There’s a rule in the Stella household: you can’t tell anyone in the family to stop singing. Ever. No matter what else is going on. No matter what time of day or night it might be. Which is mostly okay with the family’s youngest members – sisters Lennon, 15, and Maisy, 11 – who have been shaking tambourines and strumming ukuleles and guitars since they could walk and talk. Melody vibrates in their memories as far back as they can remember, raised on a farm in rural Ontario by parents Brad and Marylynne (themselves songwriters and recording artists who released a major label debut in 2011).
Five years ago, the dynamic sibling duo posted to YouTube a rendition of Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I,” which quickly went viral, notching nearly two million views. With tender acoustic accompaniment and sophisticated two-part harmonies, the charismatic sisters have since covered The Beatles, Swell Season, Jason Mraz, Brandi Carlisle, and more; their two million YouTube views have swelled into more than 60 million along the way.
(Check out their YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/lennonandmaisy).
Three years ago, the girls expanded their resumes with plum roles on ABC’s musical drama Nashville, playing the daughters of series lead, Connie Britton. Their work is uncommonly refined and mature, their characters becoming increasingly complex over three seasons. (The show wraps its third season with a fresh run of episodes this month.) As they prep for their debut album and spread the word about the April publication of their first book, In the Waves (HarperCollins), a stunningly illustrated adaptation of one of their original lyrics, Maisy and Lennon radiate gratitude and insist that – despite the dizzying range of their accomplishments – they’re still just regular kids.
From the outside looking in, it seems like the two of you are living every musician’s dream – and you’re only 15 and 11.
Lennon: We are living the dream, for sure. It's gone so smoothly so far that it's almost like a big practical joke. Everything's just fallen into place. So we’re really focusing on enjoying the moment. It’s all good.
To what do you attribute that? Is this destiny, good luck, or divine intervention?
Lennon: I just think this is all meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. This has all happened so smoothly that there must be a reason for it all.
You grew up on a farm in Ontario, Canada with no Internet or technology. Tell me about that.
Lennon: That’s true! I mean, we had a TV, but we only hooked it up so we could watch movies on DVD.
Maisy: Sometimes we’d put up the “bunny ears” so we could get some channels. The first time the TV turned on – I remember this so clearly – Lennon was, like, “I wanna watch Arthur!” And I was, like, “No!” I was, like, 5-years old.
Lennon: It was the best thing ever. We watched old movies sometimes, but mostly, it was just guitars and a trampoline. That’s pretty much all we did. It’s kind of weird now; we’re on TV, right? But a few years ago, we couldn’t have watched our own show!
Was there a particular film that was in regular rotation when you were younger?
Maisy: Labyrinth is the most amazing movie you will ever watch. It’s so clever. It’s just a genius movie. Insanely genius!
Lennon: I was so obsessed with that movie that when I got in trouble with my parents, they would take Labyrinth away from me. That was my punishment.
Without the distractions of technology, you must have picked up music pretty quickly. Tell me about being introduced to music.
Lennon: My parents were musicians, so we were raised in that. There was always music in the house. We’ve just been surrounded by it. I was five when I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I’d always played with it before, but I wanted to learn how to really play.
Maisy: I've been playing the ukulele since I was probably three, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s amazing because when I was three, I got all the chords and I learned them right away, and I love playing so much.
As a duo, you’ve covered in two-part harmony some really terrific songs. I’m wondering if you have a favorite song to sing?
Lennon: “Imagine” by John Lennon. That’s such a perfect song. I also really love “The Diary” by the ‘70s band, Bread.
(Watch Lennon perform the song live when she was only 10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLmsk9av2Rk).
Maisy: We both love that song. That’s been a favorite my whole life.
What is it about that song that speaks to you?
Lennon: The whole thing — melodically, lyrically, all of it. My mom is such a big fan of Bread that she always played that song, especially when we were little. That made me a fan of it too. My whole family loves that song.
(“The Diary” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bftrqg7xRLo).
With the two of you making music, and your parents having their own careers in music, things must get pretty noisy around the Stella home.
Lennon: There's never a time when we're inside, I kid you not, that my mom's not singing. She is so insanely good. She'll just sing around the house all day long — every day, all day. I'll be sitting there trying to study and she's wailing all day. There’s a rule in our home: you can’t tell anyone to stop singing. Ever. So there’s never a silent time in the Stella home, I kid you not.
Maisy: So I get to annoy her all the time – by singing! And she can’t tell me to stop! (Laughs) Sometimes I’ll just start singing at, like, four in the morning: Good morning, Lennon! It’s so good to see you, Lennon! And she’s, like…
Lennon: I’ll tell her to stop.
Maisy: Then I’ll go wake up my mom: “Mom, Lennon told me to stop singing!” (Laughs).
Maisy, do you actually like your older sister, or do you just put up with her?
