Stela Cole soared to remarkable heights, boasting a million monthly listeners, quadrupling her social media following, and achieving her most triumphant streaming year, 2022. However, amidst these victories, Stela, known as Hollyn Shadinger, was at an emotional and creative crossroads. Overwhelmed by social media demands, she embarked on a transformative journey in 2023. Prioritizing her mental health, Stela gracefully parted ways with her label, disconnected from social media, and redirected her focus to her guitar, the studio, and cherished records.
Marking the release of the anticipated single "Die Hard," Cole, in collaboration with award-winning director Eliot Lee, brought her artistic vision to life through a series of interconnected music videos and vignettes. Co-starring Noah Gonzalez, this visual series forms an endless loop, skillfully embodying the themes that define her upcoming body of work—endless loops, repetitive cycles, and habits. Intersect spoke to Cole in anticipation of the release of "Die Hard."
Tonight marks the premiere of "Die Hard." As you make your comeback, discuss the thoughts running through your mind in anticipation of the release.
I don't want to sound cliche, but I felt this feeling all day. And it's almost like this is the very beginning of my career because it's been such a rebirth from a departure from my old sound. Um, but it feels like the most authentic version of myself. And it feels like I'm in my storytelling. I'm giving the full truth of my story, what I've been through, and what's made me the artist I am today. So it's a very overwhelmingly exciting feeling. I feel like this is like a new era and career, which I'm just over the moon about.
"Die Hard exudes a considerable amount of badassery, and I understand that you appreciate that. With the allure of a badass edge, do you envision embracing this vibe in the upcoming era? Are you planning to intensify your efforts in making it more edgy and leaning towards a pop-rock aesthetic?"
What makes this so badass to me is the effortlessness that it has. Cause I feel like in my previous stuff, I was almost like having to be everyone looking at me; I'm a badass bitch. I have to prove it. But I feel so at peace with this body of work, and this album that I'm building towards and "Die Hard" that I think what makes it so empowering and so cool is that it's just like, this is me, and this is who I am, and I'm not trying to be anything that I'm not and here's the fucking story. So, it's something that I want to continue leaning into more because it feels authentic and very at home for me.
So, where did that initiation occur for you? Did it begin during the songwriting process or after you created the song and paired it with visuals?
It started with a song for me. And I've just been through so much stuff, and for the longest time, I was only telling 20% of my story, and 80% of it was just being neglected and not spoken about. Because the 20% I was talking about was the confidence and the days I wake up feeling good. Still, The only reason I was able to write those songs is because I had been through so many horrible relationships and situations in the past that I was never talking about. And I felt like there was becoming this vast disconnect between me and my existence as a human and the music that I was putting out into the world. And I need to take a step back and recenter and learn how to tell my story from the most truthful perspective. And "Die Hard" was one of the first songs that I did that with, and it just opened up this entirely new world visually to pair with it, and yeah, I feel like "Die Hard" changed everything, which is also why we're choosing for that to be the lead single off of this rollout.
What is your starting point in the songwriting process? Do you initiate with a beat, commence with a spontaneously crafted lyric, or embark on your creative journey with a narrative in mind?
I get high. I will roll a joint or do an edible and spend a lot of time writing outside of the studio because I like to show up to the studio very prepared. But yeah, I'll usually roll up a joint or smoke a bit, grab my guitar, and start messing around with melodies. And it's either the melody that comes first or the song title that comes first because I'm constantly on Pinterest, always looking at super cool things, like aesthetic and visual things, and they feel very in my lane. As soon as a lyric concept or an idea comes to my brain, it doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing; I will write it down in my notes. So I have this super long list of concepts ready to go at all times, but I flesh them out and develop them when I'm just sitting at home, like pretty late at night, just with my guitar. I just kind of throw shit at the wall until I'm like, oh, that sounds good. And then, from there, I'll bring it into the studio and have my producers and co-writers help me finish the song if it needs to be finished.
In pursuing that, one aspect I particularly admire about "Die Hard" is the accompanying visuals. Could you share your experience collaborating with award-winning directors and shed light on the creative process?
