Connect with us
May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Featured Stories

Will Stucky: Taking Up Space

by Sandé LollisMay 2024

Will Stucky

Will Stucky and I met twice in his upstairs apartment in University Heights to chat about all the things that make him him. The place is bright and airy, with French doors that open out onto a deck and a view of eucalyptus trees in abundance. It feels like a treehouse. Not since my own late ’70s-era apartment have I seen it, but he has a potted pothos with long, healthy vines strung up along the open beams of the high ceiling. The vibe is clean and organized; it feels purposeful.

There is a quiet thoughtfulness, a soothing way in his movements that says he’s not originally from California. In fact, Will grew up in the small town of Tahlequah in northeastern Oklahoma, where he knew most people he graduated with and still keeps in touch with several. Small towns sometimes carry the stigma of having a narrow vision of the world and the arts, but, fortunately, Will’s parents introduced both him and his brother early to music and the arts in general—and encouraged and cultivated their involvement. They both began violin lessons at age five; Will continued until he was 16, when he took up the piano and guitar. His mother was the director of the town’s arts council, which meant that going to art exhibits, meeting the artists, and hearing them talk about their process and mediums, was a normal part of life. They were also connected with the orchestra and choir directors at the university. Collectively, these experiences instilled in him a profound acceptance and appreciation of all things creative.

While earning a music composition degree in college in Oklahoma City, he started an indie folk-rock band heavily influenced by the Wallflowers. After graduating, the band did a do-it-yourself tour through the Midwest and the South and, after playing in bars, ended up finding their way into church gigs. There, they encountered young people who actually wanted to listen to new music, and he felt validated as an artist. This would be his first sense of community as an adult.

To Will, the most magical, beautiful thing in life is to share. Initially, his motivation to make music is therapeutic. Writing allows him the space to explore what is really going on with him, to hash out what is in his head and his heart. It allows him to express himself in ways he wouldn’t normally, to use language he wouldn’t in daily conversation. But he thinks it’s okay in a song; by removing linguistic barriers, it clears the deck and makes it possible for his songs to resonate with others on a different level because of the inherent similarities between all of us and our stories, our entangled humanness. That’s what drives him to create, to make that connection.

There have been times when he lost that. He shares about living in Los Angeles, “I spent all of 2019 just kind of by myself, realizing that I didn’t have a lot of really close friends in LA. I had some college friends that were there, some family that was there. But they were in their own social circle, which was kind of weird in your 30s to make friends. So, I would try to be social with them and then a lot of them were also planning on moving away. It was hard to sort of forge ahead and make a community. And so, I kind of poured myself into music because, you know, it was, like, do the day job and then clock out, and then it’s, like, okay, I don’t really feel like going to meet strangers at bars. That doesn’t sound fun to me. And so, I just kind of picked up a guitar and started, you know, using that as this therapy for the present situation; I kind of did some stream-of-consciousness sort of writing until eventually it was, like, hey, I really enjoy writing.”

Landing here in January of 2021 has been all about bringing him back to a place of connection. Having lived in Oklahoma City, Houston, and LA, he says San Diego feels like a big city version of his hometown, although with the cost of living, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to call it that. But for now, we talk about turning points. He thinks back on each little thing that made him feel like he discovered something about himself, what he was capable of, and what brings him joy. After spending time making music and seeing beyond the illusion of glamour, he’s come to realize for himself that “we’re all just people wanting to share something, in whatever way that happens.” That’s reassuring. Going through extreme highs and lows has taught him to look for creative ways to express them and to figure out those emotions.

One such turning point was breaking away from the church community where he had been taught that his purpose in being creative was solely to help build the kingdom of God. He found this led to false humility, preventing him from allowing himself to feel proud of the good he was doing. They believed his good should only come from a “place of praise or admiration to God,” rather than expressing something inherent within himself that he simply enjoyed articulating. While there, he ultimately lost his joy for creating. Thankfully, after leaving, he was able to find it again, and he came to accept that being creative is a brave path to discovering himself and what he feels honestly.

If he were to incorporate a concept of God into his life now, it would be embracing the magic of community. He explains, “That is where you can look at another person and, you know, feel one with them.” He believes that music amplifies this connection to another level, where he’s able to hear what’s happening creatively and can join in. He says, “Somehow, there is this weird thing that happens among creatives where you’re doing something bigger than just yourself and it has a greater impact than just yourself.”

Along those lines, another pivotal moment for Will came when he met Ben Grace and the Writers Round San Diego community. Ben, a most welcoming host, encouraged him to drop his name in the hat for the open mic. Will recalls, “I hadn’t experienced this reaction when I shared things in a while. I don’t know, like getting feedback from people that I respect artistically was a huge thing. Where it was, like, oh, I am okay. I’m not bad at this. Maybe I should lean into this a little bit more.”

