We’re calling it now – 2017 is the year for boss babes. So with that in mind, it’s only fitting we kick it off with a chat with a woman who’s carving her own path in the music industry: STELLA. Having put out her debut album all on her own and managing her career without a label, this gal has serious hustle, second only to her seriously unique, recognisable sound. It’s safe to say, she’s got a stellar year ahead.

You’ve obviously been around and had a strong interest in music for your entire life, but have only relatively recently put out your own music. Why did you wait for so long? Has it been a long process to get to where you’re at?

—Well the short answer is that for the majority of my life, I wasn’t interested in doing things that brought attention to myself. And even though I’ve always loved music, I knew that pursuing it meant I had to put myself out there. And I didn’t want to, I liked being unknown. No one gave more attention to me than they did to anyone else and I was “normal.” And then one day – literally one day – it became very clear to me that I had to go for it and when I decide to go for something nothing can really stop me. The clarity came from realising that my disinterest was actually resistance. I believe we need to move toward the things we resist, not away from them. So that day, I decided. And I haven’t looked back since.

Your sound has clear influences of hip-hop and r&b but with a laid-back and almost melancholic vibe. Are there any particular musicians or bands that you feel inspire or shape your sound?

—I definitely love and grew up loving hip-hop and r&b, and gravitate toward that west coast, laid-back vibe for sure. Writing-wise, I’m inspired a lot by Frank Ocean. I like his stories and I like how he doesn’t particularly care about rhyming and traditional song structure. It’s about the message and I like that a lot. When I’m writing I’m not thinking about anyone else, I’m focused on making sure the words are meaningful and the melodies are memorable.

If you could describe your sound in 3 words, what would they be?

—Soulful. Sultry. Warm. ❤💃🏼🔥

Everyone has a different creative process – how does it work for you? Lyrics first then beats, vice versa or something else entirely?

—My process is evolving. At first I started like most people start, writing about my personal experiences. I still do that but in the beginning I was heartbroken so emotion was pouring out of me. I wrote it all out and then went to producers to create music around it.

Now, I’m not a masochist, nor do I believe that one must always be suffering to create meaningful art – or at least I don’t feel like suffering all the time [laughs] – so now that I’m not heartbroken and am very happy most days, I’ve taught myself to tap back into the sad feelings or specific situations where I felt something powerful and to bring that emotion to a track. For example, I can still make myself cry singing old stuff and I’ll bring that when I perform, because I want people to feel it. But now it’s just a place I go emotionally because I don’t live there anymore.

So now, the process is to listen to a track and see if it conjures up a feeling or a story in me, that I can tell from that same vulnerable place. I have to feel it because if I don’t, how is anyone else going to?

You put out your album by yourself, with no help from a label and manage a lot of your other endeavours on your own. How do you do it? And what do you think you’ve learned from taking on these massive challenges alone?

—It has been crazy. I’ve definitely had so much help and haven’t been doing this alone in the least but I’ve absolutely had quite an untraditional journey. I need to know why pieces are there before I place those pieces around me, if that makes sense. The music industry is an insane place and it’s constantly changing… I wanted to learn it for myself, not just listen to someone else’s experience and assume it’s that way for everyone. Not to say that I don’t take advice, because I do, but you only really learn through experience in my opinion. I’m not even close to being done learning but getting through situations where you’re taken advantage of and lied to forced me to learn quick. My ability to read people and situations needed some work [laughs].

The plan is not to do it all forever – this is a temporary but necessary stage. Building it myself has allowed me to understand every piece, so I know what I need and don’t need. And when I encounter someone who wants to be a part of it, I know quickly what role they can fill, if any, and I also know exactly what I expect that person to do because I used to do it myself.

If you could perform anywhere, what would be your dream performance?

—Well, I’m performing at, and attending, SXSW for the first time this year so that is kind of like a dream. I really wanna do the Jimmy Fallon show though! That’s coming to me… It’s just a matter of time!

What’s next for you? Any exciting things happening in 2017?

—I’m finishing up an EP at the moment that I’m really, really, really excited about! I went out to L.A. this past summer and wrote the songs with Lewis Hughes of the production duo Twice As Nice. They have a cool process where I write songs to a beat and then they scrap the beat entirely and reproduce an entirely new song around my vocals. So it’s like a surprise when I hear what they’ve done with the music.

I’m also playing The Art of Cool festival in North Carolina and am working on getting out to London as well – I love it there so much. No news on exactly when I’ll be releasing the new stuff but definitely this year! It’s kind of a scary time in the world at the moment so it feels weird to say I feel like 2017 is shaping up to be an incredible year, but I enjoy paradoxes.

Photography: Meghan McGarry
Styling: Necat Akman
Art & creative direction: 92 Dream Team
See more from STELLA at stellasantana.com