With an Atlantic record deal at 18 and comparisons to music greats Kate Bush and Feist, it’s already clear that this 21-year-old Blackpool native is a big achiever
Just when you thought Blackpool’s most famous offerings were Kiss-Me-Quick hats, a Tower and far too many neon-lit hen and stag nights, along comes 21-year-old Rae Morris, a singer-songwriter whose sound is both hypnotic and endearingly simple. With touches of fragility and strength all at once, the calamitous intensity of emotion rushing through her break-out single “Do You Even Know?” wanders through lonesome melodic dream-pop at its best. We met up with the rising British talent to talk teen record deals, her opinion on selfies and playing dress-up as a house-wife.
When did you know you wanted to start writing and recording music?
I think the light bulb moment came when I saw a fellow Blackpool girl Karima Francis playing on Jools Holland. I remember watching with genuine shock and awe that a person from the same place as me was able to do such a thing.
You were signed by Atlantic Records at 18. Now at 21, it feels like it’s been a steady progression to nurture your raw sound and introduce you to the mainstream…
Yeah I think that’s exactly what it’s been, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had this time to grow both literally and musically. Signing a record deal is a huge thing, whether you’re 18 years old or 40 years old. I don’t think anything can prepare you for that. Having time to understand what all of it meant and to find my feet and where I fit amongst everything has been priceless. I definitely feel ready to present my music to the world properly now.
From what we’ve heard so far, there is a melancholic, dark poignancy to your lyrics. What’s in your mind during the writing process?
Every song is different. Although this album definitely has reoccurring themes and a thread throughout, each song definitely stands as its own life form. I try not to over-think lyrics too much. For me, they are the easiest part. I always get this huge rush of frustration that there are so many words in existence and the song only needs a few of them! I prefer to write them quickly and instinctively (but that doesn’t always work).
So having had that time to find your feet while being likened to Kate Bush and Feist, among other artists, how would you define your sound now?
Well, Kate Bush and Feist are two of my favourites. I’m definitely influenced highly by a few key people but have always been keen to keep the influences at arm’s length. My sound is pretty simple, with piano at the core of everything. That’s the heart and soul of the songs. Whilst making the album I got quite obsessed with mixing old and new, organic and synthetic; combining elements that wouldn’t ordinarily sit together. An ethereal mix of organic and electronic.
How have other female singer-songwriters influenced and inspired you?
I respect and appreciate all female singer-songwriters in different ways, but I think the most significant influence for me has been making friends and having role-models to talk to and share stories with. I’ve been lucky enough to tour and get to know some really special British talents over the last few years. Lucy Rose in particular, is a good friend of mine.
Lucy provides vocals for Bombay Bicycle Club, of course, and you’ve appeared on the band’s latest album. How did that come about?
I have toured with the band a couple of times and like to say that they are friends of mine. Lucy was away in America so I think Jack (Steadman, the lead singer) needed a substitute vocal to try out the parts while she was away! I feel incredibly proud and grateful to be (a very small part) of such an amazing album. [Rae performs on the track “Luna” from Bombay Bicycle Club’s album, So Long, See You Tomorrow.]
Your own track, “Do You Even Know?” definitely helped to put your name on the mainstream music map, as it had more of a pop sensibility to it. What’s the story behind it?
I wrote that song just before I went out to America to record my album. It was quite a pressurised time, moving out of home for the first time, and the general pressure of making the album after waiting so long to do so. It wasn’t directed at one person; it was more of a general feeling of people not understanding who I am and what I’m about. I felt that I was spending most of my time planning and thinking and working to myself. I had this overwhelming feeling of being misunderstood. It turns out the best way to get that feeling out is to put it in a pop song! [laughs]
The video to the track was also quite eerie! What was the thinking behind the aesthetic?
I just wanted people to feel the frozen, static, awkward nature of feeling trapped within yourself. Nadia [Marquard Otzen] the director, found this incredible house owned by a 70-year-old architect in North London. He had designed and built it all himself and it was all about the surface and material possessions. I wore a big red dress and glamorous make-up to take on the role of a faded house-wife amongst her beautiful possessions. It was amazing to hang out in such a great house all day.
So in terms of your creative vision, do you have a lot of involvement in how your visual identity is molded?
Yes, absolutely. It’s really important to me. It kind of worries me that sometimes those elements are out of people’s control. It seems to me that a person’s visual identity and creative output are one and the same.
And what about the styling side of things, is it important to “dress to your music,” like, say, Lorde for example?
I really appreciate fashion and do take care about the clothes I wear, but I must admit that I find it difficult. Sometimes I find myself spending too much time thinking about what I’m going to wear than focusing on the gig or what it is that I’m doing. I admire people with a signature style, with rituals and comforts that make them happy within themselves. I think that’s the most important thing.
So you’re on Instagram (rae_morris), what’s your take on the Selfie trend?
I still find the selfie thing a little strange because way before that word became a thing, people would take pictures of themselves. It seemed to be fine before it was made into a bigger deal. I understand that it can be seen as being a bit of a vain thing to do, but some people like to document and capture moments in time. I don’t see the harm in it.
And what about social media in general, has that been an important tool in helping you to interact and grow with your audience?
Yes, I think social media has definitely had a really positive effect on everything I’ve done so far. It’s a great way to show your fans that you’re a real person and to help them get to know who you really are. I do still believe in not giving your whole self away to the internet. Most of my favourite artists and characters seem to win with the magic that comes with mystery.
Talking of mystery, you’re supporting Clean Bandit at the Somerset House Summer Series this coming Saturday (July 19). Can you give us any exclusive snippets about what we can expect from your set?
I may have a guest come onstage to join me in singing one of the newer songs in the set! I’ve heard it’s a beautiful venue so we should probably make it a special one.
It’s a very atmospheric venue for live music! Do you enjoy performing and how does it feel to be in the spotlight up there on stage?
Performing live is the whole reason I make music, and there’s not a moment where I feel more comfortable. It’s less about being in the spotlight, more about being in the moment. There’s no better feeling than the adrenaline rush of a gig.
What’s up next for you?
I’m continuing my writing and would love to learn more about it with a view to write for and with other people for other things someday. It’s exciting.
Is there an album coming soon too?
Yes! It’ll be out at the end of September! I can’t believe it!
And finally, you’ve already achieved so much at such a young age. What’s the best advice you could give to aspiring singer-songwriters?
Be inspired by simplicity and making things work in a way that you like it to. There’s no greater feeling than being self-sufficient. That will inspire you further and further.
Rae’s new EP including the single “Cold” feat. Fryars is due out at the end of this month. For more information, head to www.raemorris.co.uk. You can also catch Rae perform at Somerset House Summer Series with Clean Bandit, July 19th.
Words: Kate Lawson