Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Lena Stone
Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Lena Stone has been making waves through Nashville’s music scene for a couple of years, as a co-writer on Kalie Shorr’s popular hit “Fight Like A Girl” and as a founding member of the Song Suffragettes. With her debut EP having just been released, I’m certain the artist with an infectiously bubbly personality will continue to shine and make her mark. I got the chance to chat with Lena about moving to Nashville at 18 years old, the Song Suffragettes’ influence on her artistry, her new self-titled EP, her favorite podcast and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say.
How old were you when you first stepped into making and performing music?
Oh, my gosh. I’ve really been doing music my whole life. My parents raised us listening to music and singing a ton. I wrote my first song when I was eight and it’s super embarrassing.
I listened to a lot of Kelly Clarkson at the time, so it was called “Independent,” which of course I knew nothing about at eight. I was incredibly dependent [laughs] But that was my first song. In high school, when I picked up a guitar, that was really when things got more serious and I started writing complete songs. That was also when I fell in love with country music. So that was when I was trying to really chase the country music thing. I moved down to Nashville when I was 18 and I really just jumped into the Nashville songwriting community and here we are now.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize music is what you wanted to do and pushed you into moving to Nashville?
I think that I had made the decision on my own that music was what I wanted to do, but Nashville wasn’t really on my radar, just being from New England. I was really lucky to get to go to Grammy Camp, which is the Grammy Foundation’s summer camp for high school kids and that’s in LA. When I was there, I was a songwriter in the songwriting program there and they brought in Darryl Brown, who is an incredible songwriter. He wrote “You’ll Think Of Me” by Keith Urban and “Why Don’t We Just Dance?” by Josh Turner. We got to workshop some songs with him and I played a couple songs and he was like, “These are great, but these are country. You should go to Nashville, that’s the place to do it.” And I was kind of like, “oh! That’s a good idea.”
Wow. That’s incredible. So you talked about moving to Nashville when you were 18 and had just graduated high school. That’s very challenging and a life-changing experience. What have you learned about being an artist since moving to Nashville and how did being surrounded by so much diverse music impact the music you’re creating now?
Oh, those are good questions. To answer the first question, I think people don’t understand, and I didn’t understand and it’s part of my journey, is that when you’re 16 and writing songs in your bedroom, you think you’re going to move to Nashville and become famous in six months and have a record deal and it’s going to be off to the races, which almost never happens [laughs]. I don’t think that’s even a bad thing because I think I’ve grown so much as an artist and as a writer by being here and being in this incredible community of writers and artists and people who are so talented because that kind of forced you to raise the bar for yourself. But it’s definitely not what you think is going to be when you’re daydreaming about it in your hometown.
And then [on the second question], I love that Nashville’s becoming more diverse musically, beyond just country. Even country music as a genre is getting a lot more influenced by pop and R&B and hip-hop and all kinds of things. I think, actually, that country music is in a really cool place [because of that]. I know there are people who would say that that’s bad for the genre, but I think it’s really great because I think everything evolves. At the time, everyone was like, “Garth Brooks. He’s too pop” and he’s the guy. The people who really evolved genre are also the people who, in their time, everyone else was worried about. I grew up listening to pop music and soul music and stuff like that. So I love that I get to incorporate that as a part of my music now and have it still be in that amazing country family.
Right. And you were just talking about how your music kind of blends the country and pop genres, but I’m curious how you would describe the music you create if you couldn’t use genre names?
I really love the storytelling part lyrically, so not to say the word ‘country,’ but that’s definitely a country element. I also love hooky melodies, I love big production with real band sounds, real instruments. And I think, ultimately, I just want it to be relatable and confidence inspiring.
I love that last part. Confidence inspiring. I’ve never heard someone describe their music like that. Going off of talking about the songwriting element, you are a founding member of the Song Suffragettes and have been a part of that group for a few years now, but for people who aren’t aware of it, can you just explain a little bit about what that is?
