While this site has been full of the lockdown stories of Cork’s independent artists, it’s been a much different time for artists resident in the relative comfort of the music industry’s firmament, also: touring plans, support slots, radio playlisting and release schedules are of course, similarly affected, but the extra complications of the behind-the-scenes machinations of industry taking place as they do add a certain pressure - there’s a lot at stake.
Speaking via Zoom from her home on Cork’s northside, Stephanie Rainey is comfortably away from such stresses, writing and recording new ideas as they come to her, and taking her own time to simply be in the moment in which we find ourselves. While much of Rainey’s upcoming extended-player, including imminent single ‘Ross and Rachel’ was written before lockdown, it’s been informed by that sense of comfort and freedom.
“I wrote ‘Ross and Rachel at the end of 2019, so I’ve had it for a while. I wrote it with Cian Ducrot, who’s blown up since, and signed a deal with Interscope. We were hanging out one day and said, let’s do a session. We did two songs: one for him and one for me, and this is mine! It’s on the EP, but it hasn’t got the weight of some of the other songs, that depth. It’s more of a story song, which I love writing too. I love the production on it, and people seem to be excited about it.
“With production, it’s been different - it’s been remote, but it’s cool. Cian produced the tune, and we went back and forth over Zoom before mixing it here at home, coming together really simply. If there’s one thing the lockdown has taught me, it’s that simple is doable, and simple is good.
“I’ve done more writing remotely this year than I have going over and back to London or Los Angeles, and it’s amazing to sit in my house, make tea, go and do my session, achieve something, and then, just be at home.”
Previous single ‘No Cowboy’ was something of a rumination on the music business, the toll it takes, and the decisions one has to take to either assert themselves in the existing system, or to grant themselves the freedom to withdraw from it, and start afresh. Rainey speaks about what went into writing it, and how she went about addressing her experiences.
“I was sitting in a studio in London, and I was at the end of my tether. ‘This is a complete shitshow.’ I was really feeling the effects of it, feeling down, and thinking, ‘this can’t be what it is’. That level of disappointment, things not going the way I would have wanted them, but at the same time having success in the public eye, being in the media, getting played, streaming, etc.
“I was struggling, and the situations I was in weren’t working. There’s nobody to blame, it was the wrong team, or at the wrong time. I was trying to figure out who I was as an artist, and in the middle of a record deal is not the time to be doing that. I was looking to everyone, scrambling, thinking this wasn’t right.
“I was in studio with Johnny Wright, who I wrote this with, and had the title on my phone. I had ‘No Cowboy’ written down. I sat down to the piano and played, and it clicked. ‘There’s only one person that can fix this, or make something positive of this, and that’s you. You have a choice - you either let this be the thing that makes you fall out of love with music, or you pick yourself up, sort your shit out and get on the horse - there’s no cowboy on the way’. ”
For Rainey, all of this is heading toward the EP’s release later in the year.
As we’re all aware by now, writing and producing a record is different in lockdown, as is the process of promotion, extra content like videos, and so forth.
As much as it’s been about embracing freedom and new circumstances for Rainey, it’s also been an adjustment, albeit a welcome one.
“I was lucky that I was able to go to LA to do a showcase in February of 2020. I knew I had ‘No Cowboy’, and knew that I wanted to make the video there. I’ve seen the beautiful side in Hollywood Hills, and the not-so-glamourous side when you go down to Hollywood, where everyone is hustling to survive. Any artist will empathise with the struggle. Making that video with an amazing director was one positive, and had it ready before lockdown.
“On the other side of the coin, I’ve had to learn to do a lot of things myself, that I normally would have relied on other people for. I’ve been at home, and had the time to learn new skills. I’m putting out a lyric video for ‘No Cowboy’ - I can’t do these things, and yet, I figured it out. And with radio, where it might be a long day for a short period on air, these kinds of interviews are longer and more detailed. It’s created better conversations!”
Lockdown also brought Rainey her first gold record, as part of the remotely-recorded Irish Women in Harmony ensemble, for their wildly-successful cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’, which saw over forty female vocalists contributing to the overall effort.
While it sold and streamed well, and was a runaway televised success when a live version was undertaken for the Late Late Show, Rainey also saw the tune as a way to open up another, ongoing conversation.
“It feels like a lifetime ago since we did it! May of last year, I got a DM from (Niall Horan/Britney Spears collaborator) Ruth Anne, saying ‘hey, I want to do something with just the girls on it.’ (Representation) was a difficult topic at the time, and the conversation has been had respectfully, and steps have been taken. It was about getting together and creating a platform for female artists, collaborate, and get to know each other.
“I think a lot of us have felt over the years that it’s a difficult road to get the same coverage as male artists, so for us to come together, it made the conversation easier. And that reaction, it was not a planned thing. The whole thing just blew up, and it went gold!”
The conversation regarding gender representation on radio has been a hot topic for over a year, with the advent of the #WhyNotHer campaign and subsequent studies of gender representation in the medium shining a light on long-existing inequalities. Rainey talks about the ramifications of the conversation, and how incremental change needs to continue.
“You look back, and you think, the last woman we broke out of this country, that I can think of, is Imelda May. They haven’t been coming. The most frustrating question for me was, ‘is it the music?’. No!
“One of the frustrating aspects of my deal was the milestone that they wanted me to hit. Some of the tunes had garnered traction in different parts of the world, because of Spotify, but they wanted me to break top-ten radio in Ireland, before they’d bring me elsewhere to work the music. I knew. I just knew, already, that that would be such an uphill task.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility now to say to girls sitting at home, ‘hey, it’s not just about being on the radio, or famous - it’s about making a living, being sustained. It comes down to far more than just having a career or not. The conversation is being done well, but the change still has to come.
“We’ve done a lot to be proud of as a country, like the referendum. So many things have changed for the better. We’re so good at being inclusive, that it needs to be the next step forward - more Irish music on radio, minimum requirements. Everyone knows, and wants to make change - it’s just a matter of making it, y’know?”
Stephanie Rainey’s music is available now on all streaming services. New single ‘Ross and Rachel’ is out this month.