Cork singer-songwriter Stephanie Rainey told David Hennessy about her new song No Cowboy which is about realising there’s no cowboy coming to save the day for you, there might be a Superman serving you breakfast and also how the success of Please Don’t Go, about the sad loss of her nephew, came at a time when she was giving up on being a singer-songwriter.
The new song No Cowboy comes from the Glanmire singer-songwriter’s realisation that no idyllic happy ending is going to arrive like it does in the movies.
Although the video is shot in Hollywood, Stephanie says the song is about realising that, in real life, Gary Cooper does not ride off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
However, rather than being a sad song, she also feels there is empowerment in accepting that no one is going to save the day for you, you have to do it for yourself.
Stephanie told The Irish World: “I suppose when you listen to the song it feels almost like it could be a sad song but I don’t ever think of it that way.
“I think of it more as a sort of a realisation and sometimes when you realise something then you can be quite empowered by it.
“When I think of No Cowboy, I don’t find it sad.
“I think of it as being, ‘Okay, sometimes the superhero doesn’t come’. The world kind of sells you happy endings but the reality of life is that they don’t come as easy as you would like them to.
“For me, No Cowboy is really that realisation that, ‘Yes, we see all these happy endings not just in movies but all around us but actually you have to fight to create happiness in your life’.
“A lot of the time it comes with a fight, it doesn’t come with just waking up and everything falling into place. To me it feels like an empowering track.”
Taken from her upcoming EP, due for release later in 2021, No Cowboy comes from Stephanie’s own struggles within the music industry.
While she may have thought signing a major label deal was her happy ending, it did not work out that way forcing her to realise she had to rely on herself rather than the major label machine.
The song actually pulled Stephanie out of a ‘funk’ of her own.
“I think when I wrote No Cowboy, it was a very low time. I had left my record label and I had left a few different structures and those things just didn’t work out. And I was making big changes on my team and I was so lost.
“I was really down because to be honest I felt like a complete failure at the time. I was like, ‘What am I doing? How am I going to get this back on track?’
“And at the time I couldn’t see that actually all of the things that I had done to that point: Nothing had been a failure. Yeah, I’d left all these companies but I didn’t put out an album and it flopped. I’ve never put out an album. I’ve only done singles and things that have all done quite well so it was just that moment of not being to see the wood for the trees and I think over depending on other people to try and fix things and for me.
“I was sitting down writing No Cowboy going, ‘Okay, the thing that landed me all of these other deals was Please Don’t Go which I did with no team, nothing but friends and family. I told them what I wanted to do and they all jumped on board and helped me to do it’.
“And I was like, ‘That proves to me that a) you’re not a failure and b) anything that you’ve really done that has really had that clout has come from you’.
“This is the song that goes, ‘No one’s coming to help you, you have to do it yourself’. And there’s something really empowering about that because once you realise you’re depending on yourself then all the steps you take after that are easy because you’re kind of going, ‘I’m doing this for me and the people around me that I appreciate and also the people that appreciate the music’.
“You forget about that sometimes in the melee of everything. You forget that you have fans waiting for music, that love the music, that send you messages to say that a song of yours got them through a certain time and sometimes it’s really easy to forget all that when you’re wrapped up in the notion of what success is.
“It definitely pulled me out of a funk.”
It was the home of the happy ending, Hollywood, that Stephanie filmed the video for No Cowboy. Stephanie has been there several times and wanted to capture the hope and hopelessness of a place where everyone is working so hard to make their dreams come true but someone who looks like Superman can be waiting tables.
“It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve been to LA under many circumstances. I did my first trip there in 2014 and I was really battling hard to get noticed. I had no manager, I had nothing. I went over there. I spent my life savings to go over there for a week and try and meet some people and make things happen and it was a complete disaster. I came back from that trip being like, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ I just came back being like, ‘This is just an impossible task’.
“And then things changed for me. I had a bit of success and the next time I visited there, I was visiting the head of one of the biggest labels in the world.
“When I came out of the building that day there was a girl standing outside the building just singing and she was so good. She was there when we went in and she was still there when we came back out and that was a few hours.
“She was obviously standing outside the door so that some of the people going in and out might hear her and I was like, ‘This is what it is: The hustle you have to do to try and make your dreams come true’.
“I just remember thinking she was still there three hours later when we came out. and I was like, ‘Good on you. That’s dedication’.
“And on that particular trip we went to this restaurant and this guy was serving us breakfast and he looked like he could be the next Superman. He was built, tanned, just perfect looking and we were chatting to him and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m just here trying to be an actor but I spend most of my time just waiting tables’. It’s just the reality. It’s the reality of any job you have. It’s not just music or trying to be famous. Anything you do in your life generally speaking there’s a fight for it. You have to build and you have to get there.
“I think sometimes we take the journey for granted. If the journey is very frustrating actually you look back when you do eventually get to where you want to be it’s like everything you did actually mounted up to where you landed eventually.”
It was after releasing Please Don’t Go in 2015 to international critical acclaim that Stephanie saw the industry’s doors fly open for her. Coming from a place of anguish following the death of her nephew and with a video that explored her own and other people’s personal grief, its honesty and raw emotion resonated.
Incredibly that success came at a time when Stephanie thought of abandoning the musical route she was on.
“To be honest, Please Don’t Go was like this crazily unexpected thing.
“When I created the video for Please Don’t Go, I was like, ‘What am I doing with music?’
