Annie Stela emerges from major-label limbo

This summer is shaping up to be a good one for Los Angeles–based singer-songwriter Annie Stela. She’s about to hit the road for the first time in over a year and will finish her tour off with one of the biggest shows of her career: an early slot at Pemberton Festival. There was an early possibility that she was going to have to skip the trip up north, however, as the members of her long-time backup band had some summer plans of their own.

“They found this gig opening for the Jonas Brothers, that big boy band for Disney,” Stela tells the Straight from her L.A. home. Though forced to find both a new bassist and a drummer to back her piano-driven tunes, Stela is hardly bitter about being dumped for the tween set. “It was a steadier gig,” she admits. “It was sad, but there are no hard feelings.”

There have been several stumbling blocks in Stela’s music career, but the performer has always managed to get her music noticed. Signing to Capitol Records six months after moving to California from Bloomfield, Missouri, five years ago, the artist was poised to take on the world. Recorded in 2006, her debut album, Fool, mostly chronicled the move from her suburban hometown to a strange new city. “I’m Around” melds a fragile keyboard melody with weeping strings while the singer sorts out the pros and cons of the all-night-party culture of her adopted home, comparing it with a place where “the trees hang to the ground and there’s never any sound past 9.”

“I went back [to Bloomfield] for a visit and there was this dichotomy of ”˜Which one is my home now?’ ” she explains. “How do I take that feeling of home and move it to this new, strange place?”

Despite a couple of big breaks, including her bubbly Tori Amos–styled single “It’s You” being featured on teen drama One Tree Hill, a corporate shuffle resulted in the label losing interest in Stela, and Fool wound up in limbo. After some negotiations, the pianist managed to leave Capitol with her record in tow, self-releasing it last September on iTunes and her own Oliver Records. “I really lucked out,” she offers. “I think it was good that my record didn’t come out, because I got to take it with me and do what I wanted with it. As an artist you have to be more involved than you used to be.”

With big business removed from her career, the songwriter has turned to MySpace to connect with her growing fan base.

“I think a lot of fans expect you to interact with them and tell them about the ups and downs of your career, to write blogs and talk to them at shows. It creates a different bond between the band and the fans than it used to. Artists used to be shrouded in mystery.”

Annie Stela plays Pemberton Festival on Sunday (July 27).