The Canadian pop star and one half of the Nashville TV shows’ singing sister duo, talks Jof Owen through the songs that have shaped her life and music.
Lennon Stella has been surrounded by music her whole life.
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Stella’s parents were both musicians, performing as the country music duo The Stellas, but it wasn’t until she was older that the 19-year-old began to think of herself as a singer or a songwriter.
“I feel like I didn’t really start writing until I was about 16. Before that I was just writing what I felt totally for myself, never thinking that it would see the light of day. My parents were musicians so writing songs was always just a thing, because they were always writing them. I don’t ever remember there being a moment where I decided I wanted to be a writer or a singer, but it was probably when I was about 16 that I began to take it more seriously”.
Before she started writing her own songs, Stella and her sister Maisy went viral on YouTube with a cover of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend.” The sisters would go on to appear in the TV series Nashville, where they played the Conrad sisters and since then Stella has forged her own pop path, with “BITCH (takes one to know one)” and “Takeaway”, her collaboration with The Chainsmokers.
As we talk through the key songs In her life, Stella explains that her tastes tend to change so frequently that she’ll obsess over a song or one particular artist and be completely in love with that one thing before she moves on to a new obsession, but these are the songs that have had a lasting impact on her.
“There are a few happy sounding songs that I would listen to, and obviously if I’m out somewhere and I know it I’ll sing along, but as far as what I actually listen to I definitely like more moody songs; even if it’s happy or has positive lyrics I like it to feel a bit heavier. I’m definitely drawn to sadder sounding songs. These are the songs that have actually changed the way I write or have affected me on a grander scale.”
“My parents are massive Fleetwood Mac fans - and obviously fans of The Beatles too, because I’m named after John Lennon - but they were all about that ‘70s world and my Mum was always listening to Fleetwood Mac. We actually went to see them the other year.
“Every time I think of ‘Dreams’ it just always pops into my brain. I feel like it’s a song that no one ever gets sick of, no matter how many times it’s played. It never gets old, the production will never not be tasteful, it’s just such a classic. That song has always inspired me.”
“Growing up, we were always big fans of Bahamas. They’re Canadian and I can’t remember when I would have first found them, but my Mum showed me them after we’d moved to Nashville from Canada.
“I was just so in love with this song and my Mum would always play it. I must have been pretty young, because I moved to Nashville when I was nine, but I remember being obsessed with ‘Lost In The Light’.
“The band came to Nashville and they asked my sister and I to sing it with them at The War Memorial and that was an amazing moment. The harmonies are so beautiful, and it was amazing to sing it with them. It’ll always be permanently engraved on my brain.”
“This song has forever been my driving song. It’s like, as soon as I get into the car this is the first song I play. ‘Space Song’ is so calming and I love it so much. If I’m ever anxious, or stressed, or whatever, this song is just so relaxing and sounds so euphoric to me, both sonically and with the sounds that they use.
“I definitely incorporate it into the production of my songs and also just that overall feeling. Obviously it’s a totally different vibe but the way that it makes me feel, I want to put that into my songs. That’s a feeling that I want to give off in my music.”
“I’m such a massive fan of The 1975 and I love everything they do, but this song specifically. I was driving in the car with my boyfriend at the time and I was so levelled by it. It hit me so hard and the memory of the way it made me feel is so strong for me.
“I listened to ‘If I Believe You’ for weeks, and probably months, after that. I was so obsessed with it and then I saw it live in Nashville and it was such a spiritual experience. I feel like this song has always sat in a different place for me than any of their other stuff.
“The production is so crazy and cool and creative, and then lyrically it’s just so vulnerable. I just love it. If you read the lyrics it’s pretty dark, and knowing Matty Healy’s whole history I feel like you can just hear his cry for help in this song.”
“Andy Shauf is my favourite artist of all time. If I could have just put the whole album The Party as my favourite nine songs I would. It’s my favourite album, top to bottom.
“It’s a concept record. There are all these reoccurring characters and it’s sung from all the different perspectives of loners at a party. Production wise it’s very, very different from what I do and what I even like usually, but lyrically I’m so inspired by him. His songs have such stories and that’s what I pull from it. I hope to live up to that someday.”
“This song was literally my childhood; we listened to this song as a family so much. It’s just the dream and the idea that you wish somebody would say that to you someday.
