No matter how many times Brad and MaryLynne Stella made the drive from Oshawa, Ontario to Nashville, Tennessee – and there were many – the road ahead always seemed clear.
Beginning in 2008, the husband-and-wife duo and aspiring songwriters had begun making trips down to Music City with one thing in mind: to make it in the music biz. For a year, they “commuted” back and forth with their young daughters, Lennon, 8, and Maisy, 4, in the backseat (more on them later).
While at home (MaryLynne is from Oshawa; Brad from neighbouring Whitby), they made ends meet as janitors for the Durham District School Board and they worked together on landscaping jobs, all while playing in bands, hosting open mic nights every Wednesday in Whitby, and even starting a music school. But any seeds they could sow in Nashville never seemed to take root.
“Every time we would be down in Nashville, we would just get stuff going, and then we’d have to leave and go back [to Canada].” – MaryLynne Stella
“Every time we would be down here, we would just get stuff going, and then we’d have to leave and go back [to Canada],” MaryLynne says on the phone from their home in Nashville. “And things change here so quickly; it almost felt like we were starting over every time we came here.”
Finally, after several forays, things started to happen for The Stellas in Nashville. A publisher caught one of their gigs and offered them a deal right there on the spot. Then, through a “fluke incident” they found themselves making a splash on the hit CMT talent show Can You Duet?, eventually earning fourth place in the competition.
So they packed up the girls and took that drive one more time – this time, hopefully for good. Before long they signed a record deal with EMI Canada, and released their self-titled debut album in 2011. Several songs from the album hit the charts, and their star was truly on the rise in Canada.
Over the next two years, The Stellas were honoured with more than 10 country music award nominations. They were named the CCMA Duo of the Year in 2013 and their songs graced two volumes of the Canadian Now Country album series, all while continuing to be sought-after songwriters for hire.
In Nashville, some very big names in the songwriting community took the Canadian couple under their wings, including John Scott Sherrill (who’s written songs for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson), Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, Matt Reed and Fred Wilhelm. “We would just write with people that we connected with as humans, and artistically, says Brad. “For some reason they just accepted us in this really, really cool way.”
They were also embraced as artists, making connections with heavy hitters like Vince Gill and Zac Brown, and being invited to tour with the likes of Johnny Reid and Terri Clark.
Now, their second album, It Wouldn’t Be This, is set for an early May release. It’s their first album to be released internationally. Both of the songs released as singles so far – the title track and “Gravy” – reflect on their current family life, though both were written years apart. “It wasn’t really intentional to have the two singles be like that,” says Brad. “It just worked out that way.”
“With the second album, there are songs that you feel sad that [they] didn’t make the first album,” MaryLynne says, “because they’re ones that you’re truly connected to. It Wouldn’t Be This is just a real jumble of us over the past 20 years.”