How RAYE Embodies 21st Century Glamour

By Bianca Gracie | August 15, 2023

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Publicity_Shot_3.jpgRAYE photo by Sebastian Kapfhammer

Ahead of her tour dates this summer, RAYE shares how her retro-futuristic vision came to life for her My 21st Century Blues debut album era.

What I appreciate you as an artist is your candidness. You completely smash the fourth wall, especially with all of the issues that we deal with in the music industry.

Thank you. I think it’s more of a just a natural instinct. For some reason, I don’t really know why I feel like I have had to be so transparent, but honesty is one of the most beautiful things in life. There’s a lot we go around feeling and caring in silence, because where’s the safe place to be so candid, honest and open you know? For me, music is that safe space. And it’s funny in creating these songs. The idea of sharing them with anyone is a second thought, it’s not the first thought. The first thought is just my own home. So just get the feeling out and tell the story.

Did you write a lot when you were a kid?

I’ve definitely been writing since I was a kid. I started writing songs very young.

How old you were when you first started?

I wrote my first song when I was seven. We recorded it under a duvet with sh-tty mic and my dad's little Cubase set-up. From my first little taste of that, I was just obsessed. I would write songs all the time. I just fell in love with it from a really young age. Basically, I caught the bug and have been enamored by musicians my entire life. I remember being 10 years old and watching Beyoncé’s vocal runs and singing abilities and getting teary-eyed, just overwhelmed by musicality. For me, there’s been no plan B in life. I just had to figure out how to make it a full-time career. I was dead set on that at 10 years old. I remember the day. I said, “Dad, I’m gonna be a recording artist.” I don’t know how I was so headstrong at that age.

I’m curious to know with My 21st-Century Blues, I mean, you’ve spoken about all of these songs so much. But do you feel a release now that the album is out? You’ve got to tell all these really visceral and very raw stories. Or do you still feel you’re still in that healing process?

It’s not like you put a song out, and then everything’s solved obviously. All of these obstacles we face come in waves of intensity, sometimes being easier days and harder days. Music is my medicine, but I guess there’s always things to work on, to fix things, to heal. So from a musician’s perspective, I feel so great having released this album and even having an album to my name. But on the personal side, [I feel the] same as all it was. Good days and bad days, right?

You always shout out your team. I would love to know the power of having that supportive team, especially through this writing process.

Someone who was a godsend for me is Mariel [Gomerez], who I met at Parkwood [Entertainment] a couple of years back. I remember I was in this position where I had like 75% of the music. I was just trying to work out how am I going to release it. I want to be independent but I don’t know the first thing to do. I was doing my last rounds of shopping and deciding if I was going to go over another label, even though I was very reluctant to do so. She had just started working at a company called HR, or Human Resources. It’s a distribution company that basically just support artists and leading their career.

She brought me in, and I was like, “Oh, this is the perfect fit.” Being in an infrastructure throughout your teen years and your early adult life you really become accustomed to how you think or how you’re told things need to be done. So I chipped away at all of that stuff and I had a really beautiful process with a really beautiful team. My dad’s my manager, my mom’s on the team, and my two little sisters work in music as well. I work with an amazing girl called Rebecca. I just have a really beautiful, tight-knit team of people who just really just believe in supporting me. My creative director is called Mikey Robbins. He is just a godsend. He’s such an artist in his own right and I love him. It’s like that Drake song I used to sing in the car when I was 14, “Up All Night” with Nicki Minaj. I love my team! I was in the car one day thinking, “I’m gonna have a team and I’m gonna love them.” That is exactly what happened.

You seem very close with your family because on the opening and ending tracks of the record, you’re shouting them out. I didn’t know that they’re also part of the team. So I would love to hear more about that family dynamic.

In the past, I’ve had different managers. And everyone has their own ulterior motives. Trust is a really big thing for me and I think it’s so important. thing. Also, when you’re an artist, no one’s actually tells you the truth.

From the stories that I’ve heard from you artists, it seems hard for you to navigate who to trust.

It really can. I just wanted to be able to trust whoever I’m working with 100%. I think no one has more vested interest in me than my family does; they’re so brilliant. I’m really lucky in that my dad has no ego at all, bless him. He’s the sweetest, nerdiest guy, I am aware that I have an ego. Sometimes it will be present and sometimes I can turn it off. But my father truly isn’t [that way]. God blessed me with a great family and so why not have them alongside me? My dad worked in insurance for 25 years. His dream was to be a musician when he was younger. His dad—my granddad—used to write songs and send them to record labels. He actually got a really big song stolen from him that I can’t name because I don’t have the money to handle a lawsuit. But it’s in the blood, that hunger and love and passion for music. And my m worked in the [United Kingdom National Health Service] for 30 plus years. She just left to join the team. It’s just great. We need our family around. We’re just a family affair, and I love it. I’m really, really blessed.

Publicity_Shot_2.jpgRAYE photo by Sebastian Kapfhammer

Going toward the style part of it, you mentioned your creative director. I would love to know the process of shaping this era’s aesthetic.

