WORDS AMY MACKENZIE - PHOTOGRAPHY EVA PENTEL - FASHION SHAQUILLE R. WILLIAMS - HAIR ALEX PRICE - MUA OLLY FISK - FASHION ASSISTANT LUCY JOHANSSON
F Word magazine caught up with the utterly charming Raye as she shared with us a rich set of insights about her family life and musical roots in the church, about her lockdown experience and her perspective on being a woman in the modern music industry.
Raye's searing honesty shines through, and whilst she has found lockdown deeply challenging, she has also used the time to strengthen her resolve and resilience. Raye has an infectious energy in person, an energy that radiates through in her music.
TRIGGER WARNING: ABUSE MENTIONED
Amy MacKenzie: So, I’m just going to take it right back to the start…where did you grow up?
Raye: I grew up in South London
R: Pollards Hill, which is Mitcham. Ella Mai actually grew up in the same place. I was there for a while, we grew up on this council estate and then we moved to Croydon which is where I spent my whole childhood. Croydon High Street, big earrings, school uniform, chewing gum…proper loud! But it was a really great place to grow up, very down to earth, very multi-cultured, very fun, really great. I grew up in the church as well, so I go to church every Sunday with the family. That’s where I learnt how to sing and understand my love for music.
AM: What is your family like?
R: My family is fabulous! I actually work with my family so my Dad is my manager, my sister works with me with day to day stuff and helping me A&R my music, she’s also an amazing writer and musician so she helps me create and then my sister below is an artist, she’s just started. She just got her first placement in a Target ad in America. She’s killing it as a songwriter! Music is in all our genes. Mum is the next one, she’s taking some of the workload with Dad. She’s worked in the NHS all her life so she is the next, hopefully in a year or two she will be able to join the team and it’ll be a full family empire.
AM: What did she do in the NHS?
R: She worked in mental health. She’s done everything, home visits, she has the most incredible stories, dealing with people with Schizophrenia. All different types of things and she’s collected the most amazing stories. She’s got such a gentle heart, she’s really a very special woman.
AM: Wow. So you were clearly very musical growing up, you’ve mentioned the church already, is that really where your love of music came from?
R: Yes, definitely! And I think, the best singers of all time come from the church. I think it’s just because when you tap into that soul and that passion, that vocal Gospel delivery. When you grow up listening to that as normal, when you’re young you start to try and copy it and you start to emulate it. In church it’s like where’s the harmony, sing it, and you have to just know! So it’s the perfect place to develop.
AM: It’s training but without it being formal
R: Exactly! And training with heart and soul in it, not here’s how to technical sing it’s just…
AM: From within
AM: So you started singing first and then did you start to pick up instruments, or what happened?
R: Music was always on the side. My Dad plays piano and used to write music. He actually moved down to London when he was younger to be in a band and it didn’t work out. But he told me from 1 year old, he would play the piano in front of me and I would push his hands out of the way and try and play. I fell in love. I play piano, I played the cello, flute, guitar, bass… I love music.
AM: Anything you can pick up
R: Yeah, I’m a muso. And that’s the thing a lot of people don’t really know about me because it’s kinda hard to show what I’m like in the studio - behind the scenes - but I am so in love with all elements and aspects of everything music.
AM: There’s so many different sides to it
R: Yes! I’m so in love!
AM: So when did you write your first song?
R: I was 7
R: And I recorded it! Do you know what’s hilarious? I took a song from a kids TV show that I had heard and I took it to the piano and I changed all the lyrics. I didn’t tell my Dad, I told him I wrote it but what I’d done was take it from the programme...
AM: What show was it?
R: I don’t remember, it had a blue star and it was an animated kids thing. And I even remember it was like [singing] “snowflakes flutter to the ground, not a single to be to be found…” it was like a big jazz number! I thought what I did was so naughty but music is sampling and stuff all the time so I actually was a songwriter. It found me and it was all I wanted to do. I wrote a song for my Year 6 leavers that we all performed at Southwark Cathedral. Everyone had to learn it, they all came round my house to record all their lines, everyone had a line. Me and my family we were just some nuts family, getting everyone involved!
AM: Woah! What kind of artists were you listening to growing up?
R: I was listening to a lot of gospel. Alicia Keys was the first hard copy album I remember buying, Diary of Alicia Keys. I would come home from school, put it on the sound system, lock myself in the living room, no one was allowed in and I would just play through the album and dance around the room. Every day. From like Year 4 to Year 7. There was Beyonce’s B Day album, another hard copy album I bought. Gnarls Barkley, insane. Then lots of different things intertwined into that but those were the three main ones, when I was young.
