Bay Area singer-songwriter Stav Mcallister picked an incredibly unorthodox time to launch his musical career. The songsmith released his debut under the backdrop of a pandemic, societal and political unrest and changing climate. It creates an interesting counterpoint: On one hand there is simply so much happening in the world from which to draw lyrical inspiration, but on the other, there is a natural uneasiness in getting the music to the masses.
“In some ways, it feels a little selfish because in order to promote something, you kind of have to talk about yourself,” said Mcallister, who also goes by Stav. “I’ve been struggling with that a bit internally.”
Mcallister says he has worked alongside his team and his label to prepare for this moment and, despite everything, he couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s something that I want to be my job, and music is not the worst thing in a time like this,” he said.
Mcallister’s “Borders” single is a showcase of his sharpest skills: an acoustic track with him adding a rhythmic slap percussion on his guitar. Lyrically, it tackles the deep societal divisions in the world, opting for a unifying message. The song was born out of a backpacking trip to Europe after graduating from college, but the inspiration wasn’t immediate.
“I think it was more when I got back, and I reflected back on all of the different cultures that we experienced throughout the trip,” Mcallister said. “It was the first time I’d been on my own without my parents traveling somewhere.”
Mcallister said that the inspiration came almost subconsciously, realizing after he had penned that song how much of it aligned with his experiences overseas.
One of his biggest influences isn’t immediately obvious. He points to Queen and Freddie Mercury as having one of the most influential roles in shaping him as a musician, and opening up his imagination to musical possibilities.
“Before Queen, I had listened to mainly bluegrass and Celtic music,” Mcallister said. “There was something so dramatic in the best way about them; the whole thing just inspired me to just rock out and be whoever I wanted to be.”
Mcallister joked that once he got older and realized he couldn’t necessarily replicate the otherworldly rock and roll bombast of Queen, he could take that feeling of being larger than life and let that dictate his sense of songwriting and arranging. Later on, Mcallister developed a natural storytelling tendency into his songwriting, inspired in part by bluegrass, but also digging into the music of Bob Dylan.
The recent follow-up, “Burgundy Wine,” is a sincere and reflective track looking back at youthful days gone by. The lush mid-tempo acoustic track mixes extravagant vocal layering that takes it to new heights. The single releases are leading to an EP this month. It’s something Mcallister hopes will lead to a full-length album within a year or less.
Mcallister would typically have a full slate of regional gigs lined up, but the pandemic shutdown and work on the EP left him with few options for playing to live audiences. Like many, he’s turning to virtual shows, with a StageIt live stream on tap for next week.
Cutting his teeth in wine bars and tap rooms, Mcallister said that he learned to cherish the moments where the hectic and loud bars would grow quiet because of a song he was playing; a sign that the music was breaking through and connecting. It’s a feeling he hopes that we’ll be able to collectively return to sooner rather than later.
“It was always a cool thing if at some point during your set people would quiet down and listen to you, not because you were loud, but because they were intrigued,” he said.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.