From her notable blonde waves to her chic style, Lennon Stella exudes the sort of effervescent cool that her name alone invokes. After proving herself as a double threat playing Maddie Conrad on the hit show Nashville, she took a genre-bending dive into the world of pop music, much to the surprise of her friends. Her critically acclaimed 2018 EP, titled Love, me, was just the beginning: the starlet has opened for 5 Seconds of Summer and The Chainsmokers on their World War Joy Tour and released the single “Kissing Other People,” which has accumulated 20 million streams on Spotify and has been featured on some of the hottest playlists, with her debut album set to release in the not-so-distant future. Stella chats with us about the joys of the music industry, how she remains authentic in an ever-changing world, and how her songs bring her life in our 16th issue.
Your character on Nashville, Maddie Conrad, is a country girl turned pop star. What has the journey between genres meant for you as a person and as an artist?
It’s felt [like] less of a change and a shock to me than I think it did to everybody else. It was pretty natural and smooth. All around, it’s just been nice to have freedom and be able to create freely and make music I love.
Are there any elements of country music that you try to incorporate in your current music?
I think ultimately country music is just good songs with good lyrics and good melodies, and I love a lot of the harmonies and backgrounds of country music.
Growing up, did you always know you were going to be a singer?
Yeah—I came from a musical family, and I definitely knew this was where I wanted to land.
How do you maintain being your most authentic self in an industry that pressures you to be something else?
To me, this is ultimately the most important thing above all, so with it being at the front of my brain at all times, it’s helpful to keep authentic and true to myself.
How do you feel about gender inequality and power dynamics in the music industry? Have you had any personal experiences related to this? Is there anything that you try and do to fight against it?
Personally, I have never experienced any difference, but I definitely know it’s a thing, and I think it’s a cool time to be a female in the industry because it’s definitely being spoken about. I’m seeing a change, and I think everybody else is, so it’s a cool time to be a part of it.
You recently toured with The Chainsmokers and 5 Seconds of Summer. Congratulations, first of all! What was the experience of touring like; was it difficult being the only female musician/did you feel a need to prove yourself on stage?
I think with opening there’s always that need to kind of prove yourself, just because you’re playing to a bunch of people that don’t know you or may not really care about you. It was a really cool learning experience, and I definitely didn’t feel pressure from the boys themselves or their team—I think it was just all put on by myself. Overall, it was just a very important learning process for me and a really fun time.
What is your favorite memory from tour?
Maybe Halloween? It was fun because Halloween was on a show day and we all just dressed up onstage.
With another tour coming up, what are you most excited about? Is there something specific about performing that excites you?
Right now I’m most excited to play these new songs that I haven’t gotten to play outside of the people that I know. The world hasn’t heard them, and this is a cool way to introduce them, playing them live and just kind of getting an immediate reaction and seeing how people vibe with them. It is rewarding.
Your fashion sense is AMAZING, especially your tour outfits. What’s your inspiration for your fashion, and what’s your thought process when putting an outfit together?
First of all, thank you very much! I have fun with clothes; I think it’s just a fun way to express myself, and for everyone to express themselves. It’s just a different outlet for me to be creative. I enjoy it, but I don’t take it too seriously. I think it’s really fun, and I’ve always really enjoyed clothing and jewelry and everything that comes along with an outfit and styling it.
What style of music/which artists are you inspired by at the moment?
I really like a lot of singer-songwriter people, like Andy Shauf—some other people like that. I also love Beach House and Tame Impala, which is a little bit more, I guess you could say, psychedelic-y.
Your single, “Kissing Other People” has a sort of cathartic sense within its lyrics. Where did the inspiration for the song come from/what did it feel like to write it?
This song was a fun one because it was more positive. Getting over somebody and moving on and being free of that is something I hadn’t written about before I wrote this song so it was a fun one to write. It’s also a fun one to sing because it feels a bit like you’re at the top of the mountain and you made it.
Your EP, Love, me, features lyrics that have a bittersweet undertone while the melodies are upbeat; What was your intention with such a strong juxtaposition between the connotation and presentation of the music?
I love when lyrics could have more of a heart or a sadness and melancholy feeling to them, and sonically and musically [hey don’t necessarily have to feel that way. I also love when it does actually match up with the lyrics as well, but I think it’s just a fun way to have a different feeling, and I like the way it contradicts itself.
What is your songwriting process like? Do your songs start as poems or do you hear a melody and go from there?
Typically, it’s starting with some sort of an idea, like a lyric idea or a concept or feeling, and then going from there with a melody and finding spots for it.
Your fans are extremely excited about your debut album! I understand this has been sort of a long process for you, what has been the hardest part of cultivating your first full-length album? Can you tell us anything about the story behind it, or what direction you plan on going with it musically?
Honestly, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person and as an artist in creating the album and just figuring out what I want to say and how I want to say it. There are a million different ways to present something and feel something, and I think it’s just been kind of figuring out what’s true to me and how I want to present that. So yeah, it’s definitely been a long process, but it’s been extremely rewarding, and I just cannot wait for it to be out in the world and for everyone to hear it.
How did you select which songs to put on this debut album?
This was literally the hardest thing. When you write (and write and write and write) they all kind of feel so close to you, and I really want all of them heard, but just marking them down and trying to get them down to a certain number is so tricky. I think in your gut you just kind of know which ones to go with, and that is kind of how we chose—just picking through and seeing which ones I ultimately felt like resonated the most and felt the best.
How has the last year been in terms of growth for you, and how do you want to continue growing in 2020?
I feel like this past year has been—I’ve noticed the most growth in myself more than any year, ever. I think that I’ve been just kind of put into situations where I’ve been forced to grow and look at discomfort in certain ways—mostly as a good thing—and just really growing from it. This has been the most growth, and hopefully, I just can continue on that path of discovering and growing, and just continue to always get better.
What’s your relationship with social media like? Is there anything that you wish you did more or less of?
I love Instagram. I think Instagram is so fun, and you can be so transparent and honest and close with everybody and really feel like you’re friends. I think I do a pretty good job of keeping it that way. Maybe a little less scrolling and a little more posting; just things to keep everybody knowing who I am.
What is something that you wish your fans knew about you or about the music industry? Are there any misconceptions?
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that is definitely not presented to the world. It’s an interesting thing, definitely, being a part of the music industry and just seeing kind of how it works and just being very much in it. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions, but I won’t go into that.
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?
Trust yourself. I think trusting yourself is really the biggest thing, because once you learn to do that— truly trust yourself—then there’s really no right or wrong after that. I think that that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned: to just, like, really, really, truly trust myself, and just own whatever it is that I feel or I’m thinking, and just really feel confident in whatever that is.
STORY ISABELLA VEGA
PHOTOS ASHLEY SERYN