Far Out Meets: RAYE, the multi-talented popstar ascending to new heights
RAYE has been making a name for herself in the pop world over the last few years. The singer has released non-stop groove-laden material but now she is here to prove that she won’t be another casualty of the fast-fashion style consumerism of pop music, she’s here for the long haul.
It’s one of the reasons why the exciting 22-year-old has been resistant to dropping her debut despite having her first platinum single with ‘Decline’ in 2017.
Far Out met with RAYE—real name Rachel Keen—in a central London hotel where she glamorously sipped on a Pornstar Martini. But over the course of our chat, it was clear she was anythng but a diva. She was a ball of enigmatic energy fizzing around an array of topics including the need for equality in the music industry and the sexism that she has sadly become accustomed to over the years.
Collaboration is something that RAYE is obviously a firm believer in and a quick look through her credits brings up heavy-hitting acts like Charli XCX, Mabel and David Guetta to name just a few. With the music business such a tough place to compete in, wasn’t there a chance that this diluted her message? “There’s so much to worry about in this industry, the last thing you want to be worrying about is what other people are doing,” she said.
In many ways, RAYE sees the ever-moving parameters of the music industry as an opportunity: “It doesn’t work like that anymore like music is so fluid and free-flowing, streaming has opened up all of this opportunity for music to thrive without it needing to be competitive,” she explained. “And, I adore collaborations it’s the most important thing in music. If I’m locked in a room by myself for a week I can come up with ‘x, y, and z’ but if I’m locked up in a room with someone else and someone else on this day then you’re gonna get the whole alphabet.” It’s an enlightening attitude to hear.
This openness in regards to her creation has reaped dividends for the Londoner. As her sessions with Charli XCX springs up in conversation it wasn’t hard to tell just how much the fellow singer means to RAYE: “I love working with her she’s an amazing writer, she was one of my main inspirations for wanting to be a songwriter as well as an artist,” she said.
It’s an admiration that isn’t reserved for her compatriots, “I just adore music and want to be part of it in any which way. I’m falling in love with different genres like in the summer me and David Guetta spent loads of time together where I fell even more in love with dance music and EDM, when you see it where it belongs.”
The illusive sessions with Guetta were something that we were curious to know more about with RAYE revealing: “We put on a writing camp together in Ibiza for a week. I flew all the writers out and he flew all the producers out then we just spent a week basically writing songs then playing them to like 70,000 people in the evening, on the same day, it was just nuts”
The Ibiza sessions spawned new release ‘Made It To Heaven’ which is still currently riding high on BBC Radio 2’s playlist and topped the dance chart, showcasing RAYE’s ability to flit between genres and make music for a universal audience. What’s more, the songstress is having a blast while doing so, triumphantly saying: “I just embrace it with my whole heart, for me it’s about learning more and more, the best musicians and my idols are so capable to adapt and indulge, bring their own twists to something and let that inspire them. I’m just having the best time.”
It’s not just about the 22-year-old having the best time, she also wants to have a positive impact on the state of the music industry as a whole. One way of doing this is by making it more of a level playing field for women who are under-represented in the music industry, especially behind the scenes.
RAYE seems defiant in this unwanted statistic and is determined to enact whatever impact she can within her loftier role. She says, “It’s not equal at all. Especially on the technical side of things. I already have a female engineer who comes with me everywhere called Jenna, who I love. I met her whilst we were doing the Lion King stuff and it’s hard to find good female engineers because they are few and far between.” Musing about Jenna’s struggles with misconceptions, she continued: “You have to prove yourself every time you walk into the room,” the ‘Please Don’t Touch’ singer says with a look of exasperation written on her face.
The unfair treatment of women within the music industry is something that RAYE has, sadly, gotten used to, adding: “It’s kind of like a standard. I’ve become accustomed to it and I’m so ballsy that I don’t give a shit anymore.” Nor should she, with a heavily weighted back catalogue only adding more credentials as she goes, RAYE has nothing to prove.
She does, however, sympathise with those having to make their way in the game, “For the most part when people know you it’s fine. But when you’re earning your spots in the early days, when people didn’t know who I was or what I’ve written or what I’m capable of, the fight you have to endure at studio sessions and in those environments.” The singer continues, “People just assume ‘Oh so you’re that person’s girlfriend’ and I’m just like ‘Na I’m a producer, a writer—a good writer as well—listen to me. We can work together’. It’s not about knowing best, it’s about collaboration and accepting each other.”
