Sonically, Stella Santana is laid-back and high-pitched; an eccentric and elegant contrast that lend her melodies a very particular sass. Yes – her father is one of the most famous guitarists in the world (does the name Carlos Santana, ring a bell?), but Stella’s professional and personal venture wasn’t music-focused. When high school was over, she chose Pepperdine University over guitars, detached from the arenas and stages that she grew up with. Stella made a pivotal switch from intercultural communications (her major at Pepperdine) to music when she realized she was negating her gut-feeling. Now, her roster includes music production, deconstruction, and even lyric writing – the latter usually inspired by real-life scenarios and messages of female empowerment. “I’d been wanting to write something addressing the catcall B.S. we have to put up with on a regular basis here in NYC,” she says about her song “Steady” which she describes as an ode to female energy and power. Her newest single “Tell The Truth” resulted in an “accidental” collaboration with KAMAU, thanks to a fan that proposed it via twitter. Their musical synergy is so consistent that we can say it was meant to be.
We met up with Stella at her downtown NYC apartment – where she runs her personal music studio with “Buster”, her tiny adorable pup. Check out our interview below.
Your first full-length album (‘Selfish’) came out in 2016, what themes and styles inspire your music?
I would say back then I was more inspired to be creating but also releasing–my ear, my voice, and myself as an artist in general wasn’t as developed as it is now. I’ve always gravitated toward pop/r&b melodies with laid back bass and drums, so I guess that never went away, I just honed it more now.
You went to Pepperdine University before focusing on music – what did you study there and what inspired the switch to a music career?
In college I studied intercultural communication, which is essentially exploring how/why culture, gender, race, generation, religion, etc cause people to perceive the world differently, and therefore behave differently in any given situation. Pepperdine is pretty religious and I’m not (ha), so it was actually quite helpful to learn within a paradigm that I wasn’t raised in–I learned to look at a lot of things in life objectively, and I also learned that people have a really hard time being objective, especially when they have been indoctrinated since they were young with an identity that’s also been reinforced overtime. It made me quite passionate about offering another perspective–not making anyone wrong, but giving people the opportunity to look at it differently, and expand who they are as a person. Or, how I like to say it, liberate them from the bullshit 🙂 But I don’t force it, just offer it when I see an opening.
You started off with the artistic name STELLA (all caps) but it has now changed to your full one, Stella Santana. What drove you to change it?
At first I thought my whole name sounded so formal, like I was in trouble or something haha. My IG name is @stellibelli for crying out loud–how informal is that??? From a branding perspective, using my full name is more effective. There’s not really a glamorous answer haha, I just like efficiency :-)!
“Switch” was the first song you ever made. How have you evolved musically since then?Musically, I’ve evolved tons–I feel like 2018 was a pivotal year in my development as an artist. I spent a LOT of time in the studio, writing and producing music, deconstructing production on music I’d already made, creating music for/with other artists, etc. All of this made me even more clear on what I like to hear sonically.
In a previous interview you said your friends described your music as “chill” and that it makes them want to smoke to it (true)!… In your own words how would you describe your sound?
Laid back sass 😉
How did the collaboration with KAMAUU for your newest song/video “Tell the Truth” come about?
KAMAU and I were connected on Twitter by a mutual fan and went into the studio the day after. KAMAU is ridiculously talented and also ridiculously sweet–has the best energy! So we had a really good time that day. I can’t believe that was back in 2017! But good things take time.
Explain the inspiration behind your new song and video “Tell The Truth”?
KAMAUU already came with his part–I think he had it written for a while but hadn’t finished it. Lynas (who produced the track) and I really liked what he had so I took a look at his lyrics and wrote my own part to come after his. It’s just about how it’s hard to recover once you’re caught in a lie.
Your song “Steady” was an ode to female energy and power – tell us what inspired the track?
I’d been wanting to write something addressing the cat call B.S. we have to put up with on a regular basis here in NYC. I started a few concepts about it but this one came out the quickest. Will probs release another one I got close to completing next year. I’m definitely not done with that topic!
What artist/album/fave song is in your playlist radar right now? Anything on repeat?
I can’t stop listening to Joanna (Afro B + Wiz Kid), to the point where my friends say whenever they hear that song it reminds them of me. And that makes me happy!
You moved from California to NYC – what inspired the move? Usually it’s the other way around!
I like the energy out here better–it’s faster. I think when it comes to the coasts, it’s a “grass is always greener” mentality. I know people who’ve moved out here from the west and don’t ever wanna go back and visa versa. When you grow up in one, the other feels more novel, so you migrate.
What does your day to day routine look like in NYC? Do you split time between here and anywhere else?
I go to the gym at least 3xs a week in the morning cuz I like to get it outta the way. These past few months as I’ve been rolling out music I’ve been in the studio less, so always got my computer, working at home or in coffee shops or random hotel lobbies or my friend’s office. I do have a little studio set up at home though, but recently I have so much non-music-making work to do, it feels like I have to get my “chores” done before I can play. ha!
What’s your favorite city in the world– and why?
Def NYC but I also like London a lot and Paris. I haven’t traveled everywhere I wanna travel yet so the list will probs change and grow!
What designers are you into right now? Any favorites?
I’m obsessed with Balenciaga–it’s becoming a problem!! More of a problem for me–not so much for them! ha!
You recently performed at Ludlow House in New York City – how did that go? Tell us about the performance? Do you ever get shy on stage?
That went great! We had a lot of fun! I used to get shy but I don’t really anymore. I get kind of anxious before the show starts but not scared, just ready to get up there and perform!
Has your father inspired your music at all?
What is the best advice he has given you over the years?
Do everything from your heart 🙂 🙂 🙂
What’s next on your radar? Any other performances or releases coming up in 2019?
Yea! Putting out two more this year (at least!) and then I definitely plan to have a few more gigs here in NYC and also in LA and maybe even the Bay Area (where I’m from), but I haven’t ever played there yet. I’m so excited!
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Watch Stella’s latest video “TELL THE TRUTH feat. KAMAUU”: