A Romanian immigrant and university student, Stefana Fratila spends a great deal of her time studying, working, and traveling. After stationing herself in Vancouver, she expresses her creative margin through her electronic, experimental project. Here she communicates her thoughts on oppression, violence, the internet’s role in her musical journey, and living as a musician in Vancouver through her lyrics and sound vision.
How has the transition from Romania to Canada impacted your music journey?
Hugely. I grew up listening to TLC, Destiny's Child, and Missy Elliott in Canada and then I'd spend my summers in Romania listening to "muzica populara" (a kind of Romanian folklore) and "muzica lautareasca" (played by Romani musicians). These all carry decidedly different histories and have impacted my understanding of music and the role it has to play in our societies more widely.
You are a Political Science major, do you incorporate any aspects of this into your music?
Definitely. I initially had a desire to keep politics and music separate when I first started studying Political Science. While studying in Paris, though, I quickly realized that everything is political, including what I initially understood as being perhaps too personal or intimate to be political. I would walk around and just be so enraged by the degree of objectification that I had to cope with. Creating music became my manner of confronting the oppression and violence that I - and those around me - have, and continue to, live through.
Through my degree, I was introduced to a sub-field known as transitional justice. I began to understand learning as a process of bearing witness, and a privilege. So it was on me, my responsibility, to privilege stories that address gender-based violence, body politics, and the legacy of repressive social injustices. I address these themes in my lyrics and I channel my desire to resist against systemic oppression though producing music. I'm translating this into content that can be understood, accessed, and listened to by a wider audience, in order to empower survivors of sexual violence.
I want to break the boundaries of silence and break the barriers of fear we face in confronting violence and oppression. These are highly political motivations for producing music.
What do you plan do to with your degree?
I start my Master's in Political Science in September at UBC. I am an aspiring transitional justice scholar and intend to become a practitioner of transitional justice.
What sparked your interest in music?
I was a teenager and all I did was write lyrics in my textbooks, on buses, and on my arms. My friends and I would go to all-ages concerts every weekend and soon we started a band. We couldn't help but be inspired by all of the incredible Vancouver bands around us.
How has the internet played a role (both positive and negative) in your music career?
The internet is amazing. I booked my first tour in Europe when I was seventeen years old just through sending emails. The internet has been integral to empowering myself to play shows all over the world and combine performance with travel, spending a week in a city and playing a few shows while I'm there. It's always been super DIY and underground and I've gotten to meet such amazing people this way. The biggest drawback of the Internet is that there's so much out there, and sometimes I feel at a loss with reaching a wider audience because it does feel like you need the biggest blogs behind you and for that you need a label with good PR, etc... so there's a lot there to reckon with if you're a truly independent artist.
Where, when, and how do you find the most inspiration?
Fear inspires me. Music empowers me to feel fearless.
Is there a particular message you wish to convey through your music?
There are all kinds of messages and meanings to draw from sound. I use lyrics to draw attention and to confront issues that anger and frustrate me, like gender binaries or legacies of violence and repression. Sometimes this is more explicit than at other times. What I'm most interested in is weaving the beats, loops, and themes a manner that allows the listener to be swept up in both moments of confrontation and of tenderness. I want to create a waterfall of sound that the listener can make sense of in their own way.
How would you describe your sound?
I'm riding on the periphery of so many genres so it's hard to pin down. It's experimental and electronic in its essence, lots of polyrhythms and strange sounds but it can also be ambient, psych, drone.... It depends on the night. Sometimes it sounds like a funeral procession and sometimes like industrial screamo.
A number of your photos as well as your music performances could be likened to Grimes, do you consider her an inspiration at all?
Claire and I actually went to the same high school, but she was a few years ahead and so we only met after I had graduated and briefly lived in Montreal in 2010. She's fantastic and it's been really interesting to watch her become so successful. I would say that I am inspired by her commitment to staying true to herself and speaking out against the gender inequality in the music industry. I do hope, at the same time, that people move on from comparing all female electronic artists to her because there are many other female producers in Canada doing really ground-breaking work that deserve to be experienced without.
Who would you tour with if you got the chance?
Missy Elliott and M.I.A.
What is the first thing you normally notice when meeting people?
It depends on the person.
Your performance set up appears complicated, how long did it take you to learn the equipment?
I slowly started incorporating electronic gear into my set-up five years ago. I started using Guru (the program I use to create beats) in high school. I've had a long time to get familiar with my gear and different software but the very beautiful aspect of electronic equipment is that every artist will use the pieces differently. These are instruments with many dimensions so I'm always learning, in a way, how to use my equipment in new ways. Gear develops with you.
Would you ever incorporate different members into your live act?
In high school I only played with a backing band, when the songs were orchestral pop and made so much sense with live instruments. Sometimes my good friend Thomas Weideman still accompanies me on cello, but he has a very deep understanding of my music and we work together exceptionally well. But I prefer working on my own, particularly in a live setting because I'm creating so much while on stage. I have a dream, though, that I'll one day be able to hire an all-female backing band of Romani and Balinese musicians for a completely new set of songs, something that would take a great degree of rehearsing and intimacy between myself and the musicians.
What do you think the pros and cons of living in Vancouver as a musician are?
Honestly, the only con is that most people aren't paying a lot of attention to the incredible music we have here. But this is changing. My sound has changed so many times while I've been in Vancouver and I've felt supported throughout this process. Vancouver feels small but still exciting. Vancouver also offered me the opportunity to join Gita Asmara, a Balinese gamelan ensemble, and tour to Bali. There are many ways to be an artist here. I kind of experience Vancouver like being in a cabin in the woods because you don't feel surveilled by the music industry here, so you can create very freely. But your friends are all around you, so it's a very good vibe.
Your live show is very impressive and quite different than the recordings, what do you do to add to it?
I often improvise and make decisions about what I'll do in a performance setting. With the show that you saw at the Red Gate I closed with a 7-minute dance jam that sounded like early 90s house music. I wanted to channel the spirit of Aaliyah's "Miss You" (lyrically and thematically) and even though I was singing and looping live, I wanted it to sound like I was sampling classic soul hooks, repeating "What am I gonna do? / Without you / I miss you". It's so exciting to me to create in a live setting, that song was entirely improvised live and the crowd responded so positively and that's, for me, the best part of performing - engaging the crowd in my process.
Do you use music as a creative outlet, like a hobby, or is it something else to you?
I'll always be producing music. It's an integral part of my life.
What do you hope comes from it?
I've already gotten more than I could have hoped for, which was to reach people with my music.
What does the future of Stefana Fratila entail?
Finishing up various recording projects and performing/traveling.