I know by this point everyone has pretty much hit their quota of Corona virus-related content. I can attest that I too am sick of it leeching its way into every conversation, to the prophetic speculations about what the future, near and distant might entail. But every Ying of frustration has its Yang, pockets of brightness that spring up unexpectedly from the shadows. For me, these sunspots are the stories of adjustment, of people finding their footing in new, digital pastures. Raelle is one such story. She’s been writing and making music since 2018, but it was only in mid-March, in neat alignment with the rest of the country shutting up shop, that she released her first EP. I sat down with her (virtually ofc) to pick her brains about how her creative process has changed under the new rules. I wondered how she, an artist still relatively fresh in her career, was coping with making music from the confines of her bedroom.
"I released Close To You literally the weekend before we went into lockdown! I’d been planning it for months and months, but the release kind of got swallowed up into the Corona Virus news and mess. I’m not sorry I did it then though. Ultimately, I think it’s just a good thing that I’ve gotten my name out at all. The track to me feels like a really good, solid starting point, just a very simple, cosy soul record. I recorded it in Peckham with two producers, Andre and Dayna Fisher, who a friend set me up with. And I could sort of tell immediately that it was a good fit. I think there are a lot of natural elements to my music; piano, bass… and a lot of the producers I’d met before didn’t know much about musical instruments, but they did. We had similar styles, and it made communication easy."
She seems reluctant to insert herself within any specific genre though, cautious not to restrict herself too early on; "I think I used to use genre as a way to make myself feel bad like I shouldn’t be writing in a particular way because it didn’t ‘fit’ within the genre that I’d shoehorned myself into. But I came to realise that there was a limit to what I could express with my music by thinking in such binaries, and for me, that really defeats the whole point. I’d say I fall under the broad umbrella of jazz or blues, but I can’t seem to stick to just one thing." This genre shy attitude can be felt in every part of her process; including the sources she mines for inspiration; "Whenever I write anything, I like to start with an artist who I would never usually listen to, or who sounds nothing like me. This whole week I’ve been listening to Grimes and Charli XCX. It’s so like nothing that I do, and it means that when I get to work on my own music, I can really just relax. Nothing I create will sound like anything that they’re doing anyway, because the genre is so out of reach, so I can be inspired by them without feeling chained to having to make things their way."
and of how the virus has affected her own work, she says;
"During the day I’m finding that I don’t make music at all, I’ll do work or do some other stuff, but at night-time, from 9 pm till 1 am I’ll do all my work.
I don’t know what it is about that time, but I find I’m more focused. Writing music during the day is distracting for me; the night is like a short period of escapism.
I asked her if she finds it challenging recording; what must surely be an intimate and personal process, while confined to her bedroom, in earshot of her family;
Yeah, I think that’s a big part of the reason why I’m doing it at night-time when my family’s gone to bed. I’m quite a private person, and even when I’m in the studio, I find it hard to sing with the same expression, particularly about really personal things.
Going into the studio surrounded by other people and having to record the same thing ten times overtakes away from the magic a bit, I think.
But when I’m at home, in a way, it’s easier to record; the emotion comes out better in my voice. I think my voice sounds better when I’m comfortable, and I’m comfortable when I’m alone in my bedroom.
So, in a way, just making things in quite an insular way, though I don’t have much of a choice in the matter, is working for me quite well!"
I say that I think a lot of artists are finding themselves having to adapt; to flex new muscles just for it to be possible to create still, and ask if this rings true for her;
"Oh absolutely. But you know, I’m quite enjoying that aspect of things. I think with music, particularly when you’re starting out, there’s so much you have to do for yourself anyway, and that’s only been amplified because of the virus.
I’ve started learning how to mix and master, producing my own stuff. I learnt how to do it on YouTube, and I’m still amazed by how much you can learn to do on that site!
It’s a very simple track, but it felt cool to be able to think that I produced it myself."
And while being stuck with our own thoughts a lot more than usual is one of the most challenging aspects of life under lockdown, Raelle admits that it’s helped her to write;
"Before isolation I was running around the whole time, I had so much on my plate, and I didn’t have as much time to reflect upon anything that was going on in my own head, which you really need for songwriting.
But this lockdown, although it’s terrible, it’s allowed me to really clear my head and focus. And I’ve ended up writing some sick songs that I’m really proud of, songs that I don’t know if I’d otherwise have written. And I’m really excited to put them out into the world."
Close To You is now streaming on Spotify.
photography by Daniel Oyegade