Shannon Stephens – “What Love Looks Like” MP3 (PopMatters Premiere)

Shannon Stephens began her musical career at a Christian art school called Hope College, where she comprised one-fourth of indie, folk-rockers Marzuki. It was there, while playing guitar and lending her vocals, that Stephens met bandmate Sufjan Stevens. After the dissolution of Marzuki, Stephens released her first solo album in 1999, before putting her pursuit of fame on pause, opting instead for a quiet life in Seattle with her husband. After nine years out of the business, Stephens resurfaced with 2009’s The Breadwinner, produced by Sufjan Stevens’ label, Asthmatic Kitty.

Now returning with her third album, backed again by Asthmatic Kitty, and produced by Grammy-winner Kory Kruckenberg, Stephens brings us Pull It Together, out May 22nd of this year. In this upcoming album fans will detect a new confidence in both Stephens’ lyrics and her vocals, the sign of an artist truly coming into her own. The buoyant single “What Love Looks Like”, debuting here on PopMatters, is clearly the product of a life-learned maturity. Fittingly making its premiere on Valentine’s Day, the song is a portrait of modern-day love, set to an upbeat and melodious tune. Much like all the songs on this album, “What Love Looks Like” allow Stephens to share her opinions as a lover, an artist, a mother, and a citizen of the world, balancing cynicism, optimism, and ear-catching vocals along the way.

The vibe of Pull It Together contrasts with Stephens’ earlier work in that, though many early songs were filled with orchestral arrangements, here the influence of blues is very prevalent. Accompanied by a band comprised of veteran musicians who took the opportunity to create and experiment, Stephens herself said of the collaboration process “It was total magic. The players opened up new dimensions in the music and the songs became so much more powerful.” The result is an intimate, folk inspired album that will both bring you to your feet to dance and leave you reflecting on what exactly love does look like.

Below, enjoy a recording of “What Love Looks Like”, as well as a video of one of Stephens’ “Chicken Sessions” (read:rehearsals) with Julian Martlew, Terry Mattson and Andrew Rudd.