Interview with singer Raye: "My label wouldn't let me release an album"

For seven years, singer Raye was under contract with a label that, despite an agreement, refused her an album of her own.

Interview with singer Raye: "My label wouldn't let me release an album"

For seven years, singer Raye was under contract with a label that, despite an agreement, refused her an album of her own. At some point, the 24-year-old had enough and started her own business. "My 21st Century Blues" is her debut album, in which she processes everything that has happened to her in recent years. When listening, it quickly becomes clear: Raye has the great talent to conjure something beautiful out of her strokes of fate. In an interview with, she not only shows how to stand up for yourself and your rights. The Brit also opens up about heartbreak, her newfound freedom and her priorities as an artist. Congratulations on your first album! "My 21st Century Blues" is really something very special - the melodies of your songs are so multifaceted. Do you already have them in mind when writing the lyrics?

Raye: There's no specific rule for that. I've been a songwriter for so long that I feel confident in what I want to say. The melodies are also simply there and ready to be called up. I grew up in church where you just sing what's in your heart and let it out. It's the same with a lot of my songs: I write something, stand in front of the microphone, put on the headphones and just start singing. Or I first find a good melody and only then find the right words for it. Each song was created very differently.

Similar to Beyoncé's new album "Renaissance" you have also completely turned many song structures that one is used to upside down. Where a verse or chorus would normally go, you add a new element.

Wow, thanks, that's a huge compliment. I believe rules are made to be broken. And I think now I'm at a point where I have full responsibility for my career. I enjoy actively rebelling against pop norms: whether a song should be 3:20, three choruses, or a pre-chorus, a bridge and two verses... It's boring all the time to hold on to.

What has changed since the release of your last EP that you are now responsible for your career?

I'm an independent artist which means I have full control over everything I do: releases, my art, my videos, the visuals, the whole campaign. This is so beautiful. This debut album is solely motivated by what I think is best for me. Contrasted with what someone else thinks is best for me.

So you were on a label before and felt restricted?

Well I was with one for seven years and they wouldn't let me put out an album. I was always just a feature artist for some pop song. Until I went to Twitter and publicly asked the label to let me go. In the UK, the call received media attention, giving me more leverage to go. And I did. I am very happy about that.

So you wanted to release your own record much earlier?

Yes, it was absolutely not my choice to wait that long. When I signed my four album deal I was 17 and ready to release my first album. But instead I had to sing songs I didn't love and I'm not proud of. I had to make music for the purpose of selling music, not creating it. And I had no opportunity to build a fan base. With all the dance songs people dance to in the club, no one cares who sings them.

What reason did the label give for refusing you to make your own record despite an agreement?

Among other things, that I haven't earned the right to release an album yet. That I would first need a big solo record for that. A real hit before I could show the musical side of myself that I really wanted to express to show people who I really am. At the same time, young men were brought into the label who, without their own single, were given a budget for their own album straight away. This double standard was hilarious. On top of that, I had to help these artists write songs for their albums. And yet I had no right to put together my own work. That was so disrespectful. I don't know how I've managed to do this for so long while remaining polite and kind. That was a very dark time.

And then you tweeted that?

Yes, and luckily he got people's attention. Many still don't fully understand what goes on behind closed doors in this industry. And I had nothing left to lose at that point. Now I'm thankful for that because everything I've been through has made me the person, the artist, that I am. In order to do that, I had to shake off all the pain and lies I was being told: not knowing who I am yet, having an identity crisis, being confusing, blah blah blah.

Why was that?

Because I'm a woman, I think. I remember recording "By Your Side" at Jonas Blue. That was my first big dance hit and the first time I sang a song that I didn't write myself. I hated it, I really resisted it. But it turned out to be a big deal. While this song changed my life, it also set the standard for the formula that my label has guided me and other women to follow: do a couple of dance numbers as a feature and then eventually you can come out on your own. I was never given a chance to prove myself because that formula made millions for the label and they wanted more of it. And I know many other artists who have had the same experience.

Given your amazing voice, that's very amazing. One should assume that they should have recognized your potential immediately.

But that's not what drives the label bosses. They don't care about the art. It's sales so they can look good at their annual gathering to see who produced the biggest hits and made the money. That's the business.

