Lennon Stella reimagines songs from her debut album ‘Three. Two. One.’ and talks to Atwood Magazine about her sonic fingerprint, political activism, and the importance of space in music.
by guest writer Emily Algar
‘Three. Two. One. (Alternate Versions)’ – Lennon Stella
Every day is the same right now. Our lives have become infinitely smaller and simpler, which at times you are often grateful for but also more often than not, resentful, that all our lives have been put on a continuous and never-ending pause. Variation and new experiences are few and far between. This is where music comes to our rescue.
Today (August 7th), Canadian artist Lennon Stella releases her new EP Three. Two. One. (Alternate Versions), which is, as the title suggests, a selection of acoustic and alternate takes of songs from her debut album, which came out in April. The EP is a reinterpretation and reimagining of some of the favourites from her debut, including acoustic versions of “Fear of Being Alone”, “Pretty Boy”, “Since I Was A Kid”, “Older Than I Am”, a live version of “Golf on TV” with JP Saxe, and an unheard remix of the song “Goodnight”.
As we all reinterpret and reimagine our lives during a pandemic, Stella has given us this gift of stripped-down beautiful songs full of space, quiet and imagination; a place for us to perhaps reinterpret and reimagine our own stories.
Lennon Stella’s debut, Three. Two. One., is a deliberately understated album full of introspective lyrics and a mood-pop canvas full of texture, and enough space for you to lose and find yourself in the arrangement.
Stella is an anomaly in other words. She started in country on the hit show Nashville with her sister Maisy, writes singer-songwriter songs but sonically blurs the line between alt pop and indie. There is also the assumption that because she’s young, blonde and pretty that she is purely a production of men sitting in boardroom, but when you listen to songs like “Breakaway” from her EP or “Fear of Being Alone”, it is clear it all comes from her own articulate and self-aware mind.
Stella had a tour planned for the spring and summer of 2020 in support of her album but like a lot of artists chose to cancel her shows in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic (also known as the hellscape of 2020!) and reschedule for the following year.
Since lockdown Stella has been doing a lot of livestreams; playing acoustic versions of her songs and answering questions from fans across the world. Stella recently toured Europe at the start of the year bringing her collection of, at the time, yet to be released songs from Three. Two. One. as well as favourites from her 2018 EP Love, me. Stella has also been recording and releasing acoustic videos of songs from her debut including “Fear of Being Alone”, “Jealous”, “Since I Was A Kid” and “Pretty Boy”.
Lennon Stella radiates lightness and a natural inquisitiveness and self-awareness about music and life, even when talking thousands of miles from her new house, around 40 minutes outside of Nashville.
Surrounded by farmland and trees, and now a small menagerie of animals (baby goats, a kitten, and a puppy), Stella is in her own state of quiet; with her touring plans currently pushed back to next year, she explains that she is just “riding the wave and going with it.”
Atwood Magazine spoke to Stella this week from her home in Nashville. Both the UK and the USA are in turmoil and seem to be shrouded in perpetual darkness but like Leonard Cohen says, “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” and the crack in the established and what we see as the “norm” is normally created by music.
Stella spoke about her new EP, the sonic evolution of Three. Two. One. and the beauty that is “Pretty Boy”, her songwriting process, using her political voice, and speaking her truth.
A CONVERSATION WITH LENNON STELLA
Atwood Magazine: Your EP Three. Two. One. (Alternate Versions) comes out on Friday. Are you excited?
Lennon Stella: I am so excited. It’s cool though I am not sure how I am allowed to say as I haven’t really talked about the EP yet but it’s kind of rolling off the album, and putting out versions of the songs that are acoustic and just a little bit different than the original, I think is always fun to kind of reinvent them. Obviously when you’re in the studio writing them, the producer versus like reworking them and finding different chords, it’s fun to hear them a different way, more broken down. I’m excited for these versions to be out.
Why did you choose the songs you chose? “Pretty Boy”, “Fear of Being Alone”, “Since I Was A Kid”, “Golf on TV”, “Older Than I Am” and a remix of “Goodbye”.
