#LetTheGirlsPlay: Lena Stone Is Always Learning as She Goes
The 22-year-old's grandmother taught her music to the point that she gives her all credit. Stone's mother and father formed a duo when they were young, playing songs Dad wrote, plus Neil Young covers — him on guitar, Mom on flute. Yet the oldest of three singing sisters wouldn't truly realize what a career in the music business required until she moved out after high school.
So I’m sitting there, my fingers are bleeding and I’m like, ‘It’s fun, I’m going to master it.’
Fans often only see the finished product, and they make quick assumptions about who an artist is or isn't. There are no true overnight success stories, because to enjoy success, you have to commit for more than one night. There's formal and informal lessons, choral groups, nights spent alone in the bedroom trying to find one word that replaces three ... Stone's dream began to take shape in 2010 at Grammy Camp, a summer camp for high school students that pairs them with professionals and peers with similar interests. The list of campers is short and exclusive. Some decide they don't have what it takes, often when it's not true. Others — like Stone, Taste of Country's #LetTheGirlsPlay spotlight artist for December — rise up.
“I think it kicked my drive into overdrive," Stone says of suddenly being thrust into a room of musicians as good, perhaps even better, than she was.
“When I went to Grammy camp my first year, I couldn’t do bar chords," she adds, a few minutes after playing three songs for the Monday night Song Suffragettes crowd at the Listening Room. "But I got home and I was like, ‘I’m going to learn bar chords if it’s the last thing I do!’ So I’m sitting there, my fingers are bleeding and I’m like, ‘It’s fun, I’m going to master it.’”
Songwriter Darrell Brown ("You'll Think of Me," "Why Don't We Just Dance") gave her a boost, telling her she doesn't belong in Los Angeles, she belonged in Nashville. However the only way she could get to Nashville was to convince her parents she'd go to college as well. A trip to tour Vanderbilt University included a night at the Bluebird Cafe and Stone never truly went home.
You could describe Stone's brand of country as pop-country, but her songwriting relies on storytelling, and her stories are more personal than most. She performed a song called "Thinking and Driving" first on this night, later recalling the snow-covered New England trip home that inspired it.
“I genuinely don’t know how this happened, but I ended up about two blocks from my ex’s house," she says, her sincerity believable and adorable. "I’d heard that his family had moved. I was just like, ‘I wanna know.’”
He had moved. There was a 'Sold' sign in his front yard, a prop seemingly placed to inspire what she calls the best song Stone has ever written with best friend and fellow #LetTheGirlsPlay artist Kalie Shorr. It was a full-circle moment that helped close the relationship.
"As I Go" is Stone's featured song. She penned it with Adam Wood and Taylor Watson, and admits it was a reaction to people not taking her feelings seriously after a breakup. Some lessons, Stone says, one needs to learn the hard way.
"Don't let a fool kiss you / Don't let a kiss fool you / Don't fall unless it's hard / Don't shop for wine on an empty heart / Don't cry if he ain't worth it / He ain't worth it if he makes you cry," she cries out at the chorus.
"So much that I don't know / But I'm learning as I go."
At Vanderbilt, Stone didn't chase music for two years. Despite being home to the now-shuttered Blue Jay Recording Studio, there was no songwriting community in Carlisle, Mass., so she didn't know to look for like minds in Music City.
“I just assumed everyone sat in their dorm rooms and wrote songs about mean boys who are usually in a fraternity," she says, smiling. Halfway through earning her degree in economics, Stone started to disappear with regularity. She would still make it to class, but then she'd head into town for a writing appointment or songwriting circle. She was the friend no one saw until she graduated in 2014 and promptly landed a publishing deal.
“My parents were like, ’She’s actually making money from this!’”
Like Carrie Underwood, the heart of Stone's catalog is straight-down-the-middle love or love lost songs that rely on infectious melodies or clever lyrics ("Don't vandalize me with those vandal eyes," she sings during "Don't Mind the Singing"). As a writer, she's the driver. Stone says her left-brain traits allow her to write in a very math-y way, which others appreciate, or at least learn to appreciate.
Next year Song Suffragettes will celebrate a two-year anniversary, and along with Shorr, Stone has played most of the weekly shows. "Nervous" is her weekly anthem, but "As I Go" is becoming as popular. She's an anchor here, but not settling. In 2016 she says she's hoping to play more full band shows, record an LP and maybe even hit the road some. Another publishing deal would be great, but there's no rush. If it takes awhile, one figures she'll file away each lesson for another song, or another story that she'll share someday.
Lena Stone Sings "Nervous"