Σtella / Stella Chronopoulou answers the video call at her parent’s apartment in Greece on Kathari Deftera or Clean Monday, a public holiday to mark the beginning of Lent where everyone flies kites and gives up meat in the countdown to Easter. Only Greece’s indie music darling is no traditionalist, so she’ll neither be flying kites or quitting her carnivorous ways.
Σtella’s self-titled debut album was released back in 2015 though Inner Ear Records and became an instant indie hit in her Greek homeland. Now her follow up album “Works for You”, with it’s infectious disco-infused art-pop, is set to make her a repeat offender and do the same. All this flies in the face of the apparent effects of Greece’s crippling austerity, maybe because of the way Σtella embraces simplicity in her work and living.
A graduate of Athens School of Fine Arts, Σtella is a painter, visual artist, performs with bands like Fever Kids, is a frequent collaborator of Greek producer NTEiBiNT and also worked on the music for the athletes parade at the first European Games in Azerbaijan. Here Σtella reflects on her experience of the Greek crisis and gives us a glimpse of the creative scene flourishing in Athens.
What’s been your experience of the political and economic situation in Greece, with the austerity measures?
The whole crisis started around 2009. At that time I was working for magazines. I did that for five years and I was at the point where I didn’t want to work in that world anymore. I wanted to dedicate more time to music. By the end of that year the magazine fired everybody anyway because of the crisis. I worked as a freelancer until 2011. When I did my last job – I was actually happy, I wanted a way out of that world and it forced me to throw myself into working on music.
A lot of people moved to Athens from their villages in Greece because it was the big city and the capital, but I see a lot of people going back home now because there are no jobs and a lot of people have been fired. I had a friend who left just today for Brussels to go and work, he’s almost my last best friend who was here and now he’s left.
Has your creativity been affected by the crisis?
I don’t need a lot of money to do what I’m doing. For this album I wrote most of the tracks and did additional work and mixing with a friend of mine. I’m just about to put out a video that I shot with my phone. I do invest a lot a lot in what I do, but it’s not an extreme amount of money. The new generation of musicians and creatives that I see in Athens don’t have a lot of money, but they’re really trying to do something.
Would you say it has a parallel to something like the 70s/80s in the UK with Punk?
Maybe. Everybody is pretty excited about what they’re doing. Nobody's really looking for a job because there aren’t really any [laughs]. If there are, they’re just part time or you just make a little money. People have some time to do what they like now and that’s very liberating. If you have a home to stay in, maybe you do a couple of things and make a buck or two on the side and then you have some time to do what you like.
I’ve known people that came to Athens to visit for a month and they just haven’t left. Life in a way is pretty cheap here, the salaries suck, but we have a lot of sun and good weather and everybody is excited to be in Athens. It looks like the city is pumping, there are a lot of live music venues and they’re packed most nights.
What are some of the stories that the songs on your new album are dealing with?
With the song ‘Nest’ I was thinking a lot about my family and my home. As we grow up we search for other homes and other nests and that was me thinking how similar those two can be. Other tracks deal with my childhood, bullying - which I used to get a lot when I was young.
‘Come Collect’, I recorded maybe all of it on my friends iPad with her washing the dishes while I was recording my vocal, so I got all those sounds from that. Then I did one more take of the vocals and blended with the one’s that had the kitchen noise. I thought that was fun.
So it’s a pretty introspective record?
Usually when I write about something, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and sometimes it has to do with me and sometimes it has to do with other people. I had this friend and every night she would sleep in a different house because she didn’t want to go to her house and sleep alone. Almost every night she would go and sleep in other people’s houses. So I wrote about that. I don’t judge, people surprise me in a good or bad way but I don’t judge any kind of behaviour, I find it interesting and maybe I can write something about it.
All of your lyrics are written and performed in English, have you ever written lyrics in Greek?
I think in English more than I do Greek. When I was growing up we had a girl from Canada living with us for four years because she loved Greece and my dad was good friends with her aunt. So I grew up speaking a lot of English. I can’t write songs in Greek, it has a different weight to it and whenever I’ve tried the songs are just really cheesy.
I can’t write songs in Greek, it has a different weight to it and whenever I’ve tried the songs are just really cheesy.
You studied fine art and you also paint. How would you describe your painting and what does painting give you that music doesn’t?
Painting relaxes me a lot, I do these shapes where one goes into the other and it’s like a big puzzle with numerous vanishing points. It’s totally abstract. Music is something completely different, I usually get a big rush when I write something, it doesn’t last that long though. It’s a drug, we’re all addicted, it’s a big problem [laughs].
You didn’t actually play live until you were 29, is that right?
Yeah, I was avoiding the exposure, I was too scared. I’m not now. I vividly remember the first time I had to go up onstage, I think the half hour before I felt like I didn’t have a body I was transparent.
Do you regret waiting so long to embrace the stage?
I can’t say the word regret because I don’t like to regret things, I guess that was just my time to do it!