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'Impossibly kind' rocker sticks to his principles.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

A few years ago, when he was part of one of the first Kidz Rock! concert series, I interviewed Stephan Nance because I was intrigued by his "Song for Losers."

I had hoped to write about him when he released his first full-length CD, but I did not expect it would be four years before that happened.

Nance, who has just released "A Troubled Piece of Fruit," still may feel like a misfit among youthful peers who don't share his veganism, bike activism and/or aversion to mind-altering substances such as marijuana and alcohol. But in the years since he transitioned from "kid" to adult rocker, he seems to have gained a stronger sense of self and an increased comfort in being alone.

On Monday, Nance's 25th birthday, the North Eugene High School graduate is releasing his album without compromising any of his beliefs.

As explained in "Song for Losers," he doesn't drink, smoke or want "to poke everything with a pulse." He's also "impossibly kind" and won't ever forget your birthday.

Here's a chance to return the favor and party on Nance's terms with an outdoor, early evening concert at Washington Park on a stage where the full band will be powered by bicycles. The free, family friendly event also will feature free vegan treats from Coconut Bliss for all the guests.

Kindred spirits

Not all of Nance's compositions are about social alienation. He's got songs with sea creatures and squirrels as characters and many with environmental themes.

While "Song for Losers" had a wide-eyed, why-is-the-world-like-this tone, a more recent song, "Paid by Weight." It's a pointed warning, an almost-intimidating song about the selfish ways of some, and what those actions are doing to our environment.

Nance is a thoughtful, complicated person, and his piano-based songs reflect this. But he also keeps most of them short and musically accessible.

He classifies his sound as "piano-pop." But music that veers into activism generally does not end up being popular.

Popular is not how you would describe Nance in social settings, either. But online - anchored by "Song for Losers," which has almost 100,000 hits - he has found many kindred spirits frustrated at the idea that you have to alter yourself to fit in.

"It's hard to fit in when you don't buy into the intoxication culture," he said. "My directive, my aim, is to not be influenced by outside forces - to figure out myself as I am without escaping reality.

"I wasn't thinking of myself as a loser, but just sort of explaining the reality of the situation and where I stand in college."

Exploring ideas honestly

Nance's songs are an avenue to express things that bother him, and that subject seems to have hit a nerve.

Nance suggests in song that people like him are less visible, and the online response has shown him that it's true. It is more common to hear someone boasting of last weekend's exploits in drunkenness and less likely to hear someone tell a friend how he did not get drunk.

Teachers have played the song for their classes, youth have shared it among their peers, and YouTube users jumped to Nance's defense when a cyber-bully tried to say he really is a loser.

"I realized in therapy that a lot of why I was feeling overwhelmed was I was feeling a hyper vigilance," Nance said. "I was super aware of the sense that everyone was drinking except for me, and it was sort of me against the world."

That is the beauty of songwriting like Nance's: more evidence that for every idea you have that goes against the grain, there is someone to share it with if you just look long enough.

"I feel like if there is anything I value above all, it is my sense of being myself and my mind being my own," Nance said.

Many friends have encouraged him to give up that stance and to "loosen up." Sobriety has not been a choice without social consequences, but he knows it's the right thing, and he has been willing to adjust to the fallout of that decision.

Nance's courage is not limited to turning his back on a wasted youth. He speaks up in favor of genuine connection, close relationships and stewardship of the Earth.

He is not tethered to any religion. And while his politics lean to the left, Nance seems the most interested in exploring ideas honestly and making rational choices.

Nance is an artist you can share with your children and not fear what he's going to say. And even if he doesn't feel comfortable hitting the club circuit the way other acts do, he most likely will find a wide audience of "losers" who appreciate him.


Stephan Nance

What: CD release/birthday bash

When: 6 p.m. Monday

Where: Washington Park, 2025 Washington St.

Admission: Free

Bring: Chairs and blankets to sit on
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Stephan Nance's accessible, piano-based songs reflect a thoughtful person
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 20, 2012
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