Stef Chura admits that there aren't a lot of artists breaking out of Detroit (except for Big Sean and Dej Loaf, of course). But there are a bunch of reasons you should pay attention to the grunge pop songstress. Tracks like "Spotted Gold," off her debut album, Messes (out 1/27) are punchy and colorful, while others like "You" are melancholically twangy. Chura's vocals are evocative of artists like Liz Phair, Amiee Mann, or Alanis Morissette (who is Chura's favorite to sing karaoke to). We chatted about the craziest things she's seen at her night job as a karaoke host, being a part of the post-inauguration Women's March in Washington D.C. on the 21 st , and how Messes is the perfect title for an album to come out during a Trump presidency.
Noisey: How's it going?
Stef Chura: I'm just at home. I host Karaoke at night—it's fun. I do that like three nights a week. It normally goes until 2 am, or 3.
That is amazing. Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
I actually sing so much. Like so much. I used to be weird about it when it was busy, but then I started to get a new attitude about it where I was like, "oh, people like it when I sing." There have been times at some of the bars that I'm at where I've sat there and gone through like every Alanis Morissette song. That's happened multiple times. I'll do all the Cranberries' songs. There's this thing in Detroit, I don't know if they do this in other cities, but it's like bands covering other bands, it's a huge Halloween thing, and sometimes they come up with a funny name for it. I would be really good at it. I don't want to gloat, but I would [laughs].
I can totally see you killing it at covering Alanis Morissette.
I've been doing this for three to five nights a year for two years, so I have like, a
chapter of a book of songs that I sing. I have a really long list. I have a couple a friends who I host with, and my friend, she gets really pissed off when people pick her songs. And I'm not really like that, like I don't care, but she loves Eminem.
Damn that is not what I was expecting. Can she keep up with him?
She used to do Eminem for that cover thing, it's this huge cover thing in Detroit called "Creepy Cheepy" and it's at this venue and like 20 bands do it every year. And she showed up—she didn't tell any of her friends, but she had waist-length hair, and she shaved her head and bleached it for this thing and did this Eminem set.
Wow, that is commitment if I ever heard it. So I take it you like your job?
Yeah. I'm not crazy about drinking or anything, so the thing I might be burnt out about is just working bars.
You have a song kind of about that, right? "Thin" touches on when you worked as a cocktail waitress in a strip club. Though I'm sure karaoke bars are much different than strip bars [laughs].
Yeah, it is. Karaoke is nice because you're not sexualized like that. I have like total control and I can be very rude to anyone I want to if they're an asshole to me. It doesn't reflect on the bar really, so I love the protection in a certain way. I opened for the Julie Ruin and I actually got to talk to Kathleen Hanna about how she used to be a karaoke host. I love Kathleen Hanna and she's a huge influence on me, so I just totally word vomited in front of her—I was like "hi you did karaoke also right?!" She was in Olympia and she used to do this thing where she had this curtain she would hide behind and it was backlit and she would change and come out in costume and sing.
You should do that too! What's the craziest thing you've seen at karaoke? Any fights?
At one of the shows at one of the karaoke bars I used to work at, this girl went to pepper spray another girl and missed and ended up pepper spraying like 7 people along the bar. I mean the whole bar filled with pepper spray and it completely cleared the bar. Her boyfriend was bartending and he was just outside screaming at her, which you know, is normally not cool, but she did just mace 7 people.
And all of his tips.
Yeah, no shit. I've never been around mace like that. I just went to that protest in DC. It's like 8 hours from Detroit. I'm so glad I went. But I was really paranoid that something really violent was going to happen, like tear gas or something.
Have you written any music about that experience?
I had this realization that most of my writing career—I mean I started writing a little bit when I was like 15 in high school and I did start writing more seriously when I was 18 and 19—but when I was 20 I voted for Obama in 2007. So most of my writing career has been during the Obama administration…I've always thought like, "oh, I guess I'm just not very political," but maybe I've just been soft because I've never really had a reason. But what I've noticed is I've seen a lot of instant response from a lot of older musicians, who are used to change, and I think a lot of millennial musicians are going to turn into something like that, need something to sing about.
Well your album, Messes, is just coming out this week. And you recorded that two years ago, so to all of us, that's still new music, at least.
I shoulda known [laughs]. I actually thought about that right after he was elected. I thought, "wow, this is coming out right after the inauguration!" I think the title, though not really related to this particular situation, per se, but I think the title is appropriate for this time period. Every few years I almost examine myself as a writer in hindsight.
Your lyrics dive into topics like mourning a best friend, conflicts with a landlord, and how it was to feel out of place while serving drinks at a strip club—which is, admittedly, one of the last jobs I'd picture you having. What are some of the other themes on Messes?
I just kind of think that the overall theme, though I did not exactly plan that, is of power struggle in a certain way. People have asked me about gender being an influence, at first I probably would have been like, "no!," but I do think a lot of the power struggle that is frustrating to me is probably the stuff I experience as a woman. Because I do feel like my voice is suppressed a lot of the time, and I do feel put into situations where I'm marginalized or taken advantage of.
Messes is out on Urinal Cake records tomorrow. You can stream it below:
Check out Stef Chura on tour:
Tue. Jan. 31 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe
Wed. Feb. 1 - Philadelphia, PA @ Glitter Galaxy
Thu. Feb. 2 - Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville
Sat. Feb. 4 - Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar [Record Release Show]
Wed. Feb. 8 - Grand Rapids, MN @ Witch House
Thu. Feb. 9 - Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen w/ Priests
Fri. Feb. 10 - Madison, WI @ Der Rathskeller w/ Priests
Sat. Feb. 11 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry w/ Priests
Wed. Feb. 15 - Vancouver, BC @ 333 w/ Priests
Thu. Feb. 16 - Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project w/ Priests
Fri. Feb. 17 - Portland, OR @ Disjecta w/ Priests
Sat. Feb. 18 - Eugene, OR @ The Boreal w/ Priests
Sun. Feb. 19 - Oakland, CA @ Starline Social Club w/ Priests
Mon. Feb. 20 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex w/ Priests
Wed. Feb. 22 - La Jolla, CA @ Che Café Collective w/ Priests
Fri. Feb. 24 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Diabolical Records
Sat. Feb. 25 - Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge
Wed. Mar. 15 - Sat. Mar. 18 - Austin, TX @ SXSW
Wed. Mar. 22 - Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Fri. Mar. 24 - Somerville, MA @ ONCE Somerville
Mon. Mar. 27 - Toronto, ON @ The Drake