The 19 year old with a sound that oozes cool.
Listen to “Crush”, the latest EP by 19 year old artist Ravyn Lenae, and try to sit still. You can’t. It’s funky, sultry and enticingly catchy; even more so hearing it live. At her recent sold-out show in London, she mesmerised the audience with her impressive vocal range and her raw emotional connection with her fans. Her work has not gone unnoticed in the industry, with the likes of musician Steve Lacey [of The Internet] producing and featuring on tracks on “Crush”.
In our interview, Ravyn explains that there is a certain vulnerability about performing her songs live. The personal and emotional subject matters of her tracks resonate with her crowd who find her songs wholly relatable. She grants her fans insight to her thoughts and remains unconcealed by explaining the meanings of her songs before she performs them. She is intelligent, gracious and insanely talented: undoubtedly destined for a flourishing career.
Your show the other day was beautiful. How was it for you?
It was so amazing – honestly. I’m not gassing or anything because you’re from London but it was the best crowd I’ve ever had. Not even Chicago does it like that crowd.
How do you think the European music scene compares to The States?
I’m going to trash my own country but… [laughs] Europe is much more appreciative of specifically soul music. I think you guys are way more ahead in everything. It takes the US a longer time to catch onto good things, a lot of artists come here and become super famous and then in the US it starts to catch on. [In Europe] if you’re liked, it’s something special. If these people who are “musicheads” and love music can appreciate this, it means you’re good.
So working with Steve Lacey: how did that happen?
Quite organically actually… on Twitter. I was taking a nap actually and my phone was buzzing off the hook so I woke up confused and I saw that he had tweeted my previous project at the time, “Midnight Moonlight”. He basically said how much he loved it and he wanted to work with me. I’ve always been a fan of Steve and The Internet and a few weeks later I was in LA for some press stuff and he was there with The Internet and I met him… the relationship kind of developed from there.
Did you have a musical upbringing?
My parents are not musical in any way. Although, when I was younger I did start to play the guitar. My grandma got me a guitar; she knew I was really interested in music. At that point I knew I wanted to sing and I had guitar lessons for a bit when I was eight or nine. I wasn’t very disciplined and I didn’t practice so it kinda faded away a little bit. I started piano lessons and continued the guitar later and it was kind of a leeway into singing. I found a new love for singing and I really wanted to use my voice more so as an instrument than the piano or guitar.
Your vocal range is very impressive, is that something you had to train a lot?
Definitely! I went to [Chicago High School for the Arts] where I trained in music psychology, music history, acting… anything you can think of, I studied there. And I think that really broadened my horizons as an artist and I was taught about singing healthily which is very important, especially on tour. You hear about singers’ voices going out after every show, so it is so useful to have that background and knowledge about singing properly whilst still having the full effect.
At your show, the interaction you had with the audience was really special. You talked about the story behind the songs why you wrote them before you performed them. Do you think it’s important to set up the context for the crowd?
Definitely. I want to make sure that the personal connection is there between my audience and supporters. They may love the songs but they don’t know what the songs are actually about so I like to give them the actual meaning of the song. I think it’s nice to do that because they get a peek into my personal life that they wouldn’t usually get from just listening the song. I like to give a little more back story as to where the song came from – I think they appreciate experiencing that vulnerability with me.
Do you think there is a sense of vulnerability when you’re performing live?
Definitely. You’re performing in front of strangers, essentially. Everyone knows your secrets and stories and you’re sharing your talent. I think the voice is the most natural instrument: there’s something so fragile and intimate about it. It’s not like any other instrument.
Where do you draw the line between sharing your experience with the audience and leaving it open to interpretation?
I don’t ever feel that if I spill too much of my story that it will kind of interfere with theirs. If anything I think it helps the audience understand their story a little more and why they connect with the songs so much. Usually while I’m explaining the song and what it means, I think it’s a way of validating their thoughts and emotions on the song and a lot of times i’ll see them shaking their heads like “Yes! That’s how I feel about this song!”
“I want to be that voice for lady artists, like myself, who have something new and fresh to bring to music but may not be getting the recognition that they deserve.”
The house track, “Free Room”, was so popular with the crowd. Is house music something that you grew up on as well?
Definitely. “Free Room” is a song that is so special to me just because I feel like I am putting those house elements in the song but also newer elements because it’s not strict Chicago house.
For me, it sounds reminiscent of Azealia Banks’ “1991” EP…
Yeah! I like to describe it as “progressive house” which is very common here, I think. It’s not the same house as back in Chicago, but there’s a more modern approach to it.
You sing on the track, but I suppose you rap a bit on it too. Is that something you like to play around with as well?
Um… I kind of rap in my head and I sound silly when I do it aloud! [laughs] That was the only time! I didn’t think of it as rapping, I thought of it as speaking on rhythm.
I can’t not talk to you about SZA. I know you have a special relationship, can you talk to me about your relationship?
I hadn’t met SZA until the tour, but there were personal moments we had together. The tour was very tough and she relates to that feeling of being the only girl in the room. TDE [Top Dawg Entertainment] is all guys and she struggles with that sometimes, too. Feeling alone and being away from home.
I think she puts that across in her music as well.
Definitely. There were times I felt a bit discouraged and sad about being away from home. I didn’t have my friends or girls with me, but she would pull me to the side and encourage me and remind me that this is a stepping stone and that it won’t last forever. I was also inspired by her work ethic. I got to see how much happens in a day for her and how she is still able to get on stage and deliver a show. I think that inspired me the most and set me up mentally to do my own tour. I think it switched my thoughts on touring and how hard it actually is. It is hard to do twenty interviews, five photoshoots, and then go on and sing.
What’s in store for you in the future? What are your plans?
I want to hit the road again soon. Where I want to go next, in terms of my sound, I like to take these huge breaks from writing. I haven’t written anything since “Crush” because that’s how I work and I need time between projects to conjure up emotions and experiences. I have been travelling so I have a lot going on in my head. That’s my method. I know a lot of artists who are in the studio every single day and I can’t do that at all. I have to leave time in between recording because, when I come back, I want to have a fresh and new perspective on things so I can bring something new to what i’m doing. I feel like if I recorded every day for a month every song would sound the same, because there’s no variation.
What legacy would you like to leave behind in the music industry? Is there a message you would like to spread through your music or otherwise?
Ladies are always in the forefront of my mind when I’m doing anything concerning music. Specifically, ladies of colour. There’s an unevenness in the industry between the sexes and races and it’s unfortunate. I want to be that voice for lady artists, like myself, who have something new and fresh to bring to music but may not be getting the recognition that they deserve. I also want to always encourage people, through my music, to fully be themselves and be proud of who they are.