Stephanie Morillo is a singer, songwriter and music blogger from New York City.
What is your country of origin or family heritage?
I was born in New York City to Dominican immigrants. My parents made the decision to come to the US rather late; my mother was already five months pregnant with me when they moved over.
I was awarded a Posse Foundation Full Tuition Leadership Scholarship to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in a self-designed major, Creative Media and Social Justice. Upon graduating from Lafayette, I was awarded a Fulbright grant to Malaysia, where I taught English as a second language to secondary school students.
What has been your professional career trajectory, so far?
I’ve had a very interesting career trajectory. After I graduated from college in 2008, I took a short-term position at a strategic communications firm in Westchester New York, servicing nonprofits in everything from media relations to online engagement. I continued onto my Fulbright, and after it ended, I stayed on in Malaysia where I interned for a music magazine and then accepted a position at EducationUSA, a program sponsored by the US Department of State which offers college counseling and testing services to foreign nationals. I worked as an education advisor there before moving back to the US in 2010 and have worked in communications ever since. I’ve been a full-time musician since March of this year.
What has been your most important professional or social accomplishment, thus far?
Being awarded the Fulbright was certainly a major accomplishment, one that has changed my life. But I will say my most important accomplishment would be working as a full-time musician. It’s not at all easy but it has been the one thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. I have no regrets!
Who and what inspires your music?
My inspiration comes from observing my own emotions and my own observations about daily life. My songs are very, very visual; I paint with words. Right now my biggest musical inspiration would be Mexican-American singer Lhasa de Sela. Her musical delivery is so raw, so primal, so personal. If raw emotion had a voice, it would be hers. That’s the kind of effect I want to have with my music.
In what ways does your upbringing and culture impact your music?
I grew up listening to my dad’s ballads from the 1970s: Julio Iglesias, Nelson Ned, Leo Dan, Camilo Sesto, Rocio Durcal, Jose Jose, Roberto Carlos, Juan Gabriel, among others. When I was older Selena and Shakira were my greatest idols. At the age of 11, I wrote an entire album’s worth of material – all in Spanish – and I sent it to Shakira’s label along with a six page letter. They dared me to dream and as a result I am where I am.
How would you describe your sound?
I’d say it’s a mix of jazz, folk and pop. It’s a little bit difficult to pin down because I don’t usually have a genre in mind when I write – whatever comes, comes. But the end product can fall into anyone of those genres.
In what way(s) have you seen your music impact others?
My debut EP, Love Language, was actually meant to be a Valentine’s Day gift for my now husband, so the songs are very personal. When I presented the songs to him he was very, very touched and happy and told me that was the best gift anyone had ever given him. One young woman actually used “The Sea” in a short film she created for her school’s film program. Another artist is going to feature “The Sea” on a compilation album her label is creating at the end of this year, and one visual artist created a video for the song as well. Seeing that my music inspires other artists is extremely rewarding.
On your website, you describe your journey to Malaysia as “life changing”. In what ways was this journey life-changing?
Malaysia forced me to grow up in the ways moving to a new city forces young people to grow up and assume responsibility for everything they do. Not to mention, this growth took place in a completely different country where I was forced to navigate through distinct cultural norms, a new language, new everything. I lived in two very, very different parts of Malaysia; I did my Fulbright in Terengganu, a rural, conservative state on the Malaysian East Coast. People there were both curious but a bit weary towards foreigners and I was the first foreigner many people I encountered there met. I then moved to Kuala Lumpur, a super cosmopolitan city by any standard and met a completely different set of people. So making the switch was crazy for me.
In addition, the vast majority of my Malaysian friends are artistically inclined. They are filmmakers, performers, musicians, writers, poets, fashionistas. They all have something going for them. And even those that aren’t artists are all very goal-oriented. As a result, I took the plunge while I was there and decided to put as much effort as I could to become a musician. My current foray into music is a direct result of being surrounded by all of them. The music video for my latest single, “Russian Mountain”, was even filmed by one of my filmmaker friends in Malaysia and features a cast of local Malaysians!
What has been your biggest personal challenge, and what has been your biggest professional challenge?
My biggest personal challenge is also my biggest professional challenge: how to make a career sustainable without a full-time job. I do believe it is possible, contrary to what many believe and perceive to be the case. But in order to take my career to the next level, I know that I’ll need to diversify my income streams, something that I think about constantly.
What is your next big dream?
My next big dream is to release my debut album which I would like to release within the year and go on tour. I’m starting a crowdsourcing campaign in the next few weeks to get most of the funding procured ahead of production.
What is your advice to Latina musicians and professionals?
Follow your dreams, but more importantly, educate yourself about the road ahead. It all seems daunting at first, but the more one learns about their craft and what it is they’re getting into, the more empowered one feels. I would’ve never thought it was possible to do what I am doing now but I’ve learned a lot around what it means to work in the music industry and be a musician and there’s still so much more to learn. With each step, you get closer and closer to your goal. Take the plunge!