AM: And would you say that those have influenced what you do now?
R: A million percent. I feel like people don’t really realise this but you have to be so careful what you listen to. Creatives are sponges, I’m such a sponge. What I listen to comes out, it’s just how it works. If you’re around someone saying “fuck” all the time, you start to say “fuck” all the time. It’s like that with music. So whatever I was listening to would just stick to me, even day. I’m right now balls deep listening to 50s, 60s because I want to take influence from some new genres and try and regurgitate them into pop.
AM: When you’re writing is there a particular process you stick to?
R: No not really...
AM: It’s different every time?
R: Yeah. Also it varies with writing for other artists and writing for myself. For other artists I am very quick and efficient, especially when there is a brief, or direction, or the artist knows what they want to do. Because I work well under pressure, when there’s that pressure to deliver and I’m in with a big artist. It could be melody first, maybe, for me I’m very hands on with production. The chords have to be exactly right I would say. But sometimes it’ll be lyrics first and I’ll have a melody I’ve recorded on a voice note. It’s different every time, yeah.
AM: And do you write on your own most of the time or in a group setting?
R: I love energy! So for me, I love having people around me whilst I write even if they’re not part of the writing process so I have a studio at my house, my friends and my people will be there coming in and out and I’ll just be making music and ask them what they think of it. I love a second opinion, bouncing ideas, sat at the piano at home is where I started writing, so writing alone is fun but I thrive off energy.
AM: Have you had any eye opening experiences through writing? Either for yourself or for others.
R: Umm, positive or negative?
R: There have been so many experiences. I have spent a third, two thirds, I don’t know the maths. When I was at BRIT school, I was 14, I left at 16 and I was doing sessions Friday after school, Saturday and Sunday every week. I didn’t have a social life. All that mattered to me was getting my craft up. There’s too many stories to even try and collate. I was quite young, I remember having my first joint in a session, I was in LA. It was funny because in environments when it’s just all around you and I was so young and I remember taking it like “yeah of course” pretending I was cool and took a toke and I’m literally off the face of the earth, I need to go outside, pretended I needed to make a phone call. I remember being outside like if my Dad could see me now he’d be so upset. Just hilarious! So there are loads of funny stories of trying things and growing up in quite a strict home then finding my freedom in the studio and through my songs. But there are so many sad stories. I can’t even really travel to the studio with someone now if I don’t know them. There’s just been so much, I can’t even tell you how much. That’s why I have such a huge heart for women and girls in this industry because it takes a lot. It takes a lot and you go through a lot. And you don’t even quite know what to do with it because if there’s an artist or producer that you love and idolise your whole life and then bang you’re trying to get in my pants, like what, it’s disgusting. So yeah there’s been a lot of experiences, good and bad. But I wouldn’t change…well…I’m the woman I am today because of those things.
AM: I think it’s very impressive that you carry on and adapt. As you say it makes you who you are…
R: Babe, through this lockdown I’ve been really…I think all of us have been sat at home and we have to look at our demons in the eyes. I have written a list of all my abusers and I am working through them one by one, forgiving, so that I can move on and be at peace. It’s one of the most challenging but most empowering things I’ve ever done.
AM: That’s amazing
R: I’ve been calling them up and giving them detailed descriptions, searching for my apology, confronting it. Like I’m not trying to go on Twitter and ending your career, I’m not about that, I’m trying to be about change. In ways, even two days ago, nuts. I called a big powerful man, described everything he had done to me. He was drunk, he didn’t even remember. And he was shaking, shook. But what I do know, or I hope, you recognise the past I have given you to never ever do it again. Ever. Ever. Do you know what I mean? And I’m like I forgive you. Apology accepted. And it’s for me more than anything. I’m just taking weights off my chest one by one. Me and all my girls in the industry, we are talking about it, we are being open with each other and supporting each other through it. We are doing bits!
AM: I’m very impressed, well done, congratulations.
R: Thank you.
[We pause for a moment]
AM: So what would you say is one of the most important things you have learnt about yourself through writing?
