Stella Cartiers Lagnefors — known to us as Stella Explorer — only released her debut EP, Dorkay House, in 2022 and has already followed it up with 2023’s Lost Kingdom. In the new six-track EP, the singer has created a sound that encapsulates a spiritual out-of-body experience, combining her ethereal vocals with vintage synths. ‘Club Atlantis’ – the first single of the EP and its central track – melds dreamy instrumentals with musings on hedonistic and Bacchic activities that don’t pan out as planned. The project makes for a transcending experience, offering up sonics that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear in a lucid dream, and what’s even more impressive is it’s all written and produced by Explorer herself.
Explorer grew up in a musical household in Stockholm, descended from a string of musicians, and her Scandinavian and South African heritage has undoubtedly provided inspiration for her to draw from across her music – Dorkay House, released last August, was named after a venue in Johannesburg for Black musicians during apartheid. Prior to that, she was in a band for six years before she began to consider a career in music seriously. She also co-wrote and featured on ‘Before We Drown,’ from Swedish producer boerd’s 2019 album Misplaced, before going on to work with DJ Seinfeld on the 2021 track ‘She Loves Me’. Those years spent sharpening the tools in her arsenal have clearly paid off, with Lost Kingdom acting as the singer’s most visceral and consistent work to date, marking the beginning of Explorer’s most exciting era yet. Here, HUNGER got the chance to sit down with Stella to discuss her new EP and the evolution of Stockholm’s music scene.
Congrats on the release of Lost Kingdom — where did the inspiration come from for the EP?
It came from finding myself in relationships that I lost myself in and trying to view myself from the outside. And trying not to be so hard on myself when I feel like I’m living too much in my head. I realised it’s important to celebrate failures, feeling obsessive and falling behind. I guess that makes it an album from me to me.
How do you feel Lost Kingdom differs from your previous work?
I’m playing less guitar and bass right now, so the songs have less of that in them. I felt cornered when I wrote the songs last winter in Sweden, but then I went to London and was able to breathe. It was there that a lot of the melodies and arrangements came, and I kind of completed the setting of the album. Especially ‘try again!’ and ‘Morning of the Earth’. It’s when I realised it was a “lost kingdom”.
A lot of your imagery is drawn from nature and the sea. Why are these things so integral to your music?
When you’re in nature, your connection to whatever this life is becomes much more clear and vivid. Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to the dangers of the water, and extreme sports like free-diving, and what living a life in water would be like. I had a recurring dream when I was a kid, in a dark, endless ocean with no bottom and no surface. The only other thing I knew was that there were gigantic dark, green-striped sharks — they were a mix of tiger sharks and great whites. And there were mazes you had to swim through, kind of like a subterranean, terrifying Pac-Man. Sometimes I think I’m stuck in that dream.
What was the most difficult song to create on the EP?
‘Club Atlantis’. The demo is a ballad with barely any drums, and the original lyrics in the chorus are “I go to the club wearing nothin’ but Uggs”. I had to think about what kind of message I wanted to send.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?
Exit music. Inner lore. My own private Idaho.
How would you describe your creative process at the moment?
Disrupted because of patterns that are hard to shake. But focused, in the sense that I know what I want.
What do you like to do outside of music that inspires you?
I like to walk the streets of a new city and listen to people’s conversations. Riding trains and buses for a long time — I don’t like it when things end. I used to have a hard time going home or with other people going home. I’m still not sure what home is. It’s an abstract concept, and it stresses me out.
How does the music scene in Stockholm inspire you, and what aspects of Swedish culture do you incorporate in your music?
I’m inspired by my friends, but I don’t feel like I’m a part of the larger music scene. I don’t want anyone to think they can decide what I am or who I should be associated with. I try to nurture my allegiance to freedom.
How do you feel the music scene in Sweden has progressed over the last few years?
We’ve got some of the best and worst music in the world. And it co-exists in a strange way. Just like with any other culture or idea, integrity is key. Without it, you might as well be a salesman. Appropriation of music is a big problem that I think we’ll regret eventually. I think we’re gonna look back at this period of time in commercial music and see these past 10 years as the point in time when we got disenfranchised, confused, and lazy. I think we’re starting to come to that realisation, and I think it’s especially important that musicians and producers do.
Who would be your dream collaborator?
What’s the goal for Stella Explorer?
Hopefully, to make people feel whatever they need to feel.