Young Singer-Songwriter Balances College And Her Art


Stephanie Mae is a young singer-songwriter faced with tantalizing possibilities as a musician versus completing her biomechanical engineering degree at Stanford University.

Who would have expected that the young teen who began her singing career on the quad at Payson High School and sang songs as she strummed her guitar at Fireside Espresso would have a choice between stardom and science?


"Poker Face" is the title of Stephanie Mae's first CD. In person, the 20-year-old's smile is as broad and genuine as her musical talent.

"This is a semester for big decisions," said Mae.

She has penned more than 100 songs since her junior year at PHS. "Poker Face," her first CD, was released in March with six songs. Mae has 12 more ready to go when she finds the right producer.

"My worst fear is that Stephanie will put her music career off to the side," said musician and a disc jockey on KRIM, Kit McGuire. His passion is independent musicians.

He was "blown away" when he heard her CD and immediately put Mae on the air.

"Here is this girl, this virtual unknown from Payson, Arizona. She is young, she can sing and needs very little work to be the next Mariah Carey," McGuire said.

He put Mae in touch with entertainment representation in Los Angeles and Mae confirmed that there had been conversations.

"At the Edge," a song about opportunities and people afraid to grasp them was the first song Mae felt confident enough to perform.

Her high school peers heard it first.

That experience gave Mae a taste of the future in spite of her thought at the time, "Oh my gosh. This is not fun."

"I played the opening riff for about a minute because I couldn't think of the words, then I sang the first verse twice. A friend had to hold the microphone to my mouth," Mae said.

Bekah Sandoval was listening at that first performance.

"Stephanie is a wonderful vocalist. Her music has evolved since then. She's changed the lyrics of the song and there is more instrumentation on the album," Sandoval said.

"I like ‘Poker Face' a lot because Stephanie has a really distinct style and blends influences like hip-hop, pop and folk into her music," Sandoval added.

Mae's peers were receptive and each performance became easier.

"I have learned stage presence, how to connect with my audience emotionally and simply hold the microphone correctly," Mae said.

That his "self-motivated" former-student bursts with talent is no surprise to PHS music teacher Larry Potvin.

"Stephanie Hilliard (her last name) was one of my most creative and talented students. Her voice is clear and natural. She wrote her graduation song. She was a pleasure to have in class," Potvin said.

Mae's first memory of music is singing the ABCs while her mother played guitar.

Growing up, she listened to the Beatles.

As a young teen, Mae became interested in the music of singer-songwriters such as Jewel, Fiona Apple and Michelle Branch.

"That was the music I looked up to. I think it is more genuine when artists release things they actually wrote," Mae said.

The "powerful voice" and "complicated vocals" of Mariah Carey as she sang on her first few albums, impressed Mae.

"I can't imagine a world without music. Music has always been in mine. A world without it would be incomplete," Mae said.

Her half Philipino heritage has not influenced Mae's music directly, but she sees her music as a way of giving back to her ethnic community with benefit concerts. One of these concerts helped send children to school in the Philippines.

Mae's Stanford curriculum included five engineering course, all with labs, the past semester. For one of them she designed and built a laptop desk that converts to a desk for studying in bed.

Finding time to compose during those 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. days was difficult.

Mae met the challenge with the music program on her laptop, sometimes during a lecture, when she could not get home to her guitar and piano.

Melodies come as she is "randomly going about life,"

"I don't know how it happens but the lyrics just kind of come with the melody," Mae said.

Mae took six years of piano lessons as a youth. She taught herself to play the guitar and write music when she was a PHS junior. She plays both instruments on her album.

The summer of 2007 while her fellow-collegians were doing research or working internships Mae was making her CD.

She lucked out and did not have to pay for costly studio time as she laid down up to 16 tracks to get the depth of sound she wanted on "Poker Face."

"I have to give a shout out to my friend Leia Lorica for organizing my CD release party March 3," Mae said.

Mae's title track "At the Edge," and "Just Like Me (Crazy)" rock enthusiastically. "Trust," "You're Not There" and "Rooms" are gentle, heartfelt songs of love.

The biggest audience Mae has played to so far was when she opened for Ted Leo and The Pharmacists on the Stanford campus. She gets airplay on Stanford's KZSU and often plays gigs near the university.

Mae played locally at Fireside Espresso before she left for college and hopes to play a concert in Payson this summer. Locals can hear her songs on KRIM.

Computers have allowed independent musicians a greater fan base, a fact Mae makes good use of through Facebook and Myspace.

Her CD, lyrics and song samples are available online at:
stephmaemusic or purchase the CD at Fireside Espresso.

A full next couple of months face Mae. In addition to texbooks and labs, she has those 12 songs ready for a seasoned producer "with a similar vision, who can help me make a record that really represent who I am as a musician."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.