At only 18 years’ old, Croydon-native Raye is doing pretty well for herself. When she broke through with her monster track “BET U WISH” and her first mixtape, “Winter”, back in 2014, she was duly noticed by, among others, Wonderland, as one to keep a close eye on. Over a year of hard work later, and a signing with Polydor to boot, the R&B-via-nu-soul singer-songwriter is set to make some major waves with her new EP “BACK 2 THE WINTER”.
We’ve already seen very promising songs cropping up on her Soundcloud and YouTube in the form of “Distraction” – the epic instrumentals of which propel Raye into new sonic territory – as well as the freshly dropped “Ambition”, which features a guest spot from the one and only Stormzy: South London’s time in the spotlight has resoundingly arrived, it seems.
Meeting her before her stunning performance at the 02 Kentish Town Arena, the BRIT School-trained artist sat down with us to talk musical beginnings, working with Stormzy, and why having a voice is everything.
How did it all start for you musically?
Well I grew up in a musical family – my dad tried to do the whole band thing, my grandad tried to do the whole music thing. I found that I could sing from mad early and I grew up in a church. I learnt the piano really young. I was 10 or 11 and I told my dad, “I want to go the BRIT School.” I knew I needed a grade for that. I went and got good enough at the piano. I started writing songs from mad young – they were really bad but they got better! So that’s where we are today.
But you left BRIT School early?
Yeah two years early – I did my GCSEs there. I found when I was there that I realised, “this is what I want to do.” It’s weird when you throw a load of hormonal 14 year-olds together. But it was good because I knew I wanted to leave the school and be a musician.
And then came the first EP?
We put that out just after I had left. I wasn’t expecting much but it did really well – I did an interview with Wonderland then! But yeah, it just got amazing reception and I did a couple of shows and off the back of that I met a couple of labels and Polydor was just above all the rest for me.
What’s changed for you, in terms of your sound and approach?
It’s been a long process of writing and writing with all kinds of different people and I’ve really come along and developed as a songwriter. You don’t realise until you listen to the songs you did a year ago and you’re like, “Fucking hell, that’s a bit shit.” But it’s been really cool. I’m 18 and the things that I’ve learnt already, not to toot my own horn, but I’ve worked with a lot of older people and I don’t feel there’s an age difference. I feel like I’m on the same level and writing has become one of my favourite things to do. And my sound has evolved with that. Some of the music from the new EP is a little bit more out there but I love it so much. I wouldn’t have been able to do that two years ago. I feel I can talk about things and have the stories to do that.
What’s the Olly Alexander from Years & Years connection?
Oh, he heard “Hotbox” on Hype Machine and mentioned it to a couple of mags, saying, “I fuck my boyfriend to this,” and I was like, “that’s so cool!” And then they invited me to support them at Shepard’s Bush and I did…It was really nice to have that kind of encouragement from another artist.
So with “BACK 2 THE WINTER” – what’s the process been behind that?
It’s been a long period of trial and error and my being really happy with something but later being like, “nah”. Technically, I think we have two or three EPS which we’re just not putting out…But we’ve got to a point now where it’s musically complicated and the way “Distraction” sounds is quite fresh sounding. I wanted to have my own sound. For me it’s really honest and empowering and big and fierce. I really like it.
You’ve been collaborating with some pretty impressive people like Stomzy. How did that come about?
That’s crazy. He followed me on Twitter and he started retweeting some of my stuff. And he said, “come to my gig” because he knew we were in Sweden at the same time. So I came and he said he could see my hopping around at the back and getting really gassed. So we came backstage and someone had told him that I was really crazy apparently – and I was thinking, “okay, that’s great but who was that?” I don’t even know to this day. He’s super cool man. We’re in contact and I’m doing some stuff for him and we chat on the reg.
In terms of influences?
I’m really into Tame Impala – so into that. I love the classics like Nina and Etta James. I love Drake loads! I love jazz but I’ve decided as of recently that I’m really gonna dig into rock…I’m trying to get inspiration from everywhere.
You didn’t expect this success?
We’re just beginning to build up the hype again as before the EP I hadn’t realeased anything for ages. Obviously being with a label who say they believe in you and that you’re gonna achieve this and that…it’s like, yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it type thing. I think you’re silly if you think you’re gonna be number one everywhere. But…everything’s positive and the team feels amazing
What’s coming up next?
We’ve got the EP…then a couple of singles progressing towards an album next year. We’ve got a plan in place and a lot of the music ready so I can’t wait to keep on rolling.
What is it that makes you want to create music?
I have a long term vision: I want to have a voice and speak out – I’m so opinionated that I’m not gonna be one of those pop artists. But obviously you have to build to that, kind of like Beyonce has: everyone loves her and she’s now come out with this amazing voice. I love music and it’s the thing I think I’m best at. I’m lucky to be able to sing and write music and have stories that I can put into another form. It’s a really cool way of expressing myself when I feel shit or angry. I just want to be able to live off that and have a career off it. With everything that’s happened so far I don’t see why that couldn’t happen!