Bathing in the rich, warm light of the Midnight Theatre, RAYE sits quietly by the piano. She kicks her heels off, takes a deep inhale, and starts to play. For those familiar with RAYE’s earlier work, this may seem like a completely different artist. As in the past few years, RAYE has built a reputation for penning Britain’s most popular dance tracks (think “Bed,” “Secrets,” and “You Don’t Know Me”). This performance in New York, a year after she split from her label, is a more stripped-down version of the artist–the tempo is a bit slower, and the lyrics more thoughtful and intimate.
“A typical concert of mine looks a lot different than before,” RAYE shares with V. “Now, the show is just me on a piano with my guitarist–nothing is scripted. I wanted to break that fourth wall and make it seem like you were in my living room. I’m just playing some songs, and you’re all sitting on the sofa.”
We catch RAYE in between her two sold-out nights in New York, at a coffee shop in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s wearing a pink Balenciaga button-up and a checkered scarf. And considering the state of all things, RAYE’s doing well. Besides coming off a high from her explosive performance last night, her track and accompanying music video with 070 Shake had just dropped. Directed by Mikey Robbins, “Escapism.” follows the pair on a drunken night out in London.
“We went to like five different clubs and danced on the street,” RAYE laughs as she sips her warm water–anything else, she adds, will make her stomach upset. “There was one scene that we shot at like 1 AM where I was, like, in five-inch heels running–sprinting, should I add. The drama was there.”
And we concur; it certainly was. This collaboration with her good friend and collaborator, 070 Shake, is even more exciting, considering it’s part of RAYE’s upcoming debut album, My 21st Century Blues., out next February. The album delves into RAYE’s experience as an artist over the last seven years, bringing us through both the good and bad. To kick off the project, the artist has already released three other tracks: “Hard Out Here.”, “Black Mascara.” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Not to mention, she’s taking this new body of work on the road next year. You can learn more about the tour and purchase tickets here.
“I knew that I wanted to create a body of work that unveiled my perspective–my shit parts of life that I’d kept in private,” RAYE shares. “I want to create a space where I can vent about all of these things that I’ve held in darkness for so long. I think the second you bring something into the light, it could no longer have power over you. I hope, if anything, the album gives people a place to put certain emotions that they haven’t been able to put before.”
We catch up with the artist the morning after her metamorphic performance, asking her all about her musical journey and upcoming plans. Read our conversation below.
V MAGAZINE: Hi, RAYE. Thanks for sitting down with us.
RAYE: My pleasure. I’m excited to be here in New York with you.
V: Likewise. So we caught your performance last night at the Midnight Theater–it was magical. How did it feel to return back to the stage?
R: A typical concert of mine looks a lot different than before. Now, the show is just me on a piano with my guitarist–nothing is scripted. There are no rules. I wanted to break that fourth wall and make it seem like you were in my living room. I’m just playing some songs, and you’re all sitting on the sofa. They all needed to be seated shows, which was very important for me this time around. I think I’ve been through a lot in this career so far, and I wanted to fill in people. People may have heard my songs or seen me online, but they haven’t necessarily gotten the chance to know me. I’ve just felt, to be honest, more at peace on that stage than I felt on previous tours. That’s what it’s about. It’s been about being real.
R: Ever since I’ve become an independent artist, there are no rules or nothing. I have no standard I have to meet or people I have to appease. I’ve been really into being very experimental, and pushing my boundaries, and taking risks. It has been really fun and really empowering. It started when I bleached my eyebrows and I was just walking around with no makeup on. I felt this new edge and so it’s just been really fun to push my boundaries like that. I really love wearing Vivienne Westwood, Acne, and Jacquemus. Recently I’ve been working with a lot of students from Central Saint Martins. They are incredibly talented young kids who just make amazing designs and are pushing fashion forward. So I’ve been working a lot with them on custom pieces and things like that.
V: You just reach out to them on Instagram?
R: Yeah, just Instagram DM.
V: Amazing. And can you talk about the creative direction behind your latest video, “Escapism.” with 070 Shake?
R: We worked really hard on this video. We went out, and wore POV cameras and captured it all. It was just a drunk night in London. We went to like five different clubs and danced on the street. There was one scene that we shot at like 1 AM where I was, like, in five-inch heels running–sprinting, should I add. We got a good shot. The drama was there. There was another scene where there were like five, or six different cameras on me while I’m being dragged on the floor. I thought my bones were going to pop out of my arm. It was crazy.
V: Yeah, it’s amazing. And how did you first connect with 070 Shake?
R: We’re really good friends. Part of this album process, for me, was wanting everything to be genuine. I didn’t want to collab, just for collab’s sake. And so that was the case with Shake. She’s a really good friend of mine and really helped me when I was going through my label severance. She’s so brilliant. But, yeah, we met years ago through a sound engineer that we both use, and we’ve been friends ever since.
V: That’s so cute. And “Escapism.” is part of your debut album, My 21st Century Blues., out next February. What can you tease about the album?
R: I’ve wanted to come out with a debut album for so long, but my label didn’t let me. I was told that I didn’t have the budget to release an album. I was devasted, and I remember sitting in my living room, and I had a poster of Nina Simone on my wall. And underneath that image, it said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” And I just sat there like, “What am I doing?” I was laid out on my floor because I had just moved, and I had no bed–it was just a blanket and a pillow. It was super humbling. So I ended up cutting ties with my label to become an independent artist. The irony of it is I’m completely the opposite of the dance music I made. I’m so deep and complex. So I’ve finally been able to do it.
V: Hell yes.
R: It’s my first one, and I’m so proud of it. To make this project, I sifted through this huge folder of 700 songs that I had previously written and just recorded a few of them.
V: Wow, that’s a lot of songs. I’m curious why you decide to put a period at the end of each song title.
R: I’d like to think they’re little stories. So the [song titles] have a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end. So “Escapism.” full stop because it’s a whole story in itself. Sometimes people tell me, “Oh, you’re too much. It’s too much.” And I’m like, “No, these are storybooks.” I’m not going to condense them down. Full stop.
V: Period, for real. And with this body of work, what message do you hope to send to listeners?
R: I knew that I wanted to create a body of work that unveiled my perspective–my shit parts of life that I’d kept in private. I want to create a space where I can vent about all of these things that I’ve held in darkness for so long. I think the second you bring something into the light, it could no longer have power over you. I hope, if anything, the album gives people a place to put certain emotions that they haven’t been able to put before. I hope someone who has body dysmorphia and feels like shit knows they’re not alone. Instead, they can talk to their friend about it and be like, “Did you hear Raye’s song?”
V: Totally. The album kind of functions as a conversation starter. And as we go into the new year, what intentions are you setting?
R: I never want to ignore my gut instincts ever again. It seems so obvious and a bit cheesy, but when something’s not right for you, you’ll know within your inner core. Previously, I ignored that, and I will never do that again. Back in the day, that’s what I found my joy from, statistics and streams, because that’s what was expected of me. If I got a top 10, I’d be so happy, but not because of the song or what it said. I want to be a real artist and remember what my goals were as a little girl because that’s what really matters.