On the eve of the release of her eagerly anticipated debut self-titled EP, we chat to superstar-in-waiting, Adelaide's Stellie!
Having first arrived in 2018 with her debut single, 'Cry Baby', the name of South Australia's STELLIE was one to quickly be hailed as one of the country's most exciting and promising names. In 2019, she further cemented this, showcasing her vast sonic palette and untapped potential across two more singles in 'Let's Forget We Were In Love' and 'Love Me First'. In doing so, she confirmed she was so much more than a brilliant flash in the pan, creating an entire identity wrapped around her vision of pairing cinematic and nostalgic old-Hollywood and 70s imagery with introspective, emotive and honest songwriting. Now, in 2020, just two years after we first heard from her, she is fully formed, armed with a strong sense of artistic identity, and refined with her debut EP.
Self-titled, the Stellie EP spans six songs written throughout different periods of her life, from the early days of writing in her bedroom to now. Working with Alex Markwell from The Delta Riggs, as well as Zach Hamilton-Reeves of Northeast Party House and acclaimed songwriter and artist Xavier Dunn, Stellie's EP is a rose-tinted and nostalgic trip down memory, exploring all the different stages of love from the immediate and intoxicating to the all-consuming and devastating. From the Tarantino-inspired 'I'd Have Killed For You' to the palpable emotive swoon of 'Colours', the devastatingly gorgeous 'Bedroom Floor' and the delicate lushness of 'Californian Lullaby', the surprising simplicity of 'Backs Against The Wall' or the swaggering swirl of 'How Do We Look So Good?', Stellie wields her personal experiences and channels her influences of the likes of Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald and even early Lana Del Rey to craft an impressive debut EP from start to finish. Learning to trust not only herself and those around her, but "the process" as well, she's evolved from a bedroom artist into a superstar-in-waiting by leaning into her strengths and opening herself up to new experiences along the way.
And yet, with such a refined and matured body of work now under her belt, you still get the feeling Stellie is just getting started. Speaking to her over Zoom, the ambition and excitement about her music and where it still can go is immediately apparent. Listening to her EP, it doubles as not only the first chapter and culmination of her journey so far, but also as an indication of where she might still be headed. Fearless when it comes to tapping into honest, reflective songwriting and defiant against traditional genre constraints, Stellie is one of very few who manage to straddle so many sonic worlds at once and come out on top with a sound that is so quintessentially "her". An impressive feat to pull off at any stage in your career, but near impossible so early on, Stellie's sound is one that wraps around you in the romantic haze of nostalgia. Whether it's her with just a simple acoustic guitar or backed a rich, lush soundscape, the one thing that is certain is that it remains authentically, genuinely Stellie. As that continues to evolve and develop, it's this rare quality that will have people connecting and being pulled in over and over again.
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Your EP is out on Friday. How do you feel about it?
I can't wait for it to be out. I mean, I haven't ever had a body of work out before, so I don't really know what it feels like to release something like that. I mean, releasing a song in general always feels nice, but just releasing six at once is pretty cool. So I'm excited to gear up and do that finally.
I really, really love it. There's a lot of emotions, there's a lot of feelings throughout the song. And to me, it kind of feels like you've created this entire little world for the songs to kind of exist in. Right?
That's exactly what I wanted, so I'm glad that comes across. That makes me very happy. Some of the songs I wrote on there were a recent or semi recent and a lot of them were written quite a while back. It did initially start like the first track on there, Bedroom Floor, I wrote in my bedroom about two years ago. So it has been a long journey of heartbreak and all that fun stuff. So it does have a lot of feelings and I'm glad that they do all come across like that. The kind of love that isn't always perfect, but you find the perfectness in it kind of thing.
Looking at things with maybe rose tinted glasses and it's very romantic and you're kind of getting swept up in it all.
Absolutely.Yeah. I wanted that feeling of nostalgia. So that word romantic to me, just feel so nostalgic. And so like 1920s, you know what I mean? It just feels so golden age and that's kind of what I wanted to portray in this too.
