Every musical artist creates differently, but they probably agree on one thing: Making it in the business is hard, but not impossible. Some rise to fame after going viral. Others get put on by a connect in the industry. Steve Epting’s story is in a league of its own. The Chi-town native toured with Beyoncé & Jay-Z after quitting his 9 to 5. Soon, he became a supporting vocalist for some of your favorites: Kanye West, Demi Lovato, and Ty Dolla $ign. The R&B singer recently released his singles Drop and Peace of Mind. TrueStar.Life got the inside scoop on how Steve took his talents to the next level.
TrueStar.Life: What neighborhood are you from?
Steve Epting: I was born in Chicago. I grew up on 68th and Harper. Around 4th or 5th grade, I moved to South Holland where I went to McKinley Junior High and Thornwood High School. Then, I moved away and went to Philly. When I came back, me and my folks were all in Hyde Park. The South Side is really a part of my upbringing and culture as well as the West Side. My mom is from the West Side. My dad is from the South Side. Growing up, I was always on both.
TSL: You are known for your work as Sunday Service’s choir conductor, vocal arranger, producer, songwriter, singer, and from what I’ve seen, a creative director as well. What part of your upbringing influenced your path to becoming the multi-talented professional that you are today?
SE: Singing in a choir, doing plays at church, and working with the Black Ensemble Theatre in Chicago really played a huge part in my overall love for music. I was also in band in high school and middle school. Music was heavily a part of my upbringing and who I was as a kid. Moving to Philly, I originally wanted to go to school for dentistry. After much thought about that, I’m like, “Hmm, I love music too much and I love to sing. So why not go for it? Why not give it my all?” I moved to LA and began to do the groundwork to get my face out there. To grow as an artist. To grow as a performer. To fail in front of others. It’s all a part of the algorithm.
I’m excited that the journey is still going. Even though I learn so much every day, I try to be better than I was yesterday. We never stop evolving. We never stop growing.
TSL: You’ve been on tour all around the world as a supporting vocalist for Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Kanye West, Demi Lovato, and Ty Dolla $ign. What was the first large tour that you were a part of? What did it take to earn that spot?
SE: The first major tour that I was ever a part of was the On the Run II tour with Beyoncé and Jay-Z. After about a year and a half or two years of being in LA, making connections, being at recording sessions and open mics where nobody really knew me, and doing different things around the city, I quit my job. Put in my two weeks in 2016 at Reseda High School. I was just like, “Man, if I really want to do this, I’m going to go for it.” I had an opportunity to be the vocal arranger for a Disneyland show at California Adventure. And that transitioned me to this full-time vocalist, full-time artistry, which can be a little scary. So, I was really trusting God and moving with faith.
A few weeks passed, and I got a call from a friend who said he referred me for a huge opportunity. It just so happened to be Coachella with Beyoncé. I didn’t have to audition for it. I was kind of called in for it. I actually got mistaken for someone else with, kind of, the same first name. Stevie Notes. I’m shaking the director’s hand and he was like, “Oh, we’re looking for Stevie Notes.” And I’m like, “Well, I’m Steve Epting, so…do I need to, like, do an eight-count or something? Do I need to sing something? Let me know!” But he was like, “No. We’ll see how it goes.” I ended up doing Coachella which was an amazing experience. With 12 singers, and getting down to four singers, we went on tour with Beyoncé. We did a North American leg. We did a European leg. We also did South Africa, Dubai, India, all of which were amazing and very memorable experiences for me, and that I’ll always cherish.
TSL: What lesson(s) have you taken from each tour that helped you grow as a performer?
SE: I’ll start with Demi Lovato. That was an awesome experience for me to see exactly what I wanted to do. When I came to LA, I wanted to travel. I wanted to sing behind different artists. I wanted to get that whole life. I wanted to be in a show where I’m performing and dancing in front of thousands. That job allowed me to do and see that. I was still working at my job at the time, so, I’m like, “Oh man, I’m doing what I came here to do. But I’m also doing what I have to do to survive.” So, it was a real dichotomy there. But, an awesome experience to look back on and to propel me to my next. Which was Coachella with Beyoncé. It was much bigger than what I had even imagined for myself. But, I felt that I was ready and equipped to do the job. There was so much that I learned that helped me grow in my stage presence and vocal delivery. To be more confident. To be unashamed to connect with the audience. The biggest thing I learned from that tour would be the importance of preparation.
That transitioned me to Sunday Service with Kanye. Working with someone that I grew up listening to and idolizing because of the musical content was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” In that process, I learned so much about creative direction because I was more hands on as opposed to Beyoncé. In this setting, I was one of the leaders, creative directors, and vocal arrangers. That really shaped and molded what Sunday Service was. It was awesome to tap into my creativity and understand the emotion of performing and singing. The amazingness of being in the moment. Even though you may have rehearsed 100 things, however you feel in this moment is how it’s going to convey to the audience.
It was also an amazing opportunity to experience with friends. Not only to experience these high moments with friends that are very close to me, but to put some of my friends in position to do what they love as well. And get access to what can seem so far away. I believe that everybody can eat. We don’t have to hide information. We don’t have to withhold things from people. We can just share our stories. God is big enough for all of us to have everything that we want. So, we don’t have to steal or scratch and thieve to really achieve what we’re put on this earth to do.
TSL: You recently released the music video for your song, “Drop.” The visuals are the perfect blend of Black Excellence, romantic interest, community, and fun, African vibes. What inspired the elements for the video?
SE: I originally wrote the song in 2019 and was working with Sunday Service at the time. I had a little time to really commit to my artistry, so I was really focused on that. So, traveling to Atlanta, I worked
with some amazing producers and tried to create my own vibe and what I wanted to say as an artist. I believe that even though you can have a great video, if the song isn’t up to par or doesn’t fit, it may not connect as well. Music comes first. So, I was very adamant about that.
