With a dizzyingly busy career and a family of professionals and entrepreneurs, taking the time to invest in a creative outlet is crucial. Rachel Lee Davie knows this all to well and, with a fantastic first EP, ‘Barely Concealed’, already under her belt, we got chatting to this most intriguing of stars…
HY: How do you balance your professional career and your professional music career, it must be busy as a compliance officer and an R&B star, surely?
RD: It can be very challenging, particularly since the release of my EP and the results and publicity that has generated that need my attention. Being a compliance officer is very demanding and has its stressful days. There are many nights after work where I would prefer to switch off and completely relax rather than do any work around music! I basically have to have a schedule that I stick to as best as possible to fit in some practice or creative time. I guess like with anything you want to progress with, being proactive is the most important thing. It requires discipline, and sticking to a schedule helps me to reconnect to my passion for music and why I continue. It also helps that living in the British Virgin Islands, there’s not much in the way of distractions or a long commute home! Living here you have a certain amount of luxury of space to devote time to the things you want to.
HY: Can you talk us through the songwriting process for the Barely Concealed EP?
RD: Myself and the producer (Try Bishop) basically came up with ideas on the spot. Some were developed from lyrics and ideas I already had. He had heard samples of my vocals and songwriting ideas before and had a good instinct for the sort of sound we could produce. We selected tracks that would compliment my voice and that would also give the EP versatility. I came up with a main melody and lyrics that struck me as resonating with the melody. We talked through themes and ideas that were present in my own life and the story and music came together simultaneously. We also drew on my musical background for the different styles in the songs. It was important to me to express different facets to my voice and the influences I’ve had. ‘Love Is In The Air’ was where we wanted to go all out and create something pretty elaborate, incorporating a chorus that has that quite forward, operatic sound, balanced off with a mellow RnB vibe in the verses.
HY: Is there a general theme or concept that runs throughout the EP?
RD: The songs are very simple thematically and lyrically, but the idea was to convey experiences or feelings I’ve had in my life in a minimalist fashion. All of the songs touch upon life, love, and reflection. Even ‘Make Me Feel So Good’, a disco inspired track has a wistful essence because it’s about wanting to continue that feeling where only the music and the person you’re with matters in that moment. For me dance music evokes incredible nostalgia, where certain tunes can really take me back to a transient but special time and place in my life. Generally, the EP is a project in using the voice to express the kind of emotions many of us go through especially in love, and most songs are constructed so that the voice can take presence and sit in the middle of the mix. There is a minimalist approach with the instrumentation particularly in Seasons and Put On My Coat, again to allow the voice to do the speaking. When I did flamenco classes for a while, my teacher told us that the flamenco dance was about “contained passion”. I think that’s similar to my performance style and the EP name ‘Barely Concealed’ is supposed to reflect the emotion that’s there, particularly in the ballads, yet at the same time I’m keeping a little part of the story concealed.
HY: Your family obviously have incredible careers but nothing obviously musical, where did you get your main source of musical inspiration?
RD: My source of musical inspiration came from growing up in a household that just appreciated music and I think the cross-cultural influences played a role. From a young age I was exposed to very eclectic sounds from reggae, gospel, Motown, jazz and classical music. Like many people I think you get initiated into the musical tastes of your parents and I definitely inherited a love of very melodious music across all genres, because I specifically recall Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Simon & Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as household favourites. My mum and Grandmother were also very attached to traditional Scottish songs and I’ve always loved the lyrical and romantic quality of Celtic and folk music. I would say that all of these influences from an early age eventually took presence in my own artistic sound and development, and I’ve been fortunate to have lived in several different places which allowed me to explore and cultivate some of these influences on a deeper level. I learnt to play violin at a young age and although I can’t say I ever excelled at it, playing an instrument meant that music became a routine part of my life early on.
I would add that the single artist for me who I’ve loved from a young age and who encompasses pretty much everything I love about music is Michael Jackson, because he was so diverse as an artist and was able to be both commercial as well as always retaining a kind of musical intimacy and refinement.
HY: Would you say your work ethic as a compliance officer translates into how you work on your music?
