Lennon Stella Talks to Students About Journey from Nashville to Debut Album
Before she landed her life-changing role on CMT’s hit show Nashville, playing one of the main characters, Lennon Stella had never considered becoming an actress. Instead, she wanted to be a musician, like her parents were. Growing up, she would often make music with her younger sister, Maisy, sometimes as part of her parents’ professional writers’ rounds.
Though Lennon didn’t want to become an actress, Maisy did, and auditioned for Nashville when she was 7 years old. The audition led show’s casting agents to a video of Maisy and Lennon, then 12, recorded at one of those writers’ rounds. The agents were so impressed that they offered parts to both girls, who would play sisters on the show. But there was a snag. Being Canadian and having no official performance experience, the girls couldn’t get artist visas to work in the U.S.
It was just then that their video “Call Your Girlfriend” went viral, enabling them to get visas and take the roles, which they were in for six years. The show ended in 2018, and since then Stella has refocused on her original passion: writing and performing music. She’s supported the Chainsmokers and 5SOS on tour, and recently released the song “Summer Feeling” with Charlie Puth B.M. ’13. Her debut album, Three. Two. One., was released in August, and Amazon Music called her an artist to watch in 2020.
On Wednesday, Stella appeared—virtually—at a Berklee Visiting Artist Series clinic, speaking with Bonnie Hayes, chair of the Songwriting Department, and taking students questions about her approach to her career and to music. Below are excerpts from that clinic, redacted and edited for length and clarity.
Bonnie Hayes: You dropped the record right after COVID started. Tell me a little bit about making the record.
Lennon Stella: With the album, I really just wanted it to feel thought-out and intentional. I wanted to do a writing camp where I only brought people who I really vibe with. I basically wrote a list of writers and producers that I’ve worked with and really loved, and kind of got this little tribe together. So we all went to Cabo and did this 10-day trip there. It was such a pivotal moment in my life, as a person and musically. Everything seemed to lock into place, and a majority of the album was made there and recorded there. I recommend that to every artist. Obviously, you don’t have to go anywhere crazy, but finding a group of people that you really vibe with...that understand you and don’t try to make you into something that you’re not, and listen to you and no egos, and you just vibe for a couple of days and just create stuff that’s out of your comfort zone, is the best thing ever.
Hayes: If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
Stella: Probably the way that sometimes artists get controlled. I wish it was a little bit more music-based than politics-based. If you don’t go in really having this gut instinct and intuition, you just get pulled in and then you find out that musically this isn’t me, I don’t look like myself, I don’t feel like myself. It’s so common.
Hayes: What’s the best advice you got as an aspiring artist?
Stella: Before I was making my album, everything was feeling very confusing to me and there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and I was not fully ready for that. And I was told, "You need to remember that you’re the one driving, and there’s no one driving for you. You’re the only one in control. You can stop the car at any time, you can park it, you can get out." I had somehow wormed my way into the backseat and was asleep when someone else was driving. I don’t know how that happened. So that metaphor of driving and also being able to stop and know that it’ll wait for you and no one is going to take your place. That pressure that is put on everyone, of "go, go, go," is not always the way. It should be fun; it should be enjoyable. It should feel right.
"That pressure that is put on everyone, of 'go, go, go,' is not always the way. It should be fun; it should be enjoyable. It should feel right."
Noah Angell Boon, student: How do you overcome writer’s block during times like these?
Stella: Up until literally a week ago I haven’t felt inspired. The most important part of that, I’ve found, is to let yourself feel uninspired and not force something that doesn’t feel natural. There’s definitely times when I’m going into sessions when I’m not feeling super inspired, and if I’m with a cowriter I would get more inspired. So I find that writing in sessions with a couple different people helped me stay inspired, and you kind of get through the writer’s block.
Yannis Basilio, student: About transitioning from country to pop music, do you think you can compare yourself to artists like Taylor Swift and how they explore various genres?
Stella: It’s funny because with Nashville, and with it being a TV show, I never considered myself in the country world because I was very much playing a role. It always felt like a character. But then when I moved into the pop world, and doing my own thing and my own music, it definitely felt like a transition. It was something that I was mindful of when I was putting out my own stuff, like making it a gentle shift and making sure everybody was moving with me and not so shocked and so confused.
Daniella Spadini, student: What has been the best mistake you’ve made for your artistic and professional growth?
Stella: I think just maybe signing a record deal so young and immediately after filming a show for six years...because it can be confusing to dive in so quick. But all the producers and all the writers that I love so much came from that. And I'm very grateful that I did so. I think that would be probably the best mistake.
Izzy Hunzek, student: How do you manage your mental health with the pressure to release content absolutely all the time?
Stella: It's a lot of pressure and I think everybody feels it. You have to be continuously throwing out content and bits and pieces of yourself, and at some point you're very empty and you need to be filled up in some way. So try and find a balance and keep in mind being genuinely happy and feeling genuinely good, and not just obsessive over the idea of making sure you look happy and you look good, which I think I'm constantly struggling with.
Sammi Jordan, student: What did you do to make sure that you obtain the copyrights to your songs? Do you have any advice for people [starting out]?
Stella: So I think finding a manager that I love and that really I trust was number one. It is most important, in my opinion, that I remain [in] control over every artistic decision, and that I have the last say on everything that goes out. I would say just finding a manager and someone on the label team that really gets you.
Andrea Correa, student: What is your spirit animal?
Stella: Love this question. I’m a lion, because I’m a leo.
Watch Lennon Stella's video for "Kissing Other People":