Through time spent with that community, he started to realize that songwriting is easier for him if he defines his canvas. At the church, they had wanted everything to be big and open and to take away all structure. They believed that God didn’t want to be put in a box and that he shouldn’t put anything he did in a box either. Musically, for Will, that took it too far. He began to appreciate form and understand that it has purpose. Form is a canvas he can paint on, and it helps him to pinpoint and find the direction for creating. Song prompts are the same: a bit of a kick, a starting block to start off the race toward his own fulfilment.

“It feels like it’s a new discovery that I’m enjoying, you know, sometimes boundaries are a good thing for creativity.” The prompts have guided him to write songs that are less personal and more universal. “I write in between the super high and the super low and just allow it to be a creative process,” he explains. Then he wonders, “Can I be inspired by anything?” More often than not, he finds that inspiration is actually intention.

Having such intention fuels his passion and motivates him to take great care to preserve it. His intention behind sharing isn’t about pursuing worldly success, finding labels, or making a “shit ton of money.” It’s more about fostering connections, sharing something that feels personally meaningful. For him, success means maintaining the drive to create and share, listening to those around him, and perpetuating the cycle of creativity. He’s familiar with feeling that dreaded lull in creativity and questioning his purpose. What keeps him going is the inspiration to share and belief in what he’s creating, with the hope of inspiring others in return.

In the middle of all that inspiration, he still has fears. Above all, he just doesn’t want to look back and think he hasn’t done the best he could. “We need to be humbled. It’s part of growth,” he reflects. But he also fears inadvertently hurting others in the process of his own growth. Sometimes, this fear traps him into trying to please everyone, even when it means denying his own feelings. He says, “That’s the gross thing about fear, you stop being yourself and you succumb to fear instead.”

Will says he struggles to dream big. One that sounds small in his head but feels big in his heart would be to get a sync license, to have one of his songs played on a big show. He follows an artist named Sleeping at Last, whom he’s heard on Gray’s Anatomy and other shows, and is inspired to see him as a repeated somebody. “The placement of his songs in the visual media, as I saw it, was brilliant. So that feels like a pretty great thing, something I would be proud of.”

Another dream he has would be to collaborate with someone he’s already a fan of. One of his most influential songwriters growing up was Derek Webb. As it turns out, San Diego Music Award nominee Flamy Grant and he are good friends and have done some collaborations. Reflecting on this, he remarks, “So seeing that, I’m, like, ’oh, it’s not that unattainable to write, to make contacts like that,’ and realize that they’re not that different from me, they’re just people. That sounds amazing to me to share the creative process with people that I respect and just see how their mind works, how their magic gets created.”

Make no mistake. Will makes some magic of his own. His voice is like crystal… clear as a bell. It is strong and soft in the right places, slightly airy, and without vibrato. It pierces my heart, making it ache with emotion. He is not flashy, neither in playing guitar or singing; he’s a comfort. When asked to join in, his harmonies are daring, yet subdued and a perfect blend.

Will admits to being a little socially awkward and can be content to just sit and watch people instead of interacting, but when given the floor, he doesn’t relinquish it easily. He unapologetically takes his time, effortlessly telling his story. A favorite of mine is hearing about his father and the doomsday algorithm and the song he says is “mostly inside jokes that live happily in my brain every day.”

Now theres a new day for your calendar trick,
we marked it down as when you were no longer sick.
And of course it would fall on a day we’d find quick;
and it’s a helluva joke, you sonofabitch.

Surprise surprise,
we’re singing Uncle John’s Band,
something ’bout sunrise,
and the crow and the wind.
Surprise, surprise,
you knew what day it would end.


Finally, I asked him where he finds support. He mentioned his girlfriend, Lauren Leigh Martin, as a significant source. In moments when he finds he’s diminishing himself to avoid causing disruption, Lauren reassures him that it’s “okay to take up space; the space you’re trying to take up is not hurting anybody.”

Sucky Leigh work their magic on “Feel This Way.”

Further support comes from friends who watch him light up when he’s performing, from his mom who’s the “mommest of moms” and who always wants to hear about whatever he’s doing, from his brother, and from the Writers Round community. “It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something that translates to other people. It makes me feel like it’s worth sharing.” Worth sharing indeed.

To hear his music, its best to catch a live show, since he has relatively few recordings. On Spotify, search for Will Stucky to find his 2019 Christmas EP; my favorite track is his version of “Snow” by Sleeping at Last. Additionally, under the name Stucky Leigh, dont miss the single that he and Lauren wrote in 2023, and which they recorded with Jeff Berkley.

Continue Reading