While some may see the front end of the music industry as slowly progressing towards equality, it’s what happens behind the curtain than leaves a bad taste in RAYE’s mouth. “It’s really hard for women to earn that respect. It’s the things you don’t see like we see people saying ‘female power duh duh duh’ but all that shit is still going on behind the scenes, still. It’s not changing, there are still predatory producers out there in jobs and nothing happens.”
One aspect that has changed in the last few years in the music game is the growing importance of social media and although it has many positives it also has it’s a dark side as RAYE has encountered. “If I see anything negative, I’ll instantly block it, you get people sending death threats from troll accounts where you can’t see a name or a face, people get a kick out of transferring hate.”
Although it seems the singer has worked out her own coping mechanism, we asked whether she thought more could be done to help artists who might struggle to brush the abusive comments off with such ease. “There are a lot of influencers and big brands talking about mental health around awareness but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do when people are going home after listening to these talks or being part of it then bitching about people. It has to be a mindset change and I don’t think it’ll ever disappear.” RAYE did offer some advice for increasing your wellbeing, “What matters most is who you are around and how you process what people have to say about you. If I really wanted to go and find it, I could go online and find some really nasty things, ignorance is bliss but it’s tricky to do,” she said with an air of pragmatism.
Handling such comments can be traced back to her schooling and is perhaps the reason she has such thick skin today. RAYE was educated from 14-16 at the prestigious BRIT School which alumni boasts the likes of Adele, Loyle Carner, FKA Twigs, Rex Orange County, Amy Winehouse, and King Krule to name just a handful.
“You learn how to work with other musicians, learn about world music and the history of music which I found the most beneficial. You get thrown in the deep end a bit, it’s not a normal school environment, I think it prepares you for the industry in that sense.” Despite the perception of the school, this experience wasn’t all sunshine and flowers as the songstress suggests, “I was going to stay another two years but the reason I left was I started releasing new music but the people in my school were talking about it and making me feel really insecure.”
She continues, “I probably rubbed people up the wrong way and thought ‘do you know what I’m not gonna thrive here’ because right now I’m making music and thinking about what people are gonna think when I’m creating and that’s never ever, ever positive.” For that reason the BRITs school, “prepares you for this, I’m not gonna lie in this music industry game it’s kind of like reality TV but it never stops. People think they can say things and you won’t see it, you’ve gotta learn how to bat that shit away.”
This strong mindset has benefitted her in a creative sense too as she admits she has released songs in the past to keep other people happy. But now, she feels comfortable enough in trusting her intuition, revealing to Far Out: “I’m now making sure that everything I release I’m completely in love with. When you chase the charts you’ll have the most traumatic experience of what it should be and all of us are victims of that at some point in our careers. It’s scary because you release it’s not what matters.”
“If you stick at it, with your heart and not worry about what my label thinks is best obviously their opinion matters but I’ve released songs in the past I didn’t even like because people were telling me this would be a big song and I should do it.”
As well as being one of the UK’s rising popstar’s, RAYE is much more than just a vocalist, among other things she’s also an esteemed songwriter and last year received writing credits on ‘Bigger’ from the Lion King soundtrack with Beyonce swooning over the lyrics she wrote, which was somewhat of a pinch yourself moment for the Londoner.
At first, she thought she may be on the receiving end of an elaborate prank as she divulged how it all came to happen: “That was crazy, I was in Ghana, which is where I’m making some music, and we were like ‘Oi this shit is really sick we need to somehow get this to someone big in America’.” They managed to get the song out and the response was unimaginable, “They called me when I was hungover in Vegas. So I answer like ‘Who is this?’ then they say ‘Hi, this is someone from Beyonce’s camp’ (in her best American accent) then I’m like ‘What!?’ and start hysterically crying—it’s nuts.” She exclaimed joyously, adding heartfully: “I think with things like that it’s God saying ‘Hello I’m just gonna bless you with this’. It does reassure you that you’re doing the right thing, it’s really nice stamp of assurance.”
With that stamp of assurance from Queen B herself, RAYE is on the right track to superstardom, aged jusy 22 and no immediate plans to release a full-length record—every step she takes is meticulously measured. There is no reason why, with this strong head on her shoulders, RAYE can’t follow in the footsteps of pop’s greatest and positively change the musical and societal landscape along the way.
Raye’s new tracks ‘Please Don’t Touch’ and ‘All Of My Love’ are available to stream now.