Singer, songwriter, and harpist, Sun Riah, had recently performed at Western Avenue’s yearly festival, WestFest. In this Creator Conversation question and answer session, I ask M. Bailey Stephenson (a.k.a Sun Riah) about her album, Firefly Night Light, what motivated her to share her music, the most dangerous pair, favorite places to perform in Oklahoma, and more.
How do you describe yourself and your music?
I describe myself as an experimental singer, songwriter, and harpist. I’d say that my music and this particular project are about an exploration of the self. I describe this project as a space to hold thoughts and reflect, to engage with emotions and feelings that aren’t always easy or comfortable. My music is explorative and experimental, but it is also an emotional release. With this project, I am able to share parts of myself that I otherwise hide.
What pushed you to share your music with the world?
“When I share my music with others, I am exposing the most vulnerable parts of myself to people who I often don’t know. I still always share anything I write with my sister or one of my close friends before anyone else.”I struggled with this question for a long time. I’ve written songs for as long as I can remember, but I only began sharing my music with people fairly recently. I didn’t understand why anyone would care to hear my songs, and I was terrified of sharing my music with others. I’m not sure what pushed me to finally share my music with others. It was a slow crawl for me. It started with just sharing a song or two with my sister, and then eventually performing my songs for others. With time, I found that performing and sharing music is when music becomes living. I now view the process of sharing music as an inherent part of realizing a song. I also think of sharing music as one of the most humbling and vulnerable experiences. When I share my music with others, I am exposing the most vulnerable parts of myself to people who I often don’t know. I still always share anything I write with my sister or one of my close friends before anyone else. I imagine that will always be the case for me.
Use only seven words to describe your album, Firefly Night Light.
Homesick. Distant. Spacious. Forgiving. Wandering. Reflective. Open-ended.
What was the greatest challenge you had when making the album?
My own self-doubt and self-criticism. It was very hard with each track to say, “Okay. This is done.” Also… the limits of my own recording equipment were challenging at times.
What or who do you think is the most dangerous pair?
Hmmm… Control and powerlessness.
What’s something positive you try to keep in mind when negativity surrounds you?
I think about unconditional love and those who love me unconditionally. I think of my grandparents, their strength, the things they endured, and the ways they continued to grow throughout their lives. I try to practice my grandfather’s ability to find joy in everything. I try to invoke childhood optimism and mesmerization at the hugeness of the world. Somehow remembering my own smallness and remembering the possibility of continued learning, growth, and movement, provides me reassurance.
What are some of your favorite places to perform or listen to live music in Oklahoma?
Both to perform and listen to music, I love the Power House. I also love the backyard at the Red Cup Vegetarian Cafe, although they rarely host shows anymore. The large pink house near 31st and Shartel hosts the occasional show, and they are always magical. I also love the Opolis and the Deli in Norman.
What else would you like people to know about yourself and your music?
I have an annoyingly loud laugh, and I love Ethiopian food. I go by my middle name (Bailey… please, call me Bailey), and I’m incredibly awkward. My music isn’t always meant to be pretty or appeasing, but I hope that it makes people feel.
Want to read more Q&A sessions with creative people who have made cool things in Oklahoma? Browse my past Creator Conversations.