.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .  .  .  .  .  .
CoG Interviewed Stephanie Smith at Church Of Girl Headquarters April 16, 2007

I met Stephanie Smith back in 2001. Both of us were volunteering at the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls. I'll never forget the fun we all had after the first day of camp.... Dante's, watching local news coverage, sharing dipping sauce with Penny Lane at Hung Far Lo .... pure magic for the girl with rock in her veins. The only thing that sucked were the early mornings at PSU.

We say Ms. Smith is the real thing - hair flyin', hip shakin', and dedicated to ROCK.


CoG: Tell us the story behind the name Kleveland.

Stephanie: You know Wonder Woman's 'Paradise Island' which consist of all badass ladies? Ok-- I worked at this bar, with a couple of bad-ass ladies. This guy Bruce, the owner of the old Ozone records store on Burnside, was partying there late with us, and commented that we were woman that he imagined lived on that Island of Wonder Woman's..he called it cleave-land. We laughed and told him he would never know, because no man could get to cleave-land. Soon after I started making 4-track tapes, giving them to friends, and just wrote Kleveland on them for laughs, but I secretly always wanted to be a super-hero with a magic lasso, so it stuck.

CoG: What compelled you to become a performer and what were some of your first performing experiences?

Stephanie: I was always a ham. I lived in Los Angeles in the neighborhood that would have block parties and everyone would do little skits and stuff. [As a kid], I would do little skits trying to impersonate Michael Jackson’s moon walk and stuff like that. It was always really fun for me to perform and make people laugh.

CoG: How did you become involved in music?

Stephanie: I first started in high school choir doing the four part harmonies. I loved singing. It was just magical to me. It was so magical to me I was actually imitated of creating my own music. I just sang these incredible symphony and choir works and it was unbelievable to me how someone could create this sort of thing so I was really intimated by it. It wasn’t until later when I started studying music and realized there was a sort of pattern to it and I started to understand and felt I could do it. I heard some Ramones song and realized there were only a couple of chords in it and thought I could play that. So I started working backwards and got inspired to do my own stuff.

CoG: What was the first band you were in?

Stephanie: My first real band was this cover band when I was 19 or 20 in Colorado. It was a bunch of hippy dudes and me and we’d fight over what songs we would do. It was like performance art to me and would come out in French maid or some weird witchy outfit and they would just be wearing sandals and stuff. I got kicked out of that band, believe it or not. I remember being in my house, getting out of the shower and I look and the guys from the band are walking up the stairs while I’m in a dripping wet towel. Then they’re like, “Umm, you’re out of the band” and walk back down the stairs. And I’m like drip drip drip “What just happened?!” I was really upset and I vowed from that day, “Fuck it! I’m going to learn how to play guitar, I’ve got things to say. Why have I been relying on other people? I don’t need them. I’m going to learn how to form my own band and write my own music!”

CoG: Describe your songwriting process.

Stephanie: There’s a musical side and a lyrical side. The music side is either strumming some stuff or sometimes I will try to cover a song and will learn it totally wrong and I’ll be like, “Hey! I came up with a better song! It’s not too close I can use that!” And sometimes when I’m driving a lot I have a recorder and a lightening bolt will come to you. Or I’ll race home really quickly and not listen to other music so it stays with me. I have journals and scribbles on little pieces of paper. A song will just suggest something to me like it has a certain theme or feel to it and it will match some lyrics or an idea I’ve already had. The two come together.

CoG: How does your collaboration with your current lineup of band mates work?

Stephanie: What’s really cool about this lineup is that it is more collaborative than it has ever been. Which is nice because I’ve been playing with the bassist, Matt Krajicek, for almost two years. It’s nice when you play with someone for that long because we know what each other is thinking. It has been really nice to flashing out ideas with someone because in the past it has been “It’s my song, everybody learn it.” This feels more like a band because now it’s “Hey, here’s my song, what do you think about it?” It sort of expands the musical dimension and is like “Wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

CoG: Who were your female role models in music?

Stephanie: I will always be influenced by a combination of Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith and Joan Jett. Those were women who made a deep, deep impression on me early on. It was just like, wow! Look at that! I can do that too. Never in a way like “That’s a woman, that’s so weird, I can do that too” but rather there was something that rings true and I can relate to.

CoG: Name drop some current bands are you are listening to.

Stephanie: I’d say my favorites right now are Queens of the Stone Age, PJ Harvey and this Swedish band called the Helicopters. I’m such a rock chick, I can’t help it!

CoG: How does it feel to see your friend Storm Large get mainstream attention?

Stephanie: It’s awesome! I love seeing people who are truly talented and worked hard all their lives get some success! It’s great. It is so exciting to see people who deserve it get somewhere. She is so talented from head to toe. She is an amazing performer, entertainer, singer, she’s creative she has a stunning mind. She’s so sharp, funny, political and she really inspires me.

CoG: How does sexuality play a role in your stage performance?

Stephanie: To me the ultimate is to be free and do what the fuck you feel like doing. Sometimes it does make me self conscious about what I wear onstage because sometimes I want to wear a short skirt or ripped tights. I get caught up in the trap of wanting people to take me seriously and worry if I put my sexually up there so obviously is it taking away from something else I’m doing. I think it is extremely important to express your sexuality as a woman because the more versions of sexuality are out there, the broader range of them we see, the more options women have.

CoG: You just got back from a tour a few weeks ago and had a chance to go to SXSW....

