Some consider talent to be an inborn quality. Others think of it as the product of an artist’s environment. Singer-songwriter Stephanie Carlin, a former East Ender and 2008 Hampton Bays High School graduate, thinks it’s a combination of the two.After demonstrating an early talent and passion for musical performance, she has spent the last several years harnessing her musical skills—allowing them to grow, develop and blossom while living and performing in and around New York City. Now, after spending several years refining her craft, Ms. Carlin is the lead singer of the band Avidya and the Kleshas. On June 5, the group celebrated the release of its debut album, “Tree of Series.”
“Growing up on the island grounded me and helped me develop as an artist,” she said during a recent telephone interview. “While there were very limited outlets to help me grow musically on the East End, that only pushed me harder to develop a sense of self and individualism.”
The story of Ms. Carlin’s musical career is one of persistence, and it is inextricably bound to her early years here. Starting with her time as a student at Hampton Bays High School, she became involved with the school’s music program in the middle and high school choruses, making connections and friendships that would help define her sense of art. While she was participating in these school groups, she met Debra Liso, the current choral director at Hampton Bays High School, whom Ms. Carlin described as “one of the most important influences on my early musical career.”
In response, the teacher said that Ms. Carlin is an impressive singer and musician.
“Stephanie always had a talent for writing lyrics and harmonies,” Ms. Liso recalled. “She was always a top music student in both vocal and instrumental ensembles. It has been both a great pleasure and inspiration to be a part of her journey as a musician.”
According to Ms. Carlin, East End performance venues also helped give her confidence in pursuing a musical career. Southampton Town’s annual “Battle of the Bands” event provided her with a platform to gain meaningful stage experience, she said. She and some of her fellow musicians placed twice in this contest, coming in fourth place in 2006 and then winning the contest the following year, she reported.
The experience gave Ms. Carlin and her bandmates the confidence to say, “We’re not terrible. We’ve got something good to offer with our music,” she said.
It was during her senior year of high school that Ms. Carlin began to make frequent trips into the city to further hone her talent. It was there that she recorded a solo EP, “The Agony and Ecstasy Of.”
The tracks represent some of her earliest attempts to find her own artistic voice.
“Every artist starts by trying to find his or her own style, but then eventually it evolves,” she mused. “I started that way and I soon realized that didn’t have the musical vocabulary that I wanted. So I went to go find a band to give me that new language.”
And find them she did. After putting an ad for musicians up on Craigslist, percussionist Wes Reid and bassist Russ Flynn responded and soon became Ms. Carlin’s bandmates. Eventually, electric guitarist Xander Naylor and pianist Javi Santiago joined and became Avidya and the Kleshas.
Being a band influenced by several musical genres, Avidya and the Kleshas is a difficult group to categorize musically—a fact that Ms. Carlin said she fully embraces.
“The band has backgrounds rooted in jazz. What makes our music sound jazzy is its fluidity and its spontaneity,” she said. “I picked [my bandmates] because of their musical openness and their special ability to listen to and communicate with each other.”
Thoughtful communication is a key element to the music of Avidya and the Kleshas, she said. The tracks are colored with unexpected, yet well-crafted changes in tempo and instrumentation that require fans to engage in thoughtful, close listening, while Ms. Carlin’s lyrics call for the same response from listeners, as they explore the role of various emotions in their lives, she continued.
“Ignorance is the root cause of all our afflictions. Bringing this inner turmoil into light in a free and honest way is what I am all about now,” she said.
While honest expression is a goal for Carlin in her lyrics, so too is emotional catharsis and changing lives for the better, she added.
“I think that musicians are healers,” she said. “I think that they are just as powerful as politicians or doctors. We musicians have sound. Sound is vibration. Vibration is energy. With energy you can either heal or do harm. I am trying to engage in healing with my music.”
To learn more, visit avidyaandthekleshas.com.