It Runs In The Family: Stella Santana Releases Debut Album

Jul 31, 2016
Originally published on July 31, 2016 10:20 am
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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SELFISH")

STELLA SANTANA: (Singing) I've been called selfish so many times. But I can't help it, I'm on my mind. There is no...

ELISE HU, HOST:

The smoky vocals you're hearing there come from a young woman who's performing name is simply Stella. Of course, she has a last name, too, and it's one you'd recognize - Santana, as in Carlos, the famous rock guitarist. He's her dad. Despite the fact that Stella has spent her whole life around music, she's just now coming out with her own debut album. It's called "Selfish." And Stella joins us now from our studios in New York to talk about it. Stella, thanks for being with us.

SANTANA: Thanks so much for having me.

HU: Well, that album title is sort of striking. Why "Selfish"?

SANTANA: Well, I think I've always just kind of known what I wanted and also what I didn't want, and I just said it. And sometimes that goes against what people might want for you. And then they just will tend to call you selfish, which I don't think is a bad thing. I'd be like, yeah, you know, I'm standing up for what I want. I'm obviously always open to learning. But, you know, there's some times when you just know what you know, and you know what direction you want to go. And I don't think that you should have to apologize for standing up for that.

HU: Let's get into more of the music on this project.

SANTANA: Sure.

HU: This song is called "Switch."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWITCH")

SANTANA: (Singing) There's been a pain in my chest from calling it off. But if it heals, that means you're gone.

HU: I understand you had played piano and guitar since you were young. But had you always identified with this writing side, the songwriting side, or was it just something you ended up learning?

SANTANA: Yeah. So, I mean, I definitely played piano, not so much guitar. I've, like, a little bit taught myself recently in, like, the last year or so. Piano is, like, the thing. Also. It hurts less

(LAUGHTER)

SANTANA: But writing - I've always loved writing. My mom's a writer. And I've always definitely been able to express myself. I know that I'm good at being able to tap in on an experience that I'm feeling, especially if I'm really, really feeling something in my heart. I'm like, oh, I've got to write about this 'cause I know that I'm not the only person experiencing it. And if I can write about it in such a way that it resonates with the most people, like, then I can maybe help them through something that I'm going through myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWITCH")

SANTANA: (Singing) We can't tonight. I miss you. I miss you.

HU: Well, music runs in your family. Not just your dad, but I understand both your grandfathers were musicians.

SANTANA: Yes.

HU: So growing up, what was the role of music in your family life? Was it something you listened to together or played together or just talked about around the dinner table?

SANTANA: Yeah. You know, there was always music going on in the house. Of course, my dad was always playing music in the car, didn't matter how early it was (laughter). I was like - I mean, I just remember, like, taking carpool and being with other people's parents and them being like no music yet. And my dad would just be like on it, like, the car - it would already be playing, like, when I got to the car. Eventually, my bedroom in my house was, like, above the living room. And so if I wanted to sleep in, like, and my dad wanted to play in the morning like that, I wasn't sleeping in essentially.

So but, you know, I appreciated it. I always loved hearing it. Even in New York, I walk around with headphones in. Like, I just really want to be - I don't know, like have, like, soundtracks to every (laughter) step that I'm taking. It's just - it's a part of me. So it feels strange when I'm not listening to it or not, you know, hearing anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU FIRST")

SANTANA: (Singing) I've been watching you so for a while. Can't find yourself, but I can see you. Heart is big, just like your eyes, oh. Only destruction will release you.

HU: This album talks a lot about love and relationships. So let's listen to a song that feels pretty emblematic of the album as a whole and its attitude toward love. It's called "Go Alone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO ALONE")

SANTANA: (Singing) I ain't scared to be all alone. 'Cause when I'm by myself, that's how I'm comfortable. If you want to get there fast, you got to go alone.

HU: I want to underline that. If you want to get there fast, you got to go alone. Is that something you believe?

SANTANA: Yes. But it's actually half of, like, a quote that I conveniently cut off the other half 'cause I was like, I don't need that part. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together - is the entire quote. And I think that both of those are true. At the time, you know, I really needed to be by myself because I really, really needed to hone in on what I wanted, the direction I was going. And I could only do that by just shutting off everything around me and going within myself.

And then, obviously, I'm not - I mean, you know, I'm self-releasing the album, but I obviously didn't do the thing by myself. You know, there's been a ton of people that have been involved and have been helping me. But it's been easier to find them when I know what I want and what - and where I'm going. And so I think that, you know, you need to have both.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO ALONE")

SANTANA: (Phonating).

HU: Your brother, Salvador Santana, also makes music.

SANTANA: Yes.

HU: Your dad, of course.

SANTANA: Yes.

HU: So do you think you'll ever collaborate as a family?

SANTANA: Absolutely. I'm just - I'm, like, the one that's just started (laughter). So I feel like I have a little bit of catching up to do as far as establishing myself. But, yeah, I think that that's definitely going to happen. My dad's in Europe - or he's in Tel Aviv, actually. So we got to wrangle him in (laughter). But I'm sure we - we'll get it done.

HU: That's Stella. Her new album is "Selfish." Thanks so much for talking with us.

SANTANA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW TOY")

SANTANA: (Singing) Fell out of the sky, boy. Just for you, I'm your brand new toy. You didn't mean to break off...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: WEEKEND EDITION is a production of NPR News, which is solely responsible for its content. Learn more about the music and artists you hear on NPR and discover new music by visiting npr.org/music. There, you can also watch a Tiny Desk Concert or get an exclusive First Listen of new music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW TOY")

SANTANA: (Singing) The parts in here are real, my love, something to think about.

HU: Our theme music is written by BJ Leiderman. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Elise Hu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.