“I wasn’t able to break through. It was just a really uphill battle. So I had the budget left to create one last thing and I was like, ‘There’s four songs on this EP, three of them could get the radio, one of them won’t…’ Because it was Please Don’t Go. It’s really slow, it’s really sad: ‘Nobody on radio would play it during the day’.
“So I was like, ‘I’m going to do this project for me’. Because obviously Please Don’t Go means a lot to me. It’s written about loss, it’s written about losing my nephew and just my experience of grief in general.
“I went and created the video for it and I asked friends and family to be involved, people I knew had lost different people. I had worked on it for a couple of months but by the time I was actually putting out the video, I was kind of going, ‘I’m going to put this out and then I’m done. I want to be a musician but I’m not going to keep ploughing into the artist’s career’. Because it just didn’t feel like it was working.
“I put it out and overnight it blew up. In a weird way everything changed on that one day but it was a really strange feeling. The fact that that was super successful was almost hard in its own way because I couldn’t quite relax into its success.
“Because of the fact there was so many people’s stories involved in it and it meant that in every interview I did I got asked about my nephew and my family and it’s all very personal but on the other side of the coin it didn’t feel like it was about me. The project felt like it was very much for people who engaged with it and there’s something really nice about it, that it felt almost separate to me as an artist.
“It was kind of like there was me singing the song but then there’s like this whole other thing that Please Don’t Go does and it continues to do. I get messages every single day from people who say they’ve seen it and they just felt like they could sit down and watch it and feel that somebody in the world understood what they were going through. Because grief is a weird thing. When you lose somebody, it’s like for a few weeks everyone stands still with you with it but then all of a sudden life starts to go back on but you’re left in this new world where everything is different and nothing is enjoyable certainly for a stretch of time until you come out the other side of it.
“I’m really proud of what it does and what it stands for and that people can go there and watch it and have a really big cry. I can’t even watch it to this day without crying. I’ll cry every time I watch it. I’m super proud of it.”
A forthcoming song of Stephanie’s comes from a similarly personal place for Stphanie with Woman being written about her mother going through poor health.
“My mum was sick. She’s been well now for six or seven months but before that she put down a couple of years, two years of the sickest I’ve ever seen her. She was really, really, really ill. She nearly died a couple of times and in the midst of all of that, I was writing Woman and it’s exactly what I wanted to say.
“It’s exactly what she means to me and what she shows me. I’m really excited about that track coming out.
“It’s the song people ask me for, ‘When is that coming?’ It’s cool to have that little bit of a buzz about it. I think it will do well and I hope that it comes across the same way that I want it to. I hope that everyone can enjoy it because it’s definitely a special track to me.”
The No Cowboy video shows Stephanie singing the song on a teeming Hollywood Boulevard. Shot just before the crisis hit last year, it even feels funny for the singer-songwriter herself to look at given just how much the world has changed since then.
“It’s so funny. I had one comment under the video. It just said, ‘Put on your mask’.
“It’s weird to even look at it now. I was so lucky to have been able to do that before that all happened. I literally just got home from a trip to LA the week that Covid hit. We left for LA and it was kind of like, ‘Covid this, Covid that, is this creeping into everywhere?’
“I was wearing a mask on the plane because I do it to stop the air conditioning drying my voice out and people were kind of looking at me thinking, ‘Oh, she’s obviously hysterical over this new thing we’re hearing about’.
“I remember one day we went for a walk. I get really bad chest infections from dry air and I was doing a showcase over there so I had to make sure that my voice didn’t go so even on that morning I was wearing a mask because I was trying to keep the moisture in my throat.
“I met this woman and she was like, ‘Have you got Covid?’ And I was like, ‘No, no, I’m a singer. It’s just because of the air’.
“By the time we were coming home everyone was wearing a mask. We landed in Dublin Airport and it was just like, ‘Oh, they’re closing the country down. This is crazy’. I feel really fortunate to have been able to do it.
“But shooting that video was crazy. It’s not something that I would have chosen to do myself but we were working with a great director over there, Ran Pink and he was like, ‘We’re just going to go down and we’re going to shoot this in the middle of the day when it’s busiest’.
“I was like, ‘What do you mean?’
“And he was just like, ‘You’re gonna sing the song and walk through Hollywood Boulevard and we’re just going to film it’.
“And I was like, ‘You want me to go down to Hollywood Boulevard at three o’clock in the day when it’s full of tourists and just sing this song?
“And he was like, ‘Yeah’.
“I just had to switch off my Irish mortification. I just had to be like, ‘No. Now you’re just going to do this and it will be over in four hours’.
“But it was just mad, I think the maddest thing I’ve ever done. Everyone was just looking. It was awkward as hell.”
Ordinarily Stephanie would find herself working in London quite regularly and had a partner living here before the crisis really changed things.
“My fiance was actually living in London when it all hit. He was over there full-time so I was going over and back. And he just came home.
“The week that Ireland shut down, he was like, ‘Eek, nothing’s happening. I was just going to the shop the other day and everything’s full, the buses are full, the tubes are full, everything is full. They’re not stopping anything’.
“He was like, ‘I just feel like I wanna come home before this gets bad’. And he was kind of right I think at the time.
“I miss London. I miss being over there. I miss the people I work with over there but I’ve been doing a lot of writing with people through zoom. I find it easier than I thought I would.”
No Cowboy is out now.
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