Stella Ruze
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Stella Ruze

Philadelphia, PA | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Philadelphia, PA
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Folk Americana




"The Key’s Year-End Mania: John Vettese’s Top Six Philly Music Finds of 2019"

The roots-rock ensemble Stella Ruze has operated in my orbit for a while now — they’ve been a band for five years, and I’ve recognized their name on show bills for at least three of those years. But a hot August afternoon and a packed tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival was where I truly clicked with them. Stella Ruze played the last on a lineup of showcasing Folksong Society’s Philly Music Co-Op, and when I saw that the seven musicians filing onstage had not only the standard guitar-bass-drums fare, but also sax, trumpet, keys, and mandolin, my curiosity was piqued and I opted to stick around. Good move: the high-energy John Prine cover that they opened the set with totally drew me in, and the original that came later, “Open,” was a rousing singalong with horn fanfare, a swiftly jogging rhythm, and a sense of ebullient uplift. Stella Ruze draws on traditional sounds and styles, for certain — Celtic, bluegrass, New Orleans brass — but they don’t want to play to a room of people sitting in chairs or holding the wall on the perimeter. They want you on your feet, ready to dance, and they give you the energy to do it, singing about life and friendship and community. Their new album, The Greater Dog, is out in February. - John Vettese, WXPN's The Key

"Who’s Next: 16 up-and-coming bands and musicians shaping Philly’s music scene"

Who’s Next Because: Stella Ruze has years of experience performing gigs in bars and parties across Philadelphia while lead vocalist Brendan Johnson sings and trumpet calls linger. Their performances are highlighted by steady guitar grooves and fiery interplay between trumpet and keyboard, and choruses bring the entire band together in four and five-part harmonies. Here’s what the person who nominated Stella Ruze said: “They are going to be the next great band to come out of Philly. Totally unique and modern sound that is complex yet approachable. They sound like The Lumineers meet Trombone Shorty.” The band can be seen monthly at JD McGillicuddys in Manayunk, and plans to begin recording a debut EP shortly. - Anna Orso, Billy Penn

"Song of the Day - "OPEN" - by Stella Ruze"

Stella Ruze? More like Stella Rulez! Stella Ruze was birthed in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia in 2014 and is continuing to grow. They just dropped a new video for their newest song “Open”. This song will be featured on their new album “The Greater Dog”. Brendan Johnson & Katie O’Donnell are the band founders and help write most of the songs. The group also includes Keyboardist Mason Wallack and Alex Styer on trumpet. Together they make a stellar team!

What could be better than Stella Ruze the 4-piece? Stella Ruze the 7-piece! These funky monkeys have added accomplished blues drummer Sean McIntyre who really knows his way around a drum set. They also merged Bass guitar extraordinaire Ted Mayo and saxophone player, Vince Gleason, who is a lifetime member of the legendary Mummer group – Ferko String Band, into the previous 4-piece. According to the band, “Our new sound emboldens our message to fans. Open conveys a common theme presented throughout The Greater Dog- the search for love and purpose in pursuit of passion.” This fresh sound is something they are wearing on their sleeves for everyone to see, feel, and hear!

When I first heard the name of the album I couldn’t figure out what the heck it meant. So I did some digging and actually had the chance to chat with the band. According to Brendan, band founder, "The Greater Dog" is the title track on our new album and is named after the constellation closest to the moon. The Greater Dog along with our first single and video, "Open", are a perfect encapsulation of the band’s transformation over the past 18 months. The addition of a permanent rhythm section and saxophone has completed our lineup and pushed us further into a Roots Rock/Americana sound.”
Their newest single is called “Open”. It starts out bright with horns and a tight snare beat. The beat stays hopeful throughout. The lyrics “My heart is always open” really projects the thought behind the single. “Always be the light that guides” really captures the upbeat and joyous feeling the song carries. If you need a good midweek or mid-day pick me up head on over to YouTube and check out this new single with its brand new music video. The video is filled with smiles and dancing crowds of fans. It really shows the listener/viewer how thrilling a live performance from this gaggle of musicians can be.

I would compare this song to that of a Dr. Dog song. The raspy voice over the uplifting tones really makes this piece stick out over other songs they have released. The keys drive the build ups and the brass section breaks off throughout the song just to kick back in with a POW! I can’t get enough of Stella Ruze (Stella Rulez) and would recommend them for any long traveling playlists over the holiday season. Their next big show is an album release show at Boot and Saddle on January 18th! Don’t forget to get your tickets today and be one of the first to get the newest album titled "The Greater Dog". - Violet Rosette, The 411


Still working on that hot first release.



Stella Ruze was founded in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia in 2014 when bandleaders Brendan Johnson and Katie O’Donnell joined with keyboardist Mason Wallack and trumpet player Alex Styer. As a 4-piece band they released two studio recordings: their 2016 LP So Here and a 2017 self-titled EP. Both consist of songs penned by Johnson and performed by the quartet. Marking the release of the EP, Stella Ruze performed a sold out show on Friday, October 6th, 2017 at Milkboy in Philadelphia with co-headliner Josiah Johnson from The Head and The Heart.

Following the EP’s release, Stella Ruze added drummer Sean McIntyre, bassist Ted Mayo, and saxophone players Vince Gleason and Gabe Preston. The band has established an enthusiastic following, receiving praise from WXPN hosts Dan Reed, Mike Vasilikos, and Helen Leicht. They performed at the 58th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival as one of the Philadelphia Music Co-Op’s featured local acts and have played shows with nationally-touring acts like Pete Francis of Dispatch, Kuinka, Waker, and Blue Water Highway.

Stella Ruze returned to the studio in 2019 to record their first album as a full band. Brendan Johnson wrote the new material to describe his battles with self doubt and the ever-evolving struggle to survive as a full-time musician.  The Greater Dog was released in January 2020 with three singles, “Open,” “The Trollop & The Tippler,” and “Travel Song,” which received airplay on WXPN and Radio 104.5. The band celebrated the album’s release with a sold out show at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia.

Stella Ruze’s sound mixes a variety of genres. Touches of Folk, Soul, Americana, and Funk can be found in much of their original material. Johnson writes, ‘my sole mission within songwriting is to write music that transcends cultures, transcends social barriers and can help a listener in dealing with their emotions.  Music has the power to heal and I would rest a happy soul knowing that our music accomplishes that.’

Band Members