Repping Pennsylvania, STEW has had a hand in curating and creating some dope sounds for well over a decade. He takes chance with whatever is thrown his way, and makes something beautiful. A true student of music, he ensures that everything from the writing, to the recruiting of artists, the production, to even the cover art is put together with precision for the audience to thoroughly enjoy it.
We recently had a chat with STEW about his monster “The Neverending Mixtape“, getting 40 strangers to make music together, staying creative no matter the challenges, tapping into talent around the world, upcoming music, and a lot more. Get familiar below!
Thanks for coming thru! You’ve been casually making music for over 10 years, but are just now releasing your art to the world. Why do you think now is the right time to put out a project?
Every year I see more people in my network releasing music, and every time I listen, I can’t help but think about how it could be improved. There’s always been a voice in the back of my head that says “well when I release my album, I won’t make that mistake”, but I’ve never acted on it until now.
I think I just got sick of judging from the sidelines. I don’t like the idea of being a critic if I can’t say that I’ve also walked the walk. Which is funny to say because it isn’t even my vocals on our album, but what’s a great movie without a director?
“The Neverending Mixtape” is purely a passion project. Why do you think it’s important for artists to follow their love of music, and not the money?
There’s this beautiful book called Stoner by John Williams, and it ends with the main character touching a book he published in his youth as he lies on his deathbed. When I weigh the benefits of saving money versus spending it on something that’s going to last forever in a creative space, I think about that scene.
Granted, I recognize the enormous privilege that allows me to even say things like that. The fact that I even have money to blow comes from that privilege, and I want to leverage my good fortune into something that can make a real difference in our artists’ careers. At the end of the day, I’d bet my life savings on the talent of this crew.
Some artists’ begin to doubt themselves and ultimately give up when trying to follow their dreams. What advice do you have for those want to create, but still put food on the table?
It’s hard for me to answer that because I’m totally content without making any money on this project. But maybe that is an answer in a roundabout way. If somebody asked me for advice, I’d say that it’s never been easier to create art than it is right now.
Some days I wake up and record a quick song on my laptop before work, just to show to my girlfriend and make her laugh. I’m not making money on it, but it doesn’t cost anything, and the fulfillment I get from seeing the reaction to it – that’s the dream I’m following. If money is the motive for your art, it’s pretty lame to be broke.
None of the artists featured on “The Neverending Mixtape” have met in person. What was the most challenging part of putting it together, logistically speaking?
In terms of my personal experience, collecting everyone’s vocals has been tough. Somebody will drop a great verse in our server, we’ll all want to use it, and then I’ll have to remind them for a week to send me the stems so we can mix it. Multiply that by 150 members and it’s not an easy job!
Also, time zones can be an issue for communication purposes. I’ve lost track of how many countries are involved, but it’s at least 30, so sometimes I have to wait for a response from an artist because it’s lunchtime for me and they just went to bed.
What other challenges did you face during the creation process?
Since I arrange the majority of tracks and I sequence our projects, I try to be very conscious of chemistry and flow. If I have two great verses in front of me but they’re about completely different things, I’m going to have to ditch one of them.
Luckily, chemistry has improved organically as the tape has grown. Now, most of the vocalists bounce off of each other’s ideas instead of just shooting for the moon. I still do a lot of work behind the scenes to make it feel like we’re all in the studio together, though.
At the end of the day, I’d bet my life savings on the talent of this crew
There are a lot of talented musicians out there. So, I’m sure it was tough deciding who would make the cut. What criteria did you have in your selection process?
So far, I’ve received about 500 applications in total, and 150 of them have made the cut. I try to look for potential above all else. I don’t ask myself “is this a great artist?” as much as I ask, “can we make them sound great on the album?”
Isaiah Rashad just did an interview where he mentioned picking features based on how they fit on certain songs and letting them take the lead on those tracks. That really spoke to me because I think that crafting an album is much more important than pure skill.
That’s why there are so many great freestyle rappers out there who simply can’t put out a decent project – they lack the vision to see the potential beyond their own ability.
What sparked the idea of putting the project together in the first place?
Boredom and the need for a creative outlet. If I’m not involved in some sort of creative pursuit, my whole world feels muted. My current schedule allows for a lot of free time, so if I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what I’d be doing with myself. I definitely wouldn’t be happy.
I think that crafting an album is much more important than pure skill
So, you’re already working on a follow up album. In what ways has it been easier to put this one together?
We released our first album in June, we have two EPs coming out before the next one, and we’re already recording material that will likely end up on Volume 3. I wouldn’t be surprised if we drop at least five projects this year, and the quality is increasing on each one.
People roll their eyes when I say that, but it’s true, and that’s because I never let anyone get too comfortable. You’re not guaranteed a spot on the album, so you better come correct every time if you want to secure your place. That competitiveness is what keeps us going, and now that people have started to notice us, it only fuels our fire. It’s not hard for me to put an album together when I have so much great material to work with.
What do you love most about working with everyone?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make a lot of friends on this project, and it’s incredible to interact with people from all over the globe. Travel is my favorite thing, and now I know that I’ll have someone to meet up with no matter where I go. This one artist, Stakes, lives in the UK, and he just invited me to meet up with him when I get the chance. I never thought I’d want to go to Derbyshire – who wants to go to Derbyshire? – but now I’m going to go to Derbyshire.
And that’s not to mention the artists that happen to live close to me. My right-hand man on this thing, 724x, is from New York. I have no doubt that I’ll be driving out there sometime soon to hang out, when he gets his face on one of those Times Square billboards. These guys are my family now.
Aside from putting out “The Neverending Mixtape”, what other highlights have you had this year?
As a collective we’ve started selling merch, setting up live events, and we even have an official podcast in the works. I’m like Suge Knight, but only in very specific areas of his life. Outside of the project, the highlight of my year has been driving across the United States with my beautiful girlfriend. Having someone who loves to travel and explore as much as myself is incredible. I guess if I had to get specific, there was a very good blueberry muffin in Knoxville. That might be the highlight.
Where do you want to take it next?
Anywhere and everywhere. I truly believe the sky is the limit for this group, and there’s no reason that we won’t continue to branch out and succeed as time passes. I’ve also started consulting with artists on their solo projects, which is a true honor and it shows that Neverending has a reach beyond our group efforts.
Anything else we should know?
If anyone’s reading this and they’re interested in being part of the project, all they need to do is ask. I have people sending me their music on Instagram all day, and if I see potential, I invite them to join the group. If you’re a passionate person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage. The potential is Neverending.