The moody tones that open SUMif’s song “Love Shop” sound almost funereal, as if you were fumbling through a crowd of ambiguous mourners. But when the first verse opens — and even more so when the chorus picks up — it becomes an unabashedly driving power-pop confection with an
SUMif, government name Steph Wells, is a native Angeleno who’s lived in San Francisco for several years and returns to her Southern California home for songwriting odysseys from time to time. But she spent a period in Nashville, where mentors tried to instill in her the principle that lyrics were the paramount concern. It didn’t stick.
“I will truly stand by myself being a melody-first person,” SUMif tells SF Weekly. “You get a melody stuck in your head, and you don’t get words stuck in your head necessarily.”
She enjoys San Francisco for giving her the ability to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, through a friend who’s a promoter who books her as local support for bigger touring acts and gets her songs played on ALT 105.3. That might not happen in Los Angeles, she says. But Music City was formative.
“The thing about Nashville that’s cool is that you have someone who’s got a No. 1 song on the radio and they will write a song with someone who’s brand-new in town,” SUMif says.
Having played the main stage of San Francisco Pride 2018, the self-described “journey-woman” has the advantage of eclecticism, making a concerted effort to work in a number of modes. And she did so almost entirely on the strength of 10 or so singles, from the hiccoughing electropop swirl of “In with Me” to the comparatively sultry “Disco Love.” With Pink Skies, she opens for Los Wálters at Cafe du Nord on Friday, March 1.
“My favorite thing in the world is just being at a show or a festival with my friends and just dancing, and so my main goal with my project is to give that experience back to people,” she says, adding, “I usually wear light-up shoes and try to make it a party.”
A huge fan of Scandinavian girl-pop — Tove Lo, Dagny, Sigrid, MØ, and the like — SUMif combines the levelheadedness of her music-business degree with a desire to make queer desire pass without notice. (The octopus emoji on her Instagram is there because the weird sea aliens embody the art of being yourself, she says.) And while there are echoes of Taylor Swift in her work, it’s Tove Lo who’s her real model.
“She started as a writer, working with [Swedish producer] Max Martin to also be her own pop star,” SUMif says. “But not on an Ariana Grande level. She crushes the festival circuit, but she’s still in a way somewhat underground and not everyone knows her. She’s a killer writer, a killer performer. She’s my pop idol.”
SUMif, with Pink Skies supporting Los Wálters, Friday, March 1, 8:30 p.m., at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market St. $12-$15, swedishamericanhall.com