I’ve obviously always been obsessed with the ‘50s and ‘60s style pinup girl image. I’m always just wowed by all the way women would present themselves at that time. But with this album, we fell onto the phrase “retro-futurism”. So we wanted to have an element of nostalgia and an element of futuristic feelings which we experimented with by aving more classic ‘60s style hair and makeup and then fashion would push more futuristic. Lots of silvers, and interesting, complex silhouettes. It was a really fun phrase that we took with us alongside all of this presentation of this album, press shots and videos. We wanted to blend the two and I think that’s reflected in the album. There’s a classic energy to it and there’s also a complete opposite narrative. A 21st-century perspective. So I really wanted the way we presented me, the artwork and the visuals to fit cohesively. It was important for me to do that.

You have very soulful moments with songs like “Mary Jane” while “Hard Out Here” has that metallic, futuristic sound. So it’s cool that the music is also reflecting the aesthetic and it just all ties together. Did you use any specific references for this era?

It was more mood boards and images. It felt quite exciting and fresh to be melding two worlds together. We had pages and pages of mood boards, you can probably even get some overview. We had Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and even Nina Simone and Dionne Warwick and the way the jazz girls used to present themselves so beautifully. And it was then fused with this futuristic feeling. But I didn’t want it to be too robotic or sci-fi. So it was more outside the box. In the “Black Mascara” music video, I really wanted to push the styling, but I didn’t want it to look like we’re in 2054. I wanted it to be funky and unique.

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Let’s talk about your first New York Fashion Week. You had your first front-row seating at the Coach show next to Ice Spice and Lil Nas X. It seemed fun.

It was very nice. It was my first time meeting them both in person and they’re two incredible artists. And little me sat next to them. They congratulated me on my success.

You’re not little anymore, RAYE.

Thank you. They were really really lovely. We were just talking about music. It was really nice. I was really surprised.

Do you have any favorite designers?

Anything Jean Paul Gaultier is amazing. There’s another designer that I’m obsessed with. Let me just not pronounce it wrong because that will be a damn shame. Oh, it’s Rui Zhou. It’s so fire. I wore some of the pieces in the “Hard Out Here” video. When you get it, it’s like tiny pieces of cloth and you think, “How is this supposed to work?” [laughs] She’s such an incredible designer and the pieces are phenomenal. Poster Girl is also great. It just makes the body feel fabulous and that’s what fashion is all about, isn’t it? I love Jacquemus; I wear his brand a lot. I have a lot of Ottolinger dresses for my tour.

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So you’re touring with SZA on her European leg. And you’re also on tour with Kali Uchis. It’s great synergy as you all beautifully wear your hearts on your sleeves in the music.

Oh, it’s really just such a whirlwind for me. I’ve listened to both SZA and Kali Uchis for years and it’s really crazy to now be able to share the same stage as them. So I’m still taking it in. It’s a real compliment to be seen by artists who you admire and to also be playing in slots with them. I’m just very happy to be here, to be honest. I love it.

Could you give any insight into how you’re going to bring the album to life on stage?

For this tour specifically, the live band is everything. I really want to make it about the musicians. So I have my lovely drummer Matt [Brooks], I have Liv [Thompson] on the bass, Mike [Cordone] on the trumpet, Paul [Murray] on the guitar and then Briana [Washington] coming to join us on the keys. In the intro of the album, we present the “My 21st Century Blues” club. I really want to bring that energy to my little slot. So it's all about musicianship. I love cables and wires and the retro feeling of how instruments and stage equipment used to be presented. I have a little vocoder as well. So I'll be getting into that. It’s really about the balance of the retro feeling and then musicians just celebrating musicians. We have a great time.

Live_Shot_6_CREDIT_Dutch_Doscher.jpgRAYE performing for a sold-out audience at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on her headlining My 21st Century Blues tour March 21, 2023. Photo by Dutch Doscher

One more question. I'd love to know your tour essentials.

Everything that is essential for me is in this room. This cream is from Embryolisse; it’s a French brand. This sh-t is fire. You can use it as a moisturizer, a primer, a mask or a makeup-removing milk. It’s like a four-in-one. I apply it in layers in the morning and at night. That’s essential. I have this Never Go Alone hand sanitizer. You just spray on your hand and it doesn’t spray chemicals. It just smells really nice. When I’m traveling, I just take it with me everywhere. I have this candle that’s lit right now. In my opinion, it’s one of the best-smelling candles ever. It’s called Encens 9 by Le Labo. And then I always take a stack of playing cards.

What games do you like to play?

Oh, so many games. There’s one called Nines which is amazing. Blackjack, poker. I love card games. I’m a card game fanatic. Then I always bring a little setup microphone, MIDI keyboard and Scarlett Focusrite so I can create when I feel like a worthless pile of bones. [laughs]

Last but not least, this [shows Wellness Formula supplements] is my secret ingredient to not getting sick. I’m telling you I will always have a bottle of this with me, especially on tour. They have everything in it like garlic bulbs and elderberry. They’re huge tablets that don’t taste very nice. You take three a day, or if your immune system blows then three every three hours, and that sh-t will help you. We just wrapped a tour and everyone on the bus was sick except for me. Wellness Formula from Whole Foods!

One more essential just in case you want to add in. When I was younger, I went for this performance coach training in Berlin. I had a really horrible time. But if I learned one good thing from that trip, it was to clean your nose. It was one of the things the lady told me, When you get sick the first place the illness goes is in your nose and then spread to your body. Just take saltwater and spray up your nose every day. This is a real life essential, to be honest. I feel like everyone needs to know about keeping your nose clean.

Photography by: Dutch Doscher; Sebastian Kapfhammer