10 Questions With RAYE on "Black Mascara" and Her Forthcoming Debut Album 'My 21st Century Blues'

Photo: Sebastian Kapfhammer

Arguably the most famous Ones To Watch artist who has yet to release their debut album, RAYE is about to launch into what we suspect with be the meteoric part of her career. Wanting to know more, especially what it took to get here, we reached out to this soon-to-be icon.

Ones To Watch: Who is RAYE?

RAYE: I'm a 24-year-old woman from South London. I grew up in Croydon, but I was born in Tooting. I've been a songwriter for 10 years, and I am in love with music. My favorite color is green, and I like my job.

What is "Black Mascara" all about?

"Black Mascara" is about a pretty dark story of my trust being betrayed by someone in a really messed up way that was tough for me to deal with and sent me into a terrible place. I went to the studio, and I was not in a good way, and I remember that day was pretty sad, to be honest. I just wrote that song about that situation and what I was dealing with. I can't listen to sad songs and be in a dark place when I'm sad. I needed to create something that gave me someplace to put my pain, so I felt like the electronic vibe was perfect for that. Yeah, just a kind of honest, painful story, but it's helped me heal. It was my medicine. I listened to that song every day for like a month and it really helped me. 

 This is described as the only dance track on your forthcoming debut album, My 21st Century Blues. Given it's so good, why? 

Basically, I'm in the place of my career now, I'm independent, and I've got to just trust my gut, and my gut wanted me to express a lot of different sonics and sounds. I'm aware that I've become popular from a lot of dance records, but it's not necessarily the lane that I would have taken if things had been different. And I love dance music which is why I needed to have a dance song on that record, but I want to... you know, I'm aware I'll probably lose fans in this process as well, but I'm just trying to be true to myself really. Honest and integral and, in my opinion, a lot more than just the dance genre. I'm a songwriter, and I love all different genres, sounds, and forms of expression, and I have no rules that I have to stick to anymore.

The video is elegantly styled and well-choreographed. How did you settle on the visual for the song?

Well, I wanted a concept that reflected what I went through. I've been really digging into my visuals in this part of my life, and I love dance and contemporary dance. There were so many different inspirations as well we played with for the movement. Still, I just wanted a video that artistically reflected a really dark story and somehow made it tangible and beautiful, even though it is sad. I'm really proud of it because I feel like I've captured that sadness and beauty simultaneously through movement and working with some incredible women to process my pain.

An album seven years in the making isn't a common feat. How'd you manage to stay inspired the entire time? 

It's been a tricky process for sure. A lot of therapy was involved, and it's taken time since I've become independent for me to figure out exactly what I wanted my debut album to be. It's kinda like broken shards of glass, some from way back in the past, some from the last year that I've kind of just worked out how to make into this beautiful, crazy mosaic of a body of work that I'm so proud of. Realigning my goals for this body of work also, having been in a place where I was expected to deliver a certain achievement with the music I was creating. I'm creating music for the opposite reasons to build a fan base who cares about whatever story I have to share next, irrespective of genre, and to be viscerally completely unfiltered and honest about the things I want to say in my songs and discuss through my lyricism.

Can we expect this album to be the eclipsing of your prior sound?  

I can't really say much on this question, but I can say I don't know if it will be what people are expecting of me for sure. But I can also say, as I said in the previous question, I'm in love with it and proud of it, and I've worked so hard on it and poured almost every inch of myself, to be honest, into this music.

Besides this excellent single and upcoming debut album, what else should we be on the lookout for?

Be on the lookout for some dates. Some exciting co-writes as a songwriter and potentially some interesting collaborations in the future aside from music. 

What's inspiring you right now outside of music? 

I've been watching a lot of boxing documentaries, and I find that discipline very inspiring, which I definitely lack in life. But, still, it's something I'm looking to incorporate more into my life. I feel like if I can be disciplined, there's no limit to what I can achieve. So I've been watching many amazing documentaries on incredible musicians, but that's music layered, so I guess that doesn't count. But yeah, documentaries and spending time with my dog, Yoshi. He keeps me very down to earth, and I love taking him on walks, making conversations with random strangers, and collecting stories. 

Your soapbox, anything you want to say?

Pay songwriters! The industry needs to pay songwriters. There are many things in this industry behind closed doors that are allowed to continue happening, and I will be as annoying and loud as I need to be on this subject regardless of what anyone thinks. I don't care. I've seen for myself what's happening, and it's wrong, and it needs to change.

Who are your Ones To Watch? 

There are so many incredible artists right now. There's this French artist called Lala &ce. She's released a body of work called SunSystem, and I think it is amazing. I think they are so talented, and I love what they're doing. There's another artist called Lolo Zouaï, who I think is amazing and I love her visuals and the way she presents her music. Also, there's an artist called Tara Lily, who's a good friend of mine, who I went to the BRIT School with, who's an incredible jazz musician and has just released a song called "Hotel Amour," which is so beautiful. I'm really proud of her and her art. Her artistry is unmatched, and I can't wait for the world to take her as seriously as she deserves.

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