‘I always have to resonate with what I’m singing about, even if I didn’t experience it for myself.’
Describe your music style in no more than 5 words: Let me tell my story.
Who/what influences your music? A huge number of things… Apart from being inspired by other musicians, I think fashion is a big influence from me. If I see someone who looks really interesting or beautiful, it makes me want to imagine what their story is or capture the mood they give off. People I find inspiring in that sense are Susie Cave, Jack Davison (a photographer who shoots a lot of interesting people) and Winona Ryder.
There’s a huge range of instruments and sounds on your tracks. Other than being a vocalist, which of these do you perform on? On the EP, I played piano, synthesizer, guitar and came up with the arrangement for most of the songs.
What does a Stelahr recording session look like? Normally it works this way: I write a song alone, then record a demo as best I can, trying to convey my idea for what the song should sound like. Then I get together with my producer and make that idea come to life. We recorded most of the EP in a tiny studio in Berlin – I would come in about twice a week and we would just tweak the track for hours on end, listening to influences, finding samples and re-recording takes. I definitely work best with as few people in the session as possible. It takes a long time for me to be fully comfortable around people in that way.
Who else is involved in the creation of your tracks? The EP was produced and co-arranged by Edgar Möller, the strings were played by members of the Swonderful Orchestra at Monobeat Studios and some of the guitar on ‘Blue Together’ is played by Mika Steinkamp. In terms of writing, I prefer to do that alone. Of course, many people indirectly influence the creation of the tracks due to their support of my music.
Your lyrics seem filled with reflection of life experiences. Is this actually the case or a stylistic decision? It is different from song to song – I always have to resonate with what I’m singing about, even if I didn’t experience it for myself. Some of the songs on ‘Strangers’ are fully autobiographical and others are stitched together from experience and imagination. I also tend to be surrounded by people who have very interesting or turbulent lives, so there is no shortage of storytelling material there.
How has music impacted on other parts of your life? Music impacts every part of my life – it’s all I think about and concern myself with, so I would just say it is all-encompassing and I wouldn’t know who I am without it.
Your debut EP ’Strangers’ really showcases your musical versatility. How important is it for an artist to show everything they have early in their career? That is something I am still trying to figure out but I think you should just always do exactly what you feel is right in that moment. If you want to showcase your talents, you should do that, but it should never come at the cost of the emotional side. People will be able to tell whether you are talented or musical even if you don’t showcase it in a full-on way.
‘I definitely work best with as few people in the session as possible. It takes a long time for me to be fully comfortable around people in that way.’
Do you prefer performing live or recording in a studio? I love both. They are completely different things. On stage you are full of adrenaline and have butterflies in your stomach. It’s also a chance for people to find out what you’re really about. In the studio, you’re able to tweak something until it sounds exactly how you want it to be, which can be an amazing but also excruciating experience.
What are your musical plans for 2020? An album! And to play and record as much as possible. I want to be more confident in my vision and not make compromises in my music.
Being born and raised in Berlin, do you have any plans to release tracks containing lyrics in German? Why/why not? People ask me this a lot! Since moving to the UK, I have been listening to more German music because I miss home, and this has definitely inspired me. I love music from the 80s and 90s as that was such an interesting time in the German speaking world. Some artists that inspire me are Grauzone, 2raumwohnung and Fehlfarben. Actually, now that I think about it would love to write a song in German!
What is more important: writing a successful track or having the chance to express yourself? This is a major struggle for me – I am convinced it is better to express yourself without compromise. If you are lucky enough not to be financially dependent on your music, you should not think about the track’s success at all, but rather whether you like it. People can tell if you aren’t being true to yourself, I think. Even huge artists like Travis Scott just make the music that they and their friends want to listen to which I think is what makes it feel so good. Plus, you will not push the boundaries of music further if you try to go with what’s popular. However, some people just want to get into music to write songs that will be easily palatable for people, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. It depends on your reasons for making music.
When you’re not writing, recording or performing, what do you listen to? I listen to so many different artists! I always find it hard to answer a question like this. Some favourites at the moment are Denzel Curry, Black Midi, Frank Ocean, Caroline Polachek, Brad Mehldau, Burial, Weyes Blood, JPEGMAFIA, James Blake, Everything Everything and FKA Twigs. There’s quite a lot so I actually made a playlist with loads of my favourite songs for exactly this reason. You can take a listen to it on Spotify here.
What has been your most memorable music moment to date? Probably playing at the incredible Teldex Studio in Berlin with a 9-piece string ensemble, flute and full band. 100 people came and I got to play my favourite concert ever to all of my friends from Berlin.
And finally… you are told you can collaborate with any other artist – past or present. Who do you choose and why? Either James Blake because I think we would make some pretty amazing music together, or JPEGMAFIA because he always finds interesting ways to collaborate with people who make completely different music from him. I think a duet with Madonna would be cool too. Too many to choose from!
Thanks Stelahr for chatting with Listen to Discover