The Aztecs worshiped one, Van Gogh painted them in psychedelic swirls, Mozart fallaciously composed about them, and the Three Wise Men followed one. Stella Angelico, Melbourne born Italian/Australian tribal-soul songstress, fresh on Melbourne's core music scene, is more than a star: she is earth, water, fire, and air; rolled, bound, and set alight. Her voice is raw, textural, and empowering. It's one you have to hold with both hands as it dances around her diction and phrasing, which harks to her ad hoc classical heritage.
"I remember as a really little girl, trudging along to my mum's gigs and falling asleep on her fur coats under the piano. When I was a teenager I fell asleep to her practicing Bach, Schubert, and Beethoven."
Her eyes soften as she remembers her Mother, a prodigious talent: a Melbourne University Scholarship student whose free-spirited nature led to her globetrotting cabaret life pre-children, with Stella's magician father. "Then she had us and we became her whole world," she says of herself, and two siblings, artist Ramona, and actress Maria. Her truth-seeking eyes, the ones that see but don't dominate how she perceives the world, are content today. The sun floods down Russell place but the air is cool, it drifts and osmoses into our bones as Stella's stories of her all female household do the same. Words of love, loss, and contentment fill her sentences, but it's the strength of honest character that is painted on most thickly as her life picture unfolds.
"It's not about putting on a costume or not. It's more about being yourself and doing it with conviction."
Surrounded by artists all her life, she is a vessel to her art; a sculptor of sound. "Regardless of whether it is written or painted, something that speaks to the human condition, something that has never been done before, that is the stuff that moves me rather than the aesthetic."There is a black star in the top corner of Mirka Mora's mosaic at Melbourne's iconic Flinders Street Station - Stella helped to make it when she was a child. "My father and I bumped into her as she was making the mural and I was fascinated, and so she lifted me up the ladder, and because my name is Stella, I got to do the star."
On a raised platform with nothing or everything behind her, "genre is just not important to me. I love singing with a grand piano, and singing country music with a guitar. I wouldn't mind if I was backed by an orchestra or a band. At the core I feel rhythm". With a raw talent, she explores words and phrases fully, measuring time in intuitive moments rather than minutes.
"Sometimes it can be very hard to articulate things without limiting them, because words can sometimes shrink things."
She didn't plan on studying music professionally but it found her and latched on. "In 2012-2013 was my first gig. It was a restaurant on Smith St. It was really kitschy and there was a piano with velvet curtains. I couldn't help but stare at this stage during dinner, and said to my friend, I really want to be on that stage. I hadn't sung in years, so I approached the manager and she said you can sing next week." What became a year long residency resulted in the likes of Hannah Fox (then manager of Clairy Browne and the Bangin'Rackettes) and Peter Savieri (cinematographer) helping to build her pyramid towards success. But she has been careful not to let the train get away from her, and keeps a check daily of where she is at and contemplates "what message do I want want to convey?"
With a preference for people over plastic, she is a flag bearer for humanity more than femininity, and is not afraid to get her hands dirty with her music to make her point. With songs like Prey and Whole Woman turning heads, Stella is currently putting songs together for her first album.
Stella drinks a coffee, pulling her dark, strong hair away from her face as she speaks. Others in our backdrop have moved on from coffee. It's 10am but the rules have been transcended here at Neopoli restaurant. Refreshingly too, because in Stella's early CBD life and teenage "beach years" her upbringing had an air of fait accompli. "My mother would say, I don't mind what you do, you can do anything as long as you are kind and compassionate and good people."
But Stella craved structure, the structure she breaks down in her songs. "Just after school I went to bible college to become a Baptist minster, a preacher." But her friendship circle criss-crossed the artist/gender/genre divide and "my own questions just started getting too big for the confines of doctrine and dogma. It was a gradual evolution."
The catalyst for change and her move into music in 2013, was not fuelled by a spark of ego but by love."When I was 27, my mum died of lung cancer.It was really quick…I was with her when it happened….I feel like it was as good as those things can be….She was really at peace with it."It's one of the reasons you have to grasp Stella's music with both hands in order to understand its innate complexities. There are many spirits at play, not just her own.
"When I am tuned into the immediate environment I feel most secure, most calm, most grounded." Stella's sound has gravity, but she only attracts the best. After all, Stella's style is fluid; only the best can keep up.
