Press play on one of Stella Santana’s videos, and it’s hard not to wonder about the story behind her intimate yet deliberately ambiguous storytelling. Instantly relatable in an almost intangible way, her melodies tap into a sort of humanity that’s quite accessible, even if the details of the relationships and life experiences are not clearly spelled out. It’s a skill that some of the most talented songwriters possess–speaking, singing, performing from the heart, but also leaving room for haziness so that any listener can relate.
With only two self-released singles so far (“Friends” and “Switch”), Stella Santana has already connected with producers in New York and beyond to contribute to her debut full-length album, set to drop this September. Keep an eye out for her next single, “Fumes,” produced by uptown’s own Frankie P, of A$AP Ferg, Bodega Bamz, and Onyx production fame.
We sat down to chat with the up-and-coming singer, who is the daughter of rock legend Carlos Santana. Get to know a bit more about this songwriter on the rise, who keeps her heart on her sleeve–albeit with some wise caution.
When did you become serious about pursuing music?
I would say at the end of 2013 I decided to really start pursuing it. I was working with a producer and a writer in LA, and then I realized that I just needed to write my own stuff. I caught myself thinking, “I would never say that. I don’t like that.” And that made me realize maybe I just needed to write my own stuff. After that I made the decision to go for it and left everything else I was doing behind for real.
What else were you into at the time?
I was really into self-help, personal development-type stuff, which I’ve benefited from a lot, but I’m going to be better at reaching the people that I want to reach through music because that’s what comes naturally to me, as opposed to sitting in a room and talking to people, which is fine. But music–it just feels more natural.
What are some aspects of your personal journey that you include in your rituals when you sit down to write a song?
Well, when it comes to my writing I definitely try to be accountable, which sounds so boring. But you know, a lot of songs are like, “This person did me wrong,” or, “I’m going to meet someone else.” And I get that when it comes to love, but I feel like sometimes you have to accept the situation and your contribution to it, instead of being like, “Screw you!” I just try not to be whiny, and not blamey, and accountable for myself, which I think I got from the personal development stuff. It just reminds me, and hopefully other people, that we’re all a lot more powerful than we think we are, as far as our circumstances and our choices. Instead, if you blame someone else and it’s out of your control, then there’s nothing you can really do about it. Accountability is empowering.
I’ve read interviews where you say that you write, sing, and perform “with transparency.” What does that mean for your process?
I’m not a good liar [laughs]. So I just try to be as honest and real about whatever experience it is that I’m talking about. No one needs to know everything. At the same time, I think that I can share enough to where people who are going through the same thing can relate and hopefully feel better, get some wisdom, and hopefully a little release.
How would you describe the sound that you see yourself developing?
I like the chill aspect of the songs, but I want people to be able to bob their heads and also sing along. Because that’s what I like to do–melody is my favorite thing, so I like to focus the most on that. When I hear a cool melody, it’s kind of over at that point, and I’m in love with the song.
Since releasing your first two singles, what’s the response been like?
Everyone likes it! Everyone says, “Yeah it’s really chill. I just want to smoke to it.” [laughs] That’s what I’m going for. I definitely think they’re going to get more of that on the album. I put out those two songs, “Friends” and “Switch,” and then I put out visuals after. So it’s going to be interesting because I’m putting out “Fume” soon, and I’m going to release the song and the video at the same time, which is going to be kind of an experiment. Sometimes I hear a song and then I see the video, and I hate the video and it ruins the song. I can’t un-see it, you know? And sometimes the video really enhances the song, so I’m hoping that this release does the latter and not the former [laughs]. I think it will.
What’s the story behind your next single, “Fumes?”
After I put out the “Friends” video in January, Frankie P hit me up on Instagram and sent me a couple of beats, and the first one I heard was the one that I used. I was like, “Okay, we’re definitely working together.” I think we went into the studio the next week. It’s a very drippy, sexy song. I see colors when I hear music, so it’s very red, dark purple, and black, if that makes any sense at all [laughs]. [It’s a] stumbling-over-but-in-a-sexy-drunk-way song. “Switch” was very clearly a relationship song, and “Fumes” could be a relationship song, but it could also be about coming down from something. I wanted to keep it a little bit ambiguous.
Social media is amazing like that. Is there anyone else you’ve been excited about connecting with since releasing your tracks?
I got to connect with this really talented artist, producer, and performer Jared Evan. I don’t really know how it happened. I had a show out here at Rockwood Music Hall; he missed it, but we met up not long after and connected. Then I went into his apartment where he records. I don’t think we planned on working on anything necessarily. We just played each other our stuff and ended up making a really dope song, and then ended up making four really dope songs, and now he’s on the last five songs of the album. He’s just so talented; he’s been in the industry obviously longer than me. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to who’s smart, who can give me advice. He’s been on tour–he’s really doing a lot of it himself which is what I’m doing too, so it’s nice to hear it from an artist’s perspective. You can’t just be “the artist” anymore, the floaty artist type; I feel like you really have to be business-minded these days, and he is. I’m definitely learning a lot from him. I’m so excited for those songs to come out.
What’s other advice you’ve picked up along the way from your father and extended family?
I would say the advice I got the most is just to remember to do everything from my heart. Then I [will] attract the right people, hopefully, and I can get the right melodies. I can do everything so long as I make sure it’s coming from a real place, from me just trying to connect and share my experience. I think that’s the stuff that connects us most–when we’re vulnerable, which is the scariest thing for everyone, too. I’m just trying to be vulnerable and also to protect myself at the same time. It’s a very interesting line to walk.