RD: Yes because both involve that element of discipline and focus. I started off with classical vocal training before moving into contemporary music and that gives you a foundation and technical framework that requires constant practice. To this day I practice my scales and technique before I put my mind to doing any kind of performance. Some singers seem to be lucky to have a natural vocal ability to pull off challenging songs and sing long sets without much training or vocal practice, but I am both conditioned to practice but also sound much better if I do! You could also say that my approach to music is pretty studious. I’d love to just be able to just instantly pick up any new style, rhythm or piece of music, but often it works for me to break down a piece section by section the same way I might work my way through a compliance issue! Compliance is very detailed and there are rarely any short cuts. I think I take a similarly perfectionist approach when I work on a song or performance.
HY: What did you learn about yourself as a person and a musician during the writing/recording process of the EP?
RD: That my investment in my voice and musical development paid off. I think pop/commercial music is still sometimes dismissed as not involving a lot of depth or artistry, with the perception that nowadays anyone can rustle something up in the studio and apply effects and synthesisers. Firstly, Bishop’s work ethic is extremely high, and this matched my own intentions for what I wanted to achieve with the EP. We would repeat or redo a line or a section until we were both satisfied with it. It made me realise I was at a stage of artistic and vocal confidence in terms of the stamina, adaptability and responsiveness to musical direction that was required for the recording process of this EP. Secondly, I learned some great tips about recording from a true professional who has worked with several renowned artists. When I had previously recorded, I always used to sing pretty much I how sang in a live performance. Bishop gave me some interesting guidance for adapting vocals to a recording environment without compromising my “true” voice. I guess the conclusion is that it was more confirmation of how I always improve and grow as an artist by learning from other artists.
HY: At the moment, who is your favourite artist who is under the radar and why?
RD: An artist I discovered recently is Lala, through her song ‘Barriers”, which grabbed my attention due to its really singable and attractive melody. Also the message of the song (about unity and overcoming differences) is not one you hear so often in pop music now. I like how her voice and music blends in different influences like jazz, soul or contemporary RnB. One of my favourite artists who gained recognition posthumously is Eva Cassidy. I think her recordings show a rare kind of talent with her emotional interpretation of well-known songs sung with such an angelic voice.
HY: Why is it, you think, so many talented musicians go completely unnoticed?
RD: The fact that record labels and mainstream radio stations are owned by large conglomerates where there is an investment to promote certain artists. This naturally creates an imbalance in the level of exposure or promotion one artist will get vs another. The music industry also seems to have changed so much with technology and social media. Nowadays an artists’ popularity must visibly be seen by number of likes on a YouTube video or Twitter account. Whilst this goes to show that that people do appreciate their output, it’s impossible to say that the internet alone can determine who are the most talented artists out there.
HY: What’s the hardest thing for a musician trying to break out of obscurity right now?
RD: All of the reasons I’ve stated above – trying to navigate social media and developments in digital streaming. One good thing is that it’s more open and possible for independent artists to release music than ever before and there are so many resources available to try to build your fanbase and gain traction if you have the drive. The hardest thing is probably feeling as if you are competing to get attention in an online world due to the sheer number of other independent artists out there.
HY: Would you say you’re currently ‘under the radar’? If so, how does it feel on an emotional level?
RD: Very much so. I’ve been really encouraged by the recognition I’ve had to date from meaningful sources like radio stations, but I’m still at the stage where I feel I’m “waiting” to really break through and it can be daunting to figure out what extra step I may have to take. I’ve experienced several highs and lows just in the early stages of the release and it can be a little emotionally unsettling. I remember feeling ecstatic when some of my songs were first included on a playlist, or given radio play. Then I faced a quieter phase or got some rejections and the earlier “wins” suddenly felt insignificant. I sometimes get demoralised if I’m not experiencing some sense of building on momentum, because you know that everything hinges on continuing to increase your exposure.
HY: How much responsibility of an artist being ‘under the radar’ falls to the artist themselves? Or does it also lie with the music industry as a whole?
RD: You can’t change the music industry alone, but you as an artist have to know why you’re pursuing it and be realistic about the prospects of your success (myself included!). Releasing my EP has been a learning process in how the industry works for independent artists and I have discovered certain avenues and initiatives made possible by industry professionals that seem to at least help bridge the gap between independent artists and the music industry.
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