Transitioning to the visuals was more than a year’s process. Working with the team for about five to six months really fine-tuning what I saw in my head. I’m very inspired by futuristic elements, or Afro-futurism, and seeing our society in a futuristic way. I think that’s so cool from a visual aspect. And even a technological aspect, moving forward the culture. It can be very exciting to think about. So, I want to continue to show that in my art in different ways that also show who I am as an artist. The process was very…it was a great process. Really diving in and tapping in to my creativity and what I see. A moment where I can really fit in like, “This is mine.” I’m not working for someone. I’m not having to cater to a specific way or a specific sound or culture that’s already been established. I’m creating my own. It’s very exciting to think about. It can be scary, but I have to shut those thoughts out and really trust and feel and just do.
TSL: The video opens with a brief monologue that starts with, “If left unchecked, your timeline will stretch into infinity.” Explain the significance of this 20-second intro.
SE: Let me break it down. The entire video is set in a futuristic world called Eptilagos. In this world called Eptilagos, I’m the prince that has escaped to an underground world, an underground facility, because my homeland has been overtaken. I have a brigade of troops, kind of like outcasts like me, that we round up and we’re getting ready to go into battle. If left unchecked, our timeline will stretch to infinity. If we don’t do this now, we’ll be sitting here forever. We’ll be doing this forever. It really goes back even into the main intention of writing the song. I knew I wanted to have something that was dance heavy, light, and easy to listen to. But, I also wanted to write about where I was and where I am. Dealing with overthinking and anxiety, I can carry a lot of extra baggage that doesn’t need to be there. Or things that don’t matter. This is a way of reminding myself to drop that off. Like, get that off you. It’s time to keep moving. There’s too much to do. Too much to life to live. There’s too much to enjoy than worrying about things that don’t matter. Worry about the things that do matter, but the extra stuff, drop that.
TSL: You also dropped the visuals for your newest hit, “Peace of Mind.” A wall filled with the names of those who’ve been murdered by police can be seen throughout. There are also scenes of you, two other Black men, and one white man locking arms and marching. Explain why you chose to lead with these themes.
SE: This is a great musical group that I have been blessed to be a part of called P.E.A.C.E. Band. We started the band in 2015. This is one song of our five-track EP that we released last year that I’m so proud of. We are a diverse group. We wanted to really push the main motivation and intention of not only our song, but our group name. P.E.A.C.E. is an acronym for Performers Embody Artistic Creative
Energy. We want to not only strive for peace, but we want to be peace. In that reenactment of the Martin Luther King photo, that’s one of the marches that we reenacted. It was very powerful to be able to do that and to showcase that. Not only with us wanting to establish and continue to drive home the message of unity, but to be a celebration for Black History Month. And to honor those that have come
before us and to continue to use our light and our gifts to blaze our own trails and, you know, change it up. It’s time to shake it up. It’s time to be different. It’s time to move different.
TSL: What new projects are you releasing in 2021?
SE: You can expect a full project from Steve Epting. Whether that be an EP or album. I’m not sure yet, but it will be a body of work that I’m very excited about because I have not released a full body of work at this point. To really tap in and express my heart and show people who I am. Really take it up a notch; step my foot into music and the music industry and further create my name–Steve Epting the artist.
TSL: You’re hella hungry and can only have one: Italian Fiesta, Bronzeville Wings, or Harold’s Chicken. Which one are you going with?
SE: It’s so funny [laughs]. I’m going to go with Harold’s off top. But, actually none of those would be my first choice. It would be Shark’s. I got to get some chicken from Shark’s. Extra lemon pepper fried hard. Or, I would go to Home Run Inn.
TSL: Before COVID, what Chicago event did you look forward to every year? Why?
SE: Well, obviously the Taste. I love to eat and I love food. Like, I remember going there every summer. High school, whenever I was back home from college and everything. It’s just a real good time for the city. A really good time to come together and experience different cultures of food throughout the city that you may not even know about. That you may have not even heard about.
TSL: What would you say to young people in Chicago who are working and waiting on their big break as an artist/performer?
SE: One thing I would say is it’s all about your perspective. The way that this is set up, everything being via social media or internet and the music industry not being what it was, there’s no blueprint. There’s no way to say, “Okay. You start here, you do this, don’t do this, and you’ll be here.” Don’t you think we’d all follow it? That’s just not the case. You have to create in your mind what your idea of success really is. I’m saying this, but I’m also speaking to myself, too. It’s very easy to get into the rhythm of trying to follow things or trying to keep up. But as artists, we are created to create. We’re not created to keep up. We’re created to set new trends. Things that will last. That’s more so what I’m focused on.
Define success for you. What is that? Is it a certain dollar amount? Is it a certain amount of sales on your music? Is it a certain amount of merch sales? What does that look like for you? Have clear, tangible goals that you’re working toward. I would also say fall in love with who you are, your sound, and everything concerning you. Not in a conceited way, but in a knowing who you are way. Understand how you maneuver, how you are viewed through the world and how you view yourself. All of that is important.
I feel like the more you know yourself, the more you can be intentional in your art. And you can be intentional in even your performing and what you convey.
A lot of artists, if we’re anything alike, we’re goal driven and success oriented. Having balance is very important. Not letting it consume you, but understanding there’s a life outside of you as well. It’s all about balancing and getting full perspective. Keeping all of those things in your mind and making the choice daily, regardless of how you feel and regardless of what you’re going through even though it may be hard. Make these decisions and really commit yourself. Because in the long run, you’ll thank yourself.
By Marilyn Koonce, Northern Illinois University Alumna