How a song of loss found its way into hearts across the internet
Stephanie Rainey had almost given up when viral fame called. She tells Donal Lynch about grief, inspiration and achieving her dreams
For most of us, Monday mornings can seem grimly emblematic of the return to the weekly grind, but for Stephanie Rainey, that dreaded start of the week has a different resonance; it was on a Monday morning three years ago that the Cork singer began living her dream by releasing the song which would launch her career.
"To be honest, I thought about giving up right before then," the 28-year-old singer recalls. "It didn't seem like things were really going anywhere. I had made an EP with a few tracks but Please Don't Go didn't seem like something you could go to a radio station with; it's slow, it's sad, and unless you're Adele, you don't get away with that. So I didn't have a tiny bit of expectation. Then one Monday morning I decided to give it a go. I posted it online and waited to see what would happen."
The words for the song had come to her as she stood weeping at a friend's hospital bedside. During this grief, the songwriter was taken back to the death, a decade earlier, of her baby nephew, who lost his life to meningitis the day after his first birthday. She went home and poured her feelings into her music.
"It's about loss and the fear of losing someone that you love. It is the one emotion that people can't ever help you with. The number one loss for me really was the death of my nephew, Fionn.
"It was very sudden, I couldn't imagine going through something as difficult as that ever again. It was so hard for my family, all of us. We were heartbroken. Even now, I think of him all the time," she says.
The video for the song features people sharing messages about people whom they had lost, including one by her brother, Fionn's father. The power of the imagery, married to her searing vocals, captured the imagination of the internet. Within a few days, it had racked up half a million viewings across various platforms.
"It was like nought to 100 in a matter of hours. You could see thousands of people sharing it immediately. I was getting emails from agents in America saying 'this is for the person representing Stephanie Rainey' and I was replying 'it's just me, for now!'
"I was in LA in three or four days. A lawyer who handles a lot of music stuff got in touch with me too. It was a weird time. I couldn't believe the amount of people who had seen it. It really seemed to touch people all over the world."
But who gets paid when such a hit explodes on the internet? Still not the artist, it would seem.
"No, I didn't make anything from it," Stephanie concedes, smiling, as though that were a given. "And if it were any other song, I might feel it was unjust, but it was such a personal song that I just wanted people to see it.
"It also made me feel like I belonged doing this. When I had those meetings after the song took off, I felt I had earned them. I had done something to be proud of."
Almost straight away, she quit her day job - she had been teaching guitar - and signed to Warner Records, who had also propelled the likes of Ed Sheeran, a big influence on Stephanie, to stardom.
For a young woman who had grown up dreaming of musical success, it seemed to represent the culmination of all her ambitions.
"It feels so wrapped up with your hopes and dreams that your self-worth is a bit invested in it. Growing up (in Glanmire, near Cork city) music was my infinite daydream. It was always in the house.
"My dad's an engineer and my mother stayed at home. My dad would sing Neil Young songs when I was a kid. I loved Crosby, Stills & Nash. When I was older, I got into T n he Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I also got into boy bands for a while."
With the contract, she could afford to take time to write some new music.
Her time was divided between a little home studio in Cork and London. She co-wrote another single, 100 Like Me.
"That was trying to encapsulate the feeling of being young and lonely and thinking you're going through something by yourself. I was always quite self-conscious, body conscious, I had those doubts about myself. There is a pressure to look a certain way in this business.
"I've gotten past the point where I've let it bother me. I could sit here and say 'I'll never look like this or like that' but there came a point where I was just more comfortable in my own skin.
"You can run from it all you want, I think, but you'll always be you. There are days when I'd love to cut the fringe off but people tell me it looks like Chrissie Hynde a lot."
As her career was moving into higher gear, she began to suffer performance anxiety.
"It was the strangest thing, right before I had to sing, I would just have this feeling like I needed to swallow a lot. It was just nerves, I would say. It was horrible, though, and would hit me just as someone was counting down to me starting to sing.
"Now I'm on a bit more of an even keel, although I do still get stressed out, of course. I've tried hypnotherapy. I do think it's good for positive reinforcement."
The openness in her music sometimes contrasts with a distinct caginess in conversation. Her romantic life remains strictly off limits n as a subject of discussion, for instance.
"I think once you put that out there, you can never take it back. I think, even if you're Cheryl Cole and Liam Payne, it's got to be tough to open a newspaper and read about your relationship."
One imagines a gloriously debauched rock 'n' roll lifestyle. However, Stephanie says that she finds it funny that "music is the only profession where it seems to be acceptable to have a drink for every little thing you do".
"The golden rule is to only have a few drinks at the end of the tour. I don't know [how] it's possible to do what the Rolling Stones did. If I had that wild a life I'd lose my voice. I'm very boring, really. At the end of the tour we do celebrate, though."
That day is again nigh; she is currently in the middle of a national tour and will play dates in Galway, Listowel and Dublin over the next couple of weeks.
It's a long, slow road to replicate that initial viral supernova, but she says that everything is happening in good time.
"I think it's better for me that it happened now, a bit later. If I'd gotten all this when I was 18 and been plonked down into record meetings in the middle of London, I don't know how I would've handled it. This is the perfect time for me and I'm ready for it."
Stephanie Rainey's new single Question Mark is out now. She plays The Grand Social, Dublin on Tuesday, March 20, tickets from €15 are available from Ticketmaster.