Lennon Stella: To be honest this isn’t the most exciting answer, but these ones are the ones we started doing at the beginning before everything got shut down, and we were actually planning to do the whole thing, the whole album of making acoustic videos and then everything got shut down, all the studios and everywhere where we were recording isn’t up and running. So I was like, maybe it’s the universe being like “those are the songs that are meant to be on there and leave it at that.”
I’ll still probably mess around with the other ones for fun but those ones on the EP felt right and they were as far as we were able to get.
“Fear of Being Alone” takes on a completely different feel when played acoustically. It is a lot sadder and mournful; the two versions basically feel like two different songs.
Lennon Stella: I feel like it’s cool when you can like, feel the lyrics differently when the production is so different and just minimal, but I like when you have the options. You can have it come out with all the production and the fun stuff in it that makes it not so melancholy but then you can also have it without and it makes you hear it fully and totally differently.
Following on from that, Three. Two. One. which is amazing, and so introspective and unique, the song “Pretty Boy” off the record feels like the centrepiece in terms of sound for the album. The sound is so unique, it’s moody pop, very ambient, and wonder did you know what sound you were going for or wanting for the album and did “Pretty Boy” influence everything else?
Lennon Stella: Literally you nailed it right on the head, that’s what happened.
I was at this writing camp for the album and everyone was in different sessions, when I was in my session, writing for me and “Pretty Boy” was started without me in the room. We all went to dinner after did our session for the day and then someone sent me “Pretty Boy” to listen to and literally stepped out of the dinner, put headphones in and listened to it, and I was like, “What is it?!” I instantly fell in love with it. And honestly it didn’t change, the production didn’t change much from when I very first heard it.
I instantly fell in love with it and then I went in and just rewrote bits and pieces and I just made it feel like I was in the room the whole time and then cut the vocals pretty much immediately after hearing it and then that was it. We never went in on it and changed any production or really did any other vocal takes. It just felt so right and that was really when production and vibe and different elements that I loved and so many influences all made sense in one.
Like I don’t know, it felt like for a while that everything felt very separated where like, here’s the pop stuff and more modern, and then I love a lot more ‘70s influences and I love so many random things, and I think “Pretty Boy”, the production that Malay did made it feel like it all worked in one song and I was like “this is what feels so right to me.” And then yeah, it literally was the influence for so many other songs, they all just came after that and being able to have “Pretty Boy” to use as a reference for this is the kind of vibe and it all came after that.
The whole album has a texture to it and is quiet in places but it’s very full at the same time.
Lennon Stella: I love that.
I feel it’s quite unusual for a debut album to sound like that and it’s very refreshing.
Lennon Stella: I definitely found an appreciation for silence at certain points in songs, or for space I guess rather than silence; for space to let it sit with you. I definitely love that and when I’m listening to a song, I love when there is space and I can really dive down to what I’ve heard and I vibe for a second even without lyrics or something that keeps it going but you can sit with what you listen to. I love it. I think dynamic is so important.
It gives you space to think, and your lyrics are really introspective. This morning I was listening to the album again and songs like “Since I Was A Kid” and “Jealous” and you listen to the lyrics and they speak to perfectly to experiences I’ve had but haven’t had the words to describe those experiences and then you have this vibey-moody music that goes with it, and they really complement each other. I wonder where does that introspective songwriting come from?
Lennon Stella: I mean honestly, I am just attracted to that in general. I mean that’s what I like to listen to, the lyrics that make you think and have a depth to them, but I also like when the lyrics have a depth and the music has a depth in a totally different way; where the music feels a little bit lighter and you can dance to it or doesn’t feel as heavy. I think when there’s enough room so you can sing about the heavy stuff and have them kind of complement each other, where it doesn’t feel like such a sad song.
I think naturally I don’t love singing overly joyful songs. I dunno why, I am pretty happy person but for some reason when I’m singing, unless like, it has to be one of the other; the music feels really sad then I can sing lyrics that don’t feel as sad but for some reason it’s in me to complement each other, to make it feel like a ballad.