Stephanie: Yeah, we were actually never invited officially. I didn’t apply. We got to do the CD Baby showcase and Whoopsie Magazine, a really cool punk magazine based out of Austin, had us play their showcase and then we did some house parties. Cause once you’re down there and people see you they’re like, “Come play our party!” and you’re like “Ok!” cause you just got all your gear in our van and we’re like “Fuck it! Let’s just play as many times as we can.” It’s weird because we’ve traveled all this way and I kind of got to shake hands and be a politician but then Turbo Negro or Mary Timony are playing for free at a café down the street. So there’s this constant pull of trying to do business and seeing kick ass music.

CoG: How does your local Portland scene compare to places you’ve been on tour?

Stephanie: You think when you’re in your hometown the reaction you’re getting in your home town is the reaction you’ll get everywhere….and that’s just not true. There are different towns and different people who like different flavors. It’s really exciting to go to other places and see people that we really appeal to. What’s great about when we go on the road and go to cities where people have never seen us before are people like this guy who said, "I've been going to this bar for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like you guys! You guys kick ass!! You’re so good!!” Then we’re like, 'Whoa, we really are good', you know?. A lot of times in your own town you get the *Yawn*, people can go see you whenever, whatever.

CoG: How does your band cope with the high gas prices and expenses on the road?

Stephanie: We were traveling with two bands, Mike D and the Loyal Bastards, so we would pool our resources together. When we did leave gas was a little low…about $2.50.…but by the time we hit California it was over $3.00. But we did really well selling CD’s and merch. You know, if you’re a rock band just put a skull on it and they’ll buy it! Also, If you’re going on the road and need to stay at a hotel Priceline saves your ass. It’s the best tip anyone ever gave me. It can be cheaper than staying at a Motel 6. My brother’s girlfriend got us the nicest hotel in Austin! It was like a business hotel and looked liked a country club and the like seven of us walk in nasty - I mean we’ve been on the road - We had been driving 10 hours, sleeping 2 hours, eating road food, we stank - Man, it was like a bad B-Movie or something where the bad people walk in and people are like “Wooo! What’s that?” They had a chili bar and breakfast in the morning and it was only $39 a night. Sweet.

CoG: Any crazy stories from the road?

Stephanie: I ended up singing two songs for this guy’s commercial in Phoenix, Arizona. Before I left this guy was chasing me down in Portland and the night before I leave I say, “Dude, I’m going on tour, I can’t do this.” We get to Salt Lake City and he emailed the club owner some MP3’s of these songs saying “Please give this to Stephanie of Kleveland”. I’m like, “This guy is creeping me out…” I get to Austin and he came to our show and now I’m really creeped out! So we’re going from Austin to Pheonix which is a fourteen hour drive with no income and half way through I called him up asking what he wanted me to do and once we got there he paid me $300 to come in the studio for a couple of hours to sing on some songs.

CoG: Is it available online?

Stephanie: God, I hope not!

CoG: What are some of the interesting compliments or comments you’ve gotten on the road?

Stephanie: I get people a lot of people who sit there with their mouths wide open like they’ve never seen a girl play guitar before. Or I get a lot of “I’ve never seen a girl play as hard as you do” or “You play like a guy”.

CoG: Do you relate this to the hard rock scene being mostly male dominated?

Stephanie: Absolutely! What’s frustrating and interesting about the rock scene is that there are fewer women in it. I think people have a difficult time accepting a female in an aggressive role. That’s been in my life, not just through music, but because that’s the sort of person I am. I’m a little more alpha-female, take charge kind of person. It’s not the usual and people are put off a little bit by a woman who is a little more aggressive and go get-’em. I’m a leader and if I’m in a group situation where people are like “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know” I’m going to be like “OK, we’re going to go here, do this and do that.” With rock n roll and I’m on stage, I’m on fire and I’m jumping around doing my thing and to me it doesn’t seem weird because I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m never like, what can I do that will be different for a woman or shock them?. I just don’t think of myself as a woman. It surprised me when you get some weird attitude from a dude and then it occurs to me that I’m a woman and what I’m doing is different. I don’t know where it comes from but it is just what I like to do onstage. On the road I was the only woman on the bill time and time again. The harder the music, the fewer women there are.

"I’ve got other things to say and just because I’m a powerful woman doesn’t mean I’m angry..."

photo by Miss Pasha

CoG: I think it [hard rock] doesn’t fit our stereotypical expectation of what feminine is. 'Feminine' is quiet, reserved, sweet, nice, pleasing - and being up on stage as a rock star isn’t those things.

Stephanie: When you look at an aggressive woman you’re immediately thought of as angry…and if you’re angry you’re the 'woman-wronged' thing. That’s just not it. I’ve got other things to say and just because I’m a powerful woman doesn’t mean I’m angry, or the world fucked me over or some man fucked me over. That’s not where I’m coming from. If I can express different shades of being powerful that is important to me and should be out there.

CoG: What’s coming up next for Kleveland?

Stephanie: We’re going to be doing a series of 7 inches and do some videos. I love playing in a band but there is such a cool art movement going on and it’s good to combine. I do a lot of stuff and everyone in the band is a creative person and bringing in other elements and artists in makes it seem bigger….like really alive.

Rock your face off with Kleveland online:

By emBROWNLOWe, Mary Ann Naylor & Church of Girl
Published 11 May 2007