Stephanie Quayle is a fairly new songwriter. Originally from Bozeman, Montana, the pop-country storyteller began releasing music with 2016’s “Drinking with Dolly” and co-wrote such songs as “Selfish,” “I’ve Got Your Six,” and “Post It” (from 2017’s debut record, Love the Way You See Me). But she didn’t start actively flexing her own songwriting muscles until about a year or two ago.
“You get to see everything from the front view. You have to stay focused on what’s in front of you. I think that’s a really good metaphor for where I am,” Quayle tells American Songwriter of her songwriting journey. “Yes, everything in my rearview is still there, and I can look back and learn, but I’m really focused on what’s in front of me.”
It seems fitting 2020 would be the year of her greatest personal and professional growth. Locked in her home, like most of us, Quayle dug her heels into virtual songwriting sessions and deep introspection. She had nothing but time, after all.
“I have always had myself in a pressure cooker when it came to time. My mom will tell you stories about even calling her at 18 and telling her, ‘Mom, I’m a failure!’ I allowed myself to really believe that I’m right on time,” she reflects. “I took some of the pressure off the table and focused on what I can do and what I am doing. I really strengthened all the relationships that are important to me and focused on what really matters—and how and why it matters.”
Quayle’s enlightened thinking pours over onto her new song, “By Heart,” written by Anna Vaus, Cassidy Alexander, and Ian Christian. She may not have had a hand in writing it, but it fits her like a glove.
Quayle first heard the song while in her New Orleans hotel room. “New Orleans has a very special place in my heart, that’s for sure,” she says. “Now that this song is time-stamped into that memory, it’s amazing. That’s what songs do, right? I remember hearing it and I was just taken by it.”
She whipped out her guitar and set about soaking it in. “I’m a learner. I am curious. I want to know everything about everybody,” she explains. “The song very much resonated with me from that lens—not only about myself but about my family and my husband. Love is one of those things I thought I was running from most of my life. Then, I ran right into it. It has really given me an opportunity to share that vulnerability and love of love and really get to live it and experience it through a song that’s simply complex.”
“I wanna know you like my drive home, know you like Sweet Caroline / Wanna memorize the look in your eyes you get when you’re looking into mine,” she croons. “Know you like my favorite movie / Don’t know what you’re doing to me but / I don’t wanna leave any question marks / I wanna know you baby / I wanna know you by heart.
Quayle slips effortlessly into the song, but finding her voice within a song is not always so easy. “There is one song we got pitched recently that’s just… phenomenal. We did get it. The writers are crazy good. It took me, no kidding, till the last line at the end of the song for me to fully believe that I could be the voice of the song,” she says. “It was a real lesson in listening. Everyone else got the song immediately. And it wasn’t that I didn’t get the song but sometimes, I get caught up in what words can mean.
“I’m very positive and word-driven, and I want to always be very cautious of what we say. What we say has an impact, and I feel that same way about music,” she adds. “I want to make sure what I’m saying I believe 2000 percent or I have no business singing it. My compass is very intense.”
“By Heart” kicks off a string of singles Quayle hopes to release in 2021. “For the first time in my career, I will be releasing more music than I ever have. That is really exciting to be able to share it with the fans and allow the music to do what music does, which is hopefully heal hearts and make them feel heard and understood,” she says. “The message with all these songs is: love yourself and love the one you love.”
Quayle has also been hard at work penning a song for the forthcoming SHE documentary, helmed by filmmakers Jason Greer and Vanessa Cicarelli. The project is loosely based on author Aimee Baker’s “Doe,” a collection of poems about missing and unidentified women. Alongside long-time producer Alex Kline, Quayle has found the endeavor to be challenging but wholly necessary.
“It is one of those conversations that hasn’t really been talked about. I find it surprising and not surprising. When you see the shows on television about all these really awful people who did awful things, there are a lot of stories that don’t get told about the victims,” she says. “This documentary is going to be a real eye-opener. When we were writing this song, it’s heavy to think about these families and the faces who have become Jane Does. And they didn’t start out that way. They had dreams, plans, and desires.”
Last summer, Quayle spoke at length with NPR about adapting to a new normal and how the ongoing pandemic impacted both her personal life and creativity. Eight months later, and as she turns her gaze forward, she isn’t so sure a “balance exists” for when life may get back to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. “I feel like for balance you have to give something up. I’m focusing on the places that have the most value,” she says. “Time is our greatest commodity, so how do we make sure where we’re spending our time has the most positive impact? It’s not necessarily quantity over quality. My perspective on opportunities and where I spend my time has definitely shifted a little.”
Quayle always beams positivity, and even now, she grasps onto the good she has learned. “I want to soak up everything and squeeze every ounce of goodness out of every little moment. What can I do to prepare myself for that? I really spent most of November and December preparing my mind for that,” she says.
She carries such a belief directly into her songwriting. She explains: “If it’s something I can’t change, and it’s already happened, why am I talking about it? Why am I giving it energy if I can’t actually do anything about it? So, let’s put our energy into places where we can have productivity, positive impact, and forward motion.”