Artist Spotlight: Lena Stone
“I am so stubborn. I’m never going to leave Nashville. I’m never going to let Nashville break me. I’m so in love with this city and the culture and the people and their music.”
Lena Stone has known ever since she was a little girl growing up in Carlisle, Massachusetts that she wanted to be a singer. And while most children’s ideas of what they want to be when they get older eventually change over the years, Stone never outgrew her childhood dream. In fact, the singer-songwriter did everything she could to turn that dream into a reality. In high school, Stone attended Grammy Camp in Los Angeles for two summers, where she met and worked with producer/songwriter Darrell Brown, who convinced the ambitious Stone that Nashville was where she needed to be. And so, at 18 years old she made the move to Music City where she not only attended Vanderbilt University and majored in Economics, but also gained an internship (which led to a full-time position) at Song Factory Publishing in order to understand the music publishing aspect in country music.
Even though juggling both school and music on a daily basis couldn’t have been easy, Stone remained focus and eventually landed her very first publishing deal by junior year of college. It’s clear that persistency has been one-character trait the singer-songwriter has always possessed, and there’s no doubt it’s this passion that drives her to continue navigating her way through the music industry, no matter how rough the road may be at times.
“A career in music is never what you think it’s gonna be,” Stone explained to me. “It’s never what you dream of when you’re 13 lying in bed in your hometown miles and miles away from Nashville. It’s never gonna look just like that, and I still don’t know what my career is gonna look like. But I know that I’m always gonna find a way to be in music, whether on industry side or on the songwriting side or as an artist. I’m always gonna find a way to do music because it’s what I’m passionate about. It’s what I wanna do.”
Although Stone was raised on songwriting legends like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Carol King, it’s evident in her music that it was these influences which ultimately led Stone to country music. “Because those artists were all storytellers, and as much as I love pop music, it doesn’t have that storytelling element so much.” Around the time that Stone was in middle school/high school and discovering music by herself, she found herself falling in love with country music thanks to Carrie Underwood’s release of (then) debut album, Some Hearts, and Sugarland’s debut single, “Baby Girl.” Hooked ever since then, Stone has been blending melodic upbeat tempos with genuine, storytelling lyrics that result in such sweet and catchy songs filled with so much passion, they charm their way into your heart from the moment that very first note touches your ears.
Stone’s songwriting talent is no doubt a direct reflection of the talented artists she grew up listening to and aspired to be like. Among those influences are also Sara Evans, who Stone describes as “underappreciated and always in control of her career and the music she wants to make,” Taylor Swift, who is the very reason Stone learned to play the guitar, and Eric Church because as Stone put it, “what he does is just so cool.” Stone’s ability to channel the best parts of all her musical influences is truly remarkable and a very distinct talent. Lyrically, the New England native doesn’t hold back in her songs, and shamelessly wears her heart on her sleeve, never shying away from what’s real, no matter how painful. In fact, Stone’s vulnerability and honesty are on full display in her song, “Keep Your Number,” where she explains the difficult reason for holding onto an ex’s phone number. “Cause when my phone rings/baby, I wanna know/if I should pick up or leave well enough alone, and I don’t wanna wonder/if it’s someone new/ or if it’s just you/so I keep your number.”
Stone’s impeccable ability to tell stories with her song lyrics that are relatable because of their heartfelt honesty is what makes her so relevant to listeners right now. Whether she’s singing about the pain that comes from holding onto an ex’s phone number, or she’s radiating with confidence as she takes us through the early stages of a budding relationship, like on her flirty single, “Nervous,” which she released earlier this year, Stone knows how to get to the heart of the matter.
“If I’m writing for me, then it really has to come from something that I’ve felt,” Stone explained to me as we were discussing her songwriting during our interview. The singer also pointed out that if there’s one underline scene she wants with all of her music, it’s confidence. “I think that’s so important, and I think that’s something that I know so many girls struggle with, and so if there’s a way to get that into my music and feel empowered, then I’m all for it.” And it’s that level of confidence and empowerment that Stone definitely brings on “Can’t Think Straight,” her latest single which was just released on October 27th. This particular track finds Stone singing to a former love in an almost teasing manner as she reminisces about the time they once spent together. “Am I still the one you’re thinking of when you can’t think straight? /Baby do you go scrolling through your phone looking for my name/when it’s 1AM and you’re wide awake? /Am I still the one you’re thinking of when you can’t think, can’t think straight?” Stone croons.
