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Kansas City Singer's New Album Is A Release From Self-Doubt

Stephonne Singleton's new recording "SIS: Side A" will be available the first week of August.
Paul Andrews
Stephonne Singleton's new recording "SIS: Side A" will be available the first week of August.

Artist Stephonne Singleton says he'd long felt he wasn't "enough." He looked to substances and to other people to soften the feeling, until he found freedom in his own music.

Stephonne Singleton’s about to drop half of a new record, “SIS: Side A.” The Kansas City singer-songwriter decided to release his second album song by song.

His first, the 2018 “Caged Bird Sings Songs about Red Beard,” was eight years in the making, so Singleton thought a different approach with the second might be less costly and less time-consuming. Still, the second album won’t stay incomplete for long.

“It was like something was calling me to finish it, to finish a body of work. So ‘SIS’ came together, which actually stands for ‘summoning insatiable spirits,’” he says. “It’s fun; it’s super queer.”

Singleton says a lot of the project has been an exploration and celebration of self, examining the androgyne of being a queer man and embracing his feminine side, but also reveling in the freedom he uncovered when he shook off the self-doubt he’d been burdened with for years — a process that’s taken much longer than any recording project.

“2010 was when I really was trying to figure out what was happening with my mind and my heart, and all of these songs came out,” he says.

That process meant he had to articulate his feelings and worries in under five minutes, the space of a song. “It’s not what you’re laboring over in your brain and your heart, you know, for hours and hours, it’s this, whatever that is, and it just becomes obvious.”

He’s also tackled the task of sorting out what he sees and experiences in the world, like the lead-up to the Black Lives Matter movement, which influenced him long before it had a name.

“Being Black is a part of that experience, is part of every song, every word. Especially when I talk about unrequited love,” he says.

He explains that those in the Black community face daily struggles, but remain contributing members of society right through those struggles.

“We still love, and we still go to our jobs and we work our hardest and we just try to be decent people. And in return, the country that we live in is not decent to us,” Singleton says.

Stephonne Singleton is writing and recording "SIS: Side B" now.
Paul Andrews
Stephonne Singleton is writing and recording "SIS: Side B" now.

The artist says his biggest musical influences are Prince and Billie Holliday. But Singleton just as easily invokes folk singers, particularly when it comes to talking about his attempts to sing about what’s happening around him.

And so much is happening. Singleton points out that, really, all songs are about the times we live in, but getting into particulars is tricky.

“When you get specific about events, I start thinking about people like Bob Dylan, or I think about clever ways that Joni Mitchell mentions things,” he says, “and then you don’t want it to be cheesy, you don’t want it to be corny, you don’t want it to be too anecdotal.”

Matters of the heart and matters of the world join in his song, “Middle Man,” which he describes as one of the “most rocky” of his recordings. A taut, muscular electric guitar underlies Singleton’s seductively explosive chorus: “Wish I knew how to live in this world/Never quite in/Never quite out/You were my in/Now I’m the middleman.”

Singleton explains, “I always thought that I needed an in, whether that was alcohol, whether that was the gay bars, whether that was some relationship I had with someone, whether that was someone lending out a helping hand and helping me with music, I didn’t know for a really long time how to just depend on me.”

Through the process of writing the song, he was able to embrace the notion of depending on himself and says he found self-acceptance.

He says, “We have everything that we need right inside of us, but we use substances and we use sex and we use all of these things that we think we need that we don’t.”

A release party for "SIS: Side A" will be at Lemonad(e) Park in the West Bottoms, 7 p.m. Friday, August 7 at 1628 Wyoming (NW corner of Wyoming & 17th St.), behind Voltaire.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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