R: Umm that’s a good question. One of the most important things I’ve learnt about myself… To always be open to listen. I think it’s a balance of all characteristics that you need. You need conviction, you need to know when to trust your gut. Music is a gut feeling. I don’t believe there’s necessarily a right and wrong, but there is what you believe is right and wrong. Being able to put your ego down, edit, I think doctoring is very important. I’ve learnt from the Swedes about picking apart. Understanding the maths to music because when you’re writing pop music there’s more rules, there’s more repetition needed. So skill-wise, I’ve gone into sessions collecting all of this information and applying it and getting better because of that and understanding how to make music. I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learnt about myself is that it’s my form of therapy. I’m so blessed that I can make something ugly beautiful. I am such an emotional person, I feel everything to the highest of heights. It’s so powerful being able to create stuff out of pain and not be afraid to be visceral. I’ve played some people music and they’ve been like woah, some men actually feel uncomfortable listening to it. I’m working towards my album next year and I’m really excited, I’m really going to say some stuff. It’s about knowing my power as a woman and not being afraid to say the things people are too uncomfortable to hear about but it’s the reality for a lot of us. Yeah, finding my power, knowing when to listen, putting your ego down and following your gut, trusting your gut.
AM: That’s cool, some important lessons. So, how would you describe your sound? The worst question that always gets asked!
R: [Laughs] It is the worst question for me because I don’t have a sound. I love sitting down on the piano ballads, I love dance music, I love RnB, I love the stuff I’ve done – Tipsy with Odunsi, where I’m doing my more wordflow-y things. Pop, I love pop music. And the thing is I’ve dealt with it my whole career of my label at the beginning being so overwhelmed and confused about me because they say “Well what’s your sound Raye, what’s your sound?” and I’m like “I don’t know, because I like all of it” Do I have to choose? I really believe the biggest artists, my idols, were able to be fluid and move across genre and that’s my plan. So I’m gonna pick a sound for my album, I’m going to stick to it and then I’m going to move on and I’m going to evolve. That’s what Rihanna did, she took R Rated was a rock thing, the red hair Loud was pop/rnb, then we got different forms of her and I think it’s important for artists to have that.
AM: Well if you think of these huge pop stars, the art of the rebrand is what has kept their careers going…
AM: You’ve got it with Bowie, Kylie…
AM: Miley Cyrus
R: Yes! Rebrand!! So don’t @ me about needing a sound guys! Be excited that you don’t know what you’re getting…
AM: Taylor Swift!
R: Yes! There you go! Country artist to some dubstep thing and now whatever.
AM: If you can evolve, like everyone changes, you can’t stay the same. So you’re latest song – Love of Your Life – I love it!
AM: Can you talk us through the process of writing it, putting it together?
R: We wrote it in February
AM: Oh so quite recently
R: Yeah. Very recent. I did it with a guy called Anton and a girl called Isabella and it was our first or second session together, we had two days in a row. It just kinda fell out in an hour or two, it was a quick one. I was in the booth. It was actually the first time I said a prayer and I asked God to help me write a good chorus which was really cute because I’ve never done that before. I closed my eyes and was like “Dear Lord, help me find a good chorus. Amen.” And then it was the first thing that came out of my mouth, which was really beautiful. I loved it because it’s my personality in detail. I’ve seen some hilarious comments on YouTube of people being like “she’s definitely a scorpio” [laughs]. But also experimenting with more funky delivery and candences. Big larger than life choruses and euphoria that I get from hearing that song. I love it and I’m so happy that I got to put it out.
AM: And this is leading towards your mini album – Euphoric Sad Songs – which is out when?
AM: Ahh! Are you excited?!
R: Very! Very excited! I feel like visually for the first time I’m where I want to be. I’m a woman! I feel like a woman now. Like again from the label there’s a lot of pressure, what’s your look, what are you gonna look like. I’ve had pink hair, long ponytail. And I feel like subconsciously I wanted to run away from my heritage, I wanted to de-black and even at points look as white as possible. Like in high school, the only examples at the time of pop stars doing it big who I thought were black, like Rita [Ora] I didn’t even realise wasn’t black. And the other was Rihanna. They had blonde hair so the moment I left school I dyed mine. But also with the Black Lives Matter movement and everything that’s been happening in the last few years, it felt like I needed to stop running from who I am and trying to be a pop star. Like, who am I? And what do I want to look like? I feel so empowered wearing these tight dresses with my hourglass shape but with my body meat and embracing it, my dark hair and I feel great and it’s really exciting!
AM: That’s really nice to hear.
R: I feel fabulous!
AM: It’s just so important to have your fans and even people just discovering you now, to have someone saying something like that is so key, kind of whatever age they are.