How has it been revisiting some of these older songs? Did any of them take on any new meanings for you over the last couple of years?
'Bedroom Floor' has always kind of been the same. That was the one that kick started all of it, but it did change very drastically production wise. I always just had that track. It was very, very basic, what I had before and we kind of built on that, and made it its own thing again, which was really cool to see. It's hard to say. The meanings of the songs, to me change all the time, like 'Backs Against the Wall' has a very strong meaning to me now than it did when I wrote it. More than ever I feel like that song's very... I connect with it a lot more, over the past couple of months than I did a year ago when it was written. I just feel like they kind of fluctuate with their meanings and how much they mean to me, and which ones I gravitate towards more than others at the moment. But yeah, 'Backs Against the Wall' is a big one for me right now.
Is there any reason in particular or is it just one day you just kind of heard it in a different light?
I think so. That song took a long time to come to where it was. It was built up a lot, and then it was stripped back down again, and it was built up again, and it was stripped back down. So hearing the final version of it and then kind of sitting with the lyrics and sitting with everything as it is, something just hit me and I was like, "Oh, this is actually a really cool song!" It took me a long time to accept that song for what it is now. That song made me go through hell. But yeah, I'm glad it's on there.
Sometimes it can be super cringy or a bit kind of uncomfortable to revisit things that we wrote in the heat of the moment or situations like that. Did you feel that in a way this was giving you an opportunity to maybe reprocess some moments in time and look back at the whole experience differently?
I feel like I've always been pretty blunt with how I write. I don't tend to beat around the bush, especially when I released 'Love Me First'. I feel like that was pretty obvious. It was just an obvious song. So anything from that point on, I was like, "Well, people know what I'm talking about. People know who I'm talking about. It doesn't really matter." So I was really open with that stuff. I always want people to interpret my songs the way they want to. I don't want to force my feelings and force my energy on people. What they mean to me could be completely different to what they mean to someone else. So I think that's important too.
Your songs are quite personal and they're very intimate, but it's interesting that you say that you want people to be able to kind of inject their own experiences into the songs as well. Do you feel that that almost liberates you to want to dig in a little bit further into your own experiences and to give someone their own opportunity to read into what's happening?
Sometimes. I feel like that's really hard sometimes to really put all of yourself into a song. I do find it really therapeutic to write about my own experiences, but some days you just don't want to even go there. You know what I mean? Sometimes it's just better left in the dark, but it is nice when you get messages from people being like, "Oh my God, I can totally relate to this song, I've been through this exact same thing." It's a really nice feeling when other people were experiencing what you are. So yes and no.
You said in an interview last year that you were really wanting people to feel like they were almost reading your diary in a way when it comes to your songs. Now fast forward to this year, and we've got this incredibly personal EP, which is perhaps even more intimate in a way than a couple of the other songs we've previously heard. I wondered, does it ever still feel daunting to you to have these personal stories out in the world?
It does. But like I said, when you get those messages from people that are like, "I've been through this exact thing." You find comfort in that. It is still daunting, but it's kind of cool in a way. It's just nice to get your stories out there. I'm a big exaggerator on things too. These stories that I've written in my EP, they're true, but they are very exaggerated.
Yes, okay. There's some creative license being taken!
Yeah yeah, exactly right. So, I don't feel so cut up and I'm not sad!
Okay. You're alright!
I'm very happy at the moment! Yeah, I'm all good, I'm all good. I've done all my crying. I've got all my crying out there, and I'm all fine now!
Do you think this intimacy or this kind of personal level that you've been operating from, is maybe part of the reason why people can connect so quickly with your music? It's been kind of an immediate connection from the start, right?
Absolutely. I got a very big reaction from the first song I released, which was 'Cry Baby', and that came from a really, really personal place too. I feel like it has helped, it does help that instant connection for sure. It's just comforting to know that other people have the same thoughts and actions that you do.
