded it, and the rest is history as far as that song. And I've just been doing music ever since. I had about a year or so where I had no other music out. Um, cause I didn't have the money to put it out. So I did a Kickstarter and failed, did another one, made the money, put it out 11/11. And then since then I've just been doing like single after single like whatever I can afford to do at the time. That's what I'll do at that pace.
Natasha Samtani: And that's part of the beauty of being an independent artist.
Tanerélle: Yeah, exactly. Like there's no rushing, there's no pressure or anything like that. Everything's just on me. There is a bit of pressure from my supporters, cause they were like we want more music videos. And I'm like, everyone be very patient with me please, just for now. And then one day I'll just be releasing stuff every day. Who knows? But yeah, that's how it is.
Natasha Samtani: I believe that.
Tanerélle: Yeah. I'm excited for like everything that's to come, to be honest.
Natasha Samtani: And do you write all your own stuff?
Tanerélle: I write every single song. Um, there's this one song that's not out yet. I'm not sure if I’ll release it, but that was the first song that I cowrote with someone else. With this really cool guy, but it's not out yet. So everything that's out now, I've written every word.
Natasha Samtani: You're like a quadruple threat. Oh, let's count, ready,? Singer, songwriter, model actress, instrumentalist. Is that a penta-threat?
Tanerélle: Is it?
Natasha Samtani: You can do it, you're a woman.
Tanerélle: Being a woman itself. Yeah, we're like an octa-threat. We're, we're just everything.
Monika Samtani: So the song In Women We Trust, I mean, first of all, wow. I mean, it makes me think about the responsibility that we have in 2019. What you're saying is, one of the lines you use, is we don't really like no rules. But in the past, you know, we were always those people that were afraid to break the rules and now you're seeing the opposite. So what is that responsibility today in 2019 that we have?
Tanerélle: I just feel like the responsibility we have is just to ourselves and to our truth. I feel like for a long time women have kind of been the backbone and kind of taken that burden for the entire world, the universe, I would say. And in taking that, neglected the self. And so for me, we don't really like no rules. It's just like, I don't want to listen to anything you have to say anymore. I don't care what you have to say. I'm sick of you telling me what to do, how to do it, how to love myself, do this, do that, don't do this, do that. And then everything's contradicting itself to be quite honest. And so for me it's like, you know what? We run this shit. You can't do it without us. So we're gonna do it how we want to do it at our own pace because it looks different on everyone. Like, we're all different. None of us are the same. And so I feel like in any case, whether it be your idea of liberation, your idea of what sexy is or confident is, whether you're naked, or clothed, or this, or that. That's just what that song is about. Every single woman from every walk of life coming together and kicking ass and taking names.
Natasha Samtani: So, what social responsibility do you feel as a creator and as an up and coming public figure, especially at a pivotal time today when women are looking for inspiration? We have this responsibility, but we're also looking for it, for inspiration, everywhere.
Tanerélle: I feel like my social responsibility, the best that I feel like I have to offer is to just be encouraging, to be inspiring, to be transparent in the process. No matter what it is, the self love process, because that's something that never ends and it's forever. I feel like a lot of times we see people, what we assumed to be their peak, their best or this and that, but no one's showing like what they went through to get to that place or this and that. So everyone's just comparing themselves to what they assume to be someone's best. We're comparing our insides to someone's outsides. And for me, I find it my responsibility to make sure I am transparent about my story. I'm very vocal about looking great on Instagram, but I'm still using food stamps or I'm still doing this or I'm still doing that. You know what I mean? So people can know, oh, okay, so it's not so pretty. It's not so glamorous. Not so this and not just in terms of your dreams, but again, like it's really important to me, the idea of self love and self optimization, because that isn't always so pretty either. Actually, most of it isn't. So that's what I want to do, is to be able to encourage people through the good and the bad and everything in between because essentially it's all beautiful.
Monika Samtani: Yeah, it is. And you know, what I hear you saying is that we need to own our power. I mean, women are such dynamic creatures. Right? And that comes across in the subject matter of your music. And it seems like you're using your voice and your message as a way to say that we as women do not have to conform to those boxes and those labels that we lived in in the past. Do you feel that those still exist? And do you feel like we're kind of coming out of that now in this phase of feminism?
Tanerélle: Oh, we're absolutely coming out of those boxes. They definitely exist. Um, they would love for us to get back into them, but I feel like that's never going to happen.
Monika Samtani: Being pushed back in all the time.
Tanerélle: They want us to so bad or like, if you don't get your hands off me.
Natasha Samtani: That's so funny. We were just talking about unboxing right before this in a different context.
Tanerélle: But now it's this beautiful verse of unboxing ourselves.
Monika Samtani: I like that, we're unboxing ourselves.