It was genuinely one of the most incredible things. That's been the highlight of my career so far. Eliot Lee is phenomenal. And I knew right off the bat with this new rebrand and sound that I wanted to ensure the story was being told in the most clear way possible. And I knew I wanted to make music videos that felt like you're watching a film. I was like, I want to treat it like a movie. Like we're making a fucking movie. But I wanted, yeah. And my creative director, Maya Sassoon, is phenomenal, and she connected me to Eliot Lee and said, "Bro, trust me." Like, this guy knows how to tell the fuck out of the story. And I was like, then that's my guy. Cause it was for me, it was all about, it wasn't really about the glitz or the glam or like the whole like aesthetic more than it was about just the story and having people who watch it feel that emotion of being like, wow, something is happening here. I've been there before. And yeah, Eliot was phenomenal. I wouldn't have wanted anybody else to direct those music videos.
Were you involved in the decision-making process for your wardrobe? I noticed the infamous Urban Outfitters corset.
Let's go! I had always come prepared with Pinterest boards and mood boards, so when we reached out to stylists, I had an idea of what I was going for. One of the references was this cute corseted white dress that Brigitte Bardot wore in the 70s. And so that was-
That's what I thought it clicked from! I watched it and said, "Oh my gosh, yes!"
I love that you picked up on that. That's incredible. But yeah, so I sent that Pinterest board of my stylist, and she was like, " Oh, I got you. " She put everything together from there, and I was like, " Yeah, this is quite literally perfect. "
You've touched upon the challenges of maintaining consistency and making choices that lead down the wrong path with the wrong people, even when aware of the consequences. Could you delve deeper into the personal significance of these lyrics for you? What specific experiences shaped the emotions you're conveying in your music?
I have always struggled with standing up for myself. I'm not a people pleaser, but I feel happiest when making other people happy, even if that sometimes means sacrificing my own happiness, which is not great. It's not healthy. It's something that I've been working on a lot through therapy. But because of that, I've fallen into multiple relationships where I was being mistreated, and I was letting it happen. I was ignorant of the red flags and saw them so clearly. I knew they were red flags, and I would ignore them regardless because I didn't think I loved myself enough to know that I deserved better for a long time. I did it. So I would build enough resentment and anger towards being treated so poorly with this person and anger towards myself that I would be like, I've had enough, and I would get out of it. And I would have this moment of courage and empowerment and be like, "Oh my God, I'm suddenly healed." And then, just three months later, to repeat the same cycle with somebody else who was just the same person disguised as someone else. And that's, unfortunately, a common thing that many people go through. I was always writing about the confidence, little moments of confidence in the story, but I was never writing about how awful it is to like be in something so broken. And I want to "Die Hard" to capture that because that was such a reality for me for years and years and years. There's something more relatable about talking about the dark stuff and what has shaped you into the person you are rather than just like all the; I'm so confident, nothing's wrong with me.
"Die Hard" draws visual inspiration from Insidious. Can you offer insights into the storytelling elements and symbolism you specifically chose for the video and elaborate on the reasons behind those choices?
Another essential thing we wanted to capture was the intimacy of the relationship and how no one sees what goes on in a relationship behind closed doors. So even though the setting was in a public bar with people in it, we wanted it to feel just eerie enough to show that energy of what it's like behind closed doors when no one's looking. We intentionally had clips where people in the bar would ignore the fact that he was putting a gun to my head and ignore all of these progressive things that these things were getting out of hand because we wanted to show how isolating and lonely being it an abusive or toxic relationship can feel sometimes.
Building upon that, the song explicitly emphasizes repetitive loops, cycles, and habits. After the single is released, do you intend to carry forward these themes into future projects? Or do you envision it as a gradual increase in expressing your confidence and evolving feelings about yourself?
