Reporting by Alissa Godwin
In this age of self-isolation and quarantine, it's never been more important to check in on each other and to connect. This goes for artists, too, who have been social distancing alongside us: livestreaming concerts and hangouts, creating their own talk shows, and... well, that's what we want them to tell us, with Remote Access.
Homemade music videos have become a necessity in the age of self-isolation and quarantine, but thanks to innovators like Lennon Stella, they don't have to look homemade. Her recent visual for "Fear of Being Alone" is moody and artistic, following the 20-year-old singer as she poses and contorts around an empty room. Most rag-tag DIY creations often don't rise to this aesthetic level. But Stella's a pro, even when she has to MacGyver a top-caliber visual using less-than-professional staging and equipment just out of frame.
"I was doing my glamour shot on the ground," she told MTV News. "It's literally my mom dragging me — it couldn't be more, just, dirty. I'm on the ground. We were laughing the whole time because I'm doing this shot that looks so glamorous, and the light is just coming across my face, and really, my mom, she has towel wrapped around my ankle and [is] pulling me. It was so funny."
These are the tricks Stella had to pull out to help create that visual, which also received some help from her boyfriend as a set decorator, stringing up lights to help recreate a vibe similar to a Kate Bush video. "You have to get so creative, which is nice, in a way," she said. "It's stretching my brain to do things that are a bit more uncomfortable and also just out of the ordinary."
And there's plenty more to celebrate — her brassy, poppy debut album, Three. Two. One., dropped on April 24, and she's been eager to show off another side of herself than the country-tinged one she first broke out with alongside her sister, Maisy, and the characters the duo played on Nashville. (Of course, her sister shows up on the album, too, on the cut "Weakness (Huey Lewis)," which Lennon wrote about her.)
Below, the artist unpacks Three. Two. One. — including what it's been like to release it amid quarantine — as well as what she's been up to when she's not getting dragged across the floor by her mother, all in the name of getting the best shot.
MTV News: Why did you title your album Three. Two. One.?
Stella: I actually saw this photo on Pinterest of these people. It was this really pretty photo in black and white of all these people jumping off this building. And it was the freedom that I feel was captured in the photo [that] I just was so drawn to, and it felt like such a release. And I sent it to my mom, and we were going back and forth on this idea, because that's ultimately what this album feels like. Speaking of pressures and all those expectations — I really wanted to let go of all that and just feel free of all of it and just excited to dive into something new. And Three. Two. One. just felt right of the initial jump.
MTV News: Releasing an album, your first album, in this unknown moment that we're all living in, is there something that stuck out to you that you wouldn't have realized if things were more normal?
Stella: I feel like it made it so much more special in a lot of ways, because all of the glitz and glam just got completely taken out. It's so weird right now: Everyone feels a bit more connected than I've ever seen people. I feel most connected to the people of my Instagram more than I ever have. Everyone on there, we just feel way more tight, and putting an album out when I feel like that is just so much more fulfilling, because I think there's just such a good vibe going, and I really feel like we're all just friends and everyone's messaging me as a friend. So it feels very nice and it doesn't always feel like that. ... I think if anything should not be canceled, it should be music. Everything else can be pushed back, and I get it all, but I feel like music is so important right now.
MTV News: Now that the album is out, with all this downtime, are you like, "This is my time to relax," or are you still staying creative?
Stella: Well, I just moved, so I'm being very creative in other ways. I love decorating the house and doing all the interior design stuff. So I'm getting into that and just kind of still doing stuff to get the album heard and promoted in ways and doing acoustic versions of everything. I think it's important to have a balance — to also just be a human and not be posting everything, but there are ways to stay connected, so trying to find the balance.
MTV News: Talk to me about filming "Fear of Being Alone." Were you the director? Were you the camera guy? Were you audio?
Stella: "Fear of Being Alone" was scheduled to come out when it did, but this was obviously way prior to [the COVID-19 pandemic] happening. I was like, wow, this is very eerie and this feels crazy to be putting it out at this time. And it kind of took on a whole new life, just the song itself lyrically really had a whole new meaning. We were very limited with how we could actually make a music video. But my friend CeCe [Dawson] — she does just amazing videos and photos and all that. So I knew she'd been quarantined. She was the only person that I really was comfortable that she had been stuck in her house. My mom and I just brainstormed, and we're like, what can we do to make it unique and not just like someone dancing around their house?
We're like, let's just make it like I'm going crazy in my house, and it worked out so perfectly, being a song that actually lended [itself] to being filmed in a house. It made sense. So we just got really creative and yes, we kind of all directed it. There was definitely no director. It was just like, I kind of had a vision for it. We were just bouncing off so many ideas and just kind of spewed it out to CeCe, and she was like, "Yes, I totally, I feel that." And she just executed it perfectly.
MTV News: I know "Weakness (Huey Lewis)" is special to you and your sister. What about this song made it so important for you both?
Stella: This song was written at a very intense part of our lives, and when I wrote it, the feeling was so heightened. And I think anytime I write a song where the feeling is overflowing, it just hits that much harder every time I sing it because I'm just like, "Whoa, that was so emotional." I think it is kind of heavy and sad, but it's also something that I think both of us have really — we're moved on in a lot of ways and we feel so much better about the whole situation. And so there's just a sweetness to it that I think makes it really special to both of us. She feels that way equally as much as I do about me being her weakness and the thing that kind of pours it all out of her. So yes, it was nice to have her sing those lyrics to me and then me sing them to her.
MTV News: Unfortunately, you had to postpone your tour. When you finally get onstage, whenever that may be, what can fans expect? Now that you have this extra time, are you changing your ideas?
Stella: When all this first started happening, we were finalizing all the visuals and all the things for the stage, and it was getting very exciting and very new to what I'd done before, because this tour was just a bit bigger. So yes, everything was getting dialed in, and then all this obviously happened, and we kind of saw it coming that we would have to postpone the tour pretty early on. So we kind of put a pause on it. I'm excited to pick back up on that side of it, too. And that, just the creative visuals and all those things I think [are] going to be really cool. And now that album has kind of a life now, I feel even more inspired and more creative as far as making the visuals for the album.
MTV News: Is there an overall message that you're living by right now that you want to relay to fans out there?
Stella: An unknown is the scariest thing. Nothing freaks me out more than that because I'm such a control freak. People keep saying that we're in the same boat, everybody's in the same boat, but we're not in the same boat. We're on the same ocean. And everybody's handling this differently. Everybody's dealing with so many things that we don't know about. And some people are financially stable, so this is good time to chill. Sometimes some people are absolutely freaking out. There are so many different things and reasons why we're not all handling this the same way. But I think, ultimately, just knowing that we are somewhat feeling the same things and we're not entirely alone, as isolating and lonely as this feels, I think that's really important. And Instagram and social media can be very toxic, but it also can be really good. And especially in times like this, I've noticed just how amazing it is seeing everybody come together and be really making everybody feel less alone and there's some sort of unity. So I think just finding something that makes you feel good, and knowing that we're all together and we're all feeling somewhat of the same thing.