Maisy: Actually… Hmm… (Laughs) Yeah, I like her. She’s a person, so of course I like her. No, I’m kidding. I love her very much. We spend so much time together making music and doing the TV show, and we’ve grown to be a lot closer. That’s been really good. She definitely is good to me — sometimes. A lot of my friends really hate their older brothers and sisters, but I actually do like mine.
How about you, Lennon? What's it like having a little sister around all the time?
Lennon: It's all right with me. We are very close. It's so cool being able to work together and being together so much and doing all of this stuff together is awesome. After work and school is over, we’ll usually go and hang out with our own friends and stuff, just to get away from each other for a little bit, but it’s totally a love thing we have.
You’ve been making music together your whole lives, but a couple of years ago, you landed roles on ABC’s series, 'Nashville.' How did that happen?
Lennon: I had no interest in acting in any way at all; I was all into music. Maisy was obsessed with acting from when she was really, really little. It was her dream. All she wanted to do was act. So my mom was finding auditions for her and Nashville was one of them. After she auditioned, the producers saw a video of me and Maisy singing together on my mom’s Facebook page, and then they wanted me to audition, too. I’d never acted. I just thought, “Acting is so not me.” But then I was cast and now it’s my job and I love it so much. I’d like to make a career of it, along with the music.
Maisy, tell me about working on the TV show.
Maisy: It's so completely amazing that we get to do this. To be involved in all of this, it's been completely an honor. It's insane how it just completes it all for us.
You now have three years of acting experience, thanks to the TV series, and a lot of your scenes on the show require serious talent. This isn’t a show that asks its child actors to show up and simply be cute. What do you think is the key to good acting?
Lennon: First of all, thank you for the compliment. Honestly, I think taking everything very literally is important to good acting. But the most important thing, I think, is to be very aware of your surroundings and really listen to the other people in the scene. I take a lot of notes when I’m on set. I’m trying to learn as much as I can from everyone I’m working with. These are really some very talented people.
Maisy: We learn every single day we’re on set. I think we learn more in one day of working on the TV show than we would in a hundred years of school!
What’s something important you've learned by working on the show?
Eric Stoltz was directing me in an episode a while back, and he’s a really great actor, too, and he told me, “Always be ready with five different ways to say a line, and don’t just stick to one way.” If you have to say, “My dog ran across the street,” be ready to say it five different ways. Sometimes actors get really comfortable with one way of doing things, but then they’re not ready for what might happen when they’re actually shooting the scene with other actors. It’s a lot more interesting that way.
Maisy, what's the most important thing you've learned on the show?
Probably to listen better. Like, when the director is telling me something, I’ve learned to really listen, because it's not like you can be, like, "I'm sorry, can you say that all over again?" If you’re not listening to them, they’ll know. They will definitely know.
Is there somebody that you ladies are really hoping to work with, either in the music world, or in the worlds of film and television?
Lennon: Johnny Depp!
Maisy: That’s her idol. I’ve heard her say all the time, “I will work with Johnny Depp.”
How about you, Maisy?
Maisy: Melissa McCarthy! I love her so much! Most of her movies are Rated R, but I’ve seen them all and I absolutely love her. She’s the most amazing actor in everything. I think she’s the funniest person I’ve ever seen. I just have to work with her.
Tell me about the book you’ve got coming out.
Lennon: It happened in the most mysterious way. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s actually happening. It’s hard for Maisy and me to take it seriously sometimes – like, we’re authors now? It’s called In the Waves, and it’s a song Maisy and I used to sing – a song we actually wrote together – when we were really little and we’d be in the bathtub together and this song happened. So this amazing illustrator did this incredible art and it’s coming out as a book. I can’t believe it.
Lennon and Maisy's version of Robyn & Erato's "Call Your Girlfriend!"
Between making music, doing the TV show, and publishing books, do you ladies ever get to just be 11 and 15?
Lennon: Of course. We’re always letting loose. That’s all we do, really. I mean, we love everything we do, so it never feels like we’re going to work. It’s all fun. The days are long and it gets tiring sometimes, but I don’t think Maisy and me have any idea what work really is.
Maisy: To me, work is having to go do stuff at McDonald’s. That’s hard work.
Lennon: We’re just lucky. Very, very lucky.
So what’s the five-year plan, ladies? You’ll be 16-years old and almost 20. What does that look like in your dreams?
Maisy: Wait? What? I’ll be 16 and you’ll be 20?
Maisy: Oh, wow, that’s weird. Ew, I don’t like that. You could be getting married.
Lennon: Hopefully, we’ll be making albums and doing some great acting work.
Maisy: Yeah, lots of music and acting. But weird. You’re gonna be 20, Lennon!
You could always call that first album, Johnny.
Maisy: And every song will be about Johnny Depp.
Lennon: Let me just tell you that I will write one.
Maisy: Every song will be about him, and every song will actually just be called “Johnny Depp.”
Lennon: That would be so good. So totally good.
'Nashville' airs Wednesdays on ABC at 10/9c.