“I think with ‘When I'm Sixty Four’ and with ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, obviously they sound so different from what I’m doing, or what’s modern in pop right now, but I think there’s so much inspiration in there that I don’t even know that I’m taking, just because that’s what I grew up listening to.”
“With ‘Just the Way You Are’, I legit remember this guy that I was talking to was so this song. He wanted me to wear this, and he wanted me to wear that - I felt like I very much needed to change to be what he wanted me to be, which is so different from who I am.
“I literally remember hearing this song and it sinking in for the first time. I was driving back from his house and I was thinking that this song was going to be my wedding song, and I’m still so obsessed with it. This song is going to be my wedding song and I don’t care who says no, it’s going to be the song.
“I think ‘Just the Way You Are’ is a really positive song. Even though it’s asking someone not to change, it’s just telling them they’re perfect the way they are.”
“I think I was probably 16 or 17 when I really delved into Bob Dylan, so this song didn’t really come from my parents.
“I’m so obsessed with the lyrics in ‘The Times They Are a-Changin' and just reading them inspired me so much. It’s totally political and I feel like a lot of his songs are. I’d like to broaden what I write about, just because everyone can feel this song.
“With my own song writing, I usually start by writing a song and then I collaborate on it with someone else later. It’s usually a co-writer, sometimes it’s two, but I prefer to do it with just one. Then I take it to the producer, that’s typically how we do it.
“I’m so hard on myself with writing. I was always shutting ideas down before they even had the chance to become ideas, so in co-writing sessions it’s easier for me to flow, because we’re bouncing ideas off each other. That’s how I prefer to write and how I feel I get the best stuff.”
“This song is from the movie Once, I was 13 when it came out and it was my obsession. I remember my Mum not letting me watch it at first because it cusses so much, but when she finally did let me watch it I remember being so levelled by it and the music in it. The whole soundtrack is crazy, but it was this song in particular.
“My sister and I covered this song after we’d done Robyn’s ‘Call Your Girlfriend’, which we’d recorded a YouTube video of and it went viral. It was crazy how it happened; we had no idea at all. We did it for a school talent show but my parents were on tour, so they missed it. When they got back my Mum suggested filming it, because all our family are in Canada. We were just filming it for them and my Mum wrote ‘Lennon And Maisy’ in card stock as a backdrop behind us. It was so ghetto!
“We were never really musicians, we always sang obviously, but we didn’t do anything in public at all. My parents would play shows and sometimes we would get up and sing on the last song, but that was it. We posted the video of ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ and then we went to bed. When we woke up in the morning Ellen was contacting us, it was that fast. We posted it on June 31st and then on July 2nd we were flying into New York to be on Good Morning America. We were 12 and 8 years old and it was crazy, it was so weird.
“There was never any arrogance with it, we just felt so lucky that it was happening. Right before that we’d auditioned for Nashville but we couldn’t get the roles because we were Canadian. We’d auditioned for the show, filmed the pilot episode and they’d given us the parts, but when it got picked up for a series we couldn’t actually be in it.
“You can’t work in the States without having done anything previously, so our visas were denied. They’d literally just pulled us off our couch; before the Nashville pilot we hadn’t done anything at all. Then this song happened in the middle of all that and it gave us the press and all the things that go along with it that we needed to get visas and be able to do the show and it lasted six years. It’s crazy.
“I hadn’t really wanted to be an actor before that, they asked me to come in because Maisy had auditioned. She was originally going to be the older sister and it was going to be a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, but when she got the part and they found out she had an older sister and they had me go in an audition. I knew all the lines, because I’d be running them with Maisy, so I just went in and got the part. Then they changed the ages in the script, so I was the older sister and that changed the whole storyline for those two characters.
“We carried on posting videos just to keep the momentum going and ’When Your Mind's Made Up’ is still one of my favourites from all of the songs we covered. It was never really our plan to be a duo, we posted that video and then it just happened and there was no way to stop it really. The universe just formed that for us, but it was never our plan.
“We both know that we never really got a choice. Not in a bad way, I wouldn’t change a thing at all, but we never decided that that was what we wanted, so we’ve both always had an urge to explore on our own. We both just want to feel what it’s like to explore, make our own choices and not have anyone tell us what to do.”