Steff Koeppen sits in a sun-drenched alcove of Hotel Congress in her native Tucson, explaining her latest motives in the late afternoon light, a hour shy of a blanketing summer monsoon. Koeppen is the bandleader of Steff & the Articles, her art-pop four-piece that tends to frequent Phoenix as much as it does Tucson. 2012's "Two Cities," a single that became the band's de facto introduction, was blatantly heartfelt, reading like an intimate missive. She has employed the same approach with "Corner of the World," her latest single from a forthcoming record.
"I had a huge vision for this song, and I had been playing with it in my room on Garageband for a while," Koeppen says. "I was most excited about this song; it means the most to me. It's the most relevant to me, personally. When I brought it to the band and they were just as excited about it as well, it was like, 'Yes, let's definitely record this song.' We needed to be sure about it."
Whereas Koeppen was firmly rooted in "Two Cities" earlier, "Corner of the World" questions just what lies beyond those two cities now. Following in Koeppen's tradition of artfully written pop songs, "Corner of the World" builds on the angularity of past tracks like "Te Extraño," with hints of the fragile melancholy of "Finding." Writing songs that play off pop structure yet still employ arrangements that catch the ear of fellow musicians has always been Koeppen's modus operandi.
"That's always been a goal of the band, and that's been fun, too," she says. "You might be able to sing along to this melody really easily and remember this hook, but it kind of masks what maybe a musician might hear as far as an interesting chord progression or time changes."
Though severeal Tucson exports could crack the sand-blasted glass ceiling of Pima County's music community, Steff & the Articles have tasted success in other markets before, and it's left the band hungry for more. "Two Cities" was an mtvU top pick this time two years ago, and the band's played up and down the West Coast several times. What will push Koeppen's work to an upper echelon has yet to be determined, though it would seem an Arizona exodus would be intrinsic to reaching that goal.
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"[Touring] kind of made me realize that maybe it's not about throwing as many dates as you can on a calendar and connecting the dots, [but] maybe it's more about focusing on a place at a time," she says. "Just the fact that I want the experience of being elsewhere and figuring out what other scenes might be like, would it benefit us? Would it matter? I want that experience and I haven't had it."
Though Koeppen will admit that the introspective theme of "Corner of the World" is indicative of her next record's shift, she is quick to deflect the concept that she is unhappy where she is — rather, she's becoming just ready to see what's out there waiting for her. For Koeppen, the sense of place or purpose she's seeking exists independent of the fact that she could never be as content as she is as a learning musician, location be damned.
"We're realizing the value of focusing on production, but we've never really spent time figuring out what we could do to enhance the physical product, the recordings. That's definitely a focus of ours too. We've got these songs but we're trying to spend a lot of time really thinking them through."
Steff & the Articles is scheduled to play Pho Cao in Scottsdale on Saturday, August 8.