Photography: Rob Parfitt
I caught up with our latest cover star, bright young singer/songwriter, Rae Morris earlier last month at a photo shoot in a warehouse studio in Seven Sisters. Our conversation was light hearted, and friendly, with Rae being notably grounded and genuine in her responses. This is a talented young artist who has managed to stay true to her roots, using the industry to support and augment her own style and not mould it.
We chatted about her rapid rise into the limelight, exploring the inspiration behind her vulnerably emotive music, the secrets of her captivating song writing and the effect her career has had so far.
Signed to Atlantic at just 18, her spellbinding 2014 debut album “Unguarded” has achieved notable success with frequent airtime across Radio 1 and 2, as well as inclusion on the BBC Sound of 2015 long list. Not bad for 22.
You look amazing, how did you find the photo-shoot?
Sometimes I find it quite a daunting thing because I’m not really used to that. I’m comfortable with music and I’m good at being in the studio and on stage, but a photo-shoot requires a new skillset that isn’t quite in my comfort zone yet.
How are you finding being styled for shoots and how would you describe the way you style yourself?
I actually really enjoy it. I’m just slowly getting into it now. I think when I first started out I was very specific: I wouldn’t wear this, I’m not going to wear that. I think that when you are slightly uncomfortable you put up barriers to protect yourself. But then I slowly started to be a bit more open and experimental with what I wear, but I’m still very masculine – like today I wore a really cool suit and some Adidas Stan Smith trainers, which I enjoyed wearing. It’s cool to try things and be a bit more experimental.
How did singing for Atlantic come about and how did it change things for 17-year-old Rae?
I was 17-year-old Rachel.,I was just some random girl from Blackpool doing her A-levels and it changed my entire life. I’m not really sure what I’d be doing right now if that hadn’t happened. There was a Teaching Assistant at my college who I got on really well with, whose best friend was the head of A&R at Universal publishing. It just happened that she liked my music and passed my name on to her friend. Gradually more of the industry heard about what I was doing and started to come up North to Blackpool, Preston and Manchester to see me play. There was an amazing summer with lots of people in the music industry wanting to see what I was doing, which was a real privilege and kind of crazy.
There was an amazing gig with Tom that turned into more than what I expected. We were in Nottingham, where I was supporting him on his tour, and he said he really liked ‘Grow’ and wanted us to play it that night. We didn’t rehearse it at all, we just went out and did it in his set, which was a very wonderful and bizarre thing for him to do in his own headline show. He wanted to play the support artist’s song with them, so it was very special and it’s never happened to me before. We actually recorded a version of it because we felt we should document that moment and that version is available as part of my album.
Your album ‘Unguarded’ is made to be accessible, with people taking an emotional journey with you. How much of your material is autobiographical, and how much focuses on conceptualized experience?
Every single song is personal to me, I’ve not yet written a song that isn’t. I’ve never written a song from an outsider’s perspective, but ‘Cold’, that I wrote with my friend Fryars, has story elements and more of a focus on a tale of two people. It was more about documenting the strange things people do when they’re in love and the strange things they say to each other.
What/who was your inspiration for certain emotive tracks like ‘Closer’?
Rae – ‘Closer’ was written about my brother. At that time we actually worked together. He was my tour manager for a long time, then we parted ways in that professional world.
I think that was a lot for me to digest, as I was moving away from Blackpool and I was on my own for the first time, and getting used to being further away from the people I felt most comfortable with. I think in a way that meant that my relationships with those people, like my brother, actually turned out to be healthier and better when they weren’t as intense. It was a positive thing that had to come about from a slightly negative thing.
Listening to ‘Under the Shadows’, I picked up on some prominent Kate Bush influences. What are some of your other muses or influences?
I love female vocalists, they have such a depth, and I never realized when I was a kid that it could be possible to express yourself in such a pure and genuine way. I think I always connect so much to a female vocal, so people like Bjork – I love Bjork, Feist and Cat Power. I do love male vocals as well, I’m a Tom Waits fan and Coldplay are one of my favourite bands, as my big brother introduced me to them when I was younger. But overall it’s the song I’m attracted to and the process of song writing that fascinates me.
