When Steph Copeland was 16, her father booked some time at a local recording studio so that she could record four of her own songs. Copeland, who’d been making her own music since early childhood, had a clear sense of how she wanted her songs to sound. “I knew what I was looking for,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to make it massive.” Disappointed by the end result, Copeland decided that she would have to figure out how to do things herself. Getting her hands on an 8-track digital recorder, she read the manual and steadily taught herself the skills she needed to generate the sounds she wanted. “It was a long learning curve,” she recalls.
But for Copeland, it was one that paid off. For the last two decades, she’s let her musical interests guide her – from scoring for film, television and commercials, to touring as a back-up singer and musician (including for Ria Mae from 2016-2018), writing songs, and producing her own solo releases. And teaching herself what she needs to know along the way. Fortunately, she likes being busy. “I think I might be a bit of a workaholic,” she confesses, admitting that people do have trouble keeping up with her various projects.
“If I can dream the sound, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it”
In her 20s, Copeland, who grew up an hour from Windsor, got into the Detroit electronic music scene, and began performing, both as a solo artist under the name Perilelle, and in collaboration with other hip-hop and techno artists. She soon realized, however, that she was more interested in perfecting her sounds than in building an onstage persona, and moved her career into the studio. In time, she landed the opportunity to score an independent horror film when a director heard her dark, electronic music. “I’d never scored to picture,” she says, “and had to learn really quickly, updating my whole studio.”
It was a gamble worth taking. The film did well, resulting in an eight-picture deal, with Copeland hired to score seven of them. “It was a really wonderful bit of luck,” she says. “I always knew I had a cinematic thing going on with my music.” Copeland has since scored for a slew of dramas, thrillers, and darker genre films (Vicious Fun, The Oak Room, and I’ll Take Your Dead, among others), as well as television series (The Wedding Planners, Turning the Tables) and commercials (NBA Canada, The Pan Am Games and The North Face).
But Copeland, who’s been singing since childhood, still carves out time for her own songwriting. “I can’t ever decide what I want to do,” she explains. “I’m still drawn to the performing side of things and songwriting, so in between scores I’m always making releases and working on albums.” The release of her first solo LP Public Panic, in 2015, saw her sign with a New York-based music publisher, and led to writing and producing for international artists, and to song placements in films and series, including Tiny Pretty Things on Netflix. She still manages to put out a couple of her own releases each year. Her latest single (with Brigit O’Regan), “Gas Light,” is accompanied by a video.
And she continues to seek out new challenges. As a producer, Copeland oversaw the all-female orchestra performance that opened at the 2018 SOCAN Awards, and has twice adjudicated the SOCAN Foundation Young Audio-Visual Composer Award. This year, she’ll be participating in the Women in the Studio program offered by Music Publishers Canada, a national accelerator for female-identifying producer-songwriters, and recently produced a song for Oleyada and KINLEY as part of Music PEI’s 2021 Canadian Songwriter Challenge. “Every time I work on another person’s track, I learn something, and then want to explore that in my own world and see what happens,” she says.
When she thinks about her future, Copeland lets her curiosity be her guide, always chasing the sound that she’s after, just like she did as a young girl. From continuing to produce for others, to scoring films, Copeland allows herself to dream big, pushing her own boundaries in the process. “Now that I’m aware that there are larger, more intricate sounds out there – like the orchestra – I want to go grab that,” she says. “If I can dream the sound, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it.”