Listening to Uruguay is like riding the subway home late at night in a new city—dreamy and metallic, full of energy and possibility. The band is composed of Stepha Murphy and Benjamin Dawson-Sivalia, who are based in New York City. Today we’re premiering the video for their trance-like single “Sabrina Segment,” a fashion-infused exploration of Stepha and Ben’s personal experiences:
I chatted with Stepha about her transition from modeling to music, the duo’s move from North Carolina to New York, and how to turn doubt into inspiration.
ANNA WHITE: We’re premiering your video for “Sabrina Segment.” It’s beautiful! What was your inspiration?
STEPHA MURPHY: Thank you! The inspiration was actually pretty personal. It was Ben and my experience of coming to New York told through my perspective, but I kind of did it as a different character, which is Sabrina.
Did you direct the video yourself?
I did! I directed and produced it myself. It was the first I’ve ever done!
Oh my gosh! That’s so cool.
It was a really interesting process. It definitely took a lot to pull together!
Your bio says you use Uruguay as a platform to explore “creatively through music, visuals, fashion and art.” How do you approach the intersection of these different entities?
We do pretty much everything ourselves, so we kind of have to use all our creative skills to put everything together. When we have a show, we reach out ourselves, we do all our posters, all our Instagrams and stuff. We collaborate with people for shoots, so fashion is involved as well. Even for this video, I got the chance to direct and produce it, which was amazing, but we also got to work with a local designer, Korina Emmerich, and her stuff is amazing! We just kind of have to use all our skills to put everything together, and that’s part of what we love about it.
That’s amazing that you guys can do it all! It’s definitely clear that fashion is an important part of the “Sabrina Segment” video. How do you relate fashion to music?
Well, I was modeling before we were a band, so fashion is very much a huge part of my life, personally. And with this video, we reached out to a bunch of local stylists that we kind of know, and we happened to luck into Korina for this. She has a very distinct look and presence. Like for the tattoo scene, the yellow coat that I’m wearing is all hers. We told her the theme we wanted, and she totally went inside of our heads and just pulled it out.
How did you transition from modeling to making music?
Well, when I came to New York initially with Ben he was producing and I was scouted, so I came here to model. We made “Sabrina Segment” the song originally for a drag documentary based out of Bushwick. I wrote it and recorded it in like five minutes, and I had a casting to go to so I told Ben what I wanted it to sound with and then I left, and it just kind of came together! Ben was like, “You know, we should really do this, make a band,” and I was like, “You’re right!” I love modeling, I love fashion, but I also wanted more control and more creativity, and the ability to be my own person within it. Especially for a model of color, it’s not always as easy—you have to be kind of industry—standard perfect. I wanted to be that, but I also wanted to be myself, and so this was a great way of doing that.
I like that! Do you find music to be more personal than modeling?
I think in certain ways. It depends on how much you put into it. I think both of them are great outlets. With modeling, you kind of have to transition into a character and portray that into a picture, which is kind of magical when it comes together, but with music, since I’ve gotten to write a lot of things, it’s been kind of a release. Especially being here in the city, and being young and kind of vulnerable a lot of the time, it’s been a wonderful release getting your feelings heard and also having people listen to it and feel things back. And as a woman, I have a lot of feelings to write about. I don’t know, it is kind of a control I guess, but you also get to let go of control and let your feelings pour out.
You moved from North Carolina to New York. How has the scene in New York impacted you differently from that in North Carolina? Those are very different places!
Oh man, yeah! Well, for me personally, in North Carolina, a lot of the time I felt kind of like a second class citizen, because I’m mixed, and also because I’m a woman, but that didn’t impact me as much as my race did. I didn’t feel as equal of a person there. But I definitely felt more sheltered, which was nice. Here, anything and everything does happen, but at the same time, I don’t feel defined by my race anymore. For Ben it’s kind of the opposite, because we live in Harlem, particularly Spanish Harlem, where everyone’s like Puerto Rican and Dominican. People notice his race first-off, and at home I don’t think that was really the case for him. It’s definitely a different dichotomy for sure!
It makes it easier to connect, really. Because we know what the other one is going through, even though it was at different times in our lives.
You both have very traditional music backgrounds, yet your music right now is very non-traditional instrumentation wise. Has your classical training contributed to how you approach more experimental music?
Maybe! Ben has this whole thing where his beats, they go off strategically and they get back on, and it’s very non-traditional. I don’t know, maybe we’re rebelling a little subconsciously and we don’t know it! But also, I think very much our music is how we are feeling, and it’s very passion-driven. I think that also rings true for when we play classical things, because when you play classical music, most people know the pieces, but what sets it apart when you play it is your passion behind it. You end up being very passionate when you play, and I think when we play music that passion is still there, even though the genre and the structure and the instrumentation is all completely different.
I love that! Finally: If you had one piece of advice for Rookie readers, what would it be?
I think that there’s value in failure and in people kind of saying that you can’t do something. Like if someone ever comes to you and says, “I don’t believe in you, I don’t think you can do this, you’re different and that’s bad,” I think instead of taking that letting it stop you from doing anything, you can use that as fuel to prove them wrong. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and that’s what I’m going to keep doing. Now I find inspiration in people not believing in me, because I can be like, “Let me prove you wrong! Just give me the chance!” Just demand that respect, because people aren’t always going to give it to you. And that doesn’t make you any less of a person. ♦