R: The pressure we all get collectively on being a woman, and what you have to be like and look like and talk like. It’s just boring. Look, my little meat here [she pulls out her stomach] I am in love with it for the first time. Before I wanted to cut it off, I wanted lipo, I thought it was disgusting. Now I’m like YES! I love it!
AM: Love that! So what’s the story of the mini album?
R: The story of it is working through my heartbreak. So I was, I’m 23 now, I was 22 and it was the biggest heartache I’d every experienced in my life. I felt like I’d lost my husband, it was really dark. I was on tour, the Khalid tour last year and I posted a video of me crying on my Insta story and my eyelashes are like bats eyes. I’m doing some hard copy album CDs and inside the booklet I’ve taken a screenshot of that story of me sobbing! I was gutted, a mess. And as crazy as it was and as much as people were taking about it like “have you seen Raye’s story, she’s lost the plot” I am an open book and I love being that. I wanted to document my healing process. So ‘Love Me Again’ we started with because I was on tour almost crying my eyes out every night singing that and then I worked through and it gets better and it’s that process and at the end you get to ‘Love of Your Life’ and I’m ready for someone new! Husband applications please send them into my DMs. [laughs]
AM: I think that process of grief through heartbreak is such an interesting concept, how you’ve documented that because everyone goes through it. Every single person can relate to in whatever capacity.
R: Everyone knows what it’s like to have to forget someone who once was your everything. They know everything about you. Your soulmate for that moment in time and you have to pretend your strangers again and forget it. It’s like a death in my opinion, it’s mourning a loss.
AM: What song are you most excited for your fans to hear?
R: Ooh, that’s a good question. I’m very excited for fans to hear ‘Walk On By’. I sampled ‘Natalie Don’t’ in it which is also in the project and it’s like a self-sample which is really cool but it was so empowering to write. It is about the last time I was intimate with this person. If you read the lyrics, the story, I remember it was like a movie. I left him asleep in the hotel, I took the wine from the counter, I looked at him, I was crying, he was there asleep. I shut the door behind me, I ran down the corridor, tears in my eyes with a bottle of wine, ran down the elevator and got in the car. He texted me like “where did you go?” and I didn’t even reply! It was so emotional! And I wrote the whole story but the chorus is like if you see me tonight, don’t even say hi to me, walk on by – it’s so powerful! It took me a whole year to be able to even write that story because it was so sad but it’s exactly it, the process of healing. And I think in ways that one is the most powerful one.
AM: I like the sound of that!
R: Yeah I’m excited for you to hear it!
AM: I’ll watch out for it tomorrow.
R: You have to listen through step by step
AM: Yeah obviously! I hate when people don’t listen to albums in the order like why would you do that?
R: Exactly, it’s meant to be like that. It’s that way for a reason! Don’t shuffle. Don’t do that to me.
AM: There’s one album at the moment I keep listening to but it’s a bit much all in one go so I need to shuffle it otherwise it makes me cry!
R: Oh don’t worry hun, we are all going through it, we’re all broken, every other day we are crying. Did you see on Instagram I posted me crying just in different stages of lockdown.
AM: Crying is so needed though!
R: It so is!
AM: So in your time in the music industry, how have you seen it develop? Where do you see it in the future or where do you want to see it in the future?
R: Well behind the scenes I feel like in ways things haven’t changed at all. Out in the open, we are seeing massive changes, especially in the way women are really actually vibing at the moment. It’s not fake, not for press, not for promo, because it’s the right thing and we need it and it’s beautiful. I’ve been talking about it a lot and me and Mabel, we’ve become really really good friends over this lockdown, she’s one of my best friends. It’s like we were pitted against each other from the start, and to think I was ever… and she said this to me, to think we were ever intimidated by each other. We were in the car, she was in the back seat, and we pull up and a group of guys come over and they’re like to me, because my back seat is blacked out so they couldn’t see her “you’re Mabel or Raye or some shit” and I was like ”bitch” and she popped her head out like “hello!!” and I was like “I’m Raye, that’s Mabel, don’t get it twisted!” [laughs] it was hilarious but also so empowering for us to be like we are here together to do this, it’s not competitive, it’s beautiful and there’s such a power in it. I love it! I love women artists really going out of their way now to be there for other females and really feel that change that wasn’t there a few years ago. But behind the scenes, we have so much work to do. Even this year during lockdown, we are still working, so I’ve been doing studio time and I’ve just collected so many stories of irritating men taking the absolute piss! Like how dare you! Just wow! So things need to be changed. We need women in the middle of the room, we need women in those seats. Because the stereotypical set up is you walk in, there’s a man in the centre of the room, the women are on the edge. Just too much! One of my biggest missions is for us to learn how to engineer our own vocals, how to record ourselves, learn what mic we want, learn what our compressor set up is. To learn the technicalities that we feel we shouldn’t learn because it’s weird if a girl knows and shock men. “Excuse me can you move out the way please because I need to do my vocals now”. The power move. Bang! That’s the flex we are on! All my girls around me, I’m encouraging them to do this. I’m in the studio now and I’m like Zara, sit in the seat, record me, this is how you do it. We have to be the change we want to see, I’m so excited to see it. Especially behind the scenes with video shoots. Why are there no female DOPs? Female roadies, runners? It’s about that. Hiring more women. We’ve got a long way to go!
