STELLA: SONG SIREN
Stella Santana saunters into the photo studio looking like the missing blond member of the Ramones. At first glance, her motorcycle jacket, black skinny jeans and hightop sneakers might fool the average passerby into thinking they’ve just walked past another New York City skate punk but then she smiles…and all I can say is “Gabba Gabba Hey!”
Stella immediately puts everyone at ease with her relaxed charm and after a few minutes in wardrobe and makeup has completed a transformation from skate punk to Siren. Stella is lovely. She is humble; she never name drops, and prefers not to mention that she is part of a music dynasty (Stella is the daughter of music legend Carlos Santana). Just wait until you hear her sing.
Imagista spoke to her about her musical career and her songwriting process. She has a unique approach to creating music – the lyrics and the mood come first and the music and melody come from that. The result is sexy, sultry and likely to make you hit “repeat.”
Imagista: How did you first get into playing your own music?
STELLA: I tried to do it other people’s way but it felt uncomfortable. So I just kept doing it until I was doing it my way – which didn’t really take very long because I’m pretty impatient!
Imagista: Did you know at a young age that you would eventually get into music or were you interested in other things?
SS: I was definitely interested in other things at first. I played piano and saxophone and sang until I was in high school but then I started playing sports – which took a lot of time! I played volleyball for ten years! I didn’t start playing music again until a couple of years ago.
Imagista: As a kid, did you have to play a musical instrument or was that optional?
SS: I think I just started. My brother and I both played piano and we started with lessons when we were five or six. It definitely wasn’t my favorite but I always loved music. I loved listening to it and playing it. But I was really shy – I didn’t want perform in front of people – I was always hiding.
Imagista: What artists or musicians have had the biggest influence on you as a musician?
SS: Lauren Hill the most. Ever. I grew up listening to Bob Marley – the melodies take me to another place. Marvin Gaye – I’ve always loved his harmonies. I grew up listening to 90’s R&B – Missy Elliot, Brandy, Total, Montel Jordan – that’s what has influenced my sound for sure.
Imagista: Do you write your own music?
SS: I write everything. I haven’t done any co-writing yet. I feel like I could co-write if I was writing for someone else but if I’m writing for myself, I know what I want to say and I don’t need anyone to help me. But I’m open to writing with someone else for sure. That would be really fun.
Imagista: In the studio, do you come in with a completed song or do you like to work with other musicians on the arrangements?
SS: Usually, I have the lyrics written when we go into the studio and then once we have the music, I make the lyrics fit. I’m better at working with something, cutting and smoothing, rather than creating on the spot. I can create on the spot, it just takes a little bit longer. But I’ve done both. I’ve gone into the studio with just a beat and no words and not even a concept and I’ve created a song in six hours. I’ve also gone in with the lyrics done and made it happen – which is my favorite!
Imagista: How do you write?
SS: I don’t write melodies. I write lyrics. Once I have the song, the song matches a particular mood and I make them go together and the melody comes from there. I don’t write with an instrument, I write with words.
Imagista: What’s coming up next?
SS: I have a video I’m working on that will come out this summer that is the lead-up to the release of “The Project” – which kind of manifested itself. I wasn’t intentionally creating it but it became done! I want to put that out in September. I also have some performances coming up in New York. Lots of new music and new videos coming in the fall!
Imagista: It sounds like you’ve come into your own as an artist.
SS: Definitely. You’re always learning something. I don’t know everything but I trust my instincts. I know what I want.
Red Sequin Bodysuit, Cheng-Huai-Chuang
Dress, Azeeza; Rings, Tuleste
Gold Bodysuit, Georgine; Rings, Tuleste