21 Questions with Stephen Stanley on Music, Inspiration, and Growing Up as a Preacher's Kid
By Lindsay Williams
Singer/songwriter Stephen Stanley makes music with immediate emotional impact, revealing a depth of talent that comes from years of devotion to his craft. At the age of nine, the Mansfield, Georgia-based artist learned to play his mother’s guitar after suffering an accident that rendered him deaf in his left ear, and quickly uncovered an innate musicality and remarkable gift for melody. By age 13, he’d added piano and drums to his repertoire, in addition to writing songs and leading worship at the church where his father served as a pastor. Over the last decade, Stanley has honed a distinct and dynamic voice as a musician, bringing both raw emotion and a profound sense of purpose to everything he creates.
“My whole life I’ve known that I wanted to be in the Christian music world, but it took me a few years of writing to figure out exactly what I wanted to say,” Stanley notes. “At some point I started to use my songs as a way to talk about mental health, and about how God has helped me to get through things like anxiety and depression. The way I write now is to try to be as introspective and open about what I’m feeling as I possibly can, with the idea that it will hopefully translate to other people who are going through something similar.”
Originally from McDonough, Georgia, Stanley first found his love for music thanks to the ’70s and ‘80s rock bands his dad often played at home. When a jet ski mishap left him deaf in one ear, he spent the next year holed up with his mom’s old guitar, and later discovered his passion for piano and drums (“Whenever I was angry or frustrated as a kid, I’d just go to church and bang on the drums—it drove everyone crazy,” he recalls). Though he attended college for two years, Stanley ended up dropping out to dedicate himself to music full-time. “I went to Bible college mostly to help with my writing, because I didn’t want my songs to say anything that wasn’t based on scripture,” he says. “But then eventually I told my parents, ‘Give me a year to really focus and get this music thing going,’ and they supported me 100 percent.”
Over the next few years, Stanley spent most of his days writing and recording, scraping together money for studio time by working odd jobs (cleaning homes, selling guitars, playing house concerts). Working with esteemed producer Mitch Parks (whom he’d met at an industry social in Atlanta), he soon came up with a song called “Rhythm”—a slow-burning but radiant track that marked his first-ever release. As he continued collaborating with Parks and branched into co-writing, Stanley began playing showcases in Georgia and in Nashville, ultimately catching the attention of Capitol CMG and landing a record deal in early 2020.
On his debut project for Capitol CMG, Stanley shares a batch of songs exploring everything from self-doubt to sorrow to irrepressible hope, each track spotlighting his warm vocal presence and supreme melodic skills. Produced by Parks at his Atlanta studio 1971 Sounds, the EP finds Stanley joining forces with musicians like Christian Paschall (a drummer who’s worked with Maren Morris and Brandi Carlile) and Dan Alber (a bassist who’s toured with Lennon Stella), forging an indelible blend of alt-rock and irresistibly timeless pop.
The luminous lead single from Stanley’s debut, “No Hopeless Soul” offers a powerful introduction to his sound and sensibilities. With its bright rhythms, graceful guitar lines, and beautifully soaring vocal work, the track strikes a perfect balance between thoughtful reflection and full-hearted rejoicing. “No Hopeless Soul’ came from thinking about how a lot of people feel condemned by things in their past, or by something about themselves that they’re not proud of,” explains Stanley, who penned the track with Grammy Award-nominated songwriter Jeff Pardo (Lady A, Ben Rector). “We all have days where we feel like we’re not good enough—I know I feel that way sometimes—but God doesn’t just reject you because of something you’ve done wrong. The truth is that everyone is redeemable, and that’s the message that I wanted to send with this song.”
Now at work on his full-length debut, Stanley feels more confident than ever when it comes to crystallizing his vision. To that end, one of his main intentions is to infuse an element of hope and compassion into the musical landscape, especially at such a chaotic moment in time. “I feel like my generation wants to try to change the world, and we’re slowly learning that it’s not that easy,” says Stanley. “I really believe that love—and specifically the love that God offers—is the answer to so many of the problems we’re dealing with right now, whether it’s hatred or injustice or lack of unity. I hope my music helps to remind people of that, and helps them to feel a little uplifted and encouraged whenever they get overwhelmed.”