Okay. And to me it feels very authentic and it also feels really genuine when I listen to your music. Even if it's exaggerated, it still comes across that you're singing from a place of experience, but also a place of authenticity. And it's something that your influences like Amy Winehouse or Ella Fitzgerald, like those kinds of artists, they also have that as well. I wondered, do think it's a result of listening to those artists that maybe made you want it to be as real as you have been from the very start with your music?
Totally. Absolutely. I think when you listen to people like Amy and Ella, it's like you're reading a diary. It really is. Especially with Amy Winehouse. I was a bit obsessed with her at one point. I read all of her books and she always used to say that whenever I got angry or upset, the first thing I would do was go without a pen, grab a paper and just write my thoughts down. Even if they weren't good, initially you go back to them and you can kind of find a story out of it. She's always been a big one for me, in the way that she writes her lyrics for sure. She's very, very open, very true, very honest and I find that very happy and very pleasing to listen to!
I think that that authenticity and that genuine kind of approach, that's not something that you can create in a studio, right? It's kind of innate, it exists in the song without kind of being forced. Is that how it felt for your end as well, that it just kind of happened that way?
Absolutely. It's always really hard, when you're doing studio sessions and you're writing with people that you've met on the day. Sometimes it's very hard to form that connection with certain people. Not saying that anyone's a bad writer or a bad producer, it's got nothing to do with that. It's just a pure connection thing. So when you find that, the story just flows and you're on the same page, you know what you want to write about. And I can even tell with songs that I've written that aren't released, I can just tell that they don't feel the same. They don't have that same warm feeling that they do when you know that it's true, and that it's genuine, and that you had that connection.
It's interesting that with a track like Colors, you said you didn't really mind so much if it didn't exactly make logical sense in the lyrics, it was more about that feeling that you wanted to kind of encapsulate. I wondered why was that feeling so important for you to capture on that song?
That song was just really random the way it came about. That was the first day I met Alex Markwell who I ended up finishing my EP with. When I came out of that session, I didn't like that song at all. I didn't like Colors and I didn't ever think that it would make the EP. So it's really weird how that worked. But it did have that feeling. There was something there, I had some sort of connection to it, [there was] some sort of pull to it. And when we kind of went back and revisited it, it just clicked. It's not always to do with the lyrics. I know kind of what it is about, but it's still very much up for interpretation for me as well. But it was more the darkness of it, and just the overall sense that you get from it that I thought was really interesting and really cool.
Speaking of Alex, and also you worked with Zach and a few others as well on this record. I wondered how this process of working with someone else on such personal stories went for you, and how it has changed your own process from back when you were making songs just in your bedroom?
It's always tricky. I fluctuate between wanting to work with people and then wanting to work on my own. It did take a lot of practice when I first started out a year and a half ago when I first started really taking this seriously, I guess. It did take a lot for me to get into a session with someone and feel comfortable. It's a weird thing to do. You don't just go into a studio and pour out your feelings to some stranger, it's not normal. So it did take a while for me to warm up to it. But once you get used to it and I feel like I've just become a lot more open about my feelings and more comfortable expressing them in a setting like that. It's all about the connections you make with people, I think. So with Alex, we just clicked and we were on the same page and he got my vision, but also tested the boundaries, and pushed the boundaries as well, which I really liked. And all of the people that I've worked with on this record are the same. They've all been amazing to work with, amazing to write with, and that little pushing of the boundaries. I think that gets me over the line. Because if I'm just in my bedroom writing, I won't do that. I'll just keep it nice and straight and simple.
It sounds like it almost comes from a place of trust, right? You've got to have that initial trust to be able to be pushed out of your boundaries and to kind of follow their guidance.
Yeah, absolutely. For example, when I was doing the track 'Californian Lullaby' with Alex, I initially wrote that with Sam Phay and he did all of the production on it, and we took it to Alex just to kind of finesse it. He came to me one day and sent me a whole completely different version of it, where the chorus was just fully flipped and fully made... It went into minor and it was just really strange. And at first I was like, "Oh, this is interesting." But then I listened to it again. And I was like, "This is cool. This is really, really cool. I would never have thought of doing that!" And now that's the final version on the EP. It's just stuff like that. That's really pushing the boundaries in a good way.
