Raye Talks Tour Life, the Making of ‘Flip a Switch’ Video and Sliding into SZA’s DMs

Raye Merch

These days, Raye is spending time in hotel rooms, tour busses and on stages more than anywhere else. “Nothing makes sense until I’m on the stage,” the British Ghanaian singer-songwriter tells Variety. “I really feel at home up there, I’m just very grateful for every little moment.”

Today, Raye announces the addition of North American dates and Australian dates to her headlining “My 21st Century Blues World Tour,” which also spans stops in Europe and the UK in support of her recent album, “My 21st Century Blues.”

Released in February, the LP marked Raye’s long-awaited and hard-earned debut after years of co-writing hits for various stars including Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, John Legend and Rita Ora. In her own album, Raye rejoices in artistic freedom as a standalone, independent artist — having left the confines of her former label and signed a new deal with the Orchard’s Human Re Sources.

After having wrapped a string of dates with Kali Uchis — along with a slate of her own headlining shows — Raye is now supporting SZA on her sold-out “SOS” arena tour across Europe and the UK. She’ll return to North America for 26 dates starting Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. and will continue through New York City, Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, Nashville, and more before the tour wraps in Los Angeles on Nov. 7.

Joining her in the U.S., Europe, and the UK is Raye’s own sister, Absolutely, who recently made her solo artist debut.Below, Raye pulls back the curtain on her bustling schedule, making the decision to appoint her father as her new manager and how sliding into SZA’s DMs led to her opening gig.

I love shows. I love performing live. I feel like on these tours, nothing makes sense until I’m on the stage. And support tours can really be quite tough because you have to work hard to win the crowd over. You want to bring some people in there along for the ride.

I’m really overwhelmed by how well I’ve been received and how beautiful [Kali’s] audience is. It’s been a busy year, a lot of shows, but I love it.

I actually just slid in her DMs and sort of asked [laughs]. It was actually crazy because then she told me that she had been listening to my album… It’s crazy. That you don’t even realize who’s taking the time to listen to your music… It is such a huge compliment.

That is a peak achievement for me! Ridiculous. I understand why a lot of people don’t choose to [record live albums], it’s very expensive and it’s not a money maker… that’s for sure, but I have to remember or remind myself — often even on a day like today — I want the decisions that I make to be for the sake of art. I want to make art that excites me and live music just does that for me. There’s also the concept of missing analog more and more in today’s music climate. Even how I create specifically, and I’ve always dreamed about doing a show with a full orchestra to celebrate live music and capture it in the most one of the most iconic venues ever… Royal Albert fucking Hall, as Adele once said.

I’ve definitely been putting a lot of pressure on myself, but it has to be great. It has to be the best performance I’ve ever done in my life… or it’s a fucking damn shame.

I’m really lucky. All my sisters technically work in music: my two younger sisters are both professional songwriters and the youngest has just signed a recording deal with Epic Records. It made sense that our family as a whole goes all in with music. It’s a decision we collectively made a while ago… I had an old manager for a while that didn’t work out and I remember being in a state where I was really lost in some regard. I went to my dad, for what I thought would just be temporary help, but it ended up working really well.

He’s a really rare guy — He’s got no ego. Like, I’m aware, I have an ego! But he doesn’t. He’s just always gotten ahead by going into companies he knew nothing about and becoming an expert. Even though he was working in a job he didn’t necessarily love, it was his life’s purpose. He was also in a band when he was younger.

God really panned it beautifully, actually, because [my father] ended up having all the tools to really do this job well. He looks after me and all my sisters. And we’ve got a lovely team. Now my mom’s part of the vibes as well — she just left the NHS. So it’s really quite the family affair now. There was one point in my career when I saw my family maybe once in the entire year… I was a shell of myself and I wasn’t doing great and this industry can be really complex. At the worst of times, your family is important.

It’s incredible all of the doors that have opened for me — getting to do a Tiny Desk? It’s like one of the highest honors. 2021 Raye would have never probably believed that would have been possible. Not in the way that it happened and… I’m on American TV now, things are also opening up for me back home. I just really feel validated in my desire to be a musician.

I’ve been making beats and staying creative, but I’m such a studio baby as well. I’m not really used to being a touring artist so it’s taken some adjusting. I’m in a place of complete creative freedom… only since I’ve been independent has it been that way. But I was also listening to some of my old songs the other day and I was like, “Oh shit! There’s some good stuff in here.” I’ve made a couple of rock songs before and I’m heavily inspired by jazz — it’s probably my most played genre.

And as for the quality, you shouldn’t even be asking us if the quality is good because our quality is great! His amazing fans deserve the best of the best and not just any mediocre piece of clothing. So have faith in us and know we’ve put our heart and soul to make clothing soft, comfortable, lightweight, and new. You won’t feel tacky or itchy in our clothing and that’s a promise! 

Collaborating is always a really inspiring process for me — I really love to hear another artist’s perspective on something I’ve created and Coi is so fearless. I really admire how confident she is especially when it comes to how she’ll promote herself on social media — like if she loves a song, she’s just like ‘I’m gonna post about it like three times this week and not give a fuck.’ She had the perfect energy for the song, and she recorded her verses in February — just before my album came out.

I think some things are visually clear than others. For “Escapism,” for instance, I knew exactly straight away what I wanted the visual to be — where I needed it to be set. It was also just recounting from a very honest place. I kind of wanted to just go back to that club that I spent so many nights in and it was the same with “Ice Cream Man,” I knew exactly what I wanted the visual to be. “Flip a Switch” was a challenge in a way because it was such an old song… I wrote that when I was 17 or 18. It wasn’t as clear as the others were for me straight away.

We want to tell a story with this album. And this song has got 808s and this bad bitch energy about it so I wanted to find the best way to capture that in the visuals. Inside the music, you’re protected — you get to tell your story in a way that want to, and you decide how it feels.

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