Jerzak took his electic-acoustic hybrid sound to MySpace in 2008, and quickly gained a following. The next year, he signed a major label deal with Universal, who hopes he will emerge as Wisconsin's answer to Justin Bieber. We spoke with him on the 2011 Warped Tour.
Stephen Jerzak: Oh, perfect. All right. I think the most popular song is a song called "Cute." I wrote that when I was like 16.
Songfacts: How old are you now?
Songfacts: 19. Okay. Just a kid.
Stephen: (laughing) Yeah, teenager. "Cute" is my most popular. I think my best song would have to be a song called "She said."
Songfacts: What is that about?
Stephen: It's about a girl that thinks she's all that and thinks that she can get with you. I'm just like, "you ain't worth the trouble." Not gonna happen.
Songfacts: Do you run into girls like that in what you do?
Stephen: Oh yeah. Of course.
Songfacts: A lot of people that probably have the wrong motives...
Songfacts: Your most popular song is "Cute"?
Songfacts: And why do you think it struck such a nerve?
Stephen: I think just the whole pick-up line vibe, really simple song, like I can't believe it blew up as much as it did. I had no idea when I wrote it that it would have millions of plays on YouTube and sell hundreds of thousands of singles.
Songfacts: Had you been writing even before that?
Stephen: Yeah, I started writing when I was about 14 years old.
Songfacts: 14? Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Stephen: Yeah, it was called "Open Your Eyes." It was about a girl I liked in 7th grade.
Songfacts: It's always a girl.
Stephen: (laughs) You know it.
Songfacts: 7th grade. And did you sing it to her?
Stephen: I think so. Yeah, I did.
Songfacts: You don't remember if she liked it or not or if it got you anywhere?
Stephen: It definitely got me somewhere, but I'd rather not talk about that. (laughs)
Songfacts: So is songwriting something that comes easily to you, comes naturally?
Stephen: I think it's pretty easy. When I write a song, I don't try to make it necessarily catchy. I just want to put my ideas out. When I write a song, I just play guitar or have a track or something, and I just sing melodies to myself. Then when I find a melody that sounds good, I write words that match.
Songfacts: Do you always write on guitar?
Stephen: Usually either guitar or piano.
Songfacts: On stage you seem most comfortable with a guitar. Do you feel sort of like naked without one?
Stephen: Actually, I like being on stage without it, just because it gives me freedom to move around and jump a lot. Because I think performing live, with my style of music, it's so upbeat, and when I'm just standing there and not moving around, it's hard to get people to move around, as well. But I love my guitar. It's one of my favorite instruments. I've got a tattoo of a guitar player. So definitely my instrument of choice.
Songfacts: When did you learn to play guitar?
Stephen: I started playing when I was 12.
Songfacts: Do you come from a musical family?
Stephen: Yeah, my parents were both musicians, so there were instruments lying around the house growing up.
Stephen: Not professional, just local. They had a drum set and basically all through my childhood guitars hanging up. When I turned around 12 years old I started getting interested in music.
Songfacts: When I was 12 I was throwing rocks at my neighbors. I wasn't thinking about being a rock star.
Stephen: Neither was I, really. I mean, I started playing guitar and some kids from my school heard that I played guitar and they asked me to be in a band with them. We were in like 6th grade. I was like, yeah, sure. We covered a bunch of classic rock songs and played around bars in my city. It was a huge thing. We were called "Underage," we played in bars and shit. So it was pretty cool. I just fell in love with being on stage when I was around 12.
Songfacts: You covered classic rock songs - is that what got you into music?
Stephen: Yeah. I love Guns N' Roses, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, all that stuff.
Songfacts: So what are you doing right now and what are some of your future plans?
Stephen: Warped Tour's wrapping up in a couple of days. As soon as that's over, I'm going home back to Wisconsin, staying there for a couple of weeks, packing all my stuff up, moving back to L.A. And then most of the rest of the year will be spent writing, probably release another album or EP.
Songfacts: Good. Have you had fun today?
Stephen: Yeah. Today's been great. I like playing early, because you get to hang out with everyone afterwards.
Songfacts: What are some of your favorite bands on this tour?
Stephen: I love the guys from Attack Attack!, they're a lot different from my music but awesome dudes. I hung out with the Paramore people, they're really sweet, 3Oh!3, I could just go on and on. Pretty much everyone on the tour is really cool.
We spoke with Stephen on August 11, 2011. For more, check out his MySpace page.
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