Stephanie Rainey is the Irish singer songwriter who made the impossible happen. With no money, no manager, no contacts and no carefully calculated social media campaign, she created a music industry stampede of epidemic proportions with just one heart-stopping song – ‘Please Don’t Go’.
Within 24 hours of the song being uploaded onto Facebook, Stephanie – who had spent a decade trying to break into the music business – had more than a million hits (it quickly rose to five million views across both Facebook and YouTube), offers pouring in from US and UK record companies and world-wide media attention.
For the Cork-born singer it was a bitter sweet moment of triumph. The song was not just her last roll of the dice as an artist but it was sparked by the devastating loss of her one year old nephew, Fionn, from meningitis.
Coupled with a powerful, poignant lo-fi video for the song featuring friends – including her brother Dylan and the cult Irish comedian Cian Twomey – who had each suffered the loss of a loved one, holding up photographs and placards with messages of how each family member had died and what they wanted to say to them.
Stephanie – whose influences encompass Alison Krauss to Coldplay and Neil Young to Florence and The Machine – says: “I had absolutely no idea of the impact that one song and that one video we made would have.
“It was my last attempt to get my voice heard. But when I suddenly got all this attention from record companies I felt a weight of responsibility on me. This was about real loss, real people who I knew and loved. The song and the video had been made with absolute integrity. And I had to be doing this the right way for the right reasons. I wanted my songs to matter.”
Stephanie has the looks of a young Chrissie Hynde, the troubadour spirit of KT Tunstall and her songs lie in the emotional hinterland between Adele and Ed Sheeran. Her music is not about gloss and glamour but the grit and grind of the real world. Hers is a voice that is authentic and honest.
“I don’t write many love songs,” she says. “I write about other experiences whether it is loss, feeling insecure, trying to find out exactly who you are – songs that make a connection.”
Stephanie Rainey describes herself as “pure old school.” From growing up with a father who played her Bob Dylan and Neil Young, to falling in love with The Beatles and country music to spending her teens and early twenties performing in pubs, clubs and earning a crust in call centres and as a waitress. “I was completely hopeless trying to get people to buy Sky TV dishes or taking orders,” she says. “But every penny I could earn I would put into making music.”
Her early successes included performing in band contests in Canada, airplay for her self-released debut single, ‘The One’, attention from her mash up of Lorde’s ‘Royals’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ and getting to number three in the Irish charts with her DIY EP, ‘Half Of Me’.
But despite being told by music critics she was a special talent with a genius for songwriting, she struggled to make any impact in the industry. She says: “I left music college (Colaiste Stiofain Naofa in Cork) and all I wanted was to get attention from the industry. I just had no idea how you made it happen.“I spent years doing gigs, making my own music,creating a website, getting to know other musicians. I even went off to Los Angeles for a week, which was a big learning curve but a bit of a disaster because I didn’t really have a plan. “I felt I was running around making little dents everywhere but never breaking through. I was so lucky to have a supportive family and to be able to make money from guitar lessons to survive.
A visit to a friend in hospital sparked the memory of the death of her nephew, who had died ten years previously. She wrote the song ‘Please Don’t Go’ in a matter of hours then came up with her bravest idea for a video.
“I asked people I knew who had suffered loss to be in the video including my brother. We spent days filming it and they will remain some of the hardest but the most meaningful days of my life. The song is about my loss, their loss and I really wanted to tell their stories and to make an honest emotional connection.
“Just before I put out the video I remember getting so upset in my mum’s kitchen telling her I felt I had something important to say with what I was doing but that it was never going to be heard and that I was going to give up. ‘Please Don’t Go’ was my last attempt to say something and then I was done.
“But within a matter of days everything had changed. I was flown out to Los Angeles, to New York, these really big important record company people would ask me where my manager was, my team, my publicist. I had no-one. Just me and my boyfriend being thrown into these crazy situations. I was a lone wolf, a voice from a bedroom in Ireland. I think people found it hard to believe it.”
In the rush to sign this original artist a bidding war broke out between labels as the song pushed its way into the US iTunes charts. “It was absolute madness for a time,” she says. “I’m actually glad it came when I was that little bit older and I’d done my time banging my head against the wall. Not only did I really appreciate what was happening but I was incredibly sure about what I wanted and far more sure of myself as an artist and a person. I knew exactly what music I wanted to make. I knew the voice I wanted to be heard.”
Last year Stephanie signed to East West Records/Warner Music, opting for a deal which would give her the chance to develop her skills and collaborate with award winning songwriters, including Amy Wadge who has co-written with Ed Sheeran and won a Grammy for ‘Thinking Out Loud’.
Her first release is self-affirming anthem, ‘100 Like Me’ where Stephanie opens up about her battle with self-consciousness. Further tracks to look forward to include the raw and honest, ‘Sorry’ and the wonderfully uplifting, ‘Nothing Of You Left To Love.’
“The dream to make the best, most wicked music I can possibly make is actually happening for me,” she says. “I thought my dream was over and really it was only just beginning and I can’t wait. “
2017 is destined to be the year of Stephanie Rainey.