Some may know Lennon Stella from her role as Maddie Conrad on Nashville, the television drama that chronicles the lives of a handful of country music singers at various stages in their careers. Others may know her from her viral explosion on YouTube; one video, which features her and her sister covering Robyn & Erato’s “Call Your Girlfriend!” (popularly known as “The Cup Song”), accumulated over thirty-million views. But now, people are going to start to know Lennon Stella because of her own music. Indeed, the twenty-year-old, Ontario-born, Nashville-raised songstress is at last debuting her long-awaited first album this week, appropriately titled Three. Two. One.
Practically growing up onscreen—Stella first started acting on Nashville when she was twelve—afforded her the time to cultivate a dedicated fanbase. By the time she graduated from the series, she had already amassed over eight-hundred-thousand Instagram followers—who would surely be eager to hear what she had to say musically. She already has one European tour and one U.S. arena tour, opening for The Chainsmokers, under her belt.
We caught up with a quarantined Stella to talk about the album’s creation, her love of touring, and the video that started it all.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Nashville. I’m glad that I made it back. I would hate to be stuck anywhere other than home.
What’ve you been doing to keep busy?
Honestly, it’s been such a busy time because of the album. Somehow I’ve gotten more busy while in quarantine. But other than that, I’ve been cooking every night, which has been a real stretch for me. I go on Pinterest and see what looks yummy. I did a jambalaya.
You were born in Ontario—when did you move to Nashville? Did you move for the show?
I moved in 2009, before the show. My parents were on a reality show called Can You Duet. They moved for their music in ’09, and the show started in 2012.
What was it like growing up in a musical household? And what kind of music did you parents do?
Oh, they played Americana, singer-songwriter music. But they were also into really old-school country, like Roger Miller. Definitely grew up with that, and a lot of 70s music—my mom loves that.
Did that music influence you?
Yes, for sure. Definitely Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Nora Jones—it was all over the place, really. It’s all I’ve ever known, I think it was a great way to grow up. It was such a creative, free, and inspiring household, which I loved.
Nashville put you on a more traditional music track; but you were a YouTube star first. At a very young age, you had a video of you and your sister singing “The Cup Song,” with upwards of thirty million views. What was that like?
It happened spontaneously, at the same time as the show was starting up. I was twelve and my sister was eight at the time, and we posted this video, and it suddenly went viral. It was very weird. We had done nothing prior to it. But, it’s what got us on the TV show. We already had the parts on Nashville, but we couldn’t take them because we were Canadians without visas. And we couldn’t get visas because we hadn’t done anything yet. But because of the press the video got, we were able to get the visas and be on the show. Everything fell into place.
What a lucky break, yes. Had you always planned on becoming a singer? Or when you got your role on Nashville, did you feel you wanted to pursue acting?
Music was always a theme. My sister was the one who first auditioned for the show, but they had asked me to audition, too, because they saw a video of us singing together—a different one than the one that went viral. I had never considered acting before that, but I got the part, and we stayed on for six years. I definitely found a love for acting, and I would like to continue doing it in the future…but after I’ve given my full energy to the music world.
How would you describe your debut album?
People have been waiting for music for awhile, and I’ve been eagerly ready to put it out in the world. I feel that the album is just an honest representation of me as a person and artist; I’ve been given so much time and freedom to find my sound. This album reveals sides of me that I haven’t shown yet. It feels like a new beginning.
Tell us about the writing and recording process.
A lot of it was done in my writing camp in Cabo. It was just my favorite writers and producers, and we went there for eleven days and wrote for the album. A lot of the songs written in the camp actually made it on the album, which is lucky. When you do something like this, it’s rare that it works. But I lucked out that it was such a creative and inspiring space. I really understood myself and the people around me; and I feel like they all really understood me.
What’s your opinion on touring? It can be really difficult sometimes, surely.
With the last tour I did, I found a new love for it. I’ve always liked moving and not being super stable in one place, so I enjoy it. Headlining was so rewarding, and I really enjoyed seeing all these different places, meeting different people, and feeling the energy of it all. And now that I’m going to have an album full of music that I love, it’s going to be even different, because I’ll be playing songs that are new, fresh, and exciting…rather than songs I’m a little bored of. With that being said, I’m also a homebody. When I’m in that space, I’m ready to go, and I love it. But I also like being home and having some consistency. I also really need my sister, my mom, and my boyfriend to come out, or I just feel so isolated. I have to be in a good headspace. If I’m not, it gets really difficult.
What were some of the bad experiences?
I feel like I must have lucked out. The food is tough, all around; there have definitely been times where you go the whole day munching on chips, because it’s difficult to find solid food…especially on off days. But typically, it’s actually fine. As long as the bus is good, I can live off the bus. I don’t mind it.
On the Chainsmokers’ tour you performed in arenas, and that can be a different beast entirely. Did you develop any pre-show routines to get yourself in the right headspace?
Listening to music really loud before going onstage to get my energy up. You need to bring a completely different level of energy to an arena. You can’t rely on the people to get you there, especially when you’re opening. At my shows, if I walk out and I’m not feeling one-hundred percent energized, I instantly get it from everybody. But a lot of the times when you’re opening, you have to give it to them even if they’re not giving it to you. You just have to stay consistently alive throughout the entire show. So amping myself up is really crucial.
What songs off this new album are you most excited to perform?
“Fear of Being Alone” is a fun one Also excited to play “Pretty Boy” and “Much too Much.”
Are there any songs that are difficult to perform live?
Maybe “Older Than I Am”—I couldn’t sing it without crying. It was a very close-to-home song that was probably the hardest in terms of draining me emotionally. It’s also my favorite, though, and I had a really positive experience recording it.
You’ve mentioned that you believe it’s important to associate activism with your music?
I think, ultimately, I want to speak my mind. I read this quote, I’m paraphrasing, but it’s from John Lennon, and it said, “I’m not supposed to be a teacher or a preacher and tell you things you don’t already know. I’m just here to mirror human feelings.” I’m just singing about what I know, and I think what I want is that if there’s ever something political that I want to say or get off my chest, I’ll sing about it. I just want to be honest, transparent, and unafraid to sing about what I feel. But I never want to start problems just to start problems. If it’s something for the greater good, then I’ll sing about it; but I never want it to be drama-inducing.
If you could tell your younger self something, while she’s making YouTube videos with her sister, what would you say?
To not doubt yourself and trust your instincts. While starting out, finding your sound and the way you want to do things, it feels like there’s a right way and a wrong way. I don’t know why that happens, but it feels like someone always knows better than you. But ultimately, no one knows what they’re doing. And that’s a hard thing to learn because it can feel like there’re a lot of people who know more than you do; but really it’s just music. It’s just art. We’re all just doing it because we love it. Trusting myself and my instincts—that would be something that I wish I knew earlier.
What do you ultimately want for this album?
I just want this album to resonate with people, for them to really feel it and understand it…to take something away from it and have it move them in any way. Especially at this time when connection is so important—it’s one thing to really hold onto.