I have always been drawn to lyrics that make you think. Coming from my parents who are amazing writers and have always been writers my entire life and obviously moving to Nashville, which is all about songwriting and if the song on its’ own can be taken and just played on guitar or piano and it still stands alone and stand for itself, then I still think it’s still a good song. I think that’s probably the most important is the lyrics themselves that stand alone, and the production is another element that makes it special.
Maybe that’s why you’re happy, because you’re singing about all the sad stuff out?
Lennon Stella: (laughs) I get it out of my system!
Because at the moment things are heavy both in the UK and the US, and I know you have been really vocal about Black Lives Movement, LGBTQ+ rights and voting in the election. I saw one of your stories on Instagram a few weeks ago when the Black Lives Matter movement was really gaining traction and becoming more visible globally, and I think you said something along the lines of, “I’ve lost some fans over my recent posts but fuck it, I feel a lot lighter”.
Lennon Stella: Oh yeah.
I wonder because Nashville does a conservative element to it and shadow of what happened to The Chicks and the documentary Taylor Swift did in which she talked about being told not to vocalise your opinion as a woman especially if it is political, where as you just spoke your truth, and I wonder where that comes from and if you have ever been told that it’s better to stay quiet?
Lennon Stella: I’m from Canada, an hour east of Toronto, which already feels a little bit more open minded, I guess you could say, and my family, my parents are the ultimate hippies, the least judgmental, so openminded. So I come from that and then I moved to Nashville and I remember being so confused because there’s so many different things, even just with the LGBTQ+ community and I remember being so confused that that was a thing, because where I come from there’s no separation, that is totally thing. Any type of segregation (race, sexuality, religious, socio-economic) I was so confused about because I never grew up around that. Where I come from it is not even a thing and I wasn’t exposed to that, and my family and everyone I was growing up around was so not that and didn’t even make it a thing.
Being on Nashville which for sure had more conservative audience and conservative surroundings, and that is what I was kind of referring to when I talked about losing all the followers on social media. It was thousands of followers a day but then I gained back thousands who are there for the right reasons.
I mean genuinely quality over quantity any day. I truly would much rather know that the people I am talking to and showing myself to are 100% there for the right reasons and know me fully. There’s no way I couldn’t not speak up about it.
Being from the UK I also find that mentality so bizarre and how I have been brought up there is no separation or there shouldn’t be, but I find it odd that you were losing thousands of followers a day. I guess you then think, what have these people who have unfollowed me been thinking or presuming about my views up until I spoke out?
Lennon Stella: I know! I mean literally, when the whole thing came up, I was immediately like really vocal about it and I didn’t even consider it being vocal because I am always this open on Instagram but I guess this sort of thing that hadn’t really come up until now.
To be entirely honesty, I’m Canadian so I’ve never gone into the whole “you need vote thing” until I thought it was crucial. I can’t vote, I can’t vote so I’m not going to sit preaching to everybody to vote but obviously now at this time I need to say something.
But up until then I hadn’t really talked about it, or for anything in that world of news, so that’s why I was so shocked, “how were there thousands of people that were following me that didn’t know that part of me or that are so opposite from me”. I was all sorts of in shock.
My final question, which feels a bit of greedy question given that you have just released an EP, but I feel should ask on behalf of the fans because I know they have been asking about it… “Blacklight”, what’s happening with that?
Lennon Stella: (laughing) I… don’t have a direct answer. I want it to come out more than I want anything to be out to be honest. I love that song so much and the response that it has gotten from day one proves that it needs to be out but there are a lot more things that are involved and that go into the process than me just saying “I want this song out!”
I am doing everything in my power because I want it out, I really do, and I think everybody wants it out. It’s hard when there is all this other stuff involved and there are plans, obviously in the future. I want that song out equally as much as everybody else, that is for sure.
Emily Algar is a journalist and writer who specialises in both long and short form features as well as interviews and reviews. She has written pieces ranging from the commercialisation of feminism and feminism in popular culture, critiques surrounding freedom of speech and the #MeToo movement as well as recently interviewing refugees from Iran. Emily also worked as an A&R intern on the Grammy Nominated Album (Best Folk Album) Front Porch by artist Joy Williams of The Civil Wars.
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