Was there a turning point where you said: enough is enough?

Yes. I had just written several songs that ended up in the top ten in the UK. So I went to the label, claimed my album. They told me to write another similar song, a symmetrical, simple, happy pop song. So I wrote "Call on Me". They said: if it also lands in the top ten, you get your album. In the end he didn't make it. But the day we recorded it, a label employee told me in confidence that they wouldn't let me make my album anyway. That they didn't want to tell me that while I was working. That hurt me a lot.

Hope you can show them with "My 21st Century Blues"!

Yes, but I don't want to be bitter, I just want to focus on the positive things. You have to be able to forgive. They let me go with my music, it doesn't happen often. Now I want to prove to myself that I can build a following and sell tickets.

You sing a lot about trauma on your album, for example in "Black Mascara". At the same time the beat is very hypnotic and danceable. Was that a decision to make the song less difficult?

In any case. To me, the juxtaposition with music is more interesting, but it also makes that particular emotion more digestible. My songs are very personal, medical anecdotes about how I felt when I was in the middle of it. I can't sing "Black Mascara" on the piano, I can't stand it. The same applies to "Escapism". If you've only heard the song naked on the piano, you're like, oh, that's a bit dark and intense. But when you put it on a beat that feels like the opposite, you can process your pain differently. I love that.

In "Ice Cream Man" you sing about a sexual assault. You get goosebumps listening to it. Not just out of compassion, but because you managed to conjure something so beautiful out of something so cruel, that's incredible. Can you get over this kind of pain?

There is never a complete cure. You have to be able to step back and process it to make it easier. The important thing is that you don't let yourself be defined by it. At the worst of times, it steals from you. It steals the joyful parts, the happiness, the openness, the trust. In the second verse I describe how several things then come together and become a real heap. But it's real life. And through my music I can empower myself. I can say what I want to say about it, how I feel, no matter what. Releasing this song will be one of the most interesting but powerful experiences for me. I'm already getting emotional when I talk about it.

What do you want to express with the song?

What I've been through and how I feel without naming names, without pointing fingers. I want everyone who hears it - anyone who's ever done something like this - to know that you can never, ever, ever abuse and betray a woman like that. It should boil in their eardrums. I'm definitely going to need therapy to be able to sing this song on stage, but unfortunately that's something you have to do as an artist, to be honest. I mean, how many women are there out there struggling with trauma like that? At the very least, I hope this becomes a safe space for anyone who needs to cry and let go of those emotions that we carry inside us all day.

Does that also apply to the body dysmorphia you sing about?

sure I mean, all of these songs are explicitly honest. These are all things that have happened to me that we just don't talk about because it's embarrassing. How do I bring this up in a conversation with my friends? "Oh hey guys I struggle with eating disorders"? There really is no safe place to talk about these things other than a therapy session. But when you bring something to light, it has less power over you.

Is it important to you to be a role model or to empower those who listen to your music?

To one hundred percent. I use a lot of swear words and metaphors, some of my songs aren't meant for kids so maybe I'm not exactly a role model. I just want to be loud and transparent and bold. My priority is telling stories that need to be told. And I want to express them as explicitly and transparently as possible. There is no greater gift than touching someone with it. I have hope that this album will be something that people need. Because I needed these songs before I wrote them myself.

You also sing a lot about heartbreak and a man who left you. How do you deal with breakups?

I protect my heart so much these days. I have walls and a three tier fence. (laughs) I wrote songs, drank, cried and went partying. And just surround myself with great people. I really listen to my gut feeling these days. I'm more cautious and take things slower.

Are you looking for a relationship?

I already want to have a partner. I don't want several, I want one person. i want a ring I want the big picture. But this will take time and I'm in no hurry. Until I find that, a man and I can be friends or he can go again. I'm not interested in my heart being broken again. The pain was just too great, but that was a long time ago, at least three years. But I will not willingly feel those feelings again. Breakups are like a death, like losing a loved one.

You were just in Berlin for a concert. But do you already have a tour planned?

Yes, I just announced one, I'll be back in Berlin at the end of February. It's going to be a wonderful tour. Oh my god I'm so excited! This is really going to be something special.

Linn Penkert spoke to Raye

"My 21st Century Blues" is available in stores now.