Growing up on a farm in Montana, Stephanie Quayle first fell in love with country music thanks to an AM radio station blasting in the barn where she spent much of her childhood taking care of horses. A sometime choir girl who started writing poetry at age five, Quayle was fascinated by the way the country-radio stars used slice-of-life storytelling, graceful melodies, and sharp songcraft to impart pure emotion. On Meant For You, her upcoming first full-length album since moving to the country-music epicenter of Nashville in 2011, the singer-songwriter-guitarist builds off that very formula with lush arrangements and a lyrical sensibility that’s both sophisticated and raw. Featuring “Sugar High” (a breezy, harmony-driven track whose video had its world premiere on CMT last August), Meant for You also reveals Quayle’s power to channel passion and pain with her gorgeously soulful vocals.
Produced by Ilya Toshinsky (a Nashville-based musician who’s performed on albums by Dolly Parton, George Strait, and Sheryl Crow), Meant for You finds Quayle collaborating with a host of hitmaking co-writers to create intricately crafted songs with a warm, wistful intimacy. “This album is a journey from where I’ve been over the years to where I am now, so there’s a lot of different perspectives on love,” says Quayle. On the guitar-fueled anthem “Your Song,” the thrill of a new romance is captured in sunny harmonies and sweetly clever lyrics about longing to become as beloved as someone’s favorite tune (“I wanna be on repeat, know it by heart/Make you feel that spark”). With its dreamy images of dried rose petals and old movie ticket stubs, “Shoebox” is a breakup ballad inspired by “the idea that you can spend years in a relationship that feels larger than life, and then have it end up in a shoebox full of memories.” And on the soaring “No Parachute,” Quayle empowers listeners to embrace total fearlessness despite the vulnerability that comes with falling in love. “With ‘No Parachute’ and on the album in general I was thinking about that determination to put yourself out there, even if you’re terrified of getting hurt,” says Quayle. “The overall message is that if there’s something you’re feeling deep in your heart, then it’s absolutely worth whatever comes your way.”
Boldly heartfelt songwriting has always captivated Quayle, both as an artist and a music-lover. Along with the country legends she discovered back in the barn in Bozeman — including Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, who remain two of her favorites — she was raised on the tender introspection of the Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor records often spun by her mother. Also a major fan of Stevie Nicks and Nina Simone, Quayle penned her first song while on summer vacation in Minnesota when she was 12. “My best friend came with me and fell for one of my cousins, so I wrote them a love song,” she recalls. At age 15 — more than a decade after learning to play piano — Quayle bought an acoustic guitar at a pawnshop, taught herself to play, and “started turning all my poetry and journaling into these little three-chord country songs.” While living in Switzerland as part of an exchange program the following year, Quayle joined a local band as their lead singer and wound up touring and recording an album with the group. “Once I had that experience of cutting a record and performing live, I knew that music was going to be my life,” she says.
Soon after graduating high school, Quayle headed to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, but spent several years struggling to find an audience. “Everyone I played for would ask, ‘You’re a country artist, why aren’t you in Nashville?’” she says. In 2009 Quayle had her first big break when Maria Shriver invited her to perform at the following year’s The Women’s Conference, an opportunity that prompted her to finish and release her debut album Ain’t No Housewife. Two years later, itching to align herself with the country greats she most admired, Quayle made the move to Nashville to devote herself to music full-time. “When I finally got to Nashville, I focused 100 percent on becoming a better songwriter and musician, and just tried to absorb the energy of this town that’s literally built on a song,” she says.
Once settled in Nashville, Quayle dedicated herself to sitting in on songwriter rounds, taking in showcases, and seeking out co-writers. “The bar is set so high here — it pushes you to either get better or move out, and I felt so invigorated by that,” Quayle says. By 2012 she was invited to perform at the CMA Music Festival for the first time, and had her song “You Inspire Me” licensed by the Amway Corporation. In the meantime, Quayle started work on Stand Back, a 2013 EP that explores everything from post-breakup self-delusion (on the bittersweet “Pictures Lie”) to hot and heavy obsession (on “Love Stuck,” a sultry, sassy stomper that likens her lust-crazed brain to bees trapped in honey and tongues frozen to flagpoles). In 2014 she earned two Blue Ocean Film Festival award nominations for her video for “Big Blue Town,” a song she wrote for the Sea Save Foundation (an ocean conservation organization to whom Quayle donated proceeds from the single’s sales). She also launched “For the Record,” a web series that follows Quayle as she travels around the country in search of songwriting inspiration and gives a behind-the-scenes look at her lesser-known passions (such as mounted shooting, a timed sport that involves shooting targets with a single-action pistol while riding horseback).
Now splitting her time between Nashville and Montana, Quayle says her infatuation with Music City hasn’t diminished in the slightest over the past few years. “Songwriting is still so magical to me, and it really blows me away that right at this exact moment there are thousands of people out there working on a song,” she says. But Quayle also points out that her greatest joy comes from live performance, which she considers a deeply communal experience. “During my shows it’s not, ‘Hey, look at me!’ — it’s very much, ‘Hey, let’s all do this together, this is for us,’” says Quayle, who’s recently opened for country hit-maker Jerrod Niemann and country’s rising newcomer Jon Pardi. “Music is my love and the thing that’s most fulfilling to me,” she continues. “Most of the time in day-to-day life I feel like a fish out of water, but when I’m up there singing for a crowd, everything makes sense and I feel like I’m home.”