Worth Knowing, Worth Going

Richmond-raised guitarist Jack Stepanian brings blues riffs and brisk momentum to Get Tight Lounge.

Worth Knowing, Worth Going is Style Weekly’s spotlight on emerging artists poised to make waves in and around Richmond. This time we spoke with Jack Stepanian, the Richmond-raised guitarist and singer-songwriter who has been making a name for himself in his hometown music scene — first, as a student at Collegiate School, and now as a University of Virginia undergrad.

Musical momentum has picked up lately thanks to Stepanian’s commanding blues solos, a high-profile opening slot for Futurebirds at the National, and his recently released, five-song EP, “Made for Us.” Next up for the guitarist is a headlining gig on Friday, June 28 at Get Tight Lounge. Stepanian spoke to Style about how he got started, his musical influences and what’s coming on the horizon.

Style Weekly: How did you get your start as a guitar player?

Jack Stepanian: I had a neighbor down the street when I was in elementary school — like first or second grade — who was a guitar player, and he was in high school. My mom got him to come give lessons to my older brother and I … He was the first person to put a guitar in my hand. Then I took lessons throughout elementary school, a little bit in middle school. When I got to middle school, I played a lot and started writing music, but I was so consumed also with my sports; I played football and lacrosse and everything, so I had a lot going on with school, sports and music.

When did performing come into the picture?

I’d performed at coffee shops and stuff when I was little; the old GlobeHopper, which was right by Church Hill, was my first coffee shop gig … I played some at the old Ellwood Thompson’s coffee shop [and] played little Christmas coffee shop shows around there that my parents and grandparents would come to. But in ninth grade, I joined this cover band with older friends of mine. We played at [University of Richmond] fraternity tailgates and birthday parties and stuff like that, which was fun. Then they all graduated and I started a new cover band with kids my age in high school …

I graduated high school and played lacrosse [at Hampden-Sydney College] for a year, and then I transferred from there realizing that my calling was music, and that for me to be able to do what I want to do and focus on my goals, I need a bigger school and bigger environment. I transferred to UVA because Charlottesville is such a great town and UVA has such a vibrant music community.

 

Who has helped shape the direction your sound has taken so far?

I would say the biggest thing is the music that I’ve grown up listening to … My dad put me on to outlaw country music: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash. I listened to a lot of that, but with that came Jerry Jeff Walker and Dave Matthews Band. When I started playing guitar, I played the acoustic guitar long before I picked up the electric guitar, and got really good at playing rhythm guitar because I was trying to learn these intricate Dave Matthews parts. He’s such an underrated guitar player, and if you try to learn some of these pieces, you’re like, “How the hell do you think to even come up with some of this stuff?” That’s where a lot of my early guitar inspiration came from.

Then during COVID, I got really into the blues [and] dove headfirst into Stevie Ray Vaughan, all the Kings — Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King — listened to a lot of that stuff. Really my biggest musical inspiration is Prince. He’s my favorite artist of all time. Then coming off of Stevie Ray Vaughan, I found Tedeschi Trucks Band and John Mayer. I’ve always known [of them] but got more into their music and started to look at it [though] a different lens instead of just listening; trying to understand the music more, trying to understand the guitar parts and the lyrics.

What are some of your favorite gigs that you’ve played so far? Any that felt like a turning point?

My first show that I played with the Futurebirds at the Jefferson in Charlottesville last fall was the biggest show that I’d played. Now the biggest show is when I played with them at the National [in May]. But that first show last September with them at the Jefferson — going onstage and seeing a room that’s 75% full an hour-and-a-half before the Futurebirds even start, and really invested in my music, that was so cool to see …

Then when I sold out the Southern [Cafe & Music Hall] for my EP release show on March 21 in Charlottesville [that] was a great feeling, and was a good metric, because it felt reassuring that some people out there did really appreciate my music and want to come see the EP in its entirety for the first time.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming show at Get Tight Lounge?

Just that sense of momentum coming off of such an amazing experience like the National with the Futurebirds and trying to do more and more to make my name in the Richmond music scene … Playing the EP in its entirety really close to where I recorded it is special. The people who were involved in the making of the EP being there and seeing it all come together — it’s a special feeling for me, [as is] having those friends and family who have been so important to the start of my life in music.

Where did you record the EP? Who was involved in that?

I recorded the EP at Pet Moose Studios on Broad Street. Stewart Myers, who was the [Agents of Good Roots] bass player, is also a producer and engineer, and he helped me with the project. He and I connected and he was great. We’ve done some more work since then on a couple tunes …

Daniel Clarke, who is a keyboard player in Richmond, played on the EP. He plays [with] all these big-time bands [k.d. lang, Ryan Adams, Jason Mraz], he’s one of the best around. It was so great to have him be part of the project. For a young player — I’m 21 — seeing someone who’s so professional, like Daniel, work in that environment; and seeing how professionals act in the studio and get the job [done] while having so much fun — because you can clearly see how much he loves it and is so happy to be there — it’s such a great learning experience for me.

What else is on the horizon that we should keep an eye out for? Any new music on the way?

It’s interesting the way that releasing music is trending. I’m kind of an old soul. I love albums. I’ll go to Spotify and listen to a band, and even if I don’t like certain songs on the album, I’ll listen to the album all the way through. But unfortunately, [with] streaming and the algorithm … releasing singles is now kind of a trend, and something that’s more important for Spotify users. So with that, I’ve got some new singles that are hopefully going to be coming out maybe end of summer/early fall, that I’ve started to work on, coinciding hopefully with some cool shows — some bigger shows — in September or October.

Jack Stepanian will perform at Get Tight Lounge on Friday, June 28. Caroline Vain will also perform. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.12 and can be purchased at gettightrva.com. To hear the “Made for Us” EP, visit jackstepanian.com

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