When you’ve written as many songs as Lena Stone has, it makes sense for there to be certain challenges one might run into. Like anything else, though, acknowledging those challenges, being aware of them, and proactively trying to get in front of those potential challenges are all part of
“I think songwriting like any career has its phases, and every phase has its own challenges, “Stone told me. “The challenge that I’m facing right now is that I’ve written 500 songs in the last 3-4 years, which is a mind-boggling number of songs. And so, the upside and downside to having that many songs are that you kind of start to repeat yourself. I think the biggest thing that I’m trying to work on right now is making sure I’m not repeating myself, and that I’m constantly growing and getting better instead of just recycling my old stuff.”
Among the 500 songs she’s written, Stone also co-wrote two of Kalie Shorr’s songs (“Fight Like a Girl” and “He’s Just Not That Into You”), as well as Kasey Tyndall’s “Everything is Texas,” all of which were released earlier this year. As Stone explained it to me, her songwriting process differs depending on who she’s writing with. “If I’m writing a song for somebody else, I probably want to do something they relate to, so in that case, I totally want to pull from their experiences. If I have an experience I think will add to it then that’s even better, but ultimately I want them to relate to it.”
Even though she’s still relatively new and up and coming herself, in her short time as a singer-songwriter in Nashville, Stone has already had a significant impact, making a big difference for aspiring female artists like herself and so many others. She and best friend, as well as fellow singer-songwriter, Kalie Shorr are co-founders of the Song Suffragettes showcase and movement, which has been selling out the Listening Room Café in Nashville every Monday night, and in the process winning over more and more fans. The weekly songwriters’ showcase that spotlights new and breaking female artists in country music has been going strong since 2014 thanks to Stone and a long list of other amazing women who have become a part of Song Suffragettes over the last three years.
“I’m so proud of Song Suffragettes,” Stone confessed to me. “Of all the things I’ve done in Nashville, that’s one thing I’m so so so proud of.” The singer-songwriter proceeded to describe the problem that inspired Song Suffragettes that she says still exists and has only gotten worse since. “I grew up in the 90’s, and even though I didn’t necessarily get into country music until the early 2000’s, when I was growing up in country music there was Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill and Sara Evans and Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson, and I could list at least a dozen more…all these women who were doing such incredible music and putting out records every other year, like just doing it like any country artist, regardless of gender. “
“And now, I love the women who are in the game right now,” Stone added, “but the women who are getting played on radio are basically just Kelsea Ballerini and Carrie Underwood. Even Miranda Lambert’s newest record that just went Platinum isn’t being played on country radio. Maren Morris has cracked the Top 10. She won a Grammy, but she hasn’t had a song in the Top 10 at country radio.”
Even though Morris hasn’t had a #1 single at country radio yet, it’s almost impossible to discuss women in country music right now without mentioning the impact that her and Ballerini’s success have had on the genre already. Stone and I agreed that Ballerini and Morris are absolutely the Shania’s, Faith’s, Martina’s, and Trisha’s of this generation because they’re making it easier for other females trying to break onto country radio and onto the country music scene in general.
“They’re showing that the girls can bring it just as well as the boys can. Both of them are phenomenal songwriters, amazing singers, great performers…they are the total package,” Stone gushed. “They are nice, they are smart, they know what they want, and I think the more attention that they have, the more people in the industry will be like, ‘Oh, girls totally can do it too. This is dumb that we thought they couldn’t.’ I think they’re amazing, and I wanna continue to see them. But I think there are so many girls in town who can be just as amazing as those two if given the opportunity.”
Opportunity seems to be the common factor at play when it comes to being a successful woman in country music. No matter how talented one may be, if they’re not given the opportunity to share their talent with people on a larger scale, then it almost feels as if that talent is being wasted. There are plenty of women in country music right now who deserve to be heard across every available mainstream outlet because of the incredible talent they possess. And while a lot of them do just fine without the support of a record label behind them, they deserve to do better. They deserve that chance to prove they can be just as popular, maybe more so, than say, some of the new male artists that are currently starting to break out in country music.
