Hey honey, ain’t it kinda funny, we’re rollin’ in the money now / I guess me and you are gonna have to do, with what we used to do without.”
As Canadian country duo The Stellas strum out the first few bars of their new single “Gravy,” perspective about the incredible changes in their family’s life over the past few years ripples out in radio-friendly twang.
Married couple Brad and Marylynne Stella have been together for the past 20 years, singing in harmony for most of them. They’ve raised two daughters in a farmhouse outside of Whitby, Ont. — a place without TV or high-speed Internet but definitely lots of music. In recent years, they’ve split their time between Durham Region and Nashville, working as songwriters on Music Row while pursuing their own musical dreams.
And though the last two or so have proved fruitful for The Stellas themselves — touring with Johnny Reid and, most recently, the Zac Brown Band — the real game-changer has been their daughters, out of nowhere, becoming far more famous than them.
“We only got a TV when they were on TV,” Marylynne said during a recent pit stop in Toronto.
“The s–t that’s been happening is extreme,” added Brad. “We were just at the White House, not taking a tour but hanging out with the Obamas. Like hanging out with them, making jokes and having drinks. That’s weird. That doesn’t happen to people.”
Their daughters are, of course, Lennon and Maisy Stella, better known as Maddie and Daphne Conrad on ABC’s Nashville — the progeny of country music queen Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton.
How they came to be on the show is a storybook tale of stars aligning: The girls would often help their parents close-out concerts, singing two-part harmony in the other-worldly way only true sisters can. More than once, they played at The Bluebird, a legendary music destination in Nashville, and one that is basically a character in the prime-time soap.
A casting director friend of a friend from The Stellas time on competitive singing show Can You Duet? asked to give Maisy’s information to creators of what became Nashville two years ago. So the family snapped a photo of the precocious then-eight-year-old with an iPhone camera, printed it off at Walgreens and arrived at an audition packed with children flown in from all over the United States for the coveted role.
“We were like, ‘OK, here’s your piece of paper,’ ” said Brad. “Go get ’em, tiger.” She nailed it, of course, and eventually, the show creators learned she had an older sister and, when they sang together, it was like the heavens opened. They switched the ages of the girls they were looking for to bring Lennon on cast. After some wrangling with over-the-border visas, the girls became regulars on Nashville, where they routinely steal the show, which is currently filming its third season.
Their shot to fame has added a wild layer to their adorable family life, and that’s required some grounding, The Stellas said. Lennon and Maisy still go to regular school. They still go to the mall and to the beach. But sometimes Harry Styles from One Direction will call Lennon, for example, asking to hang out when he visits Nashville.
“She knows how extreme that is. But at the same time, she’s like, ‘Hey Harry.’ He’s just a guy,” her dad said. He credit’s the family’s long-held outlook on life.
“It’s because we’ve always held music in a really high regard. It’s always going to be special, we’re always going to have it as our art. We’re not going to make it our ‘job.’ ”
When they sat down last year to write “Gravy,” co-writer Fred Wilhelm, said “Wow, everything must be so drastic and different” now with the girls on the show, and dates with an artist as big as Zac Brown.
“Then we sort of sat back and were like ‘Yeah it’s been … oh, hold on a second — we’re just doing the exact same stuff,’ ” Brad said.
He and MaryLynne have set up their own entertainment company for Lennon and Maisy to give them the freedom to create and write but not be beholden to anyone. The girls have a forthcoming book from Harper Collins and hope to one day be in the movies.
“There’s all this stuff going on, but it’s all really level so they can do all of it and then find out what they really want to do,” he said. If he and MaryLynne wanted, they could stop touring and recording and become full-time managers.
“[But] we’re creative people and once you start focusing on something and you stop creating, you’re not going to be happy, “ he said.
The duo has also been sensitive to keep their own projects separate from their daughters’, in part out of a desire not to seem as if they’re “exploiting” the girls’ fame to their own benefit.
“We’re not Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray,” MaryLynne quipped.
“We don’t want to be like, ‘Oh we’ve got Lennon and Maisy in our video, everyone loves them!’ and then they’ll watch the video,” added Brad. “That’s such a weird thing to do. But we would have always had them in our video.”
And so the girls also appear in their Beverly Hillbillies-style video for “Gravy,” which pokes fun at the way fame can be incredibly ridiculous, and makes clear all of The Stellas would be just as happy without it.
When a reporter points out just how much of the half-hour interview has been about the couple’s daughters’, they don’t betray an ounce of envy.
“We’d be talking about our kids regardless of whether you were interested or not,” MaryLynne said.
As their chorus goes: “I got you and you got me baby, everything else is gravy.”
The Stellas play dates across Canada this August. For more information, visit thestellasmusic.com.concert, dates, director, film, movie, music, tour, tv