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