Stef Chura’s been based in Detroit for five years, now, but she got her start in Ypsilanti. The singer/songwriter released her debut LP Messes (on Urinal Cake Records) at the end of January, capping off an exciting year that saw her opening shows for Car Seat Headrest and SAD13’s Sadie Dupuis (also of Speedy Ortiz). Things took off last Spring when indie-tastemakers Pitchfork propped the single, “Slow Motion.”
The album itself has a roil of feedback fringing every corner, with an energizing guitar interweaving its frenetic riffs with Chura’s own singular voice, a cathartic trill coiling in to indelible melodies. Messes came together over a year of spread out sessions at Jim Roll’s studio in Ann Arbor, produced with Fred Thomas (of Saturday Looks Good To Me). These 11 songs started coming together in the summer of 2014, when Chura started collaborating with the band’s current drummer Ryan Clancy.
From Alpena to Ypsi
Chura grew up up in Alpena. While the music scene up there may not be as active as Ypsi’s, Chura nevertheless learned to play guitar at an early age, wrote some songs, and played in a couple bands in high school. When a friend offered a place to live in Ypsilanti in the late 2000’s, she made the move.
One of the first acquaintances Chura made was musician Amber Fellows (of Rebel Kind), who would wind up accompanying Chura’s guitar/vocals on the xylophone for her first couple shows around Ypsilanti, which included Totally Awesome Fest 2009. “I started with a job at the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op, where I met (Fellows), and she was really the door-opener for everyone that I met at Dreamland Theater, and Pat Elkins, Jim Cherewick, Shelley Salant.”
One of the very first Ypsi-area artists that Fellows introduced Chura to was Fred Thomas. Before he moved away to Montreal last year, Thomas recorded and mixed Messes with Chura, and contributed bass parts to all her songs.
A bit of a homecoming
So this month sees sort of a homecoming for the former Ypsi-ite, when she performs in Ann Arbor on March 4 at the Neutral Zone. “I’m excited to work with Neutral Zone and to support the work they do with teens, getting them interested in music and art. It’s going to be nice to not play a show in a bar; so much of playing shows becomes too bar-centric.”
Chura’s rise amid the Michigan music scene accelerated in early 2016, when her first single, “Slow Motion” started garnering acclaim online. Somewhere, a tumblr post compared Chura’s unique voice, a trilling declarative range of pretty and gritty, to that of Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo. When the “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” singer noticed that, he invited Chura’s band to join a portion of an already planned tour supporting his album Teens of Denial.
Now, Chura can flat out shred… But, she often wields these post-grunge feedback squalls through fingerstyle, with frenetic fret work intonated by finger-picking (instead of strumming with a pick). Most folks associate with folk, or maybe exclusively acoustic music. At 13, Chura learned, and eventually started out writing, exclusively on acoustic guitar. She diverted from the typical learner’s route of cycling through cover songs and instead just made up her own stuff; this led to a flourishing of a fingerstyle that would sustain through the shift to the electric guitar.
As we wrapped up our interview, Chura said she was getting ready to obtain a passport, because her band may be headed to Europe soon. Meanwhile, she just finished a February tour with Priests, and this month she scored her first official spot at SXSW. Her band did make it to last year’s SXSW for some after party performances. In fact, she lugged her own PA with her and that allowed her to host a pop-up karaoke program at Molly Soda’s party. If only we had more space, we could tell you more about Chura’s other main gig: Steffyoke! You’ll just have to ask her about it at the Neutral Zone.
“I’m definitely thankful for the scene that I have here,” Chura said. “I do feel like everyone’s supportive and it does feel close-knit. It’s not only about the rent being affordable, I think (Detroit/S.E. Michigan) is a good place, and there’s not anywhere else I’d rather be doing what I’m doing.”
April 1, The Neutral Zone
310 E. Washington, Ann Arbor
734-214-9995 | neutral-zone.org