Juanita Stein was born in Melbourne, Australia and moved to Sydney at an early age. Her father Peter Stein is a songwriter and musician; mother Linda Stein is a former stage and television actress.
Juanita was five years old the first time she was in a music recording studio. She contributed vocals to one of her father’s songs. The experience, she said, shaped her life and pointed her towards a career in music. Juanita was brought up listening to all kinds of music but the first song she remembers hearing was Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier." She says her artists were Juliana Hatfield, Lemonheads and Nirvana.
Her brother Joel remembers her dedication to learning songs when she was young. "She would sit in her room and learn old Beatles songs with the door shut until three in the morning. This was when she was about twelve. I would hear her voice at night."
She attended Moriah College in Sydney, where one of her classmates was Australian singer and actor Ben Lee. Stein obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Literature while she also studied Theatre Performance and an electronic music course. Jimmy Brandon, who was later a member of indie-pop group Waikiki with Juanita and her brother Joel was also schooled there.
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Juanita Stein wrote and played music while at university, mainly folk music, in duets and trios. She tired of singing other people's songs and in 1999 she and Joel formed the band Waikiki. The name was chosen randomly from an encyclopedia.
They advertised for a drummer to join them stating their influences were Mazzy Star, Radiohead and the Beatles." Glenn Moule joined the siblings to record and release a five-track EP Presents in 2000. Juanita Stein used the pseudonym Kikisun on the EP, on which she sang lead vocals and played bass.
The trio were later joined by guitarist Jimmy Brandon, who Juanita met in college, and released an album, I'm Already Home, in 2002. Brandon left the band in 2003 and was replaced by bass player Brendan Picchio, at which time Juanita Stein moved to rhythm guitar.
After four years, the band decided to change direction. Rather than doing so in Australia, they decided to move to the U.K. and form a new band. In early 2004 the group re-formed as the indie rock band Howling Bells. The band is comprised of Juanita as vocalist and rhythm guitarist and brother Joel on lead guitar and keyboards. Other members of the band are Glenn Moule on drums and Picchio on bass.
Juanita said the moved to the U.K. on pure faith. They did not find instant success. Joel Stein later said: "We stole to eat when we first moved to Britain. We went from being semi-comfortable in Sydney to living almost in poverty."
They released their self-named debut album Howling Bells in 2006. Howling Bells was recorded in the middle of winter in Liverpool and Juanita said it affected the tone of the record.
After completing recording, but many months before the release of Howling Bells, talent agency A&R Worldwide, in its July 5, 2005 newsletter selected the band as its "Pick of the Week"; calling the band's sound as "an enigmatic alternative/pop sound which can be described as a modern-day Mazzy Star on a soundclash with Radiohead."
The band's style of music was described by Mojo as "blues-noir desolation", and by The Guardian as "bruising, narcotised rock'n'roll."
In 2008, Howling Bells signed a deal with London-based record label Independiente and recorded their second album Radio Wars, mainly at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, California. Three songs were recorded at Air Studios in London and one at Sing Sing Studios, Melbourne.
Radio Wars was released in the UK in March 2009 and, after signing to Nettwerk Music Group, in the USA in July 2009. Radio Wars signalled a change in direction; the band's music had become brighter and more accessible, and placed a greater emphasis on keyboards. Reviews were mixed.
Howling Bells planned to release their third album in 2010.
Juanita Stein's songwriting is inspired by many other artists and also by films. Her musical influences have included Bjork, Kate Bush, Air, Siouxsie Sioux, The Slits and Magazine. She cites the films Leon, Frankie and Johnny, Jaws, Edward Scissorhands, Chinatown and Vivre Sa Vie as amongst her inspirations.
In addition to Howling Bells, Juanita Stein has performed with several other musical artists.