Vacaville, CA native Holly Stell sits down with us at the original board game cafe Game Häus Café in Glendale, CA to talk about her collaboration with veteran DJ Darude, her experiences with growing up in the music industry, and finding balance between the music released in her past and future releases.
So you have currently have a hit single with Darude called “Surrender,” I wanted to say congrats and to ask how the opportunity came about.
Holly Stell: Yes! It was an honor to work on that song. My friend Karra who is also a vocalist and co wrote the song with Matthew Steeper connected me with Darude and Ashley Wallbridge. The song was originally produced by Ashley and then Darude heard it and became part of it as well.
Cool! So it was kind of like being in a snowball effect.
Like a completely random opportunity.
Holly: One thing leads to another I found. *laughs*
It tends to be like that in the music industry. *laughs*
Holly: Yeah, totally.
So how would you say this recording process was different from your past solo work and your past past work with Andrea Bocelli?
Holly: So, we actually spent quite some time in the studio on “Surrender.” For the recording process with Andrea Bocelli, I was flown to Berlin and recorded the song in one take because there was a full orchestra there and the session was almost finished by the time I got to record. In the orchestral world, if you go even one minute over the scheduled time there is an insanely large fee. But the duet with Andrea was originally written as a solo piece. Then the executive producer of the film heard it at the session and immediately called Andrea’s team. So the recording process itself was different, but similar in the sense that it allowed me to unexpectedly work with two amazing artists.
Awesome! You’ve also recently released a positively received single called, “The Fall.” I wanted to ask you what inspired the track and the musical style since I know you’ve kind of done a bunch of musical styles.
Holly: “The Fall” has more of a personal element to it. When I wrote that song I wasn’t trying to make a hit or anything. I was just having a bad day and drinking a glass of wine in my room in October. October has always been a weird month for me…I get ultra sensitive and in my feelings. But the song is about star crossed lovers and being in the right place at the right time.
And it ended up working very well.
Holly: Yeah, it was cool! It was a fun track!
If you had to make a music video for “The Fall” what kind of concept and storyline do you think that you would do?
Holly: Just showing two people living their separate lives and then the universe bringing them together.
Kind of going into some of your past releases. Apart from your track with Darude and “The Fall,” a lot of them have been very different in terms of genres and musical styles, and you kind of touched base on that, especially with “Surrender.” What kind of sparked some of the other changes between “The Fall” and your other past works?
Holly: Well, with classical music, I mean, that’s where I started out and I have such a deep respect for it. I think it’s beautiful, and it’s something I’d still like to maybe explore later on. But I think as an artist there’s something fulfilling about making music that you would actually listen to on a daily basis, and I never really listened to classical music a whole lot. I obviously recorded a lot of it, but it was never my first choice of music to listen to. And the person who I working with that I was signed to when I was 11, he was also a film composer so I started listening to film scores at a very early age. I would always compare the chord progressions in film scores to hip-hop songs and it was weird because they were similar but they’re two completely different genres of music. But, I don’t know, there was just something. There was this kind of corresponding factor. And when I started to get older, listening to artists like Clams Casino and Spooky Black and some other Soundcloud artists. About two years ago, I found this community of producers on Soundcloud who were also very inspired by film scores, but were making kind of trap beats and it was kind of a perfect fit. So I started finding my niche by working with these types of producers because I finally found people who understood what I wanted to do. And so, it was great for me, and I think it propelled me to not to be afraid of myself. Like, growing up singing classical music, there’s kind of a label put on you, especially growing up in a small town like I did. Everyone knew that I sang classical, so I finally got to a point where I said, “Yeah, I just want to be myself.” That’s really the best thing that you can do as an artist is be yourself, and not be afraid of what people think of you. Because at the end of the day you’re the one putting out your music.
Yeah, and you’re doing what you love and a lot of people can’t say that. They do a job that’s functional, but maybe their passions are elsewhere.
Speaking of your career starting at a younger age. If you ever had a chance to sit down with your younger self, which we’ve kind of delved into a little bit, what would you want you tell her or give her tips in terms of performance style, the industry, etc.?
Holly: So much! I think the biggest thing is probably not allowing your happiness and self worth to be placed in the hands of other people. I think that’s something a lot of kids in the industry struggle with. There’s this pressure to act like an adult, you know, and that was kind of the case for me. I grew up very fast in certain areas, and then in other areas I didn’t. I could carry myself well in a room full of industry professionals, but as I got older I struggled with completing basic tasks like getting my oil changed. *laughs* At the end of the day, as an artist and for people in general, it’s so important to know who you are deep down. Like don’t allow the opinions of other people to dictate how you see yourself.
How would you say that the music industry has changed from an artist’s perspective, especially since you’ve been in the industry for so long?
