music (2006-27)

Out of the Shadows

Stephanie’s Id’s torch-song pop gets a little brighter

ANGSTY NO MORE: Stephanie’s Id enters its lighter period.

by Mike Gibson

People in rock bands like to nurture a pallid fiction that their music transcends notions of genre, that it’s so far removed from its antecedents as to defy any misguided attempts at categorization. Most of those people are fooling themselves.

Stephanie’s Id is different. While some of the things you hear on record or at a SID show may be familiar, they’re expressed in ways that are wholly unfamiliar. Or at least wholly unexpected.

Their two self-released, self-marketed releases Spiral In (2004) and This EP Is Money (2005) encompass breathy coffeehouse folk, jazz vamping and dark, stripped-down indie rock, sometimes within the space of a single track. The total effect is at once insistent and beguiling, music that would make for a riveting soundtrack to some stylish retro-modern film noir.

Much of the band’s startling originality derives from singer Stephanie Morgan, who along with her fiancé, multi-instrumentalist Chuck Lichtenberger, is the permanent foundation of SID, an Asheville-based collective with a shifting cast of supporting players. A striking onstage figure with a lovely face and sometimes luridly-painted hair, Morgan performs with all the heartfelt conviction of a hard-living journeyman club singer, but with the chops of a Berklee-trained chanteuse.

“I’m not trained; I learned by ear,” Morgan explains during a recent phone interview. “But when I was a child, I was very naturally a performer. Then I had a period where I wasn’t able to find that natural performer inside me. I didn’t find it again until I was an adult. That’s where the name Stephanie’s Id came from, from my journey to rediscover that inner 5-year-old.”

Her reemergence began a few years ago when, after trying her voice at an Asheville club’s open mic night, she was asked to join a small jazz combo. Intrigued, she gave herself a crash course in jazz vox, listening to records and absorbing the nuances of singers like Esther Williams. That was the genesis of her first full-time gig, crooning standards with the Stephanie Morgan Quintet.

The experience led Morgan to set standards aside and pursue her own creative muse. Soon, she was writing her own songs, and joining with Lichtenberger, a musician and composer who had worked with a wide spectrum of Asheville performers. The first two SID recordings feature the duo along with fellow band members, vibraphone/percussionists Matthew Richmond, Kari Richmond, and Cameron Juroff.

The music of those recordings generally falls into one of two casts; there’s what Morgan calls the “angsty” material, especially prevalent on Spiral In —ballads and moody alterna-rockers driven by her cooing, beseeching, mesmerizing vocal exhortations. And then there are tracks such as This EP Is Money ’s “White Guys Selling Cars,” showcasing the band’s flair for Broadway-style glitz.

“I like to write in a sort of Dr. Seuss cabaret style sometimes, where I’m not directly attacking something, but I’m ironically drawing attention to it,” Morgan says. “Those songs tend to be more on the satirical side.”

But more recently, the dynamic of Stephanie’s Id has changed. While Morgan says she and Lichtenberger will still employ the talents of many musicians who have taken the stage with them in times past, SID’s vision will now be wholly their own. Their new direction is reflected in the track “Unmistakably Love,” which Morgan describes as “more modern, with more electronic influences; very hooky and poppy with more of a lighter feel.”

“We recognized with the configuration of band members we had before that we were beginning to diverge a little creatively,” Morgan says. “It was enough to realize that we couldn’t all actualize our creativity without focusing on other things. It had kind of reached a point where, ‘This is something Chuck and Stephanie want to do.’”

The new track, she says, is less cathartic than much of SID’s previous material; it’s the sort of joyful noise made by a singer who is finally leaving behind the self-doubt and inhibition that had shackled her creativity from an early age. Morgan adds that other forthcoming new SID tracks will continue in a similar vein.

“I’m in a period of lightness now,” Morgan says. “Lots of my earlier songs were about being young and feeling boxed in, getting a lot of angst out. I feel more freedom now to write about anything I want. I don’t feel the weight of some of that angst. I’m just having fun with it.”

Who: Stephanie’s Id