More and more often, artists are using the power of music to either help or influence youth in need. When we first talked to Myra Gleason of Stereo RV, it seemed clear that our mission seemed to run parallel with her own experience with foster mentorship. She has been a mentor to kids in foster care since 2009. With her band’s newly released single (Human) out, we spoke to her about the song’s inspirations and her mentorship impact.
The name Stereo RV is unique. What’s the origin?
Gabe and I met at a singing competition in Portland in 2011. After realizing we had some musical chemistry (which later evolved into romantic chemistry) we decided to start writing songs. Our name Stereo RV took a few years to get to where it is now. We had some pretty awful band names until we sat down and talked with someone who said, “I hate your name, you need to change it.” We were then given wisdom on where a name should come from and that it has to stem from where we’ve been and who we are..
Stereo RV is the product of 3 years of living in an actual RV. Stereo is a play on words: dual and duo. Because Gabe is a beatboxer; a stereo was called a beatbox back in the day when radio first came out playing music on it. We didn’t become Stereo RV until the end of 2016. It took has a bit longer to find that sound and our brand that we felt confident to take into the world. We did put out some songs with another name but you won’t find them on the internet!
Are there any big touring dates and performances you are incredibly excited about?
Earlier this year we had the chance to be on a TEDx Stage discussing how Music moves Trauma. We are really excited for that video and performance to be released, so that’s been the most exciting. As of right now, we are gearing up for the fall with touring and creating a music festival in my hometown of Salem, Oregon. We are pairing these kids with our song Human to bring a “sister act meets original artists” experience to our community. Our community has cut art from the budgets in our school district that directly affects our kids, and more so, children in foster care hardly ever get to engage in these types of experiences due to the nature of their circumstance and the funding available to give them access to music in this form.
Your “Human” music video is so powerful; what was the motivation behind the visual and the lyrics?
It was incredibly important to both Gabe and I that we highlight what makes us human. My experiences that make me “human” are different than everyone else’s, especially our kids in foster care. The first line of the song is about a girl that I had mentored for years who had scars from self-harming. It took a long time to teach her that her past does not define her nor does it have a place in her future. I wanted her to embrace who she was confidently and not let what she had done define her.
How did you start mentoring foster kids?
In 2009, I spent time with a family in the church I was attending who had 5 boys in their home all in foster care. I got hired at the same agency and I’ve been there ever since.
For all of your years being a musical mentor for foster children, what has been your biggest takeaway? What has surprised you the most?
I believe the biggest takeaway has been understanding the power and role music plays, not just in our everyday lives, but theirs. This is their coping skill and mechanism. When they need to express how they feel, it’s through a song that they show me. Music has also been a trigger. certain songs will escalate them but also calm them down. It’s the power of sense memory. Once I can create the relationship with them, then we are really able to get into the feelings of music and how identifying the struggle in certain songs can help them move forward and heal.
The most surprising thing has been the way the kids react to the songs I’ve written about them and their experiences but in a universal way. One girl, I mentored who had listened to our song Human said “Myra, you wrote a song about me? It sounds just like me.” They’ve thanked me because no one is sharing their stories or taking the time to listen and really understand them. I had a real moment with a youth who called me from detention, frustrated and crying and I asked her if she wanted my advice or if she just needed me to listen. Her response was “I think I just need you to listen.”
I believe we as a society and as a community can get into the habit of listening to give advice instead of just listening to be a confidant. We can get so focused on feeling like it’s our responsibility to change someone and it’s not. What we need to do is become really good at listening without the intent on trying to change someone or give advice; we need be focused on letting them know that we hear them, and we are in their corner, regardless of what they’ve done or what they’re going through. We need to be present in conversations.
In your experience, how has learning music helped your life and the lives of your foster kids?
I got into music because it saved me from my own destruction. Writing became an outlet for all these feelings I had bottled inside. I could openly express how I felt in a chorus and 4 verses. It’s the reason why I am so passionate about young people but primarily kids in care playing an instrument and learning songwriting, creating opportunities for them to be exposed to music because they do not have the matured coping skills that they need due to the trauma they endured. Music becomes the words they can’t speak and the feelings they have a hard time expressing. Being able to teach a child writing patterns and get them into poetry to learn how to express how they feel has been so rewarding. I remember mentoring a young man in foster care and he allowed me to read his thoughts and his poems. Do you realize how much trust a child must have in you to share the deepest parts of their hearts? And then ask you for advice?
What’s the next step in your professional career?
The next step is to keep touring and putting out music. We have a new song called “Break Free” out April 6th, that is to bring awareness to our mental health culture. It’s really a goal of mine to create music that heals and restores.
We’re putting out a lot of thoughtful content on our YouTube page. The internet is a really great place to be right now so we’re gonna be all over it.