Featured Artist: Stephany A-Chavira

 

When we first asked to sit down and talk with Stephany A-Chavira, the first thing she did was invite us to meet with her at her house and cook us dinner. We had only really met her once when she was bartending at Milo All Day, but she is one of those people who just really opens up and brightens your day. By the way, her green tomatillo sauce is absolutely amazing (but a family secret so please don’t ask us for the recipe).

Stephany A-Chavira cooking her family secret green tomatillo sauce in her kitchen.

Stephany A-Chavira cooking her family secret green tomatillo sauce in her kitchen.

KWL:
So we are sitting here at dinner with Stephanie A-Chavira, and it is delicious. Or it looks delicious, haven't tried it yet. Stephanie is a musician, bartender, with a really cool history, and I'm really excited for her to talk to us.

Stephany:
How is [the food]?

KWL:
So good!

Stephany:
Good, good good good.

KWL:
It's the right amount of spice. We're eating some homemade enchiladas right now.


Stephany:
Good, good good good. I was really thinking, I was very scared with this green tomatillo sauce. It’s a family recipe. My mother will kill me if she knows that I've given some people the secret. I hope she doesn't listen to this. Mom, I love you.

KWL:
We will tell no one.

Stephany:
Okay. Yeah, keep it a secret.

KWL:
We'll take it to our grave.

So – Let’s start. How did you get into music?

Stephany:
How did I get into music? My father was actually a professional dancer. He did various musicals while I was little, and that's pretty much how I was raised. So, I didn't have regular toys, I had mallets, timpanis, pianos, marimbas, and xylophones.

Yes, ever since I was five years old, I've been a performance artist. I remember literally being five years old and being put in the Christmas play for the main city. It wasn’t even for the schools or anything like that, but for the main ballets in the city. My father choreographed a lot of the main groups way back in Aguascalientes, Mexico. I was blessed enough to be able to learn a lot within the music entertainment business and stuff like that with him.

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KWL:
What part of Mexico is that in?

Stephany:
Aguascalientes is right in the bellybutton of Mexico, literally. There is actually a very cool statue that, if you read the legend on it, it says, geographically, you are sitting at the bellybutton of Mexico. It’s pretty cool.

KWL:
And now you're in the heart of Texas.

Stephany:

Now I'm in the heart of Texas! Look at that, I guess that's a pattern. I’ve never thought of that connection.   

KWL:
So how long have you been in Waco?

Stephany:
In Waco? I've been in Waco since 2005.

Almost 15 years. Yes, I've been here for a very long time. My family lived here, and I came for a vacation one time, and fell in love with the entire country. Everything from this country just spoke to my heart. I was like, you know what, it's now or never. Came back, went back home to Monterey after a very short vacation, like four, five days. I looked at my Mom, and I said, "Mom, I'm going to America." She thought I was crazy. And so, she went to work, and she came back, and I was a 15 year old kid with the entire room packed up in one brown suitcase. And she was like, "You're, not kidding." I said, "Take me to the border, let's go."

Sure enough, 15 years later, here I am. Still in Waco.

KWL:
So you get to Waco, and you are working on your music, your craft. Talk about that journey.

Stephany:
One of the biggest dreams of mine when I was in Mexico was to be able to read music.

Technically, I know this sounds very silly, but in Mexico, [learning to read music] is not very common, unless you're going to a private school. Music doesn't get instructed much. I was very blessed enough to be in private schools my entire life until I was 7th grade. That's when my mother finally snatched me out of private school, thank god. But ever since I was little, I've always wanted to read music.

When I came during those vacations, one of my cousins was going to middle school, at Carver. Actually both of them were going to middle school at Carver, and they taught me, they literally showed me a piece, I'm going to show you what piece of music it was.

Stephany:
And ever since that happened it's been a beautiful journey. I got here not speaking English, I went to University High School, and Larry Carpenter, who was my theater teacher, made sure that I felt at home.

I did not speak a single thing of English, but I could tell that that man knew that I loved music and theater. I spoke to him, he sent me to the counselor, and three days later I was enrolled in marching band.

KWL:
What'd you play in marching band?

Stephany:
I played, I started off with the bass clarinet, and then I moved on to the mellophone. And then-

KWL:
I was in marching band.

Stephany:
What did you play?

KWL:
French horn.

Stephany:
Mello fellow, fellow mello!

Ever since I learned how to read music, and I realized what I could do, the talent that life had given me, and started from there, I was part of a music institution way back at home that allowed me to play music very often, literally every day.

It was an every day thing. There were always guitars in my house: A guitar, a mandolin, and a melodica.

I actually put down the guitar for a little bit after I went to band. Then every person goes through the series of unfortunate events, and for the past five years, that was the case. I personally think that is very important that everybody knows that I am a recovering addict.

I do drink, I like to drink, and it's easy for me to put it down. It's not one of those, but I realize that ever since I left substances, I have more control of myself, and because of that, my music career is back. I was literally sitting in my couch about two hours ago, and I was looking around, and if I was speaking to Stephany about three years ago, she would see that right there (points to guitar amp), she would see $200 for drugs. That's all I would think about. is what sobriety has granted me.


KWL:
Clear vision.

Stephany:
Clear vision. It's possibly one of the best times in my life. I cry of happiness so often that it's silly. It's silly how blessed I feel on the daily.  And I think that's something that we, as musicians, we all struggle with. I was just talking to a local musician, that I'm not going to say names for obvious reasons, but he/she was literally telling me the same thing. It was like, "I can't, I'm literally sitting down on whether I buy guitar strings, or do I buy drugs." And I said, "You buy guitar strings."

I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for music.

KWL:
Man. You’re existing on multiple levels. I was going to that you have duality, but duality doesn't explain it quite enough because you're an immigrant, LGBTQ, recovering addict, a blossoming musician. What's that like? Is it easier to streamline all your feelings onto the guitar?

Stephany:
Somebody told me the other day that they can tell when I'm playing sad, and when I'm playing happy. I'm starting to pick out my patterns. I didn't know “me” very well because of drugs, for many years.

KWL:
It clouds your judgment.

Stephany:
Yeah. And now, when I can spend full on days literally from eight AM to nine PM and being able to remember everything that I've been able to do. That right there for me is just in a battery to keep on pushing.

To keep on remembering moments like this, and not hiding during Christmas in the bathroom, hitting pipes because you can't take your family in the middle of a Christmas party. That's how it was like.

More often than not, my face is drenched in tears, because I am living my best life. I'm literally living my best life, and things just keep getting better and better and better and better. That is because I have been doing the same thing for the past two years. Discipline is very important for musicians.

KWL:
And recovering addicts, also.

Stephany:
Very, yeah. I've had two relapses, but it's part of it. It's part of it.

KWL:
Incredible.

Stephany:
Pretty awesome. I've had a very awesome, good support system also. I mean, they hold me accountable to what I said I was going to do and I'm nothing without a support system.

KWL:
Do you use any programs here in Waco?

Stephany:
Cenikor helped me quite a bit. Props to them. I didn't pay a single penny, either, that was a blessing. It was an outpatient treatment, and I did other programs there as well.

If you manifest good things, and that's what's going to happen. Very good example, there's that thing on the internet that says

“If you are thinking of spotting a yellow car, you will spot a yellow car.” Look for opportunity, you'll find it. Simple as that.

 

You can follow Stephany on Instagram here to follow her journey. You can catch her bartending at Hecho en Waco during the week or at various open mics. She will be the opening act for Out on the Brazos in October.

 
Katherine Selman