Growing up listening to everything from Aerosmith to Alanis Morissette to Pharrell, Charleston native Stephen Washington would try to figure out how songs were put together, an innate curiosity that has driven him in his capacity as both musical director and keys player for local supergroup Quiana Parler and Friends over the past 13 years.
Currently, Washington is working on his EP, Son of a Preacher, which will travel the edges of gospel, country and rock like Gary Clark Jr., but the ultimate feel will be soul.
“It’s going to be an honest EP,” he said. “I believe in transparency. I’ve written songs in some of the most difficult moments in my life, and I was afraid to share it.” But he’s come to find that in talking about what is personal, we realize it’s universal.
He’s always felt wired differently, Washington said, and he struggled with accepting his path was pointed toward music.
“It took a lot of failing and bad decisions. It took a lot of frustrations, it took a lot of disappointments. I had this feeling, this instinct that this is something I wanted to do. There are so many things that have transpired in my life that have happened that made me want to feel like I should give up.”
With a background in producing and playing for gospel musicians Travis Greene and K.J. Scriven and local band collective BlackNoyze that has seen collaborations with names like Snoop Dogg and Rihanna, Washington thinks that when it comes to putting out songs, it all comes down to intent — that music will achieve what the artist sets it out to do.
A lasting positive outcome for the audience means producers and artists have to start with a respect for the attention that needs to be given to the impact of the song outside of material profits, he said.
“Music is so powerful that anyone that wants to participate in that experience has to understand that there’s a level of accountability that comes with it.”
There’s value in simply trying to be aligned and centered, regardless of what you’re doing and what’s going on, he said, because it gives you a better perspective of what’s going on in the world.
“Every individual will go through something where it will leave a wound. And sometimes, if you just leave it untouched or you’re never allowed to heal, it distorts your thinking, it distorts your perspective and you see the world in such a way. And then, we build society, family, relationships — we get married — off of unhealed wounds.”
He sees hurt people hurting people as the force behind chaos and trouble, and he’s been there himself.
“I’ve hurt someone because I was hurt. And healing is something I had always been an advocate about. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s lonely. It takes you being brave enough to deal with the things you’ve been trying to not deal with for so long. Finally getting to this EP, to me, has been something that has been long overdue but was a chance for me to dig in and deal with some of the issues that I’ve been hiding from.”
And of course, because music is a natural pain relief, Washington has shows planned before 2021 is up. He will perform in Charlton Singleton’s Holiday Spectacular, Dec. 11 at Charleston Music Hall, and has plans in the making for a show at Pour House Dec. 26 with local alt-funk group Psycodelics.
Outside of music, Washington is stepping into another area with his new radio show, Steve’s House, at 1 p.m., Tuesdays starting Nov. 9, on Ohm Radio. It comes naturally to him to host the show, considering his work as a producer usually starts with a good talk.
“Normally when I’m going into a song with an artist I talk to them first, try to get an understanding and see what it is we are trying to say. Then when it makes sense, the process is much easier to get to that emotional point where we have something. There has to be a bonding, a fellowship.”