When 20-year-old Kiera Stella, of Oyster Bay, began learning how to play the guitar in fourth grade, she would sing to the wall in her basement, she said. Fast-forward 10 years later, she is now the most-played independent country female artist on Long Island.
In June, she debuted her single “No More” at venue 89 North in Patchogue. That same week, Suffolk-based country radio station WJVC played the song on the airwaves for the first time. Stella’s single eventually became a part of the station’s “up-and-coming artists” playlist, which rarely features independent female singers.
“It’s a rarity in the industry,” Stella said. “I hate to see girls who think they can’t do something, so they don’t try, and I want to be out there so people can see that they can try, and it can work out.”
It took a long time for Stella to step out of her shell and into the spotlight. “She used to sing in her closet,” said Stella’s father, Patrick Scognamiglio. “Her piano teacher recommended she play at Spinnaker’s for open mic night, and that started giving her the confidence.”
Stella continued to nurture her performing skills as a student at Oyster Bay High School, and she admits that while she never had a knack for math or science, when she went to music class, she felt at home.
“When she played the flute, she would move in a way that other students didn’t move,” said Matthew Sisia, Stella’s former band director. “As a ninth and tenth grader, she wouldn’t sing in front of anybody, including her parents, so seeing her on stage now is kind of a big moment.”
Sisia said that Stella’s “incredible experience” in class enabled her to grow as both a young woman and a musician, and eventually helped her take her first steps towards stardom. In tenth grade she read Brad Paisley’s book and set her sights on applying to his alma mater, Belmont University, in Nashville. “It was the only school I applied to,” she said.
After her acceptance, her family took a trip to the country’s music capital during Stella’s senior year. She remembers the exact moment she learned she had been selected for the university’s prestigious songwriting program in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business.
“We visited Nashville, and it was just after I had been rejected from the program the first time,” Stella said, mentioning that she had reapplied for a second shot at the major. “We were at a show, and the head of the program came up to me and said ‘You got in.’ I was so excited because it felt like I was finally a part of this now. It felt so real.”
Stella attributes her move to Nashville to the “collective support” she felt from her “tight-knit” community in Oyster Bay. “Through the open mic nights at Spinnaker’s I met so many supportive people who pushed me to keep going, and I had my teachers at school pushing me,” she said. “They all wanted me to chase my dreams.”
Now a college junior, Stella works with fellow students in her major to co-write songs as many Nashville musicians do. “We’re encouraged to write with others, and collaborate to create something together,” she said. “It’s easiest for me to write about something real, since I know all the details, but I also write about other people’s experiences.”
Her “kind of sassy songs,” as she calls them, caught the attention of music producer Stokes Nielson. “She started working with the songwriting community [in Nashville],” Scognamiglio said. “One introduction lead to another, and she connected with her current producer.”
Nielson and Stella worked together to launch “No More” into the mainstream. As a junior in high school, she met Phathead, a radio personality from WJVC, at a charity event, and over the years they kept in touch. The connection, and the support of her new producer, would bring Stella’s single to thousands of listeners.
“The song took a few months to write,” Stella recalls. “I wrote it in the winter, recorded it in the spring, and by summer it was on the radio. It all happened so fast.” Her text messages becoming inundated with videos from family members who were hearing “No More” for the first time. She also received texts from her teachers at OBHS, who were boasting with pride.
“Every time it comes on it’s surreal; I get the chills,” Scognamiglio said. “She’s come so far and she’s just starting out.”
With one single now launched into the musical stratosphere, Stella said she’s focused on writing more songs, and getting her music out for the people to hear. “I’m writing every day and looking for songs for an EP [extended play], which will either be coming out this winter, or next spring,” she said. “My main goal after graduation is to get a publishing deal to write songs. That’s the dream.”
And although that dream is slowly coming true, Stella said she would never forget where she started. “I’m happy that I got to grow up in Oyster Bay. I will always be proud of that.”
Stella will perform at The Nutty Irishman, in Farmingdale, on Oct. 7.