Holly: I would say artists now are expected to do a lot of the groundwork themselves. Whereas before, I think it was a lot easier for completely unknown artists to get signed. And I’m not ruling that out now, but you know, labels aren’t going to sign you or invest their money in you now unless you have a fan base or unless if they see a brand. I think now artists are expected to do a lot more. They’re expected to grow their social medias and grow their fan base and really be solid. Whereas before, you could just get signed and the label would develop you. But yeah, that’s not really the case anymore. People expect you to have a fan base.
It seems that you’re doing pretty well though. You just got to perform at South By Southwest.
Holly: Yeah, I just loved South By and it was pretty cool. I went with a lot of friends, and we went to some pretty cool parties and we met at lot people. It was definitely out of my comfort zone because I’m an introvert and I don’t really like being around large groups of people. But It was really fun and I’m excited for more opportunities that’s for sure.
Awesome! And if you had to pick any festivals or anything, what would you like to get yourself into?
Holly: Oh wow, um, so Coachella, that’s kind of like a given. I feel like every artist wants to be at Coachella. But for me because I’m from just outside of the Bay Area I would love to perform at Outside Lands.
Still staying on the topic of touring, if you could choose three artists to do your own personal tour, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Holly: Probably my friend Marcus, who goes by the name Brothel, Spooky Black and Clams Casino. I’ve worked with Marcus before and we hung out at SXSW so I know that would be dope. And I would call it the Blessed Dark Tour because I’m obsessed with the show Penny Dreadful. That show specifically touched on embracing all sides of yourself, and not being afraid of your darker side. There was one episode called “The Blessed Dark,” which really resonated with me and I’ve always said that I would love to use that for something.
Cool! And kind of getting to know you a little more as an artist, who are some of your personal influences in regards to your music?
Holly: Vocally, I am comparable to Stevie Nicks, Rihanna and Bjork. Rihanna’s material is incredibly written. I respect her so much as an artist because of her uninhibited delivery and how she has now transferred her artistic ability into other mediums. Production wise, I am influenced by all of my friends who are producers and I’m happy I get to work with them.
Which three artists would you like to collaborate with and, why?
Holly: I think it would be amazing to work with Spooky Black, SZA and Hans Zimmer because they all have a heavy and enchanting vibe. I would love to put some ethereal vocals on one of Hans Zimmer’s scores one day.
Kind of touching base on that because you had already mentioned that you have an interest in film scores. If you had a film that you had to score, what type of film would it be and what kind of direction would you want to take?
Holly: I would definitely want it to be a dark fantasy film. I think I would want to collaborate with the composer Abel Korzeniowski who did the theme for Penny Dreadful. He scored Tom Ford‘s film Nocturnal Animals as well. I would use an orchestra, but integrate electronic elements, specifically Reese Bass, and stacked ethereal vocals. I would make it like the trap version of Lord of the Rings. I think there’s something extremely sensual about conflict as well – the balance between dark and light. It creates tension and I think that something people can sense.
And if you had one word to describe yourself as an artist, what would it be?
Holly: Unapologetic. That’s how I’ve had to be. I’m no longer afraid to offend people who might have listened to my older music. That had always been a struggle for me because people who listen to classical might not understand my current style of music. And so I was always afraid to release new material because I’m like “Oh gosh, if I cuss in a song and someone who knows me as a classical artist hears it their going to be confused.” But I finally had to come to terms with that and start living for myself and making the music I wanted to make.
What do you hope your audience takes away from your music?
Holly: I hope that my music allows people to heal by feeling things that they might be afraid to. If a someone is struggling with feelings of inadequacy or self hatred, I want them to turn on “Ballers” and feel empowered. If someone is hurt that they are being gossiped about or feeling misunderstood, I want them to listen to “Codeine” and just be chill and not care about everyone else.
Awesome. And one last question. What big plans should we expect from you in the near future?
Holly: Right now, I am actually a featured artist on an app called Beatstoc which will be launching later this year. The app monetizes artist’s popularity and delivers exclusive content based on the preference of the consumer. It’s kind of like buying stock in your favorite artist. I also have a ton of projects I will be releasing with my friends and have been working on a new song for a film soundtrack.
About Game Häus Cafe:
Rainy day? Friends or family in town? Competition between lovers? If any of these apply to you and you love board games then Game Häus Cafe is the place for you! Established as the first board game cafe in Southern California, Game Häus pretty much has every board and card game you can possibly imagine with variations of tables to fit your gaming group (or more space for the sore loser to throw their cards, pieces, etc. down). An eclectic menu comprised of pastries, pizzas and sandwiches named after well-known and obscure games paired with classic coffee offerings, a fabulous tea selection, and even alcohol give visitors everything they need to spend all day playing their favorite games or discovering new ones.