While everybody feels alone every now and then, there’s a specific kind of loneliness that comes with living in New York City, as if you bear the weight of the entire island of Manhattan in your heart. It’s a feeling you carry with you on late night train rides home when the subway car becomes emptied and hollow, and in long walks down avenues, passing by hoards of individuals who at times likely feel the same. And it’s a funny thing, like a daze more than anything, watching life and the city streets blur in your periphery — because even as you wallow in this uncertainty, it tends to evolve into a romantic hysteria. At some point when the night starts to conclude, you’ve got to return to the companionship of only your own, watching others experience their form of midnight bliss as you’re en route back to your apartment; and sometimes, you find bliss in this, too.
The NY-based band STELLO is wrapped up in this feeling. The five-piece band of art school grads makes psychedelic music that not only encapsulates this experience with their dizzying, electrifying sounds, but their words are the musings you need on those after hour ventures home.
“I don’t know how people can handle sadness when they don’t have an outlet to make it productive like a musician can,” said Stello frontman Kit Conway. “I don’t know how because that’s the only way I get through anything: by having guitar therapy and turning it into something. Regardless of what’s happening, I can always make use of [my emotions] somehow artistically. Then I’ll always have it, and I’ll feel better eventually, but I’ll never lose this thing that I made at the time.”
These intimacies, often conceived as songs on Conway’s own late night wanderings, are what gives Stello its glowing, quixotic sound and fervent relatability — and why the band has quickly become a staple in the NYC indie scene. While Stello originated as Conway’s solo project, the band inadvertently based in internalization found its strength in collaboration by coming into a full lineup; they’ve since modified the creative process in doing so, and their ascension is only just beginning.
Conway said, “I realized that being a lone wolf has its pros and cons, but it’s way scarier taking losses alone than when you take them with a group of people who are all invested [in something] together.”
While the vocalist/guitarist was compelled to start an independent project after playing guitar for other groups, it was the ease he found in filling out his band serendipitously by reconnecting with old friends and meeting other musicians in jazz school that set things in motion. “[For a period of time] I essentially took a break from Stello because I was trying to figure out a lot of anxiety that I had about the process of moving forward with a band,” said Conway. “I think in this day and age, you have to do everything to succeed. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the traits that people sitting in their home navelgazing and making poetic songs have, are not overlapping qualities of what makes someone successful in advocating for themselves in a public sphere.”
Luckily, he discovered what he needed in working with Ollie Bomann (bass), Will Corona (guitar), Isaiah Hazard (drums), and Sam Revaz (keys), who now make up what Stello’s become — relishing in what sounds like the ethereal liquidized through lush keys and dreamy guitars. Conway may have launched the project with music tinged in jazz and electronic elements, but now with his bandmates Stello produces what they describe as “songs for nighthawks at the diner” (taken from both the Edward Hopper painting of a diner at close and the Tom Waits album of the same name), a fitting descriptor for their gentle, yet intoxifying tracks dipped in psychedelics, dream pop, and rock. It’s your 1:00 a.m. fire escape cigarette break personified, the soundtrack to directionless, rainy day strolls.
In November 2017, Stello booked a last minute gig to play a show out of a basement in Boston. While it was a seedy house show unlike any other, completely DIY with too many bodies compressed into a small space, something changed for Stello the moment keytarist Revaz’s transformative solo played on the band’s track “Even If I Don’t.” A wave of excitement washed over the crowd, hypnotized by the hallucinogenic sounds from the group, and that same feeling overcame the band themselves, too.
Nearly a month later, the group organized a release show in honor of their first-ever EP Triplet No. 1: Apollo. It was a self-described prom where they requested attendees come dressed in the theme of water. Miraculously, it worked, and the show felt less like just another event to come through in the city, but the celebration of a band’s debut. “That was the turning point we realized this was the thing to do,” said Conway. “That’s essentially what brought us all together.”
Since then, and even more so as they’ve found their footing with one another, Stello’s actively altered the musician’s traditional creative and release process: For the most part, they release songs in sets of three, their shows are opportunities to exude joy, and their release shows are typically themed “proms.” Partly a concerted effort and in part simply how the group paces themselves, what they’re doing has undeniably made fans feel a part of Stello along the way; their music sounds like a near and dear friend, just as their inclusivity and familiarity of the way they share music with NYC fans has made them a staple of the scene.
Now, since about the summer of 2018, Conway said they band has reached a point where it feels as if they’re no longer begging their close friends to fill out the crowd at gig after gig. Instead, they’ve accumulated a following of previously unfamiliar faces who sing their words back to them nonetheless. He said, “[When you reach a marker of success like that], I feel like it’s your opportunity to lose at that point — but just keep going. There’s no further secret to unlock. You have just made a connection with a group of people, continue that, and expand it. That shift I think is, for me personally, the biggest. Feeling like at 24 what I’m doing is a legitimate pursuit is really satisfying because it so often isn’t.”
Stello may not be the solo project of Conway’s inception, but it’s better than that. He said, “I think, with any artform, if the end result is the thing that you initially envisioned, it’s going to be disappointing. If any good project — be it a song or a recording or a band — if it’s not surprising along the way, you’re not doing it right.” A band who took time to flourish and releases songs in threes paired with events — they’re doing it right, and touching others along the way, whether they recognize it or not.
“There is no better life to live than spending your life going, ‘I have this idea,’ and then doing it. I think so far we’ve had enough successes that I think it’s given us ample reason to believe that if we keep going, it’ll keep happening.” This seems likely, as even in an isolating New York whose music scene can feel compartmentalized, their relatable dreamscapes are the thread of connectivity you need, carrying you home on those wary late nights.