By Stephanie Brooks
September’s 31st annual Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Awards shone a light on the industry’s best this year, giving out awards to deserving talent from across the country – one of which was Ontario’s own The Stellas, for Group or Duo of the Year.
For the husband and wife team from Whitby, Ontario, winning one of Canadian country music’s most coveted national awards was something they weren’t expecting.
“It was the ultimate shock,” says Marylynne Stella. “We had no clue we were going to be taking it home. We hadn’t prepared anything because we were basically waiting to see which friend of ours was going to take it!”
Their success, though, should come as no surprise. The couple, who performed at Bowmanville’s Boots & Hearts this past summer, is currently touring with the Zac Brown Band, living and working in both Toronto and Nashville and raising their two talented actor-singer daughters, Lennon and Maisy.
But it all comes back to Ontario for them.
“Our entire music career was in Ontario,” says Brad. “From when I was young and played in bands at every bar in the province to Marylynne and I hosting open mic nights five nights a week.”
The time they spent working as musicians in Ontario allowed them to learn a lot while supporting and raising their kids, who were surrounded by music from an early age.
“It allowed us to be with our children… whenever we would play, we’d get them up to sing with us and they got a taste for what it was like,” says Marylynne.
The duo perfected their craft performing for friends, family and fans in bars around Whitby until 2008 when they, on a whim, headed to Nashville one night post-gig.
“We played one song when we got to Nashville – the exact same one we’d played at the Gryphon Pub in Whitby for years – and there just happened to be a publisher there who signed us on the spot,” says Brad.
This wouldn’t have happened had they not worked so hard as musicians before venturing south, he adds.
“While in Ontario, we had the time and experience for our sound to click and become connected. Had we gone to Nashville two years earlier, it wouldn’t have worked.”
“If it wasn’t for the life we had in Ontario,” adds Marylynne, “the life we have in Nashville would not exist.”
Their roots are still very much alive in their Canadian community where they own a music school in Whitby called The Music Scene.
So how does a couple that works, plays and lives together manage to do it all and so well?
“It’s all we’ve ever known,” says Marylynne. “We’ve always worked together, no matter what job we’ve done. Even when we’re not working together, we’re always together. It’s amazing.”
The seasoned performers’ outlook toward working in the industry is another positive to note. Their advice for young or rising stars – including their daughters, who currently star in ABC’s hit show Nashville – is to keep your motives clear and do it because you love it.
“Do it for the right reasons; do it because you love it, because it feels right, and not because you want to be a star and rich and famous. If you truly are doing it because you love it, you will always be happy.”
And it’s safe to say this wise mindset reflects where the Duo of the Year is at in their career. With a second album coming out in 2014, The Stellas are feeling more confident than ever and excited to self-publish their new record.
“If no one likes it, we’re ok, ‘cause we’re still happy and proud of the record.”
I have an inkling there will be just a few people who will more than like it.