I’d sung since I was about nine, just for fun at school assemblies or wherever I could get the space and then I started thinking about it professionally in my early teens. My brother is a producer so I used to steal his beats on the low! just take a USB and sneak them onto my computer to record demos.
Back then everyone was using Myspace so I used to throw up demos on there and then through that I ended up getting discovered by DaVinChe (Kano, Wiley, Tinie Tempah). He was the first notable person really who picked up on me.
People often mention “getting discovered”. What was the actual discovery process like for you – were you sending your demos out or were you just putting music up and then someone came across it?
Yes, well at the time I was doing multiple things to get heard. I was always looking at listings for auditions or any type of studio based stuff. I remember, even going to auditions for girl bands with my mum and stuff like that. Super cringe! (laughs) Online I’d post to try and build a presence and an audience. I think the more I grew online, the more people came to the music. DaVinChe found me and went ahead and reached out, inviting me down to the studio.
At the time I was like, “me, studios?!” It was super weird to me because he was huge at that time, and very notable but he was doing a lot of the grime beats while my sound was more classic RnB. I ended up going to the studio with him and he mentored me along with his manager at that time, Jackie Davidson. They kind of just took me under their wing which was amazing. I’d go to Jackie’s office and she’d say, “What did you write today?!” This was at like 14 years old. l’d go to school, three o’clock I’m at the studio with a whole bunch of different producers I’d have never worked with before. Then the same thing again the next day or the next week.
“l’d go to school, three o’clock I’m at the studio with a whole bunch of different producers I’d have never worked with before.”
What an amazing start. Did you have the support of a manager at that time?
I had a few managers to kind of navigate my way through. Sometimes with that relationship the goals can become a little bit differentiated. And likewise with different A&Rs who might have approached me at that time. Some of them didn’t really work out how I would have thought.
Those things are quite difficult because the relationships are in a kind of tentative informal place for a really long time. So yes, it can take a while as you’re kind of just figuring each other out trying to work out where you can take it.
Exactly that’s a huge part and then, at the same time, I was really young. Looking back, being under 20 and being amongst all of those people who were much older than I was, generally male, you can imagine! I think I had a lot of balls back then, but I went for it because I just kind of felt like it was a journey that I needed to take on my own. It taught me a lot and grew me up kind of fast.
Eventually I ended up meeting the manager who I’m still with today and who I had actually some family connections with.
“I think I had a lot of balls back then, but I went for it because I just kind of felt like it was a journey that I needed to take on my own.”
Nice, that must have been comforting to find that person you could work with but who had a bit more familiarity.
Right, someone who knows the industry, but is also someone I could actually trust.
In 2014 we ended up releasing an EP and were able to do a big launch around it which was great. We had the Mobo awards premiere the single, a lot of BBC 1Xtra plays so there was a great momentum… and then fast forward to where we are now!
Yes, you took a bit of a hiatus from releasing. Did you just get tired or wanted to step back and find some inspiration again? Because it’s quite an intense process that constant need to create and promote.
Yeah it was was various different things. I had my son… so that was the first thing!
Oh thats quite a big thing, congratulations.
Haha yes, thank you. And then also, you know the whole time I was releasing music, I was simultaneously still going to school. So I went to University, did a BA and then went back again to do a Masters. So it was hard years of working part time to go to University then doing music, it was a lot.
Yes and with music as well, it demands and it’s not just the time but also the energy. You’ve got to be on form. You’re expected as an artist to be glossy all the time. So when you’re dealing with like loads of other work stuff it’s a very different life.
So when I ended up getting pregnant, it was just kind of like… In some ways it was a sigh of relief because I got to just live a proper life for a bit, having been spinning plates through school. I felt like I needed a lil break for those two years so.
What was the change point which took you back into the studio?
I think when you truly know something is for you is when you just can’t escape it. Like I just couldn’t escape music, no matter how hard I tried. Some when the pandemic hit, you know at that point I was like yes, let’s go. I have time again.
And with that, none of us knew how long this period was going to go on, but how have you adapted your plans as a result of that?
Well initially, we’d planned to do the standard approach of how we’d go about things when we have a release. In a sense, everything changed because we had to do everything without physically getting anywhere, which can be challenging! It’s also tricky with PR and getting out to publications, trying to think about how we could sell something without a listening party or something of that nature where people are face to face, we can play the records and physically talk.
Yeah, Music has such different energy when you’re in a room and you’re hearing it with other people around versus when you’re sent something cold. It’s going to resonate and hit in a different way than just getting a demo link.
Exactly and it’s much nicer building those relationships in person. We just have to do everything digitally. Content is key, but how do you make content still interesting?! It was a very, very big challenge. Also, because I’ve been out the game for a while, the industry changes really, really fast. People are in their positions one day, and then not in their position the next day.
You got to start remembering okay wait this radio DJ isn’t at Kiss FM anymore, they’re at Capital… I literally had to learn the industry again and to make sense of everything!
Haha yes it’s a process, but nice that you’ve got all the learnings from what you’ve done in the past, and in some ways, you can kind of announce yourself with a new energy.
What is something you learned over the last few years that’s been really valuable to you?
Mmm I would say, not exhaust myself. I think people have this misconception of what it’s like being an independent artist. Being independent is wonderful in that one of the benefits attached to is being able to have creative control and freedom, and whatever comes is yours type of thing. But it is also very exhausting having to be responsible for every detail. There was a point where I got so caught up in that it was exhausting me to the point where it didn’t feel like fun anymore. It started to feel like a chore. And the domino effect of that starts to make you feel, “oh I don’t want to do music, today, I don’t want to go to this event…” and that’s a road you do not want to go down.
Yes, if you’ve got more of a team they’ll shield you from that whereas if you’re leading your own journey, you have to exactly as you say, protect your gift and creative energy while knowing how to do all the other stuff.
Exactly. Also you see the good, the bad, everything! It’s true that they say you’ve got to have thick skin in this industry, because not everyone’s gonna like what you do but some of the commentaries can be very disheartening and for someone who’s not as strong maybe they might take it to heart. The biggest difference between right now and then was that Arts Council England National Lottery stepped in to help fund the project which I’m super thankful for. To have that financial assistance has meant I’m able to bring in a team which has made life so much easier!
The first single from Cilla Raie’s new EP, Motives, is available on all streaming platforms and you can check the video for lead single Motives here. You can also follow Cilla Raie on socials @cillaraie