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Music Interview: RAE KELLY – ‘IGNORANT AS ICARUS’ Out Now!

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We were lucky enough to catch up with musician RAE KELLY following the excellent release of ‘IGNORANT AS ICARUS’ for an interview. Read now!

Tell us about yourself?

I am a Dublin-born singer-songwriter and composer currently based in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

What is your songwriting process?

When I started writing, at about ten years old, I scrawled lyrics in a spare exercise book and recorded myself singing the melody on a tape player or dictaphone (remember those?). Sometimes this would happen at the piano, with my music-loving cat, Molly, sitting nearby. Frequently I came up with something whilst trying to drift off to sleep, and had to jump out of bed to quietly record it! 

For a while, my lyrics and melodies came hand-in-hand, usually growing from a chorus idea. These days, I generally begin with melodic ideas on the piano or the guitar, then record voice memos on my phone with random words. Conversely, a good portion of my lyric writing now tends to happen when I am nowhere near an instrument. This often causes me to completely, and inadvertently, blank people I know when I’m out for a walk and thinking through a new composition. One of my Mum’s friends once called to ask if I was ok because I had walked straight past her ‘in a complete daze’. I am frequently teased by my friends for this habit.

Tell us about your latest release ‘Ignorant As Icarus’?

I wrote ‘Ignorant as Icarus’ in my final year of university, where I was studying Ancient Classics alongside Music Technology. I absolutely loved Greek mythology, and it has influenced my writing ever since. Euripides’ ‘Medea’ inspired an assignment for my Master’s Degree in Composition for Film and Media, and other characters have made appearances in songs too – namely the repulsive Tantalus and charming Orpheus. I find all those stories fascinating.

Structure-wise, ‘Ignorant as Icarus’ is the most bizarre song I have ever written. It has an unconventional rhythm in the verses and an instrumental chorus. It’s also one of a few songs that came out fully formed in an evening, heavily fuelled by a rough time I was having. I put off recording it for years because I wanted live strings and to work with the right producer. Finally, here we are.

You worked with Andy Carr (ABC and Belinda Carlisle Bassist), what was that process like?

I adore working with the immensely talented Andy Carr, who has produced, mixed and played bass on five of my tracks – most of which are currently unreleased but we’re working on them. He has a wealth of experience as a musician having played with some of the biggest names in the industry, great instincts and brings the best out of my songs. Sometimes you can get really attached to a demo or the way you play a song live, and it actually benefits from a bit of re-construction. We did a major overhaul on one song in particular, and although it was like a plaster being pulled off my face at first, it was one hundred per cent worth it. Obviously, for this to work, you need to have the right “musical chemistry”, or there could be a major falling out! Thankfully, our minds work pretty well together (if I do say so myself). 

What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?

I realised recently that even when I write songs driven by morose emotions, they usually come out up-tempo and defiant, so I hope that passes on a sense of empowerment to listeners. I struggled with self-esteem and confidence for a long time, and writing music was my way of dealing with confrontations I wasn’t having in reality. I hope my songs are companions for anyone with similar struggles. 

Who are your musical influences?

Carole King was my earliest influence. I still look up to her as one of the best songwriters in the game, and ‘Tapestry’ will always be an album I cherish. I finally saw her live in Hyde Park a few years ago, which was spectacular. I will never forget singing ‘Natural Woman’ a cappella with hundreds of strangers on the way out of the festival. I hope she heard us. I am also a huge fan of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Elliott Smith (whom I like to call my holy trinity of breakup therapists). 

I survive on daily doses of music from composers too, such as John Williams, Thomas Newman and Max Richter, and recently I developed an infatuation with the UK Jazz scene. A couple of years ago, my boyfriend introduced me to The Comet is Coming, which opened up a whole new level of customised Spotify playlists – leading me to a parallel universe of incredible artists. That’s definitely triggered some re-wiring in my brain.

Who are your non-musical influences?

I would have to say people and art. I am constantly inspired and influenced by conversations I overhear or have, and by any form of creativity – whether it be a painting in a museum or an indie foreign language film. One of the best films I watched last year was a French romantic drama called ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’. Most of my recent songs have been driven by things that are completely external and impersonal, which is a refreshing departure from perpetual introspection.

What’s the best gig that you have ever played?

I supported a great band called Tinlin in The Elgiva Theatre Chesham many years back. That gig stands out to me because it was the first show I’d played without a band in a while, so I was quite nervous, but it was also the first time I felt myself enjoying the moment. It was incredibly quiet – almost to a distracting degree. No clinking of glasses or people chattering. That’s quite rare on the usual pub gig circuit, so I really appreciated it.

You performed at the ZMF Festival in Freiburg, Germany, what was that experience like?

My set was scheduled after Janelle Monae’s, the final headline act of the evening, in a big top tent on the way out of the festival. I assumed most people would stroll by and go home, and was prepared for a low-key, intimate gig. I was astonished to walk out to huge applause and a completely packed-out tent. I thought they had confused me with another act and would leave once I started playing. Fortunately, they hung around. Some people even stayed for autographed EPs afterwards. It was a fun night. I hope to play in Germany again one day soon.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?

Whilst there are many things to be addressed in the music industry at a high level, namely streaming royalties and the drastic implications of Brexit, I feel it’s important to seize opportunities and not stand in your own way. Speaking as someone who has expertly built personalised obstacles for years, I’ve learned that it’s imperative to keep driving your art forward and take control of your career, in whatever way works for you. Everyone is different. There is so much great technology to take advantage of now. In the wise words of one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, “Do what only you do best. Make good art” – that’s a great mantra to live by.

What are your hopes for the next two years?

I am on a mission to keep a release momentum up, after being musically dormant for much longer than I had intended – following health issues affecting my voice, and subsequently, severely knocking my confidence. I am so inspired by all the independent artists self-producing and releasing music today. 

I’m currently working on an instrumental release and the remaining songs I’ve been developing with my producer, Andy Carr. I’ve got the bones of a new EP, built on the guitar rather than the piano, which I am excited to flesh out too. I am also working on a blog called ‘Creative Types’, where I interview interesting people I’ve met over the years. So, I guess the short answer to your question is: to create without hesitation.

FV Music Blog February 2021

Twitter: @raekellymusic

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