While filming a video for “Love Me Still,” the first single from 2014’s Whiplash Blues album, Annie Stela found out she was pregnant.
Her child was present a few years later for the scenario that inspired “Weight of Life,” the first single from Stela’s forthcoming EP, Joy.
Stela, her husband, their daughter and a 20-something musician friend were at a taco restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. Seated at a table and holding her sleeping daughter, Stela watched as her friend worked the bar, downing drinks and greeting others with a smile — “free as the wind,” she recalls.
As the scene unfolded, the songwriting wheels inside Stela began to turn.
“The very first line, ‘Oh, what a shocker,’ is something I’m sure I said to myself at the time,” Stela says about the opening lyric to “Weight of Life,” which she completed that night upon returning home.
Writing the piano-based song, which melds what she saw and did at the restaurant along with fears and feelings related to being a mother, was a cathartic experience for Stela.
“I think I was very afraid at the beginning to write anything about motherhood,” Stela explains. “I think it was because I didn’t quite know yet who I was as a mother or what my identity was going to be as a mother.
“I did not think I was going to release it,” she adds. “I fought it: ‘I wanna be cool; I wanna be Chrissie Hynde — awesome and tough.’ As time went on, I realized this was the realest thing I had. This is tough, so why not be honest about it?”
Stela says she wrote close to 100 songs after giving birth to her daughter. And when she sat down with her manager to go over the material, “every song that he and I connected with was a song about parenthood.”
Sessions for the six-song Joy began in summer 2018 with the title track.
“It really set the stage in terms of how [producer Tony Buchen and I] were going to work together,” Stela says. “I sat at a piano, I played the song, he stood behind me and in his very quiet way, he said, ‘All right, what if you did this here and that there?’ He helped me arrange it in a very organic way.”
With her prior releases, Stela would often work until midnight or later, devoting her entire schedule to a given project.
That wasn’t the case with Joy.
“We’d get to the studio at 10 a.m., then we’d finish at 3 p.m. so I could get my daughter from school,” Stela says. “We’d do a week, stop and then go back for another week. The stop and start of it was a new way of doing it for me.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Gus Black