A Sydney, Australia native, Juanita Stein founded the pop-rock band Waikiki along with her brother Joel Stein in 1999. After an EP and an album, the band relocated to England, changed their name to Howling Bells and shifted their music direction to an alt-country/rock amalgam. They recorded four albums as Howling Bells, played many live shows and festivals and toured with bands such as The Killers.
In 2017, Stein released her solo debut. Titled America, the album is a fantastic smorgasbord of Americana, alt-country and rock. Standout tracks on America include “Dark Horse,” “I’ll Cry” and “Someone Else’s Dime.” Last year, Stein followed up with the outstanding solo album Until The Lights Fade. It includes the great rock single “Forgiver,” which Stein co-wrote with The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
While on tour in the USA last year, Stein performed a terrific session for Ditty TV in Memphis. Videos from that session can be found on YouTube by doing a search on “Juanita Stein Ditty TV.”
Dusty Springfield, Dusty In Memphis
Dusty is one of, if not, my favorite female vocalist. She dances between husky nonchalance and total and utter soulful command. The musical arrangements are stunning on this record, the songs themselves breathtaking. I could never hear “Son Of A Preacher Man” too many times. It’s hard to believe it wasn’t received that well at the time. But of course, like so many legendary albums, it’s earned its space in the canon of classic soul records.
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
At the time of discovering this record, I had no idea of its musical and political significance. What drew me to it was the cover, stashed deep within my father’s vinyl collection in the attic, I was intrigued with the psychedelic artwork. I was hooked from the opening notes of “Too High,” “Living For The City” punched me in the face and “Golden Lady” is still one of my favorite all time songs. His knack for strange and beautiful melodies forever hooks me in—I could talk about this record forever—I’m still discovering things about it, and the fact that he plays so many instruments on it stands testament that he’s undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians that ever lived.
I remember a friend asking me what my favorite Nirvana album was to which I answered In Utero. We argued about this for a while, he was like there’s no way you really think that, defending the sheer punk pop genius of Nevermind. I argued that In Utero was just more interesting. But all these years later, I can admit he’s right. Nevermind is f---ing unbeatable. The pop witchcraft woven throughout those 12 tracks is undeniable. The cosmic pull and push of those three musicians coupled with Kurt’s gut-wrenching yelps and cries will be forever etched on my grunge teen soul.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis Bold As Love
I grew up close to the ocean in Sydney, Australia. It’s a pretty unique relationship you have growing up in an environment like that. You get to know the earth as an open, warm and cosmic place where people worship the ebbs and flows of that great body of water. Hendrix is all of that to me. He takes me directly back to the ocean, there’s something in his voice and guitar playing which is so symbiotic with the water. His guitar playing sounds like rolling waves to me, like in “Castles Made Of Sand” and “Little Wing.” Hendrix takes me home.
So, growing up with parents that really, really dug music was a double-edged sword. It meant you had the best pop education a kid could want, but it also meant you found your own treasure box a little later on, as you were so immersed in whatever was blasting out the family stereo that day. So, finding my own thing was a magical moment. And that happened when I saw the music video for “Human Behaviour” by Bjork. I recall feeling simultaneously perplexed and intrigued and mesmerized by what I was seeing and hearing. I instantly wanted to be her and sound like her. I played that record till I couldn’t anymore. It led me to her earlier recordings with The Sugarcubes and that led me to discovering a bottomless pit of dark alt pop that opened up my world.
Again, one of those moments where I remember exactly where and how old I was. Sixteen, sitting at a table in a holiday apartment with my brother in Prague. We turned on the TV and the video for “Glorybox” came on. We both looked at each other as if to unanimously agree that this was something incredible. We basically discovered a new genre of music and became pretty obsessed at that point. Melting jazz, pop, hip-hop and all kinds of cold and detached feelings along with it, I fell head over heels. Like all good bands, they lead you to other great bands such as Massive Attack—Mezzanine—also an incredible record.
Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue
It may be a cliché, but favorite records are about what connects at the right time at the right place and Kind Of Blue was that record for me at one point. It took me to a place that was deeply my own, I cherished solitude as an angsty teen and this record created the space for me. It’s infinite in its wisdom and musical soulfulness. It has no regard for anything else other than what’s being recorded at that moment in space and time. It’s magnificent.
Gabriel Yared, Betty Blue (film soundtrack)
Again, this was a ‘bedroom record’ for me. I became immersed in soundtracks growing up as they created a sacred space just for music and vision to co-exist. I loved French film a lot and Betty Blue was one of the first I discovered, in it the main character is beautiful and wild and charismatic, and her performance coupled with this eerie and really sad instrumental music made an imprint on me. I went to a religious Jewish school growing up and learned and performed a lot of songs which echoed the same Middle Eastern style melodies I hear in Yared’s music.
The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album)
I mean, what good is it to ignore the one record you listened to more than any of them? I tried not to talk about The Beatles because, it’s The Beatles. But that’s just stupid. The Beatles taught me all I know about songwriting. Literally. My father handed me a giant pink Beatles songwriting book with which I read through cover to cover and figured out how to play each of those songs using the tablature inside. Whilst joining the chords together, I took in the craft of weaving strong melodies and choruses. I got stuck on The White Album for a long while. “Cry Baby Cry” was one of the first songs I learned to play. The whole album felt like the forest trail after the beach walk which was after the park walk. Each phase absolutely glorious in its own way, but I discovered this record in all its deep and psychedelic glory as I myself was figuring out who I was as a young woman. “Sexy Sadie” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” still feel and sound brand new to me. The production is equally mesmerizing and has a lot to do with that. Thing is, I couldn’t possibly say anything that hasn’t already been said about the sheer brilliance of this record in its entirety. So, I’ll leave it at that.
Sonic Youth, Dirty
Along with Nirvana, Sonic Youth taught me the art of twisting ideas and melodies. No song had made me feel as enraged and excited as “100%” when I first heard it. Kim Gordon’s role as badass punk musician inspired me to take what I was doing to another place. This record is a place and a time for me. I was pretty obsessed with this as well as Beck’s Mellow Gold and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish. All these records took traditional ideas of pop and spat them out of a psychedelic tape machine.