Quarantine Q & A Interview Moments with Tidal Unplugged Artist Raye Williams.
November 14, 2020
Senior Writer Kamilah Foster
Detroit’s Very Own Raye Williams
1. How did you become so diverse in your music style?
I am a crystal clear reflection of the music I grew up listening to...which
was EVERYTHING. My grandparents took me to my first concert, The
Judds, when I was just 2 years old. My grandparents were both originally
from down south and I stayed with them while my parents worked.
Between their southern accents and the country music that was always
playing throughout their house, it impacted the way I spoke and sang at a
very early age. (I’ll forever say “ya’ll”.) Then I’d go from Dolly and
George Jones with my grandparents to Barbara Streisand, Luther
Vandross, and Patti LaBelle in the car with Mom and Bob Seger & Bonnie
Raitt in the garage with Dad. It was a whole mixed bag. Once I entered
school and was introduced to Mariah Carey and Alanis Morrisette - there
was no hope of me picking ‘just one thing’, ha! I don’t know that others
recognized my versatility until I started singing demos down in Nashville.
I became a sought after session singer because I could transform into
whatever the song needed to be - bluegrass, gospel, Euro-pop ... if there
was a reference, I could immolate that.
These last two years, as an artist finally releasing music of my own again,
I’ve really embraced my “mixed bag” of influences. Nashville can really
confuse you with “radio will only play this” or “you can’t stray from your
audience”. But now I’m just like ... if it feels good, I’m doing it. And if
that sounds different tomorrow than it did today, so be it.
2. How does it feel to be 1 of 5 artists chosen to take part in a new $1
million endowment program to support emerging artists, from TIDAL?
The opportunity with TIDAL is a perfect example of how if you just keep
showing up, eventually the Universe will notice. Luckily I never obtained
any other life skills or passions (ha!), so music has always/will always be
“it” for me. In early 2019, I was a one-woman machine trying to release
a couple songs independently that would hopefully make a little noise. I
was doing my own website and socials, shooting and editing my own
promo videos, writing press releases, booking myself on local media
shows ... and then I see a sponsored ad from TIDAL on Instagram -
“Looking for Detroit-area artists. Apply here.” To reflect on all the
twists and turns in my story, from Belleville, Michigan to Nashville back to
Detroit and all the decades of heartache and hard work I’ve put into my
career ... it is beyond wild that such a game-changing opportunity was
given to me by responding to an ad on Instagram. That reality still blows
me away today just as much as it did a year ago when all this began. I
am whole-heartedly grateful.
3. As a winner of Tidal’ contest... do you feel like you took advantage of
all the perks of winning the contest? Each of the artists received a
production grant to record three new songs, marketing, promotion
and other business needs for singer-songwriters which TIDAL
Hmmm, that’s a good question and one that I don’t think I’ve been asked
before... but YES! When TIDAL made the national announcement of TIDAL
Unplugged and the 5 artists they chose, I hit the ground running
immediately. I was in the studio recording my three TIDAL Unplugged
singles less than 2 weeks after the news went public. I was also dealing
with some pretty major health issues at the time too, so there was an
urgency to get as much done as I could before my surgery at the end of
last year. But thankfully I already had the songs written and knew the
sound and look I was going for. I’m forever indebted to the supportive
friends and peers that surrounded me at that time. They lifted me up
through an insanely chaotic time, sharing in my vision and helping me
achieve it. By the time COVID hit, I’d thankfully already shot 2 music
videos, had my photo shoots, and my 3 songs were recorded, mixed, and
mastered. Little did I know that my “urgency” would serve me well
because we got almost everything done just weeks before the COVID
4. What was life like before the pandemic?
Wild. I had just finished 5 weeks of radiation treatment right as we were
releasing my first TIDAL Unplugged single, “Just Take My Money” in early
February. (We actually filmed the music video 2 days after my last
treatment.) At the same time, TIDAL released a docu-series that they
had filmed months prior about us 5 artists and our stories. My story
included my recent cervical cancer experience. Once the news was out
in the open, there was a local media blitz with Beaumont Health,
detailing my struggle and how to prevent this from happening to other
women. It was a whirlwind to say the least. Almost immediately after
dropping the 1st single, TIDAL sent me to Nashville at the tail end of
February to film a big music video for my 2nd single. The 2nd single and
music video were slated for a St. Patrick’s Day release, which was also
supposed to be my debut performance at SXSW in Austin, TX. It felt like
a perfect storm of goodness. A week before SXSW, I was notified that it
was cancelled. After that, I pulled the release of the 2nd single for a
“better time”. And here we are 7 months later and as far as I can tell, a
“better time” hasn’t come just yet but I know it’ll be here sooner or
later. It’s been a good practice in patience.
5. How have you coped with 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic?
Initially, I felt disappointed but I was OK. Those first couple months I was
trying to find the silver lining in the shutdown by working even harder. I
figured if I kept going as planned, I’d be further along than a lot of other
artists that weren’t being as proactive. I was trying to edit my own
quarantine-style videos, thinking I could still release music. (I couldn’t.)
When the world shut down, that meant the music business did too. And
no one knew what to do or when this was going to “blow over” so
consequently, not a lot got done.
