Interviewing Peyton Still is like chatting with a friend. She’s casual and honest with her answers, bringing levity and jokes where she can and sharing her serious side when it matters. The humility she brings forth as she talks about her growth since she began to create music is enlightening, endearing, and all too relatable for anyone that looks back at0 their younger self.
Discussing her start with music, the singer-songwriter shares how she didn’t come from a music family and that she didn’t grow up surrounded by music. Her connection to music, however, stems from her long love of poetry since she was a little kid.
“Granted, it wasn’t good,” Peyton starts to say about her poetry, laughing as she discusses the beginning of her passion for writing and music. “But I was always trying to come up with little songs. Then I started taking guitar lessons because I essentially wanted to put music to all of the things that I was writing.”
At fifteen, she began her guitar lessons. Guitar lessons morphed into open mic nights where she performed her original music which led her to be the artist she is today. “All throughout high school I was doing that,” she recalls. “[That] was how it all started for me.”
Peyton finds it hard to hold back her soft laughter as TEENPLICITY brings up the topic of the first song she ever wrote. “Oh my gosh, it was so bad,” she says, the tone of her voice is one anyone would recognize – that which one uses when dealing with second-hand embarrassment from the things done when one was younger.
“I wrote a song called ‘Imperfectly Perfect’ and basically the whole song is about, you know, not fitting in and being confident in who you are and what you got and all that stuff. It’s very cheesy.” She remembers performing the song during the open mic nights she did when she was starting out. “Now my parents still remember the song and they were like, ‘That song is burned into my memory! You sang it so many times!’” Peyton barely gets through lightly imitating her parents before her laughter cracks her resolve.
Those open mic nights helped Peyton find the current career path that she’s on. She thinks of herself as the type of person who sets her eyes on something and then that thing is all she wants, so it’s hard for her to come up with a specific moment of when she knew she wanted to pursue music as a career. Yet it was once she started doing open mic nights and shows that, according to the singer-songwriter, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
If she had to pin down a moment in particular though, she cites graduating from high school as being the sticking point.
“I hadn’t put any music out during high school,” Peyton says. “I was really quiet about it because it’s kind of different than what everyone else in high school is doing. I didn’t want people to know. So I didn’t put music out in high school, I just did local gigs and stuff like that.” When the time came after her graduation to decide where she would go next, she forwent the typical college and university experience and instead focused on music. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try and make a career out of this.’ Then that’s when I graduated high school [and] I started putting out singles and people were like, ‘Oh! Oh, she writes music!’”
Writing has always been an integral part of her life. Now that she’s able to put her words to sound, she’s starting to recognize a few patterns when writing songs.
For Peyton, her songs always begin with the melody. “Some people are like, ‘Lyrics first!’ or ‘Concept first!’ but I’m always melody first and the melodies usually come to me while I am driving in the car.” She muses, “I don’t know why but I’ll be driving and then I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ and I’ll hear a melody in my head and I pull out my little voice memos app and I’ll record it. Then when I get home, I’ll be like, ‘Okay, can I do anything with this and that?’”
While most of her songs, according to Peyton, have started in such a way, she acknowledges the different approach that she took with her debut single in 2019, Forest Through the Trees. “It was a concept, like I love the idea – forest through the trees,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, that would be cool to kind of talk about this sort of thing.’ So that’s how that one started, but all the other ones have started in my car.”
The bridge of Forest Through the Trees brings one to this place inside their head, easily able to imagine Peyton standing amongst trees and just singing to nothing and no one, letting her voice carry in the wind and through the leaves. It’s that kind of unique measure with her sound that sets Peyton’s music apart from not even just other artists in pop, but other artists across multiple genres.
Discussing her musical sound, she is comfortable putting it in the category of “Pop Singer-Songwriter”. With her sound being pop infused with a mix of techniques from other genres, Peyton says of her lyrics, “I feel like my lyrics are how I talk in real life. Some people, they love metaphors – which I do include metaphors in my songs sometimes – but really, I just want to feel like I’m talking to people how I would normally talk. So very conversational, I guess you could say.”
It’s fitting then that, as she continues, she says, “I just want to create music that people can vibe out to and they feel like they know me. That’s all I really want.”
Her voice, she says, gets called ‘soulful’ a lot. This is understandable as listeners are able to hear the raw vulnerability she brings forth in every song, highlighting the good moments she sings about and the painful experiences too. “I’m not really trying to do anything,” she continues, referencing the titles her music has been given by others. “It just happened.”
Of course, it didn’t just happen. It has been years of learning and modifying her craft until she has found a place that she’s more comfortable with. Part of that, and the incredible evolution since she started working on her music, is credited to some advice she got when she was only fifteen.
“I thought that I was like some superstar, you know, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I write songs. I’m going to be famous and everything is going to fall into place for me!’ And one of my mentors and producers that I work with, he, when I was fifteen, told me to hold off on putting out music,” she shares.
In quarantine, I can write whatever I want, whenever I want, and I don’t have anything in the future that is adding any sort of pressure.
Peyton recalls being advised to really listen to a lot of music and try and figure out her sound first, something she’s grateful for. “I think when I first started writing, I was very into folky, singer-songwriter stuff. So my songs were very like, girl-and-guitar and really slow and storyteller kind of music,” she describes. “I’m so glad that he told me to hold off on putting out music because where I started with Forest Through the Trees, even though that it’s more like in the singer-songwriter vein, it’s definitely evolved into more pop singer-songwriter instead of the folky vibe that I thought I wanted when I first started writing.”
Listening to Peyton’s discography from her earliest release of Forest Through the Trees to her latest of Healing, the evolution is evident.
Healing came about during quarantine as Peyton coped with a recent breakup. “It was talking about all the things that I wish I could do to distract myself from going through a breakup, which I couldn’t do because I was in quarantine.”
According to the singer-songwriter, creating the song became a form of therapy for her. “I couldn’t finish the song until I was really in a good place and felt like I was finally over everything. Then once the song was finished, I could take a step back from it and be like, ‘Oh, okay, this is how I feel and it’s okay.’”
Peyton adds as a reminder, not just to her listeners but also to herself, “Healing is about reminding people not to give yourself such a hard time when it comes to getting over a breakup and that everyone heals differently. There’s really no amount of time, so don’t be so hard on yourself.”
The chorus of the song contains TEENPLICITY’s favorite lyric, ‘Healing’s hard to measure,’ – one that Peyton echoes as her favorite as well. It is a sentiment that took her a little while to accept and understand.
“It’s so dumb but I used to get so mad at myself,” she continues, “I would have a super great day and then the next day I would be really sad and I would beat myself up about it.” She remembers feeling like she had turned a corner and then questioning herself about why she’d feel sad when it’s been months, thinking that she shouldn’t be upset anymore. “Then I wrote this song and I was like, ‘I bet there are definitely other people that have felt the way that I felt.’ It’s a reminder.” she says.
“I feel like with all of my songs that I have written, I like to give myself little reminders or advice, even if I don’t take it all the time. At least the thought is there,” she says, a laugh breaking through her serious mindset, “that I’m trying to give myself advice.”
Framing the next question about how quarantine has affected her creativity, TEENPLICITY references that it has impacted everyone differently and not everyone can be like Taylor Swift who had written, recorded, and published an entire album during the time at home (the interview took place just days before Swift dropped her second quarantine album, evermore). Peyton laughs at that before revealing that she really hit her stride during quarantine once she had finished her literal and metaphorical healing.
“Definitely at the end of quarantine was when I was the most creative,” she says at the beginning of December. “In March/April, I was not creative whatsoever. I was just sad and all that stuff. When I finished Healing, I turned the corner and was able to write all of these songs. I’ve had so much free time on my hands that it’s like, ‘What else am I going to do?’”
She confesses with a laugh, “Songwriting is basically my only hobby other than hanging out with my dog.”
Peyton credits the surge in her songwriting towards the end of quarantine to a few things. To start off, she says, “I had so much time on my hands and I didn’t feel any pressure. Usually I’m like, ‘Okay, I need to sit down and write a song because I have a couple of deadlines and I need to get it done.’” For her quarantine experience though, that tight weight of certain timeframes and expectations was lifted. “In quarantine, I can write whatever I want, whenever I want, and I don’t have anything in the future that is adding any sort of pressure. That was so nice, just being able to write without anything in the back of my mind being like, ‘Peyton, if you don’t write something today, there’s [still] a deadline coming up.’”
That’s not to say that there weren’t things that the singer-songwriter absolutely hated about quarantine, but she’s choosing to look on the positive side and be thankful that that pressure was removed for that time period and allowed her creativity to flow at its own pace. “It’s just my personality – I always put so much pressure on myself all the time for literally no reason,” she says, before coming upon a realization she had during her time at home. “If I want to stop doing music like tomorrow, I can go do that. No one’s making me do anything.” While she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon, she is still grateful to be able to write with zero expectations. “It’s just so nice to write without anything else to do.”
