Songs from the heart

An alt-country artist with a soulful voice and intensely personal songs, Steff Mahan has grown into one of the most respected live performers in Music City.

Mahan grew up in Brighton, Ill., a small town near St. Louis. After attending York University in Nebraska,  the singer-songwriter moved to Memphis and accepted an advertising job. Unsatisfied by that 9-to-5 routine, she soon relocated to Nashville to pursue her true passion: songwriting and performing.

Although life has thrown its share of curves, she continues to succeed as a self-employed musician. A career highlight: an opening-act slot with Patty Griffin. More of those career milestones are sure to come for this incredibly moving performer.

In her interview with Out & About Newspaper, Mahan gives us a taste of her musical future.

Your career remains a proven commodity with a solid list of shows scheduled in the coming months. What's the biggest thrill for you in performing for a live audience?

There is no bigger thrill than when a total stranger comes up to me and tells me a certain song touched them and why.  About a month ago I was doing an afternoon show in a record store as a promotion for a show later that night.  I sang my song “Pray for Peace” and afterwards, an elderly man came up and told me a story. He said that he used to be a baseball coach.  One day after a game, he was driving four of his players home when they were struck by a drunk driver.  Three of his players died in that accident.  He was teary eyed when he took my hand and said “there is not a day I don’t ask God to give me peace from the torment I still feel about that day.” Maybe “thrill” isn’t the right word; it’s more humbling. It’s humbling to know that in the big scheme of things, we’re all pretty much the same and we all feel the same things.  It’s nice that a song can mean that much to someone and can bring people together.

How has your music evolved, musically and lyrically, as you've matured as an artist and as a person?

I think I feel braver to say what really needs to be said, more so then when I was younger.  This often involves admitting my fears, my down falls, and failures to total strangers. I think the writing on my first two CDs definitely showed where I was at the time. My first two CDs, Steff Mahan and 42.50, are really about having a broken heart. The first CD is a bit more ballad heavy. The second is a little bit more alternative country, more upbeat, but still about a broken heart. Several years passed between my first two CDs and my newest one and with age comes wisdom. I think my melodies and lyrics have much more range on Never a Long Way Home, which comes from digging deeper and deeper into your craft.

Do you find it harder to write songs of heartache or songs of happiness? Why?

I’m in a really great relationship right now, so happy songs are pouring out of me lately.  I’ve actually had people come up to my girlfriend and ask her to break up with me because they miss my sad song! Those songs are still inside me, the sad ones I mean, but now I would describe them as more introspective rather than sad. Heartbreak is heartbreak, no matter who you are or where you are coming from and I can go to that place easily in my songs. I do think my sad songs on my latest CD offer a sense of hope. My ballads are not as sad as they are bittersweet. It is easier for me now in both my writing and my life to look back on sad and happy moments and feel grateful for both.

What are your goals going forward?

I just got signed with a new label called Luna Chica Records International and am really looking forward to working with them. They have a great staff and a passion for independent artists. I plan to keep on touring and writing. I will always want other artists to keep recording my songs. I love touring and playing my own music but songwriting is really where my heart is. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to walk on the stage at the Ryman as an artist…for me it is about carving out time for both writing and touring. It’s a different kind of life but I love it.

Tour schedules and music samples are available at


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