The Greatest Story Ever Told: Steph Copeland

Published August 30th, 2016

Steph Copeland is a singer-songwriter and composer from Windsor, Ontario. Her debut album, Public Panic, was released late last year, and since that time Copeland’s blend of dark, dreamy, electro-pop has been a favourite on college radio. The album was years in the making for the musician, who has been writing songs all of her life but had always been afraid to take things to the next level.

In this installment of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Copeland explains how a fluke gig scoring a horror film kick-started her career as a composer, and allowed the singer to finally finish her record.

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“Growing up, I went to singing camp. I was in choirs. I sang a lot of musical theatre songs, and that style of writing really got under my skin. When I started making music as a teenager, the pop music stayed with me, but I had also gotten into grittier and moodier things, as teenagers do. 

As I hit my twenties, I started performing shows around Windsor and Detroit. I found myself in a loop of playing shows whenever I could and working unfulfilling jobs to pay rent. I continued to make music, but was overwhelmed by the monster steps needed to learn the technical side of producing and recording on my own. To be honest, I was really lost. This went on for years. I never wanted to quit making music, but at some point I realized that what I had been doing wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to go. 

I met my partner Jeff Maher after performing a particularly moody set onstage. He’s a cinematographer and had an upcoming job shooting an indie horror film. The director was looking for an electronic score and thought my stuff was perfect. The budget was next to nothing, but the idea was intriguing. I decided to dive in despite the huge learning curve. I knew very little about producing a score, and had a few reservations about working in the horror genre. I pretty much jumped in, then learned how to swim between breaths. 

Soon after my first feature film score, I worked on a body horror film. It was intense and gross.  For almost a week I got caught up in a scene where the lead was biting into a bug. At first it made me extremely squeamish, but by the end of the project I actually ate lunch while working through the clip. I did feel vindicated when, at the premier of the film, three severely nauseated audience members had to be escorted out of the theatre. 

The work on that film taught me so much. It also led to two really amazing things: people really liked what I did and offered me more work, and I gained the technical tools and self-confidence to follow through with my own album.

I’ve had a pretty intense last few years of composing music for film, and in that time I’ve learned a lot about every aspect of filmmaking. I still play live shows, performing songs from Public Panic, but I feel different onstage now. Instead of it being my everything, it’s just one thing I do with music.

I’ve really grown into myself and honed my skills. I’ve been positively reviewed by critics. Music and the music scene look different to me. It looks bigger, and I feel like I have more control over my career than ever before. I can trace that all back to shock horror and moody pop songs.

It’s strange to think that sometimes what’s lurking behind the curtain just might be the thing that saves you.”