Writing and recording a new album, gigging full-time, co-hosting the Country Music Alberta (CMAB) Awards Show, rockin’ an NHL halftime show, managing her burgeoning career—Mariya Stokes is busy. And wouldn’t have it any other way.
When she moved to Calgary from small-town Alberta a decade ago, Mariya knew it would take hard work and persistence to make it in the music industry. “I just didn’t give myself a choice. I knew this was what I wanted to do, and I was determined to do it,” she says. “I was really, really, really broke for the first few years, too. It’s part of the joy. It’s like any business. Just takes a lot of joy and a lot of learning.”
Setting and surpassing her own goals along the way (Quit the day job? Check. Move from teaching to performing? Check. Record first album? Check.), her trajectory has been a steady rise, and her work increasingly diverse.
Known for her soulful voice and hip, energetic take on pop country, Mariya doesn’t shy away from blending genres and diversifying her musical world. Her upcoming album reflects those tendencies, going so far as to record a second, alternative, version of each country track—some live, some pop, some EDM.
“I live in country music, but the genre has become so much less relevant, especially with streaming services and access,” she says. “For this record we just want to serve the message, and serve the songs. Sometimes it requires 808s [drum machines], a DJ and producer; others it requires a banjo and country-sounding guitars.”
At her core, though, it’s all about the songwriting. Early on, Mariya focused on writing for others—preferring to sit down with artists one-on-one, finding the best way to tell their story. But performing, and sharing her own words, has taken precedence. “Being an artist and a songwriter are separate professions, and I kind of fit in the intersection of that,” she says.
Although she’s a solo artist, collaborations are frequent for Stokes, whether it’s in the writing phase, on stage or behind the scenes. And her upcoming album, her first full-length effort, is no exception.
“It’s my record, but there are so many people that have put a lot of time and love into it,” she says. “Everybody who has worked on it, everybody who’s listening to it, it’s theirs, as well.”