Of course. Song Suffragettes is one of the things that I am most proud to have been a part of so far in my career. It’s this showcase and we put it on every Monday night here in Nashville. Every week is a different lineup of five female artists who are all independent, but we get together on stage and we each play a couple songs. The idea is that country music has a real lack of female voices right now. There are a ton of male artists getting record deals and being played on the radio and just far fewer women. It’s not because there aren’t incredible women in Nashville writing music, it’s because there are some gatekeepers that are holding the female artists back. So what we want to do is put on the showcase every week and say, “Look at how many of us there are and look what we’re doing with the music that we’re making.”
We started it four years ago and we had no idea what it was going to be. Our first show had 15 people there and it was our friends and roommates and family members who we basically dragged there. Now, we sell out this huge, 300 [person] capacity room pretty much every Monday night. We’ve had almost 250 girls play the show so far and we’re always growing. We have a new girl on stage pretty much every week because we’re all about inclusion and making sure that we’re always inviting more women to be part of this movement. So it’s really cool.
That’s incredible. How would you say being a part of the Song Suffragettes has helped you as an artist?
So many ways. First of all, I made my best friends in Nashville through that group. As an artist, having other female artists as friends who really truly relate to what you’re going through, it’s just like… I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without them and without being able to lean on those friends and those girls who really understand and support me. We all write songs together. My biggest success so far as a songwriter has been writing songs with other Song Suffragettes that they’ve gone on to record and sent to radio and all kinds of cool stuff. So that’s been a really huge part of it for me as well, that collaborating.
I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about your new EP. I couldn’t find the answer anywhere since it’s not actually out yet. What is the title of your EP? Is it named after you? Is it just like a debut EP?
It is the Lena Stone EP or Lena Stone. It’s self-titled.
And I did that because I had a lot of conflict about what I wanted to call it. But ultimately I decided this is my first EP and this is what I sound like. I’ve spent so many years in Nashville writing songs and trying to figure out the best way to describe myself and describe what I do as an artist. I think these five songs are a really great way to start, so that’s why I want to call it Lena Stone.
How long did it take for this EP to come together? Was it a fairly easy and quick process or was it years in the making?
The actual recording process was pretty quick and took place this spring. I signed my first publishing deal in 2014 and have been writing songs professionally for a couple of years now and I’ve written probably about 600 songs. Those were all kind of getting me to this point and to these songs and the starting point for what’s going to happen next.
Talk a little bit about your writing process for the EP. I know you talked about collaborating with some of the other Song Suffragettes, but did they help you with some of these songs for your EP or were these mostly songs you wrote by yourself?
One of the songs I wrote with my best friend, Kalie Shorr, who’s the co-founder of Song Suffragettes with me, so I’m really glad to have a song that she and I did together on the project. But for the most part, I wrote the project with my producer, Adam Wood, who is a man and therefore not a Song Suffragette [laughs]. But he is incredible. He and I connected about four years ago and started writing songs and he’s like my musical brother. I just feel like he understands what I’m trying to say. So he and I wrote most of the project together and then he produced it when we went to the studio to record it.
Gotcha. And I want to talk a little bit about your most recent single from the EP, “Running Out of Red Lights.” What is the inspiration behind that song?
Yeah. That’s one I wrote with Adam. We were talking about this idea… I love car metaphors. I’m from a really small town and I just kind of have always been obsessed with driving because when you’re from a small town, before you can drive, you can’t go anywhere.
Right. And you kind of have to drive everywhere.
You have to drive everywhere and Nashville is a driving city and I love being in my car. I just feel like driving metaphors are so true for life and I just love the idea that red lights are a place where you should stop and think about what you’re doing and maybe turn around or go a different direction. So we kind of built this whole song around that idea and that feeling when it’s late at night, and I think we can all say that we’ve been there at some point or another, where you’re in the car driving to go see your ex late at night and kind of wishing for an excuse to not go, but you’re already in motion and the momentum is almost too strong. I’m so proud of the track on the song and how the production turned out because I feel like it has this dark tension to it that kind of matches the emotion of the song really well. So I’m really proud of this one. I’m really glad that I choose it as the single [laughs].
Yeah, I love it. Since we were just talking about being inspired to write songs, who are some of your musical influences when it comes to songwriting?
