When The Stellas took their first trip to Nashville in 2008, they were still a relatively unknown husband-and-wife duo from the Toronto suburbs, armed with little more than two voices, one acoustic guitar, and a catalog of smart, catchy songs.
A lot can change in five years.
These days, The Stellas are songwriters who have written 90% of the material on their own albums, as well as songs for other artists. They are artists who have won numerous awards. They’re parents of Lennon and Maisy, two sisters known to most of the TV-watching public as Maddie & Daphne from ABC's "Nashville." They're also the creators of a brand new album, which mixes the duo's country-roots songwriting with sharp lyrics and a few left-of-center curveballs.
For Brad and MaryLynne Stella -- two Canadian natives who met at age 20 and logged more than 15 years in Ontario's music scene while working as janitors during the day to support their music habit -- the turning point arrived during a short trip to Nashville. While there, The Stellas talked their way into playing an impromptu show at the Commodore Grill, which led to a second show the following night. A publisher was in the audience that evening, and he liked what he heard. The Stellas were offered a deal on the spot.
A year later, they were on the hit CMT show Can You Duet?, moved to Nashville and signed a record deal with EMI Canada. They became genuine stars in Canada after releasing their self-titled album, in which several songs from that album shot towards the top of the charts. In two years, The Stellas were nominated for more than 10 awards. They took home the CCMA trophy for "Duo of the Year" in 2013, earned highly-coveted placements on two volumes of the Canadian "Now Country" CD series, and became in-demand songwriters.
Back in America, one of The Stellas' biggest fans, platinum-selling music titan Zac Brown, asked the duo to join his band for a series of sold-out shows. They agreed, adding those shows to an impressive touring roster that also included gigs with Johnny Reid and Terri Clark. The connection with Brown was later strengthened when Brad and Zac co-wrote "Let It Rain," a song released on Zac Brown Band's 2013 EP, The Grohl Sessions. "Let It Rain" was the EP's only song featuring Dave Grohl on drums.
It's been a busy decade for the entire Stella family. Brad and MaryLynne aren't ready to pump the brakes though. They are about to enter a new chapter in their lives, with a new album that they have been tirelessly working on for over two years.
This summer, they'll release "Gravy," a blend of twang and tongue-in-cheek humor that doubles as the first single from the duo's second album. Fred Wilhelm, who helped The Stellas write "Gravy," co-wrote several other songs, too, including another standout track called "It Wouldn't Be This."
"Back when we first started our career," Brad remembers, "we came across a lot of musicians who had a 'woe is me' story. They used to live in their car, or they had to wait tables for years before signing a record deal. That sort of thing. We had that story, too, but we didn't view it as a negative thing, we thought of it more like camping! Life was hard because we had no dough, but we were happy. We were positive. We wouldn't trade it for anything.”
The Stellas' new record also includes fast, folky tributes to wild times ("Kitchen Party"), lighthearted tunes about crazy romance ("One of Us") and rootsy renditions of older tunes ("Baba O'Riley," originally performed by The Who). The album shows the full scope of the band's abilities, from stripped-down acoustic songs to full-band rockers. Brad, who has worked alongside a variety of artists, produced the record in the band's own studio. This will be The Stellas’ first internationally-released album. "In some ways, we're making a first impression all over again," MaryLynne says. “This is the album we always wanted to make. This is us."