And since I don’t do well with downtime, in April I threw myself into
doing a weekly live-stream from my basement. I raised over $2000 for
Beaumont Health in that first month. But once May turned to June, it no
longer was just an uphill battle of trying to rally to release music during a
global pandemic - it went far deeper than that. After George Floyd and
the protests that followed, everything else just wasn’t important. That
was the start of me getting real with myself about the world we live in
and how different it would be because of the year 2020. So it went from
“music music music” to me giving attention to the process and thinking
about the kind of human I could grow into in the midst of everything.
There’s good days and there’s really bad days, but it’s honest and I’m
giving myself grace to feel it all.
6. Tell me about the Reinvention of Raye website.
So there’s my music website (RayeWilliams.com) and then there’s a
personal blog that I created a few years ago when I first moved back to
Michigan from Nashville (TheReinventionOfRaye.com). It started almost
immediately upon relocating. I knew I couldn’t continue to be the person
I was when I was living in Nashville anymore, it was too exhausting. I also
knew that Michigan hadn’t been my home in a decade and that I was
starting from Ground Zero in so many ways. I had no clue where to
begin, I just knew that I had the freedom to do things differently. So I
started the blog to help navigate me through my feelings in this time of
major ‘growing pains’. Musically, it’s easy to highlight your
achievements, list your shows, link to your most recent video, and so on.
Emotionally, it’s a lot scarier to put your inner thoughts under a spotlight.
I’d love to say that I threw myself into writing throughout this
quarantine/pandemic but truthfully, I haven’t. It’s interesting because
the more artists I talk to lately, the more I hear how disappointed they
are in themselves that they haven’t been as inspired as others would
expect. I think the pandemic has taken a toll on a lot of people’s
creativity, mine included. But it’s coming back to me now, slowly but
7. What are some things you do to write a song?
My phone is a treasure chest of voice memos, me singing nonsense along
to a melody that fell from nowhere. Surprisingly, I drive just as much in
silence as I do listening to music ... For me, I find that song inspiration
flows more freely when I’m not applying pressure to myself. And if I’m in
the car, there’s certainly no pressure aside from getting from Point A to
Point B safely.
Lyrically, I’ve always been a sucker for a good “hook”. Nashville taught
me how to weave a story that both gets to the point but also resonates
for the listener. Everything is always about love - finding it, losing it,
being scared of it, etc. I stopped trying to find a different way to say
what’s already been said and instead, just share the story. Nine times out
of 10, it’s something I experienced - so who better to write it? And if it’s
my story, how can it be wrong?
8. How did it feel to be on stage at different festivals performing and
doing a drive in virtual concert?
I can’t lie, the virtual concerts are kinda weird but it’s where we are. I
can’t complain because I’m grateful for any and every opportunity to
perform with what 2020 has been. And more importantly, I want
everyone safe. But a big part of what makes my shows so fun is the on-
stage energy, the audience meets me and keeps me at a 10. So when
there’s no live audience, it’s an adjustment. When you’re used to making
eye contact and bantering but now everyone is watching you from their
car and honking a horn instead of applauding, it’s an adjustment. I know
it’s uncharted territory for everyone and the awkwardness is shared
because we’re all in this together. I will say that every single person
involved in making the few shows and festivals happen certainly worked
their butts off and then some. The crews for Detroit Out Loud and Arts,
Beats, and Eats outdid themselves in making sure us artists were
completely protected and happy, while also giving the Detroit community
it’s only real concert experiences of 2020. I was lucky, I had the easy job.
9. Tell me about “Sing Me Home” with Lyft and your DMA nomination.
Unfortunately “Sing Me Home” was taken off of streaming platforms a
couple months ago accidentally by an old distributor, however the lyric
video is still available on YouTube. Instead of scrambling to put the song
back up, I have some fun ideas for a re-release in 2021, along with some
other unreleased recordings.
“Sing Me Home” was written while I was still living in Nashville. Seven
years ago, I sat down in a songwriting session on Music Row with Jim
“Moose” Brown and Paul Sikes with the intention to write about Detroit.
For more than 10 years, I was making the drive from Nashville to Detroit
and back every 2-3 months. I wanted to write a song about the rush I felt
every time I crossed the Michigan state line to visit home. So we did. I
wouldn’t actually move to Michigan for another 3 years after we wrote
this song. So basically, “Sing Me Home” was foreshadowing my inevitable
move back, ha.
I was in the right place at the right time when the Lyft opportunity came
about. And it’s very fitting that an app all about driving would latch onto
this particular song. Even more symbolic that it would be nominated for
a Detroit Music Award considering that Detroit is what inspired it years
10. What is some advice you’d give to someone just starting in the music
You’re only as good as your work ethic. Read that again. (I know I am.)
It’s never been about how great you sing or how many songs you’ve
written. When I was younger, I really thought I could just “be the artist”
- do all the creative and fun stuff - and leave “the business” to everyone
else. But the reality is, no one is going to champion for you like you are.
So that passion you feel inward needs to be evident outward too. Once I
opened myself up to learning more about the business, I started to make
moves on my own. And “my moves” led directly to Lyft releasing my first
single and becoming a TIDAL Unplugged Artist. Trust me, it’s worth it to
work just has hard on the business end as the creative. You need one
really cool thing to come to fruition and it will snowball from there if you
just keep at it.
11. Do you feel that in the music business that it’s safe to say that “hard
work does pay-off”?
Once I made the mental shift from “the artist” to “the artist/CEO” - the
work was a labor of love. The last 3 years of my story are probably the
sweetest because I know I how much it took to get here and I’m proud of
myself for staying at it.