DIY folktress Stefanie Santana plays unapologetically cute music. "A lot of people tell me I shouldn't call my music 'cute' because that undermines it or something, but I mean, that's what it is," says Santana.
The Columbia-based singer/songwriter released her debut album I Admit I am Glad this past April, featuring Steve Tirozzi of The Specs on guitar. She met Tirozzi at a food truck rodeo at Holy City Brewery, where she ended up playing a few covers. Tirozzi took note right away and approached Santana, asking her to play on The Specs' album. The connection was a match made in local music heaven.
When creating her record with Charleston-based producer Harper Marchman-Jones, Tirozzi was there to give direction and advice, something new-to-the-scene Santana benefited from. The result was this nine-track album of short but sweet uke, guitar, and percussion tunes that really show off Santana's vocals and lyrical abilities. The upbeat opener "All the Obstacles" brings troubles onto the table in a funky folky fashion before contrasting that with the final track "Starfish Song (That's What You Get for Living in a Tidal Pool)," a syrupy metaphor in the strums of a lullaby. In between, dreamy "Dirt Home" tells an actual dream of ghosts and whales, while the melancholic "Mutual Breakup" conveys heartache in a rhythm you can only sway along to with your arm wrapped around your best friend.
The disc is neither dishonest nor campy. It's about real dreams that Santana has had. "There isn't really a theme to the record. Those are all the songs I've ever written. I write about one song every month, so it was a matter of writing enough to fill an album," she says candidly. Her inspirations stem from typical college student scenarios like studying abroad and missing her boyfriend, calling home and crying on the phone to her parents, and the pure joy of simply enjoying the beach.
Santana is getting around to playing more shows this summer, though she prefers the intimate studio to an audience of strangers. "I don't like to play shows very much. It's stressful and makes things less fun, thinking of personal stuff and all these strangers," she says. "You have to remind yourself it doesn't matter if they like it or not. It takes a lot of mental energy."
The shy songstress has a much easier time jamming with close friends, including playing bass for her boyfriend William Starr Busbee on his debut indie album College Rock II. "A lot of my friends play music and they're all really talented," says Santana. "I got into the ukulele first because it was the least intimidating instrument I could have picked up. People don't take it so seriously, so no one could give me crap for sounding bad. I loved it, and now I play guitar, bass, and the drums a little too."
Santana is also very involved in Columbia's Girls Rock camp, which has a Charleston chapter. The camp gives girls and transgender youth ages eight to 17 a chance to experience and learn about music through performance and various workshops. It also challenges gender stereotypes and encourages self-confidence, creativity, and leadership. Santana is in charge of equipment logistics, but she is most inspired by how these young girls pick up instruments so quickly and how they perform so confidently. "It will make you cry tears of happiness watching little kids rock as hard as they do," Santana says. "It also makes me laugh at myself for being so reserved about playing."