Being a light so bright that it illuminates others isn’t merely a quote Stephanie Quayle manifests – she lives it. The Montana native grew up on a buffalo farm where her mother showed her what it means to be a cowboy, and later taught her how to ride a motorcycle. But music has always been her calling, a journey that’s presented Quayle with a fair share of obstacles, all of which she’s conquered with a deep sense of self. With her eye consistently set on growth and elevation, Quayle is pouring her heart and soul into a new era of music that begins with her single “By Heart.”
In this edition of Female Friday, Quayle joins us for an expansive conversation ranging from how high school bullies and an exchange program in Switzerland set her on her path to stardom to her insightful perspective on life, with plenty of words of wisdom in between.
When did you first feel a spark for music? When did you know this was something that was in you?
Music has always been a part of my family from my mom singing to me, us singing around the piano, to my dad trying to sing in tune and playing his guitar, to me taking piano started at four, picking up the guitar when I was 15; it was just my love of music. There was a running joke when I was about 11, “you’ll probably be a singing lawyer.” Freshman year of high school is super tough. There was a lot of bullying, from my name getting written on the bathroom stalls to being physically bullied by senior girls, I was like “this is not for me, I don’t think I can stay in this, how do I get out?” What’s interesting is that music got me out unexpectedly. I ended up running away legally, which was me doing an exchange program with Youth For Understanding my junior year of high school. I went to Freiburg, Switzerland, of all places. I’m with my host brother at a little cafe and there is a band [at] the table next to us that’s talking about going to start looking for a new lead singer because their lead singer had left the band to go pursue other things. So I’m a professional eaves-dropper, shamelessly self-promoted myself, and they’re like “come audition for us.” I got the job, and that became my after-school, weekend world. We wrote songs together, recorded a little CD, put it out, and once I got on stage, that’s when I knew. That was when it all came to focus and into view that this is where I make sense, this was what I’m supposed to do. Once your mind sets itself on something, then it will find a way, and then it was just about finding the way.
I finished high school, went to California with my little cowboy boots and country songs, and I made my way to Nashville in 2011 and I’m just so taken by the songwriter rounds. To see in such simplistic form of just an instrument and a voice to captivate a room, I wanted that, and now it’s the continuation of becoming a better songwriter. So just being able to hold a room with a voice and a guitar, in my case, was such an early set goal, and then just falling in love with music all over again. I’m really comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that keeps my fire going. I’m a big believer in the greatest comparison I can make is to myself and who I was yesterday and how am I adapting and growing and learning. In 2020, it’s been a really interesting, reflective, expansive year I think for everybody because it’s not about what you want, because we all had that put on pause. What do we have? Where do we want to lean into gratitude and these challenges and be better?
Why do you feel like you’re comfortable being uncomfortable? How do you define that?
I feel like the most growth happens when you’re not comfortable. Comfort is a tricky deal. I think that it’s great to relish in celebration when things go correctly, whatever that looks like. I recently wrote a song and I set my sights on it. I wrote it, I finished it, and that accomplishment was in itself what I needed in that moment and then was like, “okay, that’s one more song. Let’s do it again.” You have to look at everything you’ve done and be like “okay, we’re going the right direction.” But you can only be where you are, you can’t be two places at once. You would miss out on it if you know exactly where you are, and that’s something that I’ve really grown into too is being so present because being present allows you to be right where you are, and that’s a much more exciting way to live. Forget about tomorrow, how are we right now?
What are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today?
I think those started very early. In my early twenties, I was told I was too old. I remember very vividly, I was 22-years-old, and I was told I was too old. When I think back to that time, sometimes when we’re all in it, we don’t see as much change necessarily that we want to, or forward motion, but actually there’s been a lot. I think that music and artistry has become the forefront versus these boxes that we’ve put, especially women, in that they have to be a this or they have to be a that. I feel like the music is speaking for women more so than ever from diversity in every aspect. So at that time, I remember being like “what a stupid thing to say to me,” [laughs] but also, I’ve looked at everything that when people have said “you can’t,” that’s just putting more gasoline on my fire. The ageism thing, discriminating against people based on complete nonsense, you think of some of the greatest artists, iconic artists. Let’s just talk about the women across the genres from [Jennifer Lopez], Bonnie Raitt, from Dolly Parton to Cher, from Emmylou Harris to Pink. From those standpoints, I feel like that glass ceiling, if you buy into it, then you fall prey to it. If you choose to do, then what people say really doesn’t matter, because it takes a lot of courage to believe in yourself when no one else does. I choose to focus on what I can change and what I can control, and the only thing I can change and control is myself. So how do I continue to be a force for good, a light in our industry and an example to young women.
