Lennon Stella: I owe a lot to Nashville but I look at it like a separate part of my life
She's only 19 but Lennon Stella's star is rising – her achievements include a viral YouTube channel with more than 100 million views and a collaboration with One Direction star Liam Payne. The Canadian singer and actor speaks to Alex Green about dealing with her newfound fame and reinventing herself following her departure from hit US TV series Nashville
LENNON Stella is waiting to go on stage at the Halle 622 – a vast converted warehouse venue in the north of Zurich.
Her job? To open for Anne-Marie on the first night of the international pop star's European tour. It's no small feat for a Canadian 19-year-old with only a single EP under her belt.
But Stella is "stoked", eager to get on stage and sing to an audience of thousands. She has the cool confidence of someone who has been doing this for years. And in a way, she has.
The Ontario-born actor and musician has already achieved immense success, having appeared in the hit ABC TV series Nashville as up-and-coming country music star Maddie Conrad alongside her real-life sister Maisy. Barely in her teenage years, she had found an international audience.
Before that, the siblings (performing as Lennon and Maisy) had already become viral stars after a cover of Robyn's Call Your Girlfriend they uploaded to YouTube took off. The video has been watched some 300 million times.
Nashville, a tale of legendary country music superstar Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) whose stardom begins fading, was accompanied by a series of best-selling soundtrack albums.
During their years on the show, Lennon and Maisy sold more singles than any other members of the cast. In 2014 they were invited to perform at the Country Music Association Awards and in 2015 turned their hands to writing, penning a children's book together called In The Waves.
And all this before Stella kicked off her career in music in earnest.
"I definitely owe a lot to it," she says of her teenage years spent filming in the show's Tennessee namesake. "But I look at it like a separate part of my life.
"Filming every day, I didn't have much freedom – or any freedom. It was very structured and I wasn't really able to put music out. It's a very separate part of my life. It genuinely feels like a whole lifetime ago. But I also completely discovered myself as a human, as an artist, everything, while on the show.
"And I owe all of it to the people, the cast, everyone who was a part of that show. They were the people who raised me."
Her musical touchstones veer away from the camp brilliance and poppy country music of Nashville. Instead, she says, she enjoys the blissed-out sound of psychedelic rock.
"I love Tame Impala, I love Beach House, I love the 1975 and then for a long time I've really loved Fleetwood Mac, which are more like 70s," she explains.
Stella has a relaxed poise but speech gives her age away. She peppers her sentences with "likes". Things are "crazy" and "amazing" and "awesome".
But such confidence is well earned. Only a few years into her career in music, Stella has worked with One Direction's Liam Payne on a top 20 hit – superstar DJ Jonas Blue's hit Polaroid. Her connection? Romans, real name Sam Roman – the songwriter behind John Legend, Clean Bandit and Little Mix.
Payne and Blue were putting the final touches to Polaroid but needed a female voice. Romans threw Stella's name into the ring.
"Jonas found me and the whole thing happened very naturally," she explains.
"I went to London and I got the vocals and met Liam and it all felt real right, and just fell into place pretty naturally. That was such a fun thing."
The pair became close, close enough for Payne to make a surprise appearance at one of her more intimate shows at The Fonda Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
"That was so awesome," she whispers excitedly. "Liam happened to get into LA the morning of my show. So we were like, 'Why not just have him come out?' She adds: "It was a nice surprise and just a fun moment."
The One Direction star, who has been romantically linked with supermodel Naomi Campbell, trod a similar path of childhood stardom. Stella says they shared an understanding of the pressures of fame come too soon and he took pains to guide her through the moral maze of the music industry.
"He was so nurturing and so cool with me the whole time," she remembers. "It was very new to me to be performing at massive arenas. I was very new and he was very comforting and made a point of making me comfortable."
Her newfound fame has its benefits. It's allowed her to meet some of her musical heroes including Stevie Nicks, who she encountered after a show at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
"That was a wild moment," she exclaims. "She said she was a fan of the show I was on. I was very freaked out. I was very shocked. She was like, 'I actually have some of your music', and I just couldn't handle that. Very surreal, very surreal."
After a childhood spent singing with her sister, Stella decided to strike out on her own. And for good reason. Maisy is four years her junior and life on tour with Anne-Marie in no place for a 15-year-old.
Stella also writes about things her sister doesn't yet understand – break-ups, breakdowns and the emotional complexities of Generation Z life. She also has just released a single with the age-inappropriate title Bitch.
"It's important for us to grow on our own and stand on our own two feet and feel independent," she says.
Stella is perched on the cusp of stardom. Her aesthetic is clear (the video for her recent single glides by in a Wes Anderson-inspired palette of pastel hues). Her music is poppy yet offbeat, slick yet built on layers of genuine musicality, and her candour is confident yet humble. The makings of a star.
This will play out next year with the release of her debut album, much of which is already written.
"You come to a crossroads where something is ending and now where do I want to go? Which direction? You have to really consider all of that," she reflects.