AM: Yeah you see those end of big tour pictures with all the crew together and you desperately try and pick out any female faces and there just aren’t any!
R: Right! It’s weird babe, it’s weird! It’s so hard. Women basically feel like they can’t be a producer. 1% of the output of music is done by female producers.
AM: No way, that’s awful.
R: Traumatisingly terrible. So I’m taking it so seriously being a producer. And I think I have a song coming out, it’s going to be my first ever production credit on a big artist next year, I’m very excited! I wanna see more and more from my girls!
AM: Oh wow, I can’t wait for that! So obviously 2020 has been a bit of a different year for everyone. What were your plans this year?
R: It’s so sad because festival season was going to be so lit for me. Also, for the first time, I’ve had music moving internationally. ‘Natalie Don’t’ went Number 1 on pop radio in Russia for like 6 weeks which is crazy! It’s a huge hit out there! They don’t even have Spotify, or they’ve just launched it so it didn’t reflect, I didn’t even know until fans started telling me!
AM: The power of the fans
R: Crazy! I love my fans! So I would have been travelling all over, I was going to go to Korea, get into K-Pop. I really wanted to start writing some of that. I was going to do some amazing things but weren’t we all?!
AM: So how have you been filling your time instead?
R: I’ve been doing puzzles! Thousand piece puzzles, very therapeutic. It’s a form of meditation. I now have two phones and one is my social media phone and I don’t take it out with me, it sits at home, I check it once a day. Social media can fuck off, I have a team that does that now.
AM: You don’t like social media?
R: No, I hate it. And I will create the content ahead of time, we agree what gets posted, I’ll do stories ahead of time, they can post it. Because it’s mentally so destructive. Especially in 2020 when we’ve had nothing else to do. So that’s been nice! Spending a lot of time with my family which is one of the beautiful things, one of the positive things in lockdown is we’ve been able to reconnect to the people that we haven’t had time to.
AM: Where did you spend lockdown?
R: The first four months I was at the family house, it was nice. Beautiful.
AM: Did you have a lot of time to reflect on the last few years as well?
R: Yeah, I guess that.
AM: It’s probably the first time in a long time you’ve stopped?
R: Yeah, for all of us. It’s been a lot of reflecting, appreciating and realigning the goals. Figuring out what we are going to do. Like I said earlier I’ve been addressing some really serious things. Working on fixing myself and becoming a better person.
AM: So it’s been a really important time for you.
R: Yeah, I’ve been getting it together, it’s been great.
AM: Obviously the thing everyone is losing out on is live music, it’s the thing that can’t be recreated in any other way. How have you been finding it not being able to perform?
R: It is really sad, heartbreaking. I think lockdown has put artists into perspective of we are a luxury, not a necessity, even though music is necessary for happiness and health, stable mind and enjoying life. But we will be the last infrastructure to open again but thank the Lord when we do, it’s going to heal the world.
AM: It’s so true. First gig I go to I’m going to cry the whole way through...
R: Ohhhh stop you’ll make me emotional!
AM: Did you find lockdown helpful for your creativity or did you find it stunted it?
R: Stunted it massively. I wrote the least amount of music I’ve ever written in my life. It’s only been the last two months really since maybe September that I’ve got my mojo back. I didn’t want to write. I feel everything with such intensity so I wake up every day like global pandemic, the world is a ruin, Black Lives Matter was so traumatising, it was so much. It was really hard. And yeah, just so much, the protests, America not being at peace, the world is just fucked and there’s no escape!
AM: There’s no distraction because no one had anything to do. So my last question is what is your favourite F Word?
R: Hmmm, friends!
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