Singer-Songwriter Angie Stevens on Being Vulnerable and Authentic

While Angie Stevens has a long history as a singer-songwriter in Denver, she also teaches people of all ages about singing and crafting songs, and some of the main principles she drives home to her students are to be honest, vulnerable and authentic, all qualities in which Stevens steeps her songs and performances.

Stevens, who started writing songs at eighteen as a way to cope with depression and anxiety from abuse and neglect and the suicide of her brother, turns her problems into songs. And she found out early on that people respected her truth.

“When I started writing, I could actually relate to the story because it was my story,” she says. “I could be angry. I could be all these different emotions, and nobody would really judge you, because it’s a piece of art."

“So the first the couple of years as a writer, I was probably more…pretty angry," Stevens continues. "But I needed to be. I didn’t think it was going to be a career. I wasn’t very good at singing. I could barely play the guitar. But what I found is that people just wanted that honesty.”

There’s plenty of honesty in Stevens’s songwriting on the Americana-tinged Beautiful & True, her first new album with her band the Beautiful Wreck in seven years, and there’s also a thread of vulnerability that runs through the album.

“There were just a lot of hard topics,” she says. “My sister had cancer. There’s a song on there about that. Just a lot of really tough experiences that were hard for me to sing about. It needed to be done.”

The inspiration for that title track, for example, came from her overhearing a domestic-violence incident that happened at the apartment above her while she was living off Colfax Avenue two years ago.

“I remembered that scream from my mom, who had domestic violence in her past,” Stevens says. “I called the police. [During the incident], the guy had strangled her and she had stabbed him. It was super-crazy. But that song is about knowing those screams from my past and essentially knowing we need to be listening to each other and looking out for each other.”

Stevens says she feels that “Beautiful & True” was one of her best-written songs because it is so real. She felt it was easy to write because she was just telling a story, whereas on some songs, she had to spend countless hours trying to convey a thought, and it started to feel like work.

On the gorgeous ballad “Sweet Emily,” Stevens teamed up with longtime friend and stage-mate Gregory Alan Isakov to record for the first time together. “There’s not even words for how amazing that guy sounds,” she says.

On Beautiful & True, Stevens puts a new, gutsier take on “Heaven Knows,” one of her most requested songs since recording it on 2005’s I’m Okay. She says the song has really evolved since then, and she’s been playing it with a number of different lineups, including as a harmony with Haley Rydell as part of their project I’m With Her, which released recordings in 2011 and 2012.

“It sort of evolved into this new little way of playing it,” Stevens says of the song. “I really wanted to put that on the new record.”

Stevens’s new album also features her latest lineup with the Beautiful Wreck, which includes her longtime drummer/percussionist Carlos Newman, as well as new members: bassist Ali Frankfurt, violinist Mackenzie Lerchen and backup vocalist Virginia Brightman.

“This was really started as a project of love,” Stevens says. “I was coming back to my own material after I'm With Her, and the original members had moved on to other projects. I was lucky enough to build the band over the next year or so, and by last June, we had ourselves a full-fledged project. Each one brings so much light and love for the music itself, which is really important.”

Regardless of whether she's playing with her band or performing solo, though, Stevens has found that people respond to authenticity.

“That’s what my fans have always been so incredible about," she says. "I could cry on stage. I could not get through a song. And they were still there, sort of coaching me through it. And that’s the beauty of having a connection with your audience. So I think it’s one, just telling your story, being able to say it in a way that makes sense to you, whether it be wrong or right. And two, that connection between you and someone else who understands.”

Angie Stevens & the Beautiful Wreck's CD release, with Jalan Crossland and the Lowland Lakers, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21, the Soiled Dove Underground, $15-$18.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon