“I was in the gym locker room jumping up and down, screaming, like ‘I’ve got number one,’” exclaims Steph Wells (who performs under the name SUMif) as she shares how her single, "Lay Down," made it to number one on Hype Machine. When I played the song for a colleague, he described it as “sitting on a bench swing and eating a cup of ice cream under a summer night.” This laissez-faire description captures everything about the record: It is a feel-good pop song which weaves and flows to your eardrum at the beginning, before the playful and punchy bassline hits and the subtle chorus floats above.
When Wells started the SUMif project, a little over a year ago, getting blogged about was only a small part of the plan. However, reaching the top of Hype Machine was completely unexpected. “One of my goals on my list was to get on Hype Machine. Just have one Hype Machine blog post one of my songs,” explains Wells. Then one morning in the summer of 2016, she woke to see her song on the charts. “Over the next two days watching [it] get up to the twenties, teens and the top ten, I actually said I didn’t think it was going to make it number one," she says.
Yet, it did make number one and describes the experience as an enchanting moment of luck. “Hype Machine has a three-day burn rate,” she explains, “So after 72-hours it disappears. Within a minute, after I caught it at number [and] I took a screenshot, it disappeared.”
I ask about what it is like making pop music in the Bay Area, which has not been known for the genre in recent years, and she immediately sees the opportunity. “I think it's great for me to be in the Bay right now because I am able to stand out,” she says. “If I were in LA trying to do the same thing, I’m getting played on Live 105 up here, I wouldn’t be played on terrestrial radio in LA,” she explains.
While SUMif has experienced great success over the past year, it has come with its challenges. Wells explains how she is still trying to find her space in the San Francisco music scene. “I haven’t really been very exposed to other musicians,” she confides. “I do collaborate with friends on lyrics, but for music, I write it all myself, and I think [if] I were somewhere like LA it would be much different,” she says. “I would be able to be in the room with a lot of different producers. And it would be a more collaborative process; whereas up here I haven’t really found the community,” she shares. Later on in the interview, I ask if she thinks she can achieve everything she wants from the Bay Area music scene. She pauses a little before responding, “I hope so.”
We speak a few days before she plays the Christmas party for Popscene and she is clearly stoked “To be playing a Popscene show at Rickshaw Stop, to close out the year, is like truly a dream come true for me,” she says. The live performance is a big part of the SUMif experience, and it is something she has worked hard on throughout the year. Her first show as SUMif in San Francisco was to a sold-out Brick and Mortar Music Hall and featured inflatable saxophones. “A lot of people say I’m better live than on recording which is what I like to hear," she shares. "It means that the live show is fun.”
The more we talk, the more the notion of fun, and of being grateful for positive experiences, seeps into every topic we cover. From “I’m writing the music that I love" to the year has "just gone Fantastic!” Wells is happy to be building on the project she started a year ago. I ask about her plans for 2017, and she is enthusiastic in her response: “Nothing and everything. I have hope and lots of ambitions,” she says. “I plan to release more music [and] play a shit ton more shows!”