From demanding to pursue music at the age of ten, to dropping out of BRIT school at 17, to now performing in front of 10s of thousands of people at London’s O2 arena and being placed up against some of our scene’s hottest talents (AJ Tracey, Ray Blk, Nadia Rose, Dave, Steff London) in pretty much every tip list for 2017 (BBC’s Sound of 2017/VEVO DSCVR’s Ones to Watch/MTV’s Brand New/Apple Music New Artists), plus a collaboration with rap GOAT Nas under her belt, it’s been a hell of a ride musically for 19-year-old Raye.
The South London born R&B singer Rachael Keen, better known by her stage name Raye, has had the year of her life in 2016. She talks to GRM Daily about her latest EP SECOND, supporting Jess Glynne on her tour, collaborations with Nas, Stormzy, and Charli XCX, and her inclusion on BBC’s Sound of 2017 long list…
It’s been a massive year for you, Raye! Let’s start off with you supporting Jess Glynne on her national arena tour last month. How was that?!
“It was just mental. I think it was just crazy being exposed to so many people; it was like 10K minimum people per night [including a night at the O2 Arena], you know what I mean? So it was very different to the little support shows I’ve been playing. But it was insane for experience. I came into my own every night, you know? I had so much fun and I would advise any new artist to just get on a massive tour like that and learn how to get better at performing and how to work a crowd.”
Touring with one of the country’s biggest artists is definitely no small feat. What did you take away from that experience, did you learn anything from Jess?
“I think stamina is a massive part of it and I’m just like… that was two weeks and I was knackered! So it was kind of like, ‘how do you do it?’. She’s obviously doing triple the set I am, you know? She was saying it’s about time and pacing yourself, but you get better at it.
It’s probably similar to running, innit. Like when you’re training for a marathon; you start being pretty dead, but then the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I just don’t think enough people are exposed to or understand how tiring it can be. I mean I didn’t [understand] and I’m just doing a little support slot, and I’m like, ‘OK rah’. I had a wicked time though and I learnt so much.”
Since finishing on tour you’ve also been included in the BBC Sound of 2017, which is amazing. How does it feel to be recognised by perhaps the biggest U.K. platform for music?
“Yeah I was so made up when we found out about that. To know that one of the biggest and most important radio stations is going to be supporting your music is just wicked, I’m so excited!”
So, let’s go back to the beginnings for a bit. You grew up in South London and from what I hear your career started quite early. What instigated you getting into music?
“My career didn’t start early, but I started early trying to make music, learn keys, write songs and they obviously started off really bad. I was maybe eight, nine, ten when I started saying to my Dad that I wanna be a singer, I wanna go to the BRIT school, I wanna make this happen. I guess ’cause it was something I wanted so early and made it clear there was nothing else that was gonna be good enough.
I was supported by my family to work hard, they supported me in going to BRIT School. I think because I had that support and that access to music so early on I was able to develop and be where I’m at now, which is a very secure place and I’m very sure of myself as an artist. I think that has happened because I was able to start as early as I did.”
After being so desperate to go to the BRIT School as a kid, what made you decide to drop out after 2 years?
“I think for me the next two years were songwriting courses and stuff and I just don’t agree that you can teach somebody how to write a song. Also, I was at the point where I’d done two years, I’d really learnt loads but I was ready to start making my music, I didn’t wanna waste time. I’d been doing sessions on weekends and on Fridays after school anyway, I’d already started working with producers and anyone that I could really. So by the time the two years were up I was like, ‘do you know what? I’m ready to do this on my own.’ Obviously it’s taken awhile, it’s taken about three years to get to this point, but I don’t regret the decision I made.”
Well, exactly, you’re doing bits right now. But with the creative industries, you have all these creative uni courses, I think there’s so many limitations to them. It’s only until you get to the real world where you learn everything fully…
“Exactly, I think music is one of those things where a teacher can try and teach it but music is so personal and it’s so practical and you can’t be taught how to make something amazing, you have to find that on your own.”
You’ve released two EPs now, Welcome to Winter and SECOND. How do you think your sound has progressed from your debut EP?
“I’d say massively, just ’cause the first EP was kind of like four chords, really simple; comfortable R&B, electro melodies, more freestyling lyrics, less vivid content. It was more small stories and really calm and I think the SECOND EP is really intense, it’s really venting, it’s really personal. It’s, for me, progression lyrically, progression musically, me becoming comfortable with pushing boundaries and do what I want. Whereas before I was like, ‘oh no, Jhene (Aiko) does it like this so I should be doing it like this.’ SECOND EP is like, right it’s time for me to figure out what I wanna do and say and sound like.”
