INTERVIEW: GENEVIEVE STOKES REFLECTS ON HIGH SCHOOL YEARS WITH EP “SWIMMING LESSONS”
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Genevieve Stokes created a foundation for her sound with recent EP Swimming Lessons. Now, the Portland, Maine-born-and-raised artist builds on that foundation with a new visual accompaniment for her EP’s third track, “Running Away.”

Creating the video concept for “Running Away” with best friend and creative director, Abbie Pitre, the two worked to capture how it feels to be alone and in the midst of obsessive thoughts. As Stokes sings about navigating unrequited feelings, she moves through the rooms of a big house. She sits amidst flights of dizzying stairs, sings behind a glass of water on a kitchen table, moves her hands through sunbeams in an empty bedroom and holds a jar of flowers in front of vintage wallpaper.

Nods to 1960s aesthetics bring the viewer into a moment in between reality and fiction — the concept Stokes and Pitre aimed to capture within the “Running Away” visuals.

“I want people to feel like they’re entering a world when they listen to my music, and I feel like this video sets the tone for what’s to come,” Stokes said.

The song itself is ethereal. In it, Stokes combines dreamlike, high-tone vocals, lilting piano chords and lyrics recounting her experience navigating obsessive thoughts. It results in a track moving as quick as an onslaught of racing thoughts, with a chorus that acts as a deep breath and a short pause before the next thought rush comes through.

 

 

Though young, Stokes’ voice possesses a vibrant sound; she sings with an element of soul that brings her alt-pop affiliation up several notches. The fullness of her voice complements the vulnerable lyrical moments she gifts the listener throughout Swimming Lessons. It becomes clear to the listener that while these songs capture a moment of Stokes’ upbringing — her high school years — she’s more reflecting on this moment through the lens of her present self rather than interpreting the experience through a mindset focused on being at the end of a youthful era.

“I wrote a lot of these songs with the intention of never showing them to the world, so they’re very intimate,” Stokes said.

For Stokes, songwriting is about feeling an internal push and using the drive that comes naturally to her. She works to separate external pressures and stress in order to be fully in the moment while writing.

“You can get into this meditative space where those like, fears that you’re having and all those negative thoughts kind of just fade away,” Stokes said. “It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, it feels really nice.”

“Surface Tension,” the leading single off of Swimming Lessons reflects this philosophy in its uplifting message. Stokes shared that the song was written during a difficult time in her life; writing it allowed her to make peace with parts of her life that no longer fit her reality rather than rendering her helpless.

The track establishes themes of fluidity and moving forward that gradually get explored in the Swimming Lessons EP. Additionally, “Surface Tension” establishes the theme of water — a theme that is central in Stokes’ current discography.

She explained that as she went through high school, she found herself writing a lot about water. There was comfort in being physically near it during her upbringing in Maine. It became an important feature as she grew up and transitioned naturally into her writing.

“I realized that just like, with the fluidity, I think with water and music, there is kind of this similar element,” Stokes said.

 

 

Having recorded Swimming Lessons in a cabin in Maine near the Atlantic Ocean, water became an impactful element not only thematically, but sonically. An old, upright piano inside of the cabin Stokes was recording in ended up being used throughout the EP. Its organic sound added a layer of subtle rawness to each track.

“In a more literal way, that’s how it affected it. But also just, like, I’m so affected by my environment. I need to be in the right mindset when I’m creating music, so that really helped to just be in a space that was very calm and tranquil and near the water.,” Stokes said. “I like kind of building my sound here [in Maine] because I feel so comfortable. And I love the energy and just, like, the pace of life here.”

She said there’s an “intangible thing” and open space that helped gravitate her toward staying in Maine, as opposed to cities like LA and NYC. Stokes also highlighted a feeling of nostalgia that came with creating an EP in the place she grew up in.

“I think of Swimming Lessons as just kind of getting used to the water and, you know, learning how to swim for the first time,” Stokes said. “And that’s kind of like, ‘Oh, this is my first EP that I’m putting out into the world.’ And I’m just, you know, getting started.”

 

Listen to Swimming Lessons on Spotify:

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photo by: Abbie Pitre
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