About four years ago I was hosting the Maine Academy of Modern Music showcase Girls Rock, and Genevieve Stokes performed an original song on piano. When she was done, I got back on stage, turned to the audience and told them that they should remember her name because I was certain she was going to be famous.
Stokes, who graduated from Falmouth High School in 2019, was signed to Atlantic Records in the fall, and her debut EP, “Swimming Lessons,” comes out on Friday.
Stokes, 19, has a phenomenal singing voice that reminds me of Hannah Reid of London Grammar. There’s a sublime richness to it that feels like the calm before – and during – the storm. Her songs are introspective, winged creatures of alt-pop perfection. With just the right amount of electronica infusions and vocal effects, Stokes’ sound has a foundation in piano, which she started to play when she was 8 years old.
For her senior project at Falmouth High, Stokes rented a cabin to record the songs that are on “Swimming Lessons.” By sheer happenstance, the cabin and nearby main residence is owned by longtime Maine musician and fellow piano-based singer-songwriter Kate Schrock. A piano owned by Schrock was, in fact, used on several tracks.
That same year, Stokes applied to the Clive Davis program at New York University, and although she wasn’t accepted, she uploaded her audition video to YouTube (though she has since taken it down), and it caught the attention of New Jersey-based producer Brian Kierulf, who has worked with major artists including Lady Gaga and 50 Cent. He reached out to Curtis and now, along with his business partner Danny Rocco, is her manager.
Kierulf said that, from YouTube, he went to Stokes’ SoundCloud page and had a guttural reaction to what he heard. “As an experienced writer and producer that has worked with many, many artists, it is extremely rare to come across someone with that innate ability to write a song and have a vision for a song.” Typically, Kierulf doesn’t reach out to artists, it happens the other way around, but Stokes’s music was something that was “so insanely inspiring for me to hear.”
About halfway through 2020, Atlantic Records contacted her, and although because of the pandemic she didn’t get to sign on the dotted line in person, Stokes is absolutely thrilled about her relationship with the historic label. “I still can’t believe it. The EP is so special to me and having Atlantic back it is such a blessing,” she said.
The first single from “Swimming Lessons” was released on Feb. 5 and is called “Surface Tension.” Stokes said she wrote the song during a time she felt lost and unsure of herself. “Writing it allowed me to make peace with the parts of my life that no longer suited me and realize that I was capable of having the life that I truly wanted. I think it marked the beginning of a new phase of my life,” she said.
I’m missing people I’ve never met
There’s things in this town I’d rather forget
But I just keep on moving
There’s no point in losing
I just keep refusing
Oh I just keep on proving
Nothing is quite true when everything is fluid
The video for the song, which was filmed in Old Orchard Beach, was also released on Feb. 5 and has racked up more than 165,000 views.
And speaking of racking up numbers, on Spotify alone, Stokes’s songs have been streamed upwards of three million times with the tracks “Running Away” and “Surface Tension” both well over a million streams each.
Stokes has been writing songs since she was about 8 years old and said her process has become intuitive. “I usually start with chords and improvise until a theme emerges. It’s very therapeutic.”
When Stokes was 14, she enrolled at the Maine Academy of Modern Music in Portland and was involved both as a solo artist and part of the band Haven all the way through her graduation from Falmouth High School.
Last August, MAMM shared on Instagram a clip of Stokes talking about the impact the academy had on her. “I learned a lot about myself and how to work with other people and how to really take constructive criticism. I am so grateful for that experience because I have definitely grown a lot as an artist and a musician because of it,” is part of what she said about her time there.
I reached out to MAMM’s founder and executive director Jeff Shaw and asked him to share his thoughts about Stokes and the news about Atlantic Records. Shaw said that Stokes won best female vocalist three years in row during the annual MAMM SLAM high school band competition, a record that still stands. “Her success should surprise no one who has ever seen her perform,” Shaw said. “From a young age, she had a natural way of captivating an audience. She is a tremendous singer and a gifted songwriter, and it is inspiring to see that she is dedicating herself to building a career with her original music.”
Stokes, who still lives in Falmouth, said that once the pandemic ends, she hopes to go on tour. For now, find “Swimming Lessons” everywhere on Friday.
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