The Stellas’ musical journey is one that many artists can relate to – laborious day jobs, open mic nights, noisy bars, long car rides, often running on fumes, but always fueled by hopes and dreams. And then the big break, the acceptance by peers, the dedication and sacrifice finally paying off.

The Stella daughters, Lennon and Maisy, have had something of a different path, to say the least. Growing up in this musical family, Lennon, 15, and Maisy, 11, have been singing together their entire lives and playing various instruments. But their road to success wasn’t the interstate; it was the Internet. 

“It was actually super-fun growing up with a musician family.” – Maisy Stella

The world got its first taste of the Stella sisters’ musical talent when their cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (with choreographed plastic dishware percussion and clapping) became a viral sensation on YouTube and got them on Good Morning America. At last count, it’s attracted more than 26 million views.

Mind you, they have a day job, too. But it’s not mopping floors.

In 2012, they joined the cast of ABC’s hit television series, Nashville, a drama about a musical family in the titular city, where they play Maddie and Daphne James, the daughters of a famous female country singer. Three seasons in, the girls have become fan favourites, regularly performing songs on the show.

It’s been a terrific vehicle for their music. Case in point: Lennon and Maisy performed The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” on an episode of the series. When the song was released to radio in April 2013, it became the No. 1 most added song in the U.S. and floated into the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

This past February they released a video of their charmingly sparse cover of the electro-pop song “Boom Clap” (originally by Charli XCX) which climbed into the top 25 on iTunes. Again, the video went viral and now has more than 5.6 million YouTube views.

In addition, they’ve appeared at We Day, sung at the Country Music Association awards in the U.S. (where they presented Taylor Swift with the Pinnacle Award), and performed several times at the Grand Ole Opry. Their YouTube channel currently boasts over 74 million views and more than 650,000 subscribers. Did we mention that they’re 15 and 11?

“It was actually super-fun growing up with a musician family,” says Maisy. “I mean, we’re still growing up!” she adds, laughing. “Like, going to all their shows and always getting to listen to them sing around the house, and even learning. It was just a great environment.”

It should come as no surprise to learn that Lennon and Maisy showed signs of musical talent very early on. “Oh yeah! Since birth,” their mom, MaryLynne, says. “They literally came out like that. For real! Maisy’s ear for harmony is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. And it’s been like that since she was born.”

The girls are also following in their parents’ footsteps not just as singers, but as songwriters, too. They’ve been getting into writing sessions with the likes of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Matthew Perryman Jones and Canada’s Gordie Sampson.  “We’re writing lots,” Lennon says. “There’s an abundance of songs. We’ll get to the point where we’ll choose which ones we love most and make an album, which will be super-exciting.”

Montréal’s new electro-pop sensation, Foxtrott, is poised to conquer the world with their excellent first album, A Taller Us, that will be released later this year on London, England’s One Little Indian imprint.

It’s a rare breed of musical talent that has a knack for grabbing your attention within the first few bars of a song, taking you by surprise, almost mystically. The sounds just take all of your senses hostage, as if nothing else mattered but the notes bouncing around your inner ear. Call it an auditory love at first sight – or first hear, as it were. Euphoria.

“I wanted to take a chance and break big with an international label right away. It was a longer process, but I made it.”

It’s not the first time Marie Hélène Delorme has pulled such a trick on our unsuspecting selves, but both previous times were under a different moniker. And that’s no coincidence. The first was in 2009. It was as MHMHMH that she remixed Bernard Adamus’ song “Rue Ontario,” transposing his voice into a low-frequency electronic realm. The contrast between the singer’s blues roots she thus created was remarkable.

Then, in 2012, she struck again by presenting the first three-track EP as Foxtrott, her new project, on her Bandcamp page. Some listeners succumbed to the track “Shields,” an enticing electro number that seemed created for a good run. Many fell in love with “Colors,” a slower, sublimely hypnotic, sensual affair. More adventurous listeners were wooed by the experimental approach of “Heads Under Water,” a piece that confirmed Delorme’s impressive versatility. Although it’s always tricky to play the comparison game, one might say that Foxtrott cavorts in a minimalist electro-pop playground where the energy of La Roux, the sonic explorations of Braids, and the pop sensibility of Lorde are her playmates.

As soon as she released her songs online, her inbox was immediately flooded by messages from both local and international luminaries of the electronic universe. She was immediately snatched up by management outfit Sofa King Raw who, after several months of negotiations, got her under contract with London, England-based label One Little Indian (the home of Björk, Cody Chesnutt, Sneaker Pimps and Sigur Rós) – a deal that was officially inked on April 15, 2015.

“We’ve been in talks with One Little Indian for a year. It was complicated, but I’m happy. It’s a done deal now,” says Foxtrott, who could have easily signed with a Québec label. “The reactions to the Bandcamp-released EP were such that I wanted to take a chance and break big with an international label right away. It was a longer process, but I made it.”

The 29 year-old musician does everything her way, including producing her first album. Raised in a family where classical music was first and foremost, she broke free of the classical training mold as a teen. “My grandmother was a piano and organ teacher at Vincent d’Indy,” she recalls. “I was about four or five when she started giving me piano lessons. I moved on to violin, but I got bored real fast because of the lack of freedom. I was constantly trying to change music pieces, to modify the melodies, which, obviously, drove my teachers crazy.  ‘Bach composed this 250 years ago, you can’t just change notes here and there because you think it’s prettier that way,’ I was told.”