No pressure creatively didn’t mean that she didn’t hit writer’s block or that she didn’t need a break. When it came time to cope with these unprecedented times or to step away from that, or even step away from songwriting for a breather, Peyton focused her energy elsewhere.
There’s so many people that I want to write with, just because writing is definitely my thing.
“I usually work out,” she says of what she did when she wasn’t writing music. “I love TV shows. I am a huge fan of Little Fires Everywhere. It’s really good; I’m obsessed with that.”
Her voice gets a hint of embarrassment as she continues, laughing while she admits, “During quarantine, I got really into reality TV shows, and I’m not talking about like Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I am talking about 90 Day Fiancé. It is so good!”
Peyton continues through her laughter as she details her binge, saying, “I think there’s seven or eight seasons and there’re at least thirty episodes in each season, so that has been keeping me [entertained] when I need to step away.”
The other areas in her life that she turns to when she needs to step away include her friends and her newly adopted pup, a four-year-old Springer Spaniel she got during quarantine named Finley.
“I always wanted a dog and just never pulled the trigger on it, and then I was in my little apartment all by myself. I was like, ‘This sucks, I need a dog.’ So now I have Finley and she’s the best thing ever. Definitely having her has been amazing.”
Having Finley is something that, after the interview, Peyton relates to as having a child as she got excited for all the toys she could buy Finley for Christmas.
“My family, we’ve always adopted from the Springer Spaniel Rescue Society. I’ve grown up with Springer Spaniels and I really wanted a Springer Spaniel as my first dog and then I got her.” She acknowledges what a perfect match her and Finley are, confessing that she could never have gotten a puppy as Finley’s energy level and age compliments hers well. “When I’m writing or doing anything, she just chills on my bed,” Peyton adds with a laugh. “It’s amazing. [She’s] like my little buddy.”
While it is doubtful that Finley will be featured on any of Peyton’s upcoming music, there are plenty of other collaborators that she’d love to work with. Among them is British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas, who Peyton expresses she’d love to write with. She also adds Maggie Rogers to the list as well. “I would die to work with Maggie Rogers,” she gushes. “I just think she’s the coolest.” She goes on to say, “There’s so many people that I want to write with, just because writing is definitely my thing.”
Looking to the next five years, TEENPLICITY asks Peyton what goals she’d like to have accomplished in that time frame. First on her list is to go to the Grammys. She follows that up by saying, “I would love for one of my songs to be on the Billboard charts. That would be super cool. And I would love to be signed to a label. Those are my goals.”
While discussing her goals, she adds that she has made a habit of writing down the ones she has accomplished that way she can look back at all she’s done over the past year.
“I’m big on journaling. I have this page in my journal where I write down like every three months [the] cool things that I’ve accomplished or gotten to be a part of,” Peyton explains. “I looked at it last night and just, you know, [looked] at the beginning of the year in January to now, all of the cool stuff that I’ve gotten to do, even in quarantine.”
She admits that it’s easy for her to get caught up in the madness, happy she did one cool thing but immediately looking to what she’ll do next. “Being able to look back at it and be like, ‘Oh my goodness. I’ve really done a lot of really cool stuff in the past year.’ You just don’t realize when you’re in it, doing it,” Peyton says.
With that philosophy and positive habit in mind, the singer-songwriter is looking towards all the good possibilities that 2021 will have. “I’m really excited for 2021. It’s my golden year,” she says before explaining, “I don’t know if you what that is but I’m a big believer in it. I’m turning twenty-on on January 21st of 2021. So I keep telling everyone 2021 is going to be my year – there’s not many people that can say that.”
She adds as a joke, “2021 better be a big year. I’m betting on it!”
There’s no doubt that for fans of Peyton, and really anyone that loves honest, heartfelt, and incredibly raw music, that there’s plenty to look forward to as well as this new year continues on.
“I actually have a lot of music lined up for 2021, so I’m really excited. The next couple of months, I will be working on some stuff that will be gearing up for 2021. But definitely, there will be something dropping in January for sure.”
When TEENPLICITY asks if that special release in January might be in celebration of her birthday, Peyton simply laughs and says, “Yes, I think so.”
You can listen to Peyton’s single Healing on Spotify now!