Looking at 'Backs Against the Wall', I think that might be my favourite song on the EP. It kind of changes, but I keep coming back to it. And it's funny that you were mentioning it before as that's your favourite at the moment as well. I think it's because everything is so lush to listen to and it's all so romantic and very atmospheric, except for that song. I wondered, can you tell me a bit more about that? It is so simplistic for a song that's taken so long to kind of come about.
Yeah. Oh my gosh. I love talking about this track. Backs Against the Wall. It was born from, I was working with Xavier Dunn, and that was kind of an accidental track. We were working on another track and we had a bit of spare time. And I think we just started touching on 'Backs Against The Wall'. It was very easy to write. The first bounce that we had was literally just me singing with the guitar. And then we took it to my manager, and we took it to a couple of other people and they're like, "Yeah, I think this song is amazing. I think you need to build it up." And I was like, "Yeah, I think so, too." So I went back to Xav, and we spent a day, we fully just built up the track, with drums, with everything you could think of, and it sounded massive. It was so big. And then I took it home again, this was me flying in and out of Sydney as well, so it was not an easy process. So I got that coming to Adelaide and I was listening to it and I was like, "It's just not what I want it to be." So I got on the phone with Xav, and I was like, "Look, I think we just need to take it back to how it started and how it was originally, because that was when it had the magic." Like I said, it was so easy to write, the lyrics came in two seconds. And then we just took it back to the guitar, just having the guitar added a few harmonies and then that's it. I think that's all it needed. It just speaks for itself.
It's so interesting, sometimes you just need to trust yourself and maybe the magic was there and you were trying to force something else. And you were fine from the start!
Absolutely. Yeah. I was very particular. I always knew that I wanted either an acoustic song, or just a song with me on the piano, on the EP. So in my head, I thought maybe that would have been 'Bedroom Floor', but then it ended up being Backs Against the Wall. So, it flipped around and took different lives, but it got there in the end.
A lot of times building up to a debut EP, it is such a moment for so many artists, and it can be maybe the start of something, or maybe the end of a chapter for you and you're moving into something else. To me it kind of feels like a bit of both. There's the early stuff that we've heard from you from back with 'Cry Baby', but there's also some really developed sounds as well in some of the bigger songs on the record. Does it feel like that way for you in that it's kind of merging your past with your future, and where you're headed?
Absolutely. Yes and no. I feel like it's definitely come a long way from when I started. And it's definitely developed into the sound that I absolutely love, but I want to keep evolving. I don't want that to be my only sound. I love what I've created and I feel comfortable in my world now. But now, I want to push the boundaries even more. So there's songs that I've been writing recently. They still fit in my world, but they're all sort of completely different in a lot of ways. So I think I just want to keep changing, keep evolving.
The record [sonically], it's a bit indie, it's a bit pop, it's a few different things, but it's also hard to categorise because of that as well. Fitting into so many different worlds and styles can sometimes be really liberating. In terms of not really sticking into one genre or the other, is that where you're looking at heading for these new songs as well then?
I feel like with all of the big artists that you kind of look up to, and you see people like Amy Winehouse, or even someone like Rihanna, they don't stick to just one genre. They've tapped into everything. I mean, Amy Winehouse, she did a full jazz record. That was her first record. And then she went on to the pop stuff and kind of did that, but still had her own sound within that. Rihanna's just done like everything, she's done every song under the sun. So I think that's how you level up. I don't just want to stay and be comfortable in my world. I want to push that out and kind of experiment with different things and different sounds. Because it's just more fun. It's more liberating.
Stellie’s Self-Titled EP will be released on Friday August 21st via The Orchard.
Interview by Emma Jones
Image by Jackson Thornbury