“Storytelling is easy when you come up with lies,” Stella (née Stella Chronopoulou) sings on her newest album Works for You. For any other musician, this might be an admission of the workings behind her creative process. But despite the Greek indie pop singer’s love of intricate guitar lines, sharp pop hooks, and a sinuous lower register that brings to mind Annie Lennox, Chronopoulou insists she’s not trying to create a persona. Even her album cover, which features the singer/songwriter in what appears to be a black jumpsuit, was born from a very honest place.
“I brought a ninja outfit and a football to the shoot, my two favorite things,” she confesses from her home in Athens, Greece. “I love ninja suits because I used to dress up as a ninja when I was younger. And I love football. It looked good! It looked like an actual outfit. My label didn’t like the photo. They thought it was completely ridiculous. ‘We can’t go with that!’ But in the end I convinced them.”
It’s taken her a long time to feel that level of comfort in her art. Despite having played the piano since she was five and a family that encouraged her creative instincts, it never occurred to her that music could be more than a sideline. Instead, Chronopoulou aimed for a career in magazines, landing a spot at the prestigious Athens School of Fine Arts. That led to a stint working as a freelance décor editor where she photographed everything from food, to laptops, to Christmas trees.
But music, by Chronopoulou’s account her first love, was always in the back of her mind. Too shy to present herself as a solo musician, she wrote and collaborated with different bands—even though she’d firmly explain to them if they wanted to perform live, they’d have to get a different singer. At one point she even rehearsed with a group for three years, without ever once setting foot on stage. That all changed thanks to a conversation with a close friend.
“I was telling her they were pressuring me to perform and I didn’t want to do it,” Chronopoulou recalls. “And she was like ‘Didn’t you write these songs? You have an obligation to do it!’”
Chronopoulou makes playful gagging sounds at the memory.
“I was like she hit me!” she continues. “I said okay, I’m going to try it. But I remember vividly the first time I had to get up on stage. I think I couldn’t feel my body. I felt like I was transparent for the half hour before I had to get up. I was not there. But then it was weird. I did the first step to get up on stage and then it was like it left me.”
That hill conquered, Chronopoulou began working on her own music. In 2013 she tossed an EP called Keep Me Naked on Soundcloud with zero publicity or expectations. Sure, Works For You, deals with gender identity and lipstick smeared across the bed, among other potentially sensuous subjects. But at the time, the release was a major leap for the musician. She acknowledges the irony with a laugh and slight blush.
“I was too shy to present myself,” she giggles at the observation that her subject matters often veer towards the frank. “When I’m writing I’m not shy. That I can handle. It’s going to be there and someone will be there and I won’t be there while they’re listening.”
An expansion of her 2015 self-titled debut, Works for You is another dip into bold, streamlined pop. Laced with small stories and personal memories (She waxes sentimental about a line inspired by her excitement at getting new shoes as a kid), it’s an exercise in pop that’s equal parts confessional and glam. But as Chronopoulou admits, some stories are closer to the surface than others.
“I was pretty upset with somebody,” she says of the album title track. “It’s about me thinking about that person that I was upset with and how things would happen in a way that it would work for them. In a big aspect. I was pissed off. And then I was thinking in this song, I’m thinking about that I’m pissed off. But then at the end obviously, this whole thing works for me too because I get to write something about it. It’s the stupid irony of how it worked for me too.”
She laughs ruefully, but it’s clear that Chronopoulou isn’t devoting much time to grinding axes these days. After all, she’s gotten exactly what she wanted—a chance to make music full time. And to think, all it took was getting over herself.
“I was afraid of it,” she admits. “My fear was so deep. I remember I had this moment when I decided that I’m going for that. It was scary. I was in a really bad period of my life. I had this girlfriend and we had broken up. It was like I was looking for security. But it was like this thing wasn’t working for me. The whole security feeling. I didn’t want to break up. I was searching all my life for this type of security and I felt it was not working. Every time it would fall apart. Then I felt like I had these, and this is a little bit cheesy, but I had these super powers. I didn’t want them. I would reject to get into that. Everything fell apart again in my head. I felt pretty dark in that moment. And it switched in my head and I said ‘Okay I’m going to do that.’”
At that, she pauses and laughs.
“It’s a bit of a trip.”