Your single “I, U, Us” from your SECOND EP is probably one of my favourite songs right now, I think it’s amazing…
*laughs* “Aww sick, thank you!”
You co-wrote that with Charli XCX, didn’t you? What was it like working with her?
“She’s like a breath of fresh air. She’s an incredible example of how to do artistry well, because she found her little niche of what she wants to do, she comes at it hard, she has an incredible aesthetic, but on top of that she’s so hard working. She directed the video (for “I, U, Us”) and I remember getting a 30 page kind of like video treatment in depth, like pages and paragraphs of writing; she was like, ‘Raye come round mine let’s practice in the mirror.’ It’s when you don’t have to go above and beyond, and you do it anyway – she’s just an incredible reflection of a great person and she’s really talented and we had so much fun writing the tune, she’s a great friend.”
Let’s talk about other collaborations. You did another track with Stormzy called “Ambition”, how did that come about?
“So that was mad random. He followed me on Twitter and he was tweeting about being in Stockholm or something [Raye was there too] and I DM’d him with some flags saying ‘I’m in Stockholm!’- obviously thinking he’s not gonna hit me back…and he’s like, ‘Yo, Raye, I’ve got a show tonight come through’. So I went and he was like, ‘Come backstage’, and then we just hung out for a bit. He was just like, ‘A friend of mine told me incredible things about you and your writing, I’d love to do some work’, and obviously you think, ‘Aw that’s nice but it’s not gonna happen’, but it happened! Yeah it’s madness.”
That is pretty mad. You’ve also got a track with Nas haven’t you?
“Yeah that’s so mental.”
How the hell did you manage to pull that off!?
*laughs* “I wrote the tune with a guy called Dep, he produced the track “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna and we did the tune last year. It was really dramatic and in my favour as to discovering what I wanna say, you know what I mean? And then I think Nas heard the song through the director of the movie A Birth of a Nation and they both wanted it to be in the film; Nas was like, ‘This is insane, I love it, I wanna get on it’, so that was pure luck.”
It’s great to get a nod from Nas anyway.
So, you’ve got a remix of Desiigner’s “Timmy Turner” coming out. Why that song specifically?
“When I heard the version of him just singing it in a room with nothing, just him, I thought it was so wicked. I just said to the guy who I work with quite a lot called Fred, ‘what if we try to do our own version to this tune?’ then I got Stefflon Don to be involved with it because she’s always at the same studio as I am and we’re cool and that. I played her the song and she said she wanted to jump on for a 16. It was all very spontaneous, I loved the song and wanted to give it a go. I didn’t think it would be anything I’d want to put out.”
I’m looking forward to hearing that one, it should be interesting…
“Yeah I can’t wait for you to hear it, it’s kind of jokes” *laughs*
Do you have any dream collaborations?
“Do you know what? I just love people who love music. I love vibing with people who are in with what they do. I have so many idols and so many people I completely look up to… like Gill Scott is one of my heroes and that would just be an insane dream collab. But then like, Twenty One Pilots have just come out and they’re kind of like Pop/Rock kinda grungy band…”
I thought you were gonna say 21 Savage then!
“21 *laughs* Nah but for some reason I’d just love to get in the studio with them one day and work with them and see what happens. I’m kind of literally down for anything. I just respect people who are good at what they do in music, I’m really attracted to that.”
So what are your future goals? You must’ve ticked off quite a few already…
“My future goal is to literally be the biggest artist on the planet, so that’s what I’m aiming for now. Who knows? If I work hard and things keep going positively it could be possible you never know!”
Well that’s a great ambition, you may as well aim high…
“Yeah exactly, aim high and then achieve greater I hope.”
What can we expect from you in the near future and 2017?
“I’m putting out a track with Jax Jones on Friday [9th December – “You Don’t Know Me”]. You should listen out for that because that’s a vibe [it really is a banger], and a single around January/February time. But I’ve been working on the music for a long time and I’m just so excited to put it out there. So just new music, a couple videos, just more content, I’m excited to get it out in the new year.”
Look out for Raye’s “Timmy Turner” Remix featuring Stefflon Don dropping on Tuesday 13th December EXCLUSIVELY on GRM Daily.
Be sure to follow Raye on Twitter and Instagram.