distorted lullaby

Track-by-track: Stella Explorer shares the journey towards her debut EP, Dorkay House
By Bailey Slater | Music | 26 August 2022

2022 is Stella Explorer’s year. You might’ve already heard her laying down on the law on DJ Seinfeld’s She Loves Me, manoeuvring around ominous and brooding synths galore, but now the Stockholm-based artist is stepping comfortably into her own realm – and sharing the trials and tribulations that come with it – via a brand new EP; titled Dorkay House after the Johannesburg venue that acted as an artistic haven for black musicians in apartheid-era South Africa.

Out on Year0001, the rising Swedish label that Yung Lean and Thaiboy Digital call home, the four-track EP is a far cry from such giddy electro. Mind you, it does well to escape any pigeonholing at all, maintaining a dark undercurrent as the project hopscotches from jazz to strung-out 80s pop with seamless flow. Eerily tender tracks like Exit Game exist to be performed at Twin Peaks’ legendary Bang Bang Bar, while its follow-up Kill It Before It Dies takes the form of a distorted lullaby scored by murky drum machines and hip-rolling sirens – one for the club-criers no doubt, at least if the bass-busting DJ Haydn remix is anything to go by.

Below, Stella Explorer delivers us an exclusive track-by-track, delving into the EP’s many sonic influences, mapping out the dark and heartbreaking tales that inspired her writing, and the chance movements and emotions that finally brought the project to a close.

Exit Game

“This was one of the first songs I wrote and completed, and it hasn’t changed since – except for one line. I was living far out in West London, making six pounds an hour working at a BBQ restaurant, drinking the cheapest Merlot and just playing all the instruments I could find at the house I was living in. I was in my head, self-soothing a lot, not wanting to be particularly close to anyone. And I was trying to learn how to finish the songs I started. The original recording was basically a Waltz. I like mixing old with new, in any sense, it’s cool to see what things stick together and what loses their purpose. When things don’t, that’s how I know it’s real.”

Kill It Before It Dies

“I found this beat on my old hard drive from 2014. I’d just done the drums and then probably forgotten about it. But I liked it, so I added a bass and decided to use it as a test to see how few tracks I could use to make it feel thick and whole. I was thinking about Patti Smith in an electronic world, at times trying to channel that feeling because I didn’t know what it would sound or feel like. 

To me, this song is a long intro, both musically and thematically. Almost all the lyrics are describing a photo I saw of a murdered policeman in northern California. 

It’s like a distorted lullaby because it’s based on a false narrative but with true emotion at heart, which is fear. Love is blind and if you can’t see you’ll end up someone else.”

Stella Explorer / Photography by Celine Barwich

Gold Rush

“This comes from an old place inside of me, primal almost. It came out pretty quickly, it was clear once I got the chords and the rhythm of them. I didn’t really understand what kind of song it was, but I recorded a version during that day and left everything the way it was, like I usually do. Word painting, some wrong notes and using only questionable sounds from my friend’s electric piano. I was pretty happy with it but then I dropped my hard drive with all the music I was working on, including all the songs on this EP. So I re-recorded it with my friend DJ Haydn who reached out at a good time. Since it was all gone, I had to hold someone’s hand while re-doing it so I wouldn’t lose it or become an accountant or something.

It makes me feel like I’m hopping in trees deep in the jungle. But then the lyrics are about rape and death and the jungle turns dark and treacherous. I was reading a lot about a remote highway in Canada that’s called the Highway of Tears, where indigenous women have been disappearing since the 70s but the government doesn’t care. So they are left to fend for themselves, these women and families with unresolved fates.”

House Arrest

“The EP used to be thematically arch formed, now it’s more circular. I have a hard time with endings and closure, the sense of dissolution. 

I originally brought another version of this to my old band Brödet thinking it would be fun to play live. We just called it ‘the jam’ and my friend Loke and I wrote the lyrics. it was nobody’s favourite and eventually we stopped playing it. It used to transition into an AFX song and it had a funk-slap part which wasn’t popular. It was me trying to combine all the music I was listening to at the time, mostly unintentional. It was all over the place, so I removed things and re-wrote parts, which is sometimes a weird thing to do. Changing song parts can often feel as if I’m not accepting them as they are. Like I’m setting myself up for failure. But most of the time I actually do, it works, so then I flip and try to change everything. But I can rarely shake the feeling I’ve messed with something’s DNA.”

Stella Explorer’s EP, Dorkay House, is out now via Year0001.
Discover more via Instagram

Read Next