“I was terrified the first time on stage”

“I was terrified the first time on stage”

A room of one’s own

12-04-2023 · Interview

Richard Stevenson (25), a master’s student of Media Studies: Digital Cultures, pays 550 euros per month for a 14 m2 room in a student house on Heugemerweg, Maastricht.

The guitar is the first thing you see when you walk into this room, quickly followed by the only poster on the wall: Bob Dylan. Music plays an important role in Richard Stevenson’s life, and he is especially interested in singer-songwriters. This is because he writes music himself. Although he doesn’t know the exact model of the guitar that sits next to him on the couch – he got it at a second-hand store – he does know how to play it.

When he arrived in Maastricht for his master’s degree in Digital Cultures in August 2022, he longed to perform in a new place and to “reinvent myself in a new environment”. He played his songs for his Canadian romantic interest, who really liked his music. It gave him the confidence to enter the singer-songwriter event at Muziekgieterij in January 2023. He says he felt like he dissociated the whole time, and he couldn’t take anyone’s compliments seriously. “I always have doubts that people will get my songs and relate to them.” However, the second time – last month – he had more confidence and even wished he had played more songs.

Loneliness

He loves the applause and attention of the audience, but his main reason to make music is to combat loneliness. He grew up in a small town, Kilkeel, in Ireland, where he was constantly surrounded by family and friends. It was a warm environment; almost everyone in Kilkeel knew him. But people also had fixed opinions about him. It was difficult to break through that.

How different is Maastricht, where he is just another face in the crowd! It gives him a sense of freedom, also when he is on stage. But – there is always a but – it’s not easy to make new friends here, he says. When you’re in a master’s programme, most of your fellow students already have an established social network. Besides that, other people’s schedules and classes combined with his own make it difficult to do something fun spontaneously. He believes this is a problem that all international students face.

Alcohol

Even though it hasn’t been easy to meet people, he does have a group of friends now. When they go out, it is usually to a pub or a bar. “Alcohol is a necessary part of a social life in Maastricht”, he says.

Lining the shelf next to his mirror is a collection of empty hard liquor bottles – tequila, gin and vodka. He didn’t drink them all by himself, but took the bottles from parties for decoration. The first time he got drunk was a week before his 18th birthday, but now it feels like drinking is part of his weekly routine. He loves Guinness (“Like all Irishmen do”, he jokes), but he’s looking forward to taking a break from alcohol in April, when he will go to Canada to visit his romantic interest. Quitting alcohol for a while, just like getting up on stage, “is my way of doing something unusual, which I crave in my life”. And, by the way: “I would never drink alone. Drinking is a social event. I would be concerned if I felt the need to drink alone.”

Plants to liven things up

The room is decorated with plants and flowers. This is his first time owning plants; some are not in the best condition, as he hasn’t quite found his green fingers yet. He likes having them anyway. They liven up the room and make him feel responsible for looking after something. On the desk in the centre of his room he has put a cactus wearing a sombrero hat and a moustache, named Maurice (by a friend of his).

Next to Maurice lies a book by the author Eckhart Tolle entitled The Power of Now, which he is planning to read soon. “I’m caught up between a past and an unknown future. My life is lacking a spiritual component. That’s why I want to focus on the now and be more mindful.” For Stevenson, a part of being more mindful comes in the form of writing in a journal with a lock, which he does from time to time. He writes when he is struggling with something, or when he gets inspired to jot down new lyrics.

Photo: Ellen Oosterhof

Categories: news_top, People
Tags: guitar,singer song writer,heugem,bob dylan,green fingers,instagram

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