“The older folks have a nostalgia for what we’re doing, it’s familiar to them. The younger people will tell us they don’t like country, but they really like our music,” laughs Steph Stewart, who, along with Mario Arnez, comprise matching Western gear-wearing classic country duo Blue Cactus. Stewart, who credits her grandfather for influencing her love of the genre, grew up idolizing country queens like Patsy Cline. She put those musical leanings to work in her previous band, acoustic Americana string band Steph Stewart & The Boyfriends, where she met Arnez.
“Mario and I started playing music together about four years ago, in our former band. The other members in the group had gotten busy with other things; Mario and I were consistently available, so we started playing duo shows, and realized it was easier to coordinate,” she recalls. “A series of fortunate circumstances led us to form Blue Cactus.”
The duo calls Chapel Hill home, a small North Carolina town with a rich and burgeoning music scene. “We’ve talked off and on about relocating, but we love our community,” explains Stewart. “We have access to everything here—great recording studios and engineers, other artists for collaboration, so much support. There are amazing venues that have been here for a really long time that care about our community and making music available. You can walk down the street here and pass by five venues, and for a small town like Chapel Hill, that’s a lot.” “There’s always an opportunity to be seen and heard here, and I feel like in another community, that might be a struggle,” adds Arnez. “We’re fortunate that there are great venues around here that we have the chance to get into.”
Blue Cactus will release their self-titled debut on February 24th; from gritty honky-tonk to heart-breaking balladry, the band’s album encompasses everything that made country music matter. The pair recorded the album in a little bedroom studio, in the midst of a hot North Carolina summer. “It was so hot, and we had to turn the air-conditioning off to record because it was so loud. We became a lot closer after that experience for sure,” she says with a laugh. Stewart revealed that the band is already working on another album, has a tour on the horizon to spread their classic country love, and looks forward to scouting out new Western wear treasures. “We do have a lot of fun with our stage attire, Western fashion is a big part of our influence and sound as well. If you’re going to do it, you might as well embrace all of it,” she laughs. “We’re a little different.”