Although tinkering with notes was already part of what made her tick at a tender 14 years old, Delorme will still waited many more years before actually writing her own songs. Once her violin was safely tucked  away at the bottom of her closet, she developed a passion for hip-hop and dancehall sounds and rhythms. “I’m from Tétreaultville, in Montréal’s East End,” she says. “Nobody listened to dancehall in my neck of the woods, but I loved it. I would devour the CD booklets to find out who had produced those songs. And that’s how I discovered Sly and Robbie were the masterminds behind a lot of the tracks that I really liked. I was quite the geek. I was incredibly curious about how those producers created such beats and sounds.”

This fascination for production took on another dimension when a friend lent her a CD-ROM with music production software such as Q-Base and Reason, which she secretly installed on the family computer. “I had created such drama in the family when I decided to give up the violin that I wanted to be very discreet about my love of beats,” says Foxtrott. “It took me quite a while before I mustered up the courage to compose my own songs and play them for others. Things fell into place when illness befell my family.”

Her brother, in his early twenties, was headed toward a brilliant career as a classical musician, but developed mental health issues. This was a source of motivation for Delorme.

“Seeing him wither away, and feeling so helpless about it, gave me a big kick in the ass,” she says. “On the one hand was this incredibly talented musician who was becoming less and less functional. On the other was me, doing everything undercover, because I was afraid of being myself. It was like electroshock therapy. I felt an urgent need to write and finish what I had started.” That’s when, around 2008, Foxtrott’s first songs were created, followed the next year by the remix for Adamus’ “Rue Ontario.”

Delorme doesn’t shy away from the very personal nature of her songs, notably “Brother,” which will be featured on her first album, A Taller Us, released later this year. Several of the songs on the album touch on the melodically-inclined songwriter’s many relationships.

“When you’re classically trained, certain notions are deeply etched into your brain. When you’re trained on the violin, melodies are everything. Nowadays, I’m constantly trying to find a balance between sounds, rhythms and the melody,” says the artist, who records her songs on her own, in her home studio.

“A lot of great beat-makers have incredible sounds, but they’re short on the melody,” she says. “At the other end of the spectrum, a lot of outstanding melodists lay their songs over really sucky beats. I have a ton of outstanding tracks on my computer, but I’ll only use them once I find the melody that works perfectly for them.”

You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out that the coming months will be quite busy for Foxtrott. She’ll hit the stage in a trio formation (alongside Erla Alexdottir on French horn and Christian Olsen on drums) in Toronto, New York and London this spring. Let’s put it this way: it’s about time One Little Indian presented their new discovery to the media. And it’s starting right now with the launch of the first single from her upcoming album, “Driven,” a track with sharp keyboards and creative beats. Grab it before the whole world does!

A father’s advice and a passion to help Western Canadian songwriters get their music to a wider audience. These were the keys to Edmonton-based, indie, country label Royalty Records’ success. Don’t forget to add a wee bit of “Scottish stubbornness,” says 75-year-old founder R. Harlan Smith.

Royalty not only celebrated 40 years in the business in 2014, but signed a new distribution deal with Sony Music Canada. They’ve been the longtime home to high-profile country star Gord Bamford, as well as Hey Romeo, Tenille and Jay Sparrow. In 40 years at Royalty, Smith claims to have written more than 200 songs, and produced more than 40 albums and 200-plus singles.

“I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day.” – R. Harlan Smith of Royalty Records

Flash back to 1974, when the humble entrepreneur had a vision. Smith wanted to give country musicians and songwriters from West of Manitoba a home. “There was a tremendous amount of talent not getting recognized,” he says.

When Smith founded the label, designing Royalty Records’ first logo on a beer napkin, the multinationals said he wouldn’t last two years. Forty years on, Smith is proud he proved them wrong.

As he grew up in rural Saskatchewan, Smith’s mom – a piano teacher – fostered his love of music. As a 1950s Prairie boy, there were two musts on Saturday night: listening to the Country Hit Parade on local radio and listening to the hockey game. “If you didn’t do either of these, you just weren’t living!” he laughs.

Smith’s father was also an early influence. “When I was a young teen, preparing to leave the nest, he had some words for me I’ve never forgotten,” says Smith. “He said, ‘No matter what people tell you, do what your soul tells you. If you have a passion for something, just do it.’ He also said, ‘Always do something to better the community where you live.’”

Once he left home, Smith took this fatherly advice to heart. He moved to Edmonton, which he calls “one of best music scenes I had ever encountered,” and began a career as a musician and songwriter.

But despite some early success, Smith decided to heed his dad’s other advice to give back, by starting his label. Gary Fjellgaard was one of Royalty Records’ first signings. Smith heard the B.C. songwriter – now inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame – while eating in a small-town diner.  “I heard this record in the jukebox and my jaw dropped,” Smith recalls. “First, at the song; second, at the voice.”

For Smith, his life in music has been a labour of love. For the past decade, son Rob has taken up this passion. He runs the entire Royalty Music Group of companies, which includes publishing house Helping Hand Music Ltd.

“When I was in the music business, I don’t think I worked a day in my life,” Smith concludes. “I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day. What a wonderful way to spend your life.”