So that's something I want to keep from giving too much away with the album and the record I've been building. But it's going to be a recurring theme. Because of this whole body of work, and once again, the reason we chose to lead with "Die Hard," I feel like it perfectly wraps up this story that I want to tell, and it gives a baseline understanding of what this new era will be about. I want to talk to people about the vicious cycle of not choosing yourself or losing yourself to something. I've been able to line it up to where the singles coming out are so far lined up to where it's like a heartbreak record followed by an empowering one. But then it goes back to a heartbreaking record. And I want to take people on this emotional rollercoaster of yanking their emotions back and forth because that's how that never-ending cycle of abusive and toxic relationships feels when you're in it. And I want the release pattern to make people feel that same way when they're listening to it, to where they're like, what's going to happen next? Like, are we going back? Or are we having a moment of confidence? I want it to be a recurring theme throughout the project.
As you create a new theme and consider the distinctiveness of your past projects, how significant were your influences and inspiration in shaping your plans for this new era and your upcoming music?
A lot. I love music. I grew up as an athlete, but before I got into music, I still loved listening to it. And so I returned to my roots of some of the music that influenced me at the beginning of my career, which I'd strayed from for a while. But I went back to my roots, and I just let myself live in that 70s Fleetwood Mac, I guess 60s and 70s, but the Zombies, the Mamas, and the Papas, and then like Bridget Bardot, Nancy Sinatra, like all of the icons, like I let myself live in that world. I would listen to only that kind of music daily because I just wanted to feel like that was me with every bone in my body. That heavily influenced the music that I was making, but it also, I think, just showed me where I fit in the most as an artist and a songwriter. The music I'm making now feels the most like home out of anything I've ever created. So, it's influencing me and making me realize what I should do with my sound.
Considering the sound you've crafted, do you intend to perform these songs live?
I'm so excited to play these live. It's been something that I've been pulling back on for so long. One, because of the pandemic, and then two, after that, I was in and out of deals, and there were so many stops and goes, and I was just like, fuck, I want to play live, but it just wasn't the right time. And I'm so glad that I have waited until now to start digging into that because, once again, I feel like this release is the beginning of the rest of my career. And I'm very excited to start building out my live shows with this being the foundation. And this kind of music I'm making now caters to live performances more than the records I made before, which is super exciting. And I will also make vinyl because this kind of music also calls for that. It's got that vintage, raw band kind of energy. It still has, you know, hints of pop and stuff, but I love that it is a live show. That's something I'm excited to dig into.
I sense that you might already have a Pinterest board envisioning how you want the vinyl to look.
Yeah, I do. I have everything planned out. It's insane, but that shows how much effort and planning went into this specific project.
Expanding on that, considering your substantial online presence, do you sense any pressure now? Or do you feel a sense of relief that you can finally release all this music exactly how you envisioned it and want it to look?
I feel released, and I feel very at peace. The main reason is that I forced myself to quit social media for a year. I hit a point where I was like, music is not fun for me anymore. And that was a terrifying feeling because music has always been the one thing besides my family; my family is amazing. But music has always been the one consistent thing in my life that I can rely on no matter what. And social media was starting to, I guess, take that away from me because all I would hear people saying is, post, post, post like you have to go viral. You have to make a TikTok. I started changing how I wrote music to cater to the algorithm and hoped to go viral. And then, all of a sudden, I looked around and asked, do I even like making music anymore? I wasn't happy. That was a terrifying feeling because music has always been the thing I love the most. So, I took a step back from social media, and it was the best decision I've ever made, maybe in my life. It's been the best thing for my art and future career, and it's also made returning to social media a lot more exciting because I feel refreshed and have a new mindset and mentality on how I want to approach it. And that is exciting to me. And because I feel so creatively refreshed, I'm ready to talk to my fans. I'm ready to get to know new faces. I'm prepared to catch up with my fans that have been around for a long time. And I'm just so ready for my music to be out, and it's all good feelings.
Your response naturally leads me to the final question I ask everyone in interviews. Whether for new fans or those following you until now, is there something specific you'd like to convey or offer them to look forward to after the release of "Die Hard?"
Gosh, I don't even know. I want to prepare people and say, get ready. Because this new music sounds drastically different from anything else I've put out before. So prepare now. It's going to be an emotional roller coaster. But it's going to hit home for a lot of people. And I am here to connect, and I'm here to make people feel seen.