The pattern I’ve begun to notice in country music is new female artists who are taken out on tour to open for huge successful male artists have a much better chance of their careers taking off not long after. Recent examples of this are Rascal Flatts and Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban and Maren Morris, Blake Shelton and Raelynn, and now after being out on tour with Brad Paisley all summer, we can only hope that Lindsay Ell starts to see the success and recognition she deserves. The exposure that comes from being included on a major tour is huge and can be career changing for any new artist, but especially for new female artists. It’s bad enough that female artists have to work so much harder in general than their male peers do simply because of their gender, but when there are widely successful male artists who can make it a little easier for these women by allowing them to open on a massive tour, but they just don’t, it’s so much worse.
Opening for a major artist on tour is the most effective way to launch the career of a new, independent artist. This is something that has been proven time and time again over the years. So much in fact, that there isn’t enough time to list all of the examples to reiterate the point. So, when Lena Stone expressed her own frustration over the issue to me during our interview as we were discussing the topic, I completely understood because it made sense.
“I want to see more girls with publishing deals and record deals, and more girls being put on major tours,” she stated. “We need more men who are willing to say, “I want a female artist on my line-up.”
Getting back to how Song Suffragettes came together, Stone continued to tell me, “Our production team who runs Song Suffragettes had been thinking, ‘How can we actively do something to change this?’ Since Nashville is where country music is created, Nashville is the place where change needs to start happening. So, they wanted to start a weekly showcase of all female writers and reached out to four girls, myself included, and invited us to come to the office and play for them. They kinda told us this idea they had, and they asked us to be the founders of it, and I was all about it.”
“I was totally on board and as were the other girls, so we started to do the show in March of 2014, and at first there were like 10 or 15 people there, and they were like all relatives or roommates of the girls who were on stage,” Stone laughed as she was relaying the story to me. “So, we just kept doing it, and the format changed a little bit, so now myself and Kalie Shorr, and we have like three others that are on the show every week, and those all rotate out, and we try to have a new girl once or twice a month. And so by now we’ve had almost 200 girls play the show. We’ve had almost 200 Song Suffragettes, and that includes Lauren Alaina, Raelynn, Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini…all these women have played Song Suffragettes and they are Song Suffragettes.”
Stone went on to proudly explain that among the amazing things to come out of Song Suffragettes, there have been a number of girls who have gotten publishing and record deals from the exposure that a showcase like this provides. And while she couldn’t reveal any details just yet, Stone assured me the women of Song Suffragettes definitely have a couple of cool things that they’re currently working on. “We’re gonna keep calling attention to women in country music.”
Among some of these cool things this particular singer-songwriter is currently working on, an upcoming debut EP is one that she’s really looking forward to. Hoping to be able to release it before the end of the year, if not definitely have the new year, Stone describes her new project as having lots of both pop and country elements to it, and being full of all storytelling songs. And while being a new artist in country music, especially female, can come with its own special brand of critics that can discourage even the most persistent and stubborn of artists, Stone keeps a positive outlook, never letting those negative naysayers throw her off her course.
“I think at the end of the day you can be concerned about the criticism or you can be concerned about the fans, and I would much rather be concerned about what my fans think of the music. If they’re on board and if they like it, and if they wanna blast it in their cars and sing along to it, then let anyone else say what they’re gonna say about it.”
In the meantime, fans can follow Stone (and the rest of the Song Suffragettes) on all social media outlets to see what they’re up, keep up with the progress of their new music, and to just feel connected the way we as music fans all like to do. While Stone admits to loving social media for the obvious reasons that coming with being an artist, such as being able to share new music and videos of herself covering some of her favorite songs, or posting an article written about her or even just being able to post a cool picture of her taken while on stage, what she says she really loves social media for is engaging with her fans.
“It really is a friendship, especially in country music, between the fans and the artists,” Stone told me. “I love that I’m communicating, and that’s what it’s about. Random stuff or telling me they like my songs or how much it means to them, stuff like that. And I can write back to them and that interaction is so important. That’s what makes country music so different than other genres, that there’s not that barrier between fans and artists, and social media helps that.”
As far as new artists go, Lena Stone is one of the brightest, strongest, most persistent, and certainly most talented I’ve seen in the genre in a long time. Musically she’s learned how to draw from her greatest influences while creating her own identity that is relevant to both the genre and its fans right now. Lyrically she knows how to take the most personal experiences and turn them into beautifully, captivating stories everyone can relate to. Stone is as sweet and delightful as the girl next door, but she’s also anything but ordinary. In fact, there’s no doubt the music world will have a whole lot more to look forward to from this unique human being because she still has so much more left to conquer.