I look at things in my past and challenges like things I can tap into when I need them, but I’m really focused on what’s in front of me. I’m challenging myself with “create more and make it great and keep going.” That’s been really beautiful about this new music because it was “can we record in a virtual world?” Yes, which is incredible. Can it impact the ears and change chemistry, because we know if music was changing the way we feel, then there’s something there, and so that’s been really exciting with putting out “By Heart” and watching it unfold. There’s never been a time in my history that I’ve put out as much music as I’ll be putting out this year. Who knows what it’s like when it’s all said and done, but it’s exciting because I still have something to say.
“By Heart” feels like a pivot, it feels like a new sound. Tell me the story behind the song.
It was pre-COVID. I’m in New Orleans in my hotel room, and I’ll always bring my guitar wherever I go, and I heard it and I just had to pick up my guitar and I had to play it. That’s when I know “okay, something here lyrically.” I love this song and I appreciate what you’re saying, it’s an elevation, it’s taking our foundation and elevating that, and I think as an artist, you always want to be tapping into that. The lyric that really got me was “I want to know you like my drive home,” because that immediately took me back home to Montana, and the follow-up lyric to that really tugged at me and made me curious. This song is one of those songs that makes you ask questions about whomever from your friends, yourself. “Do I know myself by heart? How do I feel about this?” My husband [David Couch], what was his number on his jersey when he was 17? And that’s such a picture. Songs are mini-movies for me, and country music is so great with the storytelling. I love everything about the song, and this song opened up my relationship and it’s like discovery all over again. We’ve been married almost six years and I’m finding out new things about him. This song, it makes you inquisitive, “I want to know you by heart.” It’s a very simple message of love, and love is a complex message. Love is simply complex and complexly simple. We all try to figure it out. We all think we have it figured out; none of us have it figured out. When it hits us in the face we’re like, “I know what this feels like now.” It’s just a wild adventure.
I think that the overarching message for me through my music, especially with the music coming out, and has been a continuation throughout the course of my career, is identifying what I have been running away from. For a lot of my life, it was heartbreak after heartbreak, so for me to tap into love whole-heartedly and authentically and from every aspect of my life from my marriage to my family to my step-kids to my friendships. So all of the music has this foundation in love, and then how all of these different moments of our lives intertwine with that, and that’s really cool. Through great heartbreak is great love and great triumph. One of my favorite books of poetry is called Tears and Laughter and it’s really the dynamic of the two. You got to know what the roller coaster feels like, merry-go-rounds are pretty boring. Without the lows, you don’t even appreciate the highs. If everything was good all the time, we would just take it for granted. That’s where the most goodness happens is in that uncomfortable, that’s that growth spirt. I think globally, we’ve all been stretched in this last year. The challenges and the heartbreak, we all have tough things that we’re going through and we’ve had experienced from illness and deaths and all the stuff that comes with life. My choice in how I choose to lift people up is to really share that message of “we are so resilient and if we’re willing to be it, we will.”
How does your upcoming music define this new era?
Limitless. That is my one word answer. I feel that I’m living it, I’m experiencing it and it’s okay if it makes people not quite know what to do with it because I know what I’m doing with it, and that’s the most authentic way I can be is to continually lean into me and learn. In those moments of fear, I’m like, “hey fear, let’s go on a walk. Let’s go talk this out. What am I afraid of?” What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone doesn’t like your song, who cares? It’s like taking the air out of the tire. The thing that is so scary, when you look at it holistically, it’s like “is this really worth the energy I’m giving it?” So refocusing my energy into things that I love, which is making music, I love making people laugh and smile and feel heard and seen, and that’s been the toughest part not being able to be with humans. I think music, it feeds our souls, and so we got to keep everyone fed.
What’s on your horizon?
Looking at what’s ahead, my windshield so to speak, to not limit anything, to really just go after it even more so than ever. Anything that I don’t understand or I’m afraid of, I’m learning first hand. I never thought I’d ride motorcycles. My mom had taught me how to ride horses and she mentored me through learning how to ride my motorcycle, and instead of experiencing that through other people, their version of it, I went and found out for myself. So I’m really on a mission to find out for myself. If it’s learning Spanish or if it’s another language that I’m interested in, or if it’s a place I’m interested in, taking all those free thoughts about things I don’t know, instead of getting anything secondhand, I’m getting the information firsthand. It’s very freeing, it clears up all the lanes.
Where you put your focus, your focus goes. I had to learn that firsthand on the back of my motorcycle; what you focus on is where you’re going to go. Same thing if you’re on the back of a horse, when you’re driving, wherever you’re going and what you’re focusing on is what you will lead to. If we collectively focus on nothing but negative, then why are we surprised that we’re a negative? But if we’re leaning into joy, positivity and being a light so bright that those that would normally dim it want to be bright too, want to rise to be a light. It’s in this book called Millionaire Success Habits by Dean Graziosi: “you can brighten the room so much that they can’t dim your glow and instead they are motivated to get brighter with you.” I just love that and I think that’s a beautiful way.