It’s been two years since Lennon Stella released her debut album Three. Two. One.—a 13-song meditation on broken hearts, moving on, and healing oneself. The LP aligned Stella with the best and brightest in the alt-pop world but what is uniquely her own is a lilting vocal range that somehow feels lighter than air and yet packs a heavy emotional punch.
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In the time since the album’s release, Stella has amassed countless accolades and a widespread fan base that is hankering or more. Stella has been steadily returning to the road post-pandemic and made a triumphant return to Tennessee for this year’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival on Saturday (Sept. 24).
It was clear from the crowd that pushed its way as close to the Gold Record Road stage as was physically possible that Stella was duly missed. Though she hails from Ontario, Canada, the 23-year-old pop singer has long been adopted by Music City. Starring as Maddie Conrad on the smash hit series Nashville for six years, Stella will forever be intrinsically linked to the area. A homecoming of sorts, the crowd was eager to bring her back into the Tennessee fold.
As much as the crowd missed Stella, she in return missed them. Stella is no stranger to Pilgrimage having attended as a fan in the past. This year was her first time to take the stage though, which she remarked was “surreal” during her set.
Ahead of the festival, Stella gave American Songwriter a look at what’s next for the soon-to-be pop staple.
“It’s got such a good vibe at Pilgrimage,” Stella remarked over the phone. “I went last year to see Cage the Elephant and Mumford & Sons, but I’m excited to be on the other side of it playing a show. It’s one of my first shows back. Playing festivals are like little treats for me here and there.”
A treat it was. As Stella and the rest of her band took the stage, multi-colored lights reflected off her all-white fit as the opening trills to “Bend Over Backwards” began. Most of the set saw her play through the highlights of Three. Two. One (though, truth-be-told, we would’ve been just as keen to see her play through all 13) with a few covers mixed in between.
Stella has been posting covers of her favorite songs on her social media for years now. Though, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were all Stella-originals with the way she infuses so much of her own musical style into any song she performs. The most pumped-up, hard-edged song can bring you to tears if it’s Stella singing it.
Earlier this year she opted to record one such cover, “Thank You” by Dido, and released it on Spotify. She brought the song out during her set for a departing somber moment.
“There are certain songs that are a bit faster and you can miss some of the lyrics and then when you play it acoustically or sing it in a way that feels a bit melancholy, all of the sudden you think “wow that’s such a heartfelt lyric,'” she said. “‘Thank You’ is a song I’ve always loved. It feels so frozen at a particular time. It’s very nostalgic.'”
Before the Dido cover, Stella was last heard on a duo of singles that turned the atmospheric, indie vibes up to 11. Slightly shifting gears from Three. Two. One but keeping the same honeyed sensibility, the two tracks, “Bubble” and “Fancy,” were expected to be the beginnings of a larger project for Stella. Now, in 2022 with still no sophomore record, we’re left wondering what’s next for Stella.
“When we wrote ‘Bubble’ and ‘Fancy,’ we were just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what was sticking,” she said. “Later I went back and regrouped and gave myself time. It’s been quite a while now since writing those songs, it honestly feels like a lifetime ago. So much so that ‘Bubble’ and ‘Fancy’ aren’t really in the space of what’s happening now.”
Stella is currently in the studio working on the actual follow-up to her debut. Having recently moved to Los Angeles, she feels she’s in a different creative flow than ever before.
“L.A. has changed my flow because I write a lot there,” she said. “The freedom of both living and creating in one place is so great for me—staying in this creative bubble.”
The time between releases can be attributed to Stella’s belief in manifesting what she wants. Her time in the studio this go around has seen her lean into attracting the right timing and the right sound— letting it come to her freely and organically. She teases that her next record will be more acoustic than her previous work.
“I haven’t ever given myself the freedom to do that before,” she said. “I live my life that way: I expect, I allow and it all comes. I’ve taken my first true mental break and tried to find what actually inspires me. I think it’s very important to do that. My center was missing for a while and in doing that, I feel I’ve definitely found it again.”
Though her next pursuit seems to take things in a different direction than Three. Two. One, her debut will always have a piece of her heart.
“I’ll always relate to it because at one point it did come from a place of truth,” she said. “Having done all of this when I was still growing and learning, I’m always going to feel a little like I let people get into my head at times. I was so young so, of course, I’m going to be influenced by people. But the fact that it still connects to other people makes it all reconnect for me. It sparks something in me each time I play those songs live.”
The above idea was easy to see during Pilgrimage. Stella bounded around the stage with a huge grin, giving a seemingly effortless performance that breathed new life into the pop gems she has in her corner – a collection that will surely only grow in time.
All Photos Credited to American Songwriter/Harrison Haake