"Sometimes musicians will say, 'do you do a double chorus at the end?,' and I think sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I just feel it. And I think that makes the most powerful art."
At last year’s Boogie Festival, she opiated her audience with her energy and then with her voice and demanded they tune in, as if they hadn't already. But that fire in her voice is not out to set alight our dark side, it's pure light, and celebration, she relishes what it is to be a woman, what it is to be fuelled by awe and delight in our physical world. Songs are her way of staying true to her path, staying strong and owning her place and rights in this world. "Even when I write songs and sing, it's stronger than a pep talk; it's like a battle cry. I'm thinking of something like a Haka." This musing toward strong females is part of her heritage.
"I was always drawn to strong women who I felt had been thrown things and were singing about things that mattered. We listened a lot to the Shangri- Las growing up, they were one of the toughest of the girl groups and had matching leather jackets."
Stella recently found a leather jacket in an op shop that she knew she would use for her recent film clip amongst the sand dunes in Prey. Stella is intuitive, she feels things. Prey, along with other creations, such as No Man, take harbor in her bones before making their attack. "Usually I have a few little threads in the back of my mind. Sometimes I write them down. Sometimes I don't." This intuitive approach comes straight up along her chakras and out into the world. "For example in Prey, 'I've been a woman since I was a little girl' was bouncing around my head for a while. It's a special line.
Eventually, when my emotional state reaches fever pitch and something breaks, I need to let something out, I was in the kitchen, I started stomping, then I started the ooooo, and then I started singing the lines over the top."
"I'd just read an article" she continues, "about a woman who was buried alive by her fiancé. It was a terrible story but she dug herself out with the diamond engagement ring he had given her. 'When I'm underground, give me diamonds' comes from there. I just thought what was horrendous in reality, is also poetic."
There is a primal, voodoo magic to her sound; her style is organic. Stella is more than Soul. Soul music had a point to prove. "I just want to be Stella."When she sings with that dark star energy like in Mirka Mora's mosaic, it's empowering.
"You don't always look cool, but at the end of the day you are a lot stronger and you will go a lot further.
"If I am only assertive or bold or uninhibited high or drunk, then the boldness and inhibitions don't feel real or legitimate to me," she continues. "For me it's just not satisfying. I've got to have the satisfaction that I have earned these character traits. I know that they are in me and I've got them no matter what." This character starts from her groin, "I feel very comfortable with my sexuality", bubbles up like a magician's elixir, and morphs into a lioness with words of wisdom and tales to share, "I feel like an old soul."
Stella has always been aware that the veil of spiritual and physical is fine and delicate. Things flow from the outside in and out again, attracting and repelling things needed at the time. Today she still wears a lot of black but her favourite colour is pink, "It's hard to remain loud and soft at the same time."
That softness and warmth she strives for sits as a quiet halo above her gentle eyes. You can't look at one element, you have to look from head to toe to see the complete package that is Stella. To see the leopard print shoes. The strut when she walks. She moves from place to place with purpose, direction, and strength but when she sits, she is present in the moment. The unit of time in Stella's life is the second. Within that second there is strength and softness. This second expands and oscillates in minutes, hours, days, and years. As the world turns Stella turns with it, but she does like to be in control of where the on and off button is, so she can control the speed of the spin.
"Something that I aim for is to be really present in my body and the music," she states. "Earth reminds me to be grounded, steadfast, and strong. Water: to allow myself to flow, and Earth to balance out. Fire: passion and fire. Air: to always honour the mystery of life and the spiritual," she generously comments in regards to the tattoo that peaks out from behind her wrist.
The Arts, authenticity, good food, family, and dancing are after all what make Stella's world spin, always in close orbit to what matters. "I feel like in our interactions with each other, in the way we engage and relate to one another in culture, there is not as much humanity as there could be. I want to bring that and maintain that in my art."
"we are all people."
Although Stella might disagree, maybe Stella's Mother didn't leave Stella, but went up to meet her, after all this girl has been nestled in the stars for an eternity. "I found this letter that my mum wrote before she died. She wrote one for each of my sisters and they were typed up and it was just:
"Stella you must perform, you are such an incredible performer. You have an amazing ability to communicate emotion through song."
Yes, she does, and she needs a big stage to do it on. Catch this Stella soon and make a wish, you will be glad you did.
Images by: Laura May Grogan