Crickets chirp melodies through the crisp summer-night air while Steven Fiore strums guitar in his Chapel Hill, N.C. barn. For Fiore, June evenings are spent writing songs inside the toolshed-turned-studio, which keeps the music inside with its sound-and-weatherproofed walls. However, the echoes of nature sneak in along with moonlit inspiration. Overlooking an empty field, the remodeled, creative space is perched on the edge of Fiore and fiancée Sabrina Heise’s multi-acre property. “It’s a shack, not anything fancy, but I’ve got this space where I’ve been working on new music for the first time in almost two years,” says Fiore. His next EP will be a home recording, and the crickets might just be playing in the band.
Charleston native Fiore moved to Los Angeles just a year after Youth and Magic was released in 2013. He had secured a publishing deal with Universal Music Group writing songs for pop artists. “I don’t really like to go into too much detail,” he says. “Universal sets you up on co-writes with different songwriters to write for a specific artist. I spent every other day in a different studio,” says Fiore, who has heard his lyrics on the radio on several occasions. “I channel some of the same energy I use when writing my own music. You don’t want the songs you write for someone else to feel fake, but it comes from a different place. You take something you might be going through or have gone through and pair it up with the artist and find that common ground — what makes sense for them and sounds like them and something they can sing with confidence. It’s a different and challenging way to do things, but it feels really rewarding.”
While living in L.A., Fiore was in a long-distance relationship with his then-girlfriend Heise who was still living back on the East Coast. After about six months, Heise received a job offer in Chapel Hill. “I had gotten my fill of L.A. by this time,” says Fiore. After making the shift back into familiar territory, Fiore continued songwriting for Universal and began a graphic design business on the side. In Charleston, Fiore’s Poster Boy Design created the Veggie Bin logo and designed the cover of Michael Flynn’s Face in the Cloud, and he’s currently branding a new local record store. He also designed the T-shirts, posters, album layout, and new website for Mt. Pleasant-based Brendan James, who he’s playing with at the Charleston Music Hall.
Fiore opened for Brendan James just over two years ago at the same venue, but his Charleston music ties run much deeper and span a decade. “What people don’t realize is I’ve been in the Charleston music scene for 10 years. Jump Little Children’s Jay Clifford was a huge influence on me,” he says. “When you’re in a car with him for nine hours, the amount of wisdom that comes out of that human being is almost impossible. He makes amazing music, and he can build just about anything. He’s, all around, the guy you want to be.”
Fiore also worked with Charleston music veterans Dan McCurry of local label Hearts & Plugs and Nic Jenkins in a group called Steven Fiore and the Good People. He recalls a Boston University showcase years back when the group released their first disc. “We drove up three days before and were hand-making records. We had a CD-burning party and were putting band stickers on everything we could. That whole time when I was with those guys was the best,” says Fiore. “And now, they’re really killing it. It’s inspiring watching it from afar.”
Fiore is increasingly excited when mentioning McCurry and Jenkins. “I’m teetering on the brink of telling you what’s going to happen at the show. Let’s just say there’s going to be a lot of old stuff and re-working of songs I recorded when I was 20-years-old … and there might be some surprise appearances.”
With a potential reunion in store, Fiore doesn’t forget to mention the more recent acts that are lighting up the Charleston scene like the Tarlatans and Volcanoes in the Kitchen, who he has played with on a few occasions. “One of my biggest faults — and this attests to how much more of a writer than a performer I am — is that I never took the time to book shows and promote them. I met a lot of up-and-coming bands who reached out to me, and that’s the way I usually end up playing shows,” he says.
Fiore, who spent a little time back in town recently performing at the Spoleto finale, admits he misses his hometown. “There’s that feeling of I grew up here, where all of your friends are, and everyone you counted on in your whole life is in that one place. There’s also a booming music scene, and I watched it take off and explode right after I left,” he says.
As a homebody at the new Chapel Hill abode, Fiore much prefers writing on his farm than on tour. He also likes taking his time to get the inspiration for his projects just right. “If you look at my past, there’s been years between each release. Rather than to put something out to feel relevant, I do it when it comes and when it feels right. If it takes three years to record, I’m OK with that, because it comes out how it’s supposed to be,” he says.
Though Fiore is currently writing for a new EP, he hasn’t recorded or done any demos yet. Right now, he’s playing with ideas that have been tinkering around inside of his head and trying to put a new spin on the same thing he’s been doing for years. “I’m not changing any genres or defining the sound of a generation or anything,” he says. “It’s just fun to do things in a different way and mess around with new instruments. Don’t worry, I’m not going electronic or anything.”