My favorite artist of all time is James Taylor. That’s what my parents raised me on: Carol King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and the singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s. And I think that’s where my love of storytelling came from, which is why it makes so much sense that I ended up in country music. So I love them. And then, Sarah Bareilles is a huge influence for me. On the countryside, Jennifer Nettles is the reason that I do country music. I first heard “Baby Girl” when I was in middle school and I just fell in love with her voice and the storytelling and the song and went and fell in love with all the rest of their music. Then, obviously, what girl my age was not influenced by Taylor Swift?
She’s the reason that I wanted to pick up an acoustic guitar so that I could learn to play all the songs on her Fearless record. I continue to adore her and all the music that she makes. So I feel like my influences are really kind of across pop and country.
Earlier, you were talking about your EP and that you felt like you were able to pick the songs that made you feel like the entire EP represents you as a whole, but is there a specific track of yours that you feel best represents who you are as an artist?
I’m not sure. I think it all represents different parts of my personality, if that makes sense. I think that’s what’s really special about getting to do a project instead of just a single is that you get to show off your sassy side, your dramatic side, your flirty side, your competent side and have all these kind of different elements. I do hope that like all of my songs represent what I do well. There’s a new song on there called “Tragic,” which is the first track. It’s fun and it’s flirty and it’s confident and I think that is a lot of what I do. But I also love that I had some songs on there that are more substantial and have kind of some more meat to them.
Besides the EP being released on Friday, musically, what can people expect from you for the rest of the year? Are you going on tour anytime soon?
Well, immediately after the EP release, I’ve got CMA Fest, which I’m so excited about. I’m doing my first ever fan club party this year, which is going to be really fun. I’m really excited to get to hang out with my fans and play the music. I’m actually planning on releasing even more music in the fall. I can’t give you a lot of details about it, but this will not be the only release from me of 2018.
That’s awesome. I just have a few more fun questions to wrap things up. If you could go on tour with anyone, who would it be and why?
Can I pick two?
Maroon Five. I want to sing a duet with Adam Levine so badly. I also just think he’s so cute. So that’s one and also Eric Church. I love him. His song “Springsteen” is probably one of my favorite songs, if not my favorite song of all time. It’s actually my soundcheck song. So before every show, that’s the song I soundcheck with. I just think he’s such a badass and I would love to have that tour vibe.
Have you ever gotten to meet him before?
I have not. I’m not sure he would know what to do with me because I’m pretty bubbly and pink and he’s kind of cool with his shades and his hat. He might be a little overwhelmed by my energy [laughs].
Nashville is one of my top destinations on my bucket list of places to visit. So I’m just curious, what is one of your favorite places in Nashville?
The Listening Room Cafe, which is where we hold Song Suffragettes, is my favorite place to play. It’s amazing and it’s just great music and good food; everything about it is great. There are so many good places. I personally love all the restaurants in The Gulch. I love Fido for breakfast and coffee. That’s my favorite place.
Good to know. I will put that on my list. I want to go sometime soon, hopefully in the next year.
Yeah, I mean you can’t go wrong here. There’s so much good food and so many fun things to do. I’m obsessed with Nashville.
Last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have some kind of inner nerd. What is something you nerd out about?
Ughh. So many things. I’m such a dork [laughs]. I love stand up comedy. My favorite comedian has a podcast and he’s done like 400 episodes and I’ve listened to every single one of them. They’re like three hours, like these are not short podcasts.
Wow. Who is the comedian and what is the podcast?
It’s called You Made It Weird and the comedian’s name is Pete Holmes. It is so interesting. I’m totally obsessed with it. I wait every week. I think it comes out on Wednesdays, and I wait for my podcast notifications to be like “New episode of You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes.”
Is it like a different comedy show every week or is it just him having conversations? What makes it three hours?
It’s a bunch of conversations with a bunch of other comedians. Now it has expanded, like he talked to Ben Folds for one that was fascinating. He wants to talk about things that make people uncomfortable. So he basically talks about, not in any particular order, sex, comedy, and God. He talks to Buddhists and Christians, he talks to everyone.
Interesting. I’m always looking for new podcasts. I’m just curious about this one, I think more than anything. I’m going to have to go listen to this.
It’s so good. If you’re going to go listen, start with the Penn Jillette episode.
Okay. I will take your word for that.
It’s really great. I promise.
For more information about Lena, you can visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can check out her debut EP here.