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Stephen Hero talks Paper Flowers

The upcoming album examines class disparity through Saint John urban legends

Matthew Elliot, stage name Stephen Hero, is obsessed with the “weird dark history of Saint John,” his hometown. It was there that Hero found the inspiration for his new album, Paper Flowers. 

In early September, Hero staged a theatrical performance of his album as part of the Halifax Fringe Festival.

Origin story

Hero found his love of music as a kid. He believes music is his calling in life, and he was lucky enough to connect to it early on. 

As a child Hero would do Elvis impressions for his friends and family. His first memories are of writing poems and short stories, which inspired his songwriting.

“I just really like music and performing,” said Hero. 

In high school, Hero taught himself guitar, and started a band. Staying focused on music, Hero explored various musical genres and instruments, before finding his unique sound, which is largely influenced by alt-rap. In 2005, he started his on-stage professional career. 

The album

Paper Flowers is an exploration of various urban legends from Hero’s hometown. He was inspired to explore these legends because they all played a role in the history  surrounding him. 

“Digging [into the history of Saint John] I found some really cool ideas,” said Hero. 

For each urban legend he found interesting, he wrote a song. The name of the album comes from an urban legend of sorts. Hero recounts that his father used to tell him about Nelly, a friendly woman who sold homemade flowers at the city market. From this story, Hero developed the album name, Paper Flowers. 

With his music, Hero hopes to raise awareness about the social injustices occurring in Saint John. 

“My dad worked in nursing homes in the 90s and it was so horrific he had to leave,” said Hero. “You can feel the pain in the city if you are here long enough.”

Homelessness in Saint John is another issue Hero wants to address with his songs. 

“I’m familiar with being poor and struggling in Saint John. The city is so small, and [homelessness] is a problem that is completely manageable if people actually acted on it to make a change.” 

Leading up to the show

Hero presented the material to the public for the first time on September 8 at the Bus Stop Theatre, as part of the Halifax Fringe Festival. Though nervous beforehand, he was confident that the show would go well. 

Over the summer, Hero led youth music workshops focusing on raising awareness for climate change. This caused a scramble preparing for the show. 

“The last couple of weeks we’ve been DIYing the shit out of it,” said Hero. 

Though the show is a one man show, he embodies multiple characters throughout.

“There are light projections for each song, props and even wardrobe changes. It is essentially a theatrical punk show,” said Hero. 

Hero is proud of the entire record, but said his favourite song is probably “Last Asylum.” 

“The beat is so good it knocks,” said Hero. “I could describe the beat as being dark and ominous.”

The show 

The Paper Flowers show encompasses live instruments and a wide range of rap vocals. The music highlights raw stories connecting to the audience through first-person narrative. 

Hero performed confidently, making evident how proud he was of the album. A major strength of the show lies in his storytelling skills. 

Hero puts himself in the shoes of all the characters in the album, a technique that vibrantly portrays these urban legends. Paper Flowers will be released in its entirety in October 2023, along with a zine and music videos.

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