Music is the only option for Gianna Stansell

Collaboration played a big part in Gianna Stansell’s EP. Courtesy Gianna Stansell

At only 17, Gianna Stansell’s soulful voice has brought her to compete on “America’s Got Talent,” win a $1,000 song competition hosted by Brian Vander Ark, and get flown to Los Angeles to record at Atlantic Records, despite never formally auditioning for the competition — they found her.

It was at a fourth-grade talent show that she and others realized the power and strength of her voice and she’s been singing ever since. Influences of blues and gospel are clear in the R&B pop singer’s music, which is owed to her stepfather, a blues musician known as Lou Thunder, whom she would often perform with.

It’s clear music runs in the family. She also credits Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with her foundation in classical music and theory — a program that was started by her grandparents in 1966.

Stansell was gaining momentum as a young artist when the pandemic hit last year. She went from performing nearly every week to performing only twice last summer. From Festival of the Arts to auditioning for shows at Circle Theatre and Civic Theatre, everything was put on hold — but not her passion for music.

“I think in a lot of ways, it’s affected me more positively,” Stansell said. “I’ve been able to do a lot of self-reflection and find myself as an artist and what I want to be, and also, where I am in my life, I was able to finally make more decisions for myself.”

During lockdown, she recorded her EP, “Love Magnetic,” which was released in January on Bandcamp and became available on all platforms at the end of March. Three of the five songs were written during COVID-19, all through Zoom meetings with the help of Jeff Oxford, Kathiryn Werlinich and Dan Agne. “It’s all really collaborative,” Stansell said. “So, none of my songs I made like all by myself. There’s always other people helping me, which is really cool.”

In this creative process, she often receives tracks and writes lyrics over them or will receive lyrics and writes melodies over them.

“COVID affected me in a way where I was kind of able to write songs in a different way,” Stansell said. “But it’s been harder because you can’t play guitar over a Zoom call, you know.”

“Love Magnetic” is somewhat of a diary of her growth as an artist. While she’s now a teenager, some of her songs were written when she was in eighth grade.

“I’m still kind of trying to figure out my voice as an artist,” she said. “I think that this EP is kind of a reflection of that in a lot of ways.”

As a junior, the high school student isn’t just writing songs and releasing music, but she’s also preparing for college. While she was originally thinking about going into production so that she would be able to produce her own music, she’s not so sure anymore.

“I think that, for me, I would be happiest just going into performing and singing because that’s what I want to do and that’s where I’m happiest,” she said. “In a perfect world, I would want to be able to support myself only singing and performing and I want to be noticed and be a big artist. There’s really no other options.”

This story can be found in the July/August 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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