Utah singer’s first single celebrates ‘small moments’ after a brain injury

Steph Clotele releases “Be Here Now,” and talks about music as therapy.

(Jeffrey Flowers) Utah musician Steph Clotele, whose new single, "Be Here Now," was released on Dec. 13, 2023.

In her new single, “Be Here Now,” Utah musician Steph Clotele sings about being “right where you were meant to be” — and in the videos she made to promote the song, she captures quiet moments, she said, “that you never get to share with anyone, but are really important to you.”

Those moments, playing in slow motion, can be seen on Clotele’s Instagram account. They include Clotele swinging blissfully with a white skirt billowing around her. In another clip, she’s captured in a mirror dancing by herself.

The fragility of life is symbolized by wine spilling over a glass, then shattering on the floor. A clip shows her in a birthday hat and sunglasses, setting off a confetti popper — while another shows a cake being smashed in her face.

Each image is set over Clotele’s astronomical vocal range, in a stripped-down, touching track in which she sings: “Forget about your troubles, forget about your cares, forget about everything for a minute and just be here.”

“I wanted the videos to be those small moments that I really enjoy, just moments to be absorbed,” Clotele said, who says she thinks of things very cinematically.

Focusing on these moments also speaks to what guided Clotele to music in the first place — as a form of therapy after suffering a traumatic brain injury several years ago.

Part of that therapy involved a ukulele she bought online.

“It was this little tiny blue guy, and I loved it,” Clotele said, “because I was having a hard time using my limbs and remembering stuff. So strumming on it really became therapeutic.”

As her recovery progressed, she also started writing “Be Here Now” — a reminder to herself, she said, to be in the moment. “It’s really all you have. The future hasn’t happened yet and the past is past. This is it, right here.”

Clotele said, “There’s so much beauty and living your life and all the little moments, and we forget because we have these all encompassing lives and so many things that we have to do, and illness to deal with. … After everything that I went through, I would find myself like almost frustrated that I had so many problems. I just kept having to remind myself that I’m so much more well than I have been in a long time.”

The cover art for “Be Here Now” — which was released in mid-December and is available on streaming services — features Clotele wearing fake antlers, clutching a heart (from a cow, bought at a store), fake blood running down her arms and mouth.

“I’ve had that that image stuck in my head for a long time,” Clotele said. “I am an emotional person … I feel like I am always constantly eating [my] heart and emotions, so it’s very slick.”

Navigating a brain injury

Traumatic brain injury is usually caused by a forceful jolt, according to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

When Clotele was 23, she experienced two such jolts in accidents within a few months of each other. In the first, she was hit while riding her motorbike, and broke her jaw and leg. She was still recovering from that when the car she was riding in was T-boned on the passenger side where she was sitting. Clotele’s face hit the window and shattered it, and she also broke her collarbone.

“I hit my head super hard in both of them,” Clotele said. “But unlike a normal TBI, it was closed, so they didn’t really know what was going on for a while. So it took me almost a couple of years to figure out that it was a head injury.”

She spent the next few years recovering from those accidents, she said, adding that she still experiences TBI symptoms.

After the accidents, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, among other things. And, she said, her mental faculties and the way she used her body began to deteriorate.

“When I finally figured out what it was, I started going into lots of different types of therapy and support groups,” she said. “That stuff is hard, especially in the clinical environment, to keep doing physical therapy when it’s painful.”

Clotele said she eventually realized she needed to find something of her own to motivate her to relearn everything. That’s when she found the blue ukulele.

She also began to find other TBI survivors who found similar niches that worked for them, she said.

“That was the way people found healing,” she said. “All of the normal clinical stuff just was not as effective as when someone found something they really loved to do.”

As part of her current TBI symptoms, Clotele said she’s sensitive to light and temperature, and she gets migraines easily. She also has problems with balance and memory — which she combats with Post-It notes, planners and phone alarms, she said.

Because the TBI has an effect on remembering chords and lyrics, Clotele said she keeps a little book with those things in front of her while performing.

“There’s been several times where I’ve just had to relearn everything like I’ve never heard it before,” she said. “Sometimes it gets difficult, but there’s some part of my brain that slightly remembers [the music] and there’s something comforting about coming back to it. I like recording music so much because it preserves things for me with my memory, and it kind of keeps a part of me alive.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Little Lonesome (Chase Gillins and Steph Clotele) performs at the Carriage House Sessions open mic night at Cafe 140B in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 3, 2023.

‘The imperfection of music’

Clotele grew up in a conservative Latter-day Saint family, she said. They sang in church, but weren’t allowed to listen to a lot of music — though she grew up on musicals and movie soundtracks.

A few years ago, she started busking with her ukulele, so she could practice. She also shared her experiences with TBI on Instagram, which is how she connected with Chase Gillins — with whom she formed the folk duo Little Lonesome. (The duo is scheduled to perform on Feb. 10, as part of SLUG Magazine’s 35th anniversary party.)

Gillins, Clotele said, has been a major part of her musical journey. He invited her to gigs, and they often write and record together. They also helped start the Carriage House Sessions, a series of micro-venue concerts in The Avenues.

It was Gillins who heard Clotele sing “Be Here Now” and encouraged her to record it. Their recording process is collaborative, she said, as both enjoy recording on an MR-8 multi-track recorder, or using instruments that don’t entirely work any more.

“We both believe in the imperfection of music being the most beautiful part of it,” Clotele said. “Our vibe is very lo-fi in that way.”

When recording, Clotele said, “it always starts with just a little melody that is stuck in my head, and then I figure out the chords from there and see where I’m comfortable playing them.”

With “Be Here Now,” Clotele said they experimented with adding horns, but they felt too distracting from the song’s message. She also performed an acoustic version of the song at the Brain, Body and Soul Fest, a virtual music festival held in December to help raise awareness about the brain injury community.

Clotele said she plans to keep going with the Carriage House Sessions, and keep working on and sharing her music. Most of all, she said, she wants to keep sharing her experience as a TBI survivor and creative — and she wants to create a journal and planner for people with chronic illnesses or brain injuries.

“A lot of what a brain injury does is separate you from the way that your brain functions,” she said. “You lose a lot of executive function and control of your emotions and limbs, and you start to feel kind of alienated from yourself. A lot of chronic illnesses do that, especially mental illnesses. So being able to make music through all of that, where I feel like I lost myself, it really makes me feel like I have an identity again.”