Welcome, friends, to some millennials’ fourth installment of a weekly series we like to call Free Music Fridays Mondays (FMFM). FMFM will highlight artists who have decided to release large portions of their music for free and will run with an interview of the artist. For the fourth FMFM, Brian has interviewed electro-pop artist SUMif and the interview will be interspersed with music she has released for free.
SUMif is Steph Wells, an NYU graduate in music business. She lived in Nashville for a year, pursuing a career in singer-songwriter pop before moving to San Francisco and forming the SUMif project. For those who have guessed, SUMif is, in fact, a reference to the Excel function – “a nod to my inner nerd. In addition, electronic music is really a sum of layer upon layer, with ‘if’ implying uncertainty, so I figured SUMif worked well,” she told me.
SUMif’s music hints at the singer-songwriter origins of Wells, especially on her latest single “Lay Down,” released on July 11, which begins with a folksy cadence before erupting into bubbling synths a la Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” (h/t fellow millennial Brock for this comparison). Since December 2015, she’s released five songs, all joined together by multiple connecting elements: the covers, the inspiration for which we delved into in the interview, the ecstatic synths, and positive love-based lyricism. Like previous FMFM entry High Bloom, each song is impressively singular.
Wells told some millennials that new music is in the works, though she’s currently “not sure on specifics.” What is certain, though, is that she’ll be playing her first show at Brick & Mortar in San Francisco on September 14. In addition to going to that show and downloading her music, you’re encouraged to follow SUMif on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (@sumifmusic), Soundcloud, and Spotify, and to check out her website.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
some millennials: why free music?
SUMif: As an artist I’m never going to make substantial money selling my music, the music business has changed drastically over the years and I’m okay with that – with streaming models and letting people have my music for free will broaden my audience and allow more people to listen, who will in turn hopefully in the future go to my shows and buy merch to support me financially.
sm: colors are frequently used as symbolic representations of feelings, and as your single covers have all been the same picture with different background colors, do the colors symbolize the vibe of the song or have a continuous relationship with the songs prior?
SUMif: The color does somewhat symbolize the song; each time I was about to put a single out, I thought to myself. “Hmm, which color represents this song best?” I wanted something cohesive, inspired by what Jamie xx did for In Colour.
sm: apart from [the influence of In Colour], would you say you have any influences that, upon first listening to your music, might not be apparent?
SUMif: I used to write only singer-songwriter pop, so Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch are a couple of the reasons I make music today. My stuff now might not sound anything like that, but a pop song is a pop song, from country to electronica, and they did it damn well.
sm: as you have a degree in music business, are there things that you learned in school about the business that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else, or, in the internet age, is the learning curve less steep?
SUMif: I’d say one of the most valuable classes I had at NYU was music publishing, taught by an adjunct professor who spent her days being a bad ass boss lady as an SVP at Universal Publishing. Publishing is v confusing, and she did an amazing job of breaking it down.
sm: do you consciously make music with the radio in mind or if you’re heard on the radio it’ll be off the strength of it being different?
SUMif: I honestly just love a song that gets stuck in your head, that you can sing a long with instantly. I don’t write for radio, I just write what I enjoy.
sm: when people come to your city, what would be the one thing you’d say they have to do?
SUMif: Gosh that’s hard, SF is the best and has so many magical things to do! On a nice day, I’d say bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, or hang out in Dolores Park with a bottle of wine and an sando from BiRite.
sm: you just perfectly segued into the question i always finish with!: what’s your favorite sandwich?
SUMif: I love breakfast soooo… everything bagel, fried egg w a runny yolk, extra sharp cheddar, avocado, ketchup.