Natasha Samtani: You know, you're an independent artist, so what does that mean? You touched on it in the beginning of our chat, but what does that really mean to our listeners who aren't in the music industry who don't understand?
Tanerélle: Well, being independent pretty much means you are doing everything. I don't want to say you're doing everything on your own because you're absolutely not. You need your supporters, you need family, you need friends. Um, you need other brains and creatives to help you build who you are. But it pretty much means you don't have a label behind you at that current time investing or, you know, putting into you financially or creatively or something like that. So you're kind of doing everything on your own in that aspect.
Natasha Samtani: What are the biggest challenges you face as an independent artist?
Tanerélle: The biggest challenges as an independent artist for me definitely have to be the financial challenges, simply because you'll create things that you want to get out, but if you want to get them out the right way, sometimes that's a bit of a roadblock. I know that it can be this thing like, do it this way and you don't need the money. You can always do this and do that, which is very true. There are a lot of ways that you can make things happen with very, very, very small budgets - like next to nothing. Trust me. I know. But I feel like the more that I evolve in my sound and in my music, I'm always kind of one-upping myself, which becomes a bit of a problem because it's like, okay, well I've done that. I can't go backwards. I can't do this. And so it's almost like the climb makes it more challenging for myself, it's like the reason why, “oh, I don't have a music video?” Because out of all the visuals that I put out, I can't just put out a video that doesn't, you know, kind of like stand up to that bar of what I know my fan base would expect of me and what I would expect of myself. In saying that, I'm very patient so it's not the biggest issue because I know it'll happen when it's supposed to. So before, I used to get bent out of shape, discouraged, depressed, you know, I just want this to be this way, I want that and I should have had that out by now and this and that. And now I'm like, you know what, it's chill because when it does happen it's going to be worth the wait.
Natasha Samtani: And that climb and you setting the bar higher and higher for yourself unintentionally - is the definition of progress and personal growth?
Tanerélle: Yeah, it's literally evolution. Like evolving and it's wild to witness and to watch. Sometimes I go back and listen to old like voice memos that I've had of myself, like fighting songs or certain things like that and I'm like, oh my God, I was a baby.
Monika Samtani: Look at how far you’ve come. I think that obviously, you know, inherently you have that talent and it's just a matter of pushing through the hard times, the good times, learning, changing, growing, and you're going to get there and you’re already there in our minds. [We] just love, love what you're putting out right now. What do you feel today distinguishes you as that artist and creator?
Tanerélle: So for me, I would say I just break all the rules. I know there are a lot of things that people expect of me as a woman, as a black woman, as a young woman. And just like the way that I look being six foot tall with an Afro.
Natasha Samtani: Gorgeous.
Tanerélle: Thank you.
Natasha Samtani: You are breathtaking, let me tell you.
Tanerélle: But it's like I know there are all these things and I just kind of break the rules that people expect me to have a difference, a certain sound or a certain genre or this and that. And I think it makes people a bit uncomfortable and it's like, oh, I just do whatever I want, but I do everything. I don't have a genre, I don't have again, a box. And so I feel like that's definitely one of those things, but I love that. I love that I can distinguish myself as someone who is a rule breaker because that's what they're for.
Natasha Samtani: And I think making people uncomfortable is important.
Tanerélle: Yes. It helps them grow. It's like if you're just comfortable your entire life, you will never grow. You need people to like put a mirror up to you and show you yourself. And a lot of times it's the most interesting thing, but I'll end up being that person for myself when I'm writing these songs that are uplifting and encouraging. Nine times out of ten when I'm writing it, I'm not feeling that way. So I'm writing it as a way to kind of give myself advice from my higher self. We typically are able to give advice to our friends and to other people that we know we wouldn't be able to take. So when I'm writing these songs, that's me giving my friend's advice and all these other women like you and your mom and everyone else, all this advice. And then when I listen to it, it's like, well, you kind of have to take it now because you said it, you know, you can't be a hypocrite.
Monika Samtani: You know what Tanerélle, I'm an Aries like you. Oh my God, I feel like that's our connection. We have the same birthday. I feel so inspired by you. And when I look at, you know, everything you're doing on social media, the uniqueness of you, and how fiercely independent you are as a woman and you're pretty damn unapologetic about it. Was there that turning point in your life that caused you to have that "I don't give a shit” mindset, or you were just always like that?
Tanerélle: No way. No, I was definitely not always like that. Growing up, I was bullied a lot and I really hated myself a lot. Like, being a dark skinned girl in Atlanta was not the business at all. There's a lot of colorism in the South growing up. I was always just kind of thinking I was the girl, I was this, I was that. And not even taking the time really to focus on like my insides because I was so focused on what everyone else thought about how I looked and this and that they didn't even want to get a chance to know me. But then I came out here still kind of going through it, realizing that I was kinda having a bit of an identity crisis as a young black woman. Then I was going through some stuff and then I went through this situation where someone was really trying to like take me down and like shame me and make me hate myself. I feel like [I] damn near killed myself, you know? And I was very depressed and anxious and all these things, and I think that was a turnaround for me. It was like you can either kill yourself off or say fuck the bullshit and fall in love with you, all of you. Everything, every flaw
Monika Samtani: Say, embrace.
