Monday, January 25, 2010

Annie Stela (The Interview)

Photo credit: Pamela Littky

With the release of two EPs in 2009, Hard City and Little House, last year was a big year for L.A. singer-songwriter Annie Stela. I had heard about Stela’s music from a friend, who, after hearing "Heart," simply told me, “This girl’s got the goods.”

Well, my friend was right – not only does she have the goods, Stela is so honest with her songwriting that it’s hard not to become an immediate fan, which I soon did. And I’m probably the #1 fan of her video, “Clean It Up,” which you need to view/listen to right this second. Do it. Now.

Luckily, Stela has kept busy – 2010 will bring us another EP, this one titled The William. More on that below as she was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us over e-mail.

You released two EPs last year. What's The William EP going to be all about?

It's a covers EP, covering only songs written by artists named Bill, Billy, William or Willie, etc. Recording it was the most fun I've had in a long time. It was nice to forget about myself for a while and get into the heads of other artists.

The idea came about one night when I was at dinner with friends. We were talking about my love of Billy Joel, and then we started listing all of the great artists with the name William or some variation, and the idea grew from there. Truthfully, I would have recorded an entire album of William covers if I'd had the time. One day...

When you're writing a song, when do you know it is finished?

I'm actually an extremely impatient writer. I think my songs are finished way before they really are. :)

If a song takes more than one sitting to write, I start cussing at my piano. But over the years I've figured out how to force myself to sit and rework and make it the best it can be. The place where a song becomes difficult for me to finish is in the studio. Most of my songs that have been recorded still don't feel finished to me, especially vocally. There is always some note that could be better, or some way I could have gotten the emotion across more clearly.

What's the best and worst thing about being a songwriter in L.A.?

I think the best thing about being a songwriter here is also the worst: that there are so many other people writing songs around you. Sometimes it makes you feel buoyed up in an ocean of fellow strugglers, and other times it makes you feel swallowed up.

Let's pretend I've never heard your music. Where do I start? What's the ultimate Annie Stela mix?

Oh Christ. Okay. Let's try five songs:
"It's You" from Fool
"Breathe Through" from Fool
"Heart" from Hard City
"Swallowed Snakes" from Hard City
"Little House" from Little House
"Eyes without a Face" from The William EP. (You will have to wait a month or so for that.)

What was the last great concert you went to as a fan, and what did you take away from it?

Well, I have a cool answer, and a not so cool answer.

The best "cool" concert I went to recently was Bat for Lashes. She knocked me on my ass. There was so much originality there, and so much other-worldliness in her voice.

The best "not so cool" concert I went to was actually last year. Lady GaGa at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. This was before she hit it big and moved to bigger venues and lots of staging and sets. It was just her and two other dancers onstage, and she sang the entire time and danced the entire time. And obviously I'm a very different kind of artist, but I walked away very impressed. She believes whole-heartedly in herself and her music, and it comes off her in waves. You have to respect that. It makes you believe, too. And, really, isn't that the point?

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