The sounds of various instruments bleed out from behind closed doors into the hallway of Austin’s Music Lab where Stella.The North has reserved a practice room for the evening. Lead singer Sisi “Stella” Berry says the storage unit feel is her “favorite thing about this place. It feels like walking through scenes of a movie reel.” Night-blue carpets and black, soundproof walls all but suck the room of its light, save for two soft bulbs in the ceiling that resemble lonely stars, listening to the music unfold around them as the outside world melts away. All that’s left is the here and now.
Story and Photos by Devonshire Lokke
For Stella.The North, the “here” is Austin, and the “now” is an in-between stage of the group’s career that involves acclimating to a new lineup. Having recently completed the foursome by adding drummer Jesse Schroeder, the group hopes to fully lock into place together for its return to the stage in late March. Co-founders Berry and guitarist Saúl Arteta met in Barcelona, Spain, in what Berry calls a simple, “‘I like your sound,’ ‘I like your sound’” moment. After discovering that they both live in Austin and share similar interests and style, the two new friends began hashing out details for the blues-rock brainchild that would later become Stella.The North.
Bassist Russell Simonson joined the fold shortly after the group’s inception, followed later by the addition of Schroeder, who together provide a solid rhythmic backdrop for Berry’s soulful voice and Arteta’s polka-inspired, blues-rock guitar. The result? A powerful strong-and-sweet blend, like bold coffee with a splash of cream and sugar. Honey-smooth vocals mesh with powerful rock and roll, but with a pulsing, four-on-the-floor kick that gives listeners the irresistible urge to dance.
“Eventually we want to do a Europe tour,” Berry says wistfully. “But we want to begin in Austin,” she adds. Of course, the group finds itself in the same boat as many other budding locals in the Live Music Capital of the World.
“At times I think it is too saturated here. There have been days when I’m feeling, ‘everyone is doing this.’” But they don’t let the clogged music scene bring them down. “We know that here it is more… What’s the word in English? Encouraging, just a better environment,” she explains.. Simonson shares this sentiment: “There’s a general friendliness to this town, and sense of community, like everyone’s working towards something better.”
In order to supplement their income, Arteta works as a cook at Barlata Tapas Bar, Berry is a wine chemist at Central Market and Simonson plays in a cover band called Electric Circus on weekends, but everyone in the group envisions music becoming the primary focus in the future. “I never want music to be just the plan B, I’d rather have work be the thing I do on the side. It’s just hard with the 40 hours a week,” Berry says.
When asked to fill in the blank (“If you like _____, you’ll like Stella.The North”), the group struggled to reach a consensus.
“Cheap beer… Lone Star,” Arteta offers with a chuckle. They settled on “dirty soul-rock” for a moment, but they finally decided not to put their sound in a box. “Music. If you’re into music, then you’ll like this,” Berry says.