Tanerélle: Yeah. And embrace all of it. And that was really the turnaround for me. I was at a point where I was not posting certain stuff. I wouldn't say certain stuff because I didn't want to get shamed. I didn't want people to think I was this, that, and the other. And then I was like, and what if I am actually, who cares what I am, we all die so I'm just going to live my life for me. And that was a turnaround for me. And I feel like I've been on this kind of journey to self love for like the last three years now. I think that was the first time I really started loving myself.
Natasha Samtani: And that's a huge lesson, once you put your self love out there. Yeah. People can't really say anything.
Tanerélle: No. Cause you're just like, there's nothing you can say to me to tear me down because I already either know it or what you're saying doesn't make any sense and it's clear that it's a projection of your insecurities. So all I can do is send you love, good vibes, and open a space for you. I had to realize that sometimes people aren't able to open a space of love for themselves, because they're so deep within their own, you know, issues - whether it's women, whether it's men, and it's something that no one really tells you growing up. It's like always, oh they're picking on me cause they have a crush or we're always putting it on something else, and that doesn't get to the root of the issue. And so that causes a lot of trouble with like, you know, growing up and now I realize like if someone's trying to make me feel less than myself, it's because [they’re] simply trying to make me feel like them. And I read this thing one time, it was like, “all in all anyone is ever trying to do is make you feel like them.” And it's true. If I feel good about me, I'm gonna make you, you know, feel good about you. I want you to feel like I do. I want us all to like, feel the same. Right. And it's the same when it's negativity. So, I had to realize that, open a space of love, and move on. Now I don't give a fuck. And I know it upsets a lot of people. Things I post, I get a bunch of stuff every day and it really doesn't get to me anymore. It's like, okay.
Natasha Samtani: It's like we're all movies. Is that weird? You watch a movie. And the movie is intended to make you feel a certain way. Exactly. That's real. And so if you're a tragedy...
Tanerélle: You want someone to feel tragic.
Monika Samtani: The energy that you put out reflects back on you. You're going to put out that positive energy and some people are going to block it off. You're going to know the ones that you want around you with the same vibe and that's what sort of moves us forward as well. I want to go back a little just for a sec about the fact that you grew up in Atlanta and talk about the influence of your music because your music doesn't fit into one specific genre. I mean, and it seems like you like it that way. You’re funky, you’re R&B, you've got electronics going on. Like what is it that, what is your sound? Tell us about that.
Tanerélle: It's an ever evolving genre to be honest, it's just me. I grew up listening to everything. I'm an only child, so growing up all I really had was film and music as my companions, truly. There was no sisters or brothers. So I was watching everything over and over again. I was listening to things over and over again, listening to music I shouldn't be listening to over and over again. So in that shaping me as an artist, it's kind of like how on earth could I pick one thing and just stick to that when I love all of this. And so for me that's kind of the fun of it, because one day I could wake up and make an indie album, or a rock album, or a jazz album, or R&B, or pop. And I think that's the fun in it all, it makes it really exciting for me and it keeps my passion fresh. It makes me not get to a point where I feel like I'm redundant or doing the same thing over and over again. And that makes me really happy.
Monika Samtani: You're not in that box.
Natasha Samtani: Yeah. it keeps you unboxed. So, so what's next for you?
Tanerélle: So many dreams, honestly, in this head of mine, I'm just hoping to start working on my debut album because everyone's been like, where's the album? I only have like an EP and some singles out. So working on that, I've been writing a script, a few scripts, but you know, I've like started writing now and auditioning a ton too, to try to like book some shows or movies or whatever. So honestly like, whatever comes I'm just manifesting the best yummiest scenarios for my life and whatever that may be.
Natasha Samtani: And I always like to ask this question; to you, what does it mean to be powerful?
Tanerélle: To be powerful, to make it all encompassing. I would say to be powerful is to love myself because in loving myself, that means that that's what I project out to other people. And in doing that, they can be the best version of themselves. So if we all just loved ourselves, the world would be immaculate. That's power to me.
Natasha Samtani: I love that.
Monika Samtani: Wow. Thank you so much, Tanerélle. We wish you the very best. We know the sky's the limit for you. There is no limit for you. You are just amazing and we're really blessed to have you on the Fem Word. Thank you.
Tanerélle: No, it was absolutely my honor. Seriously. Thanks for having me.
Natasha Samtani: I'm so happy that you were able to join us. Thank you.