I loved the music video for ‘Skin’ – beautifully visceral and sensual. How did the idea and inspiration for this video come about?
Rae – I worked really closely with the director, Nadia Otzen. She was really cool. It was important we conveyed that touch and feel, and as you said the sensual bond of humans and instinct was important for me. Breaking the rules is one of the themes explored – not being able to resist something that’s very instinctive and natural. I think the surfaces of the marble in the video encapsulate this. Marble is such a weird thing because it’s so beautiful, but when you touch it, you don’t get anything from it. I wanted people to want to touch the video and feel all the textures in it and think about them – like the surface things we have around us that you don’t connect to instinctively, although you are connected physically to them.
There is a lot of dance, movement and motion in your music videos. Would you consider these an integral part of your music?
Rae – I wouldn’t say dance is integral. I think movement is important, and that’s something I’ve been on a journey with as well. When I first began, I just stood behind the piano and didn’t really move at all. I was quite afraid to even stand up. I’ve only recently started to stand in my set when I play live, because I never knew what to do with my legs. But I think movement is a wonderful thing, particularly with videos.
I love the diverse fusion of musical elements on ‘Do You Even Know?’ Electronic dance beats and synths, with wonderful classical and orchestral embellishments over the top. How much are you involved, and have also evolved, with the composition and production of your tracks?
This was a turning point for me. It was the first track which I did most of the programming for, and I feel quite proud of it because I did get a programming credit – which was great. I’m very involved in the production generally, but I think that was the first time I’d actually used the sounds I programmed in Logic directly in the music. It’s a whole new area for me’ because when I first began I would just write on piano and not really think about the end product. Then’ as a couple of years went by, I realised that it was a lot easier for me to conceptualise the final, finished, produced version and have those ideas at the beginning. This helped form the song as well.
Could you also comment on the visuals used in your live performances and how they relate back to your music?
Rae – The light designer I work with is a guy called Squib, and he’s become a really good friend of mine. He works on Bombay Bicycle Club’s lights, I met him on that tour. He’s the only person that’s ever done my London shows. We have a conversation where I tell him what the atmosphere of the song is in my mind, and how I envisage and want the audience to react to the song, and we set the tone together. I actually just got into Pinterest recently. Squib and I use Pinterest to come up with ideas for the show. I think lighting is so important and when you have the luxury of it, you can really transform a show.
If you could go back and speak to 13-year-old Rachel, what advice would you give her?
I found a picture of me at 13 the other day, and the clothes I was wearing were terrible. I’d tell me to stop trying so hard to be something that I’m not. I always wanted to do my own thing, but I was never brave enough to do it. So I would get my hair feathered a little bit but that would be it – I think I would tell myself to just read more, seek out music a little bit earlier and do more of the things that I was really enjoying.
You have previously mentioned that you were taught the art of songwriting at 17. Have you any advice or tips for any young budding songwriters?
In short, the famous Nike quote – ‘Just do it’. Getting something done, even one thing, is important because I’d spoken about doing it for a long time. For a couple of years I was just doodling around on the piano and coming up with melodies and singing things, but not really ever finishing one song. As soon as I had one song, this huge weight was lifted and I suddenly had a tool and a key to an exciting new life because I had my one thing.
What is coming up for you in the near future? Are you working on any new material?
I am yes, I’m really inspired at the moment because the first thing is out there. People have a reference point to look at and I can be getting on with other things. I’m going to make the most of this year touring, and write everything down.
Where do you see your future progression as an artist? Is there anything in particular you’d like to work towards?
I aim towards playing certain venues that I have always dreamed of playing in and I just base everything on that – how many people you can fit into one space and get to listen to you. I think for me, I just want to continue. I can look at a different way of doing things now as I’ve done the album that I needed to be really honest, raw and real and ‘this is who I am.’ Now it seems like the possibilities are endless, so for the future I hope that I can just keep making albums. I would love that., That is my dream.
Well Rae it’s been an absolute pleasure, it was lovely to talk to you and we look forward to hearing your new material.
Rae Morris has recently recorded her own version of The Beatles classic’ All You Need Is Love’ as part of the BBC’s campaign If You Love Something Let It Show.
The story and track can be viewed here:
Also check out Rae’s new appearance on BooHoos new advert!