“Brought among the chosen few / get a chance to start anew,” sings Scott Stevenson on “Run,” one of the quieter and more contemplative cuts from his self-titled debut album. His unaccompanied voice and acoustic guitar fill the space with the pure candor that comes from playing for no one in particular–as though he just sat himself down at a crossroads in life and started to strum.
Even at the ripe old age of 21, Stevenson is no stranger to starting over. The same week he graduated high school in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida, he packed his bags for Portland, Oregon.
“It was about as far away from Florida as you can get,” he says. He left behind a guitarist gig in a working cover band backing up other artists, but he took with him a growing crop of original songs. A year later, he packed up once again, this time landing in Philadelphia. ”That was basically throwing darts at a map.”
Stevenson has made the most of that Philly move, playing gigs locally and teaming up with producer Jack Hubbell for a trio of EPs under the name Sundog!. Inspired by his nightclub days, those records combine danceable beats and mellow guitar grooves in the pattern of Beck.
“It was actually songs I had written for some of the bands we were working with, but I wound up moving before we worked any of them up,” Stevenson says. For his debut full-length, he took a more personal route, aiming to reflect the acoustic aesthetic of his current live performances. “The recent material is actually pretty Bon Iver influenced. It seemed like the right way to do an acoustic album.”
You can hear the influence of For Emma, Forever Ago in Stevenson’s move toward minimal arrangements, but his production is much tighter, and his use of vocal overdubs more selective, than anything on that record.
In addition to giving a candid close-up on Stevenson’s state of mind, the style also emphasizes his talent for songcraft. Take a track like “Soul Eyes,” as direct and dynamic as they come, weaving pop melodies through some clever chord changes into an unforgettable hook. Throw in some well-placed background “oohs” and “ahs,” and you’ve got a crash course in fundamentals any pro hitmaker would be proud of.
As a document of Stevenson’s live set, the record also features a sampling of covers, including easygoing, stripped-down takes on David Bowie, St. Vincent, and Bruno Mars. In some ways, it catalogs Stevenson’s evolving taste as a music listener.
“When I first started writing, my only influences were the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and things like that. I’m a much bigger fan of music than I was then,” he says. “You just have to be open to things and willing to go out of your comfort zone.”
It’s been a winding road to where he is now, but if Stevenson shows no signs of settling, neither does his musical output. He’s mentioned new material in the experimental stages, and from an artist who’s not afraid to change course and take on something new, even that’s cause enough to keep an ear to the ground.