Raia Was is an emerging artist based in Brooklyn with two extremely exciting singles out right now: “I Can’t Reason” and “Body Double.”
We spoke recently on the phone. In the interview, we discussed the creative process of her new record, Angel I’m Frightened, which has production from Autre Ne Veut, Micah Jasper, and BlankFor.ms. Side A of the album will be out on September 6th released independently.
We also talked about the pain that comes from the creative process, and the inherent anxiety in dance music.
Full disclosure: Raia Was and I know each other from when we both lived in New Orleans a decade or so ago. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ATG: Tell me about the process of making this record, and that can either be mechanically or, I guess, spiritually.
Raia Was: Yeah, it was incredible. I really found my own producer voice on this record. There weren’t too many hands on it and it was really…I was really at the helm in a way I hadn’t been before. But there was concentrated help from three key players, which was cool.
Particularly the experience of working with Autre Ne Veut was really just incredible. He just heard the core intention of the piece and worked more even as a translator than a producer. He’s got a really specific aesthetic but also like a very generous spirit here.
ATG: I’m projecting a bit here because I’m in somewhat of a creative funk myself, but were there any moments where you lost the plot creatively and needed a reassuring hand that you were on the right track with things?
Raia Was: No, it… How do I want to say this? I find creating to be very painful all the time. It’s like…feels like a real whipping. And, if I’m honest, would come home from sessions and I’d be so buzzed, could not sleep sort of stuff. And it wasn’t worry. I can identify the feeling you’re describing but it was…I think that it was less that I would lose the plot, but the plot would lose me.
With this record, I really wanted to start making music from my body and my person and not from my brain. When you have music education and all that…it doesn’t serve me creatively really at all.
And my process is very much letting the things get away from me and my brain. And then the pain comes in where my brain is fusing and catching up with what happened. Then I really trust my body’s choices.
ATG: Not suggesting anything here, but I’ve heard artists talk about similar process when experimenting with psychedelics. Trying to sacrifice control.
Raia Was: No, not me. I’m pretty rarely on drugs. But I do come from an improvisation background. So for me, when I’m recording a demo, I do not think. I set up my mic and I throw headphones on and I improvise over the track or improvise over the progression or whatever. And then from there it was about finding it.
ATG: I think you and I talked about this like ten years ago, but you can see that sometimes with untrained musicians, who are sort of fumbling around in the dark for the right sound, and then can chance upon moments of magic. When, if you’re trained, you sort of know where things are supposed to go.
Raia Was: Yeah. I mean that’s why I started producing. Because I know the piano too well. [Ed note: Raia is classically trained.] And my hands know what they want.
And I started producing because I genuinely, five, six years ago, I didn’t know anything about anything. And it was just the total blank slate in that I just was fumbling around. That’s why I think aesthetics come in. It’s finding the aesthetic of what moves you. And then after the fact, you figure out what key you’re in, you know?
ATG: Yeah, I think that —
Raia Was: Hello?
ATG: Can you hear me?
Raia Was: Kind of. You’re cutting out.
ATG: Hold on. This is… It’s actually really funny. I just drove by the CIA and they cut your…the cellphone service usually drops out when you drive by the CIA. That’s a very D.C. weird thing.
Raia Was: Can you make sure that enters into this script? Because that just feels really pertinent.
ATG: Right? I know. And I was just about to ask you about repetitive phrases and codes and stuff, and now here we are.
Raia Was: Here we are.
ATG: And so, yeah. Anyway, I wanted to ask about the single, “I Can’t Reason.” The song has a repetitive phrase, and when you were talking about pain earlier, that reminded me of experiences I’ve had with anxiety where I will fixate on an expression or a movement, like a tic. And I will repeat it over and over and over again. There is an inherent kind of anxiety with mass repetition.
Raia Was: Totally. I mean, exactly. That song became really important for me. It became important for me live because it spins me. And when I sing that song, it brings me to a place that I want to perform from. Which is sort of like a blessing. It brings me to a place that’s closer to the heat. It’s closer to the pain. It’s hard. It’s hard to drop into that place in performance and it feels important for me to do that. Both to embody the music and also to have a true catharsis.
And Micah [Jasper], in one of our sessions in LA, cracked the code on the production of it. And the production of that song is hard. It has to be just so. It has to be just right to justify all that repetition, but not hide it. I have to be brave with it.
Raia Was: There was a period that I’m maybe exiting now, when I was writing a lot with mantra and really trusting that, if there’s a lyric that I want…that I feel is elegant and simple enough to say over and over and over and over again, there’s something in it. And those are never verbose lyrics. Ever. They’re not flowery. They’re not… They’re often neutral, but they kind of think.
And “I Can’t Reason” was really the first one of those in this string of lines I’ve been following that are repetitive. And I think they do exactly what you’re saying. They embody the spirit of anxiety. They just spin the energy.
ATG: It is interesting. And I will say, and I mean this as a fully as a compliment, is that there is repetitive music that is meant to behave more like a lullaby in that the repetition that’s supposed to make you feel warm and submit to it. Techno is a version of that, I think.
Raia Was: Yeah. And disco.
ATG: And disco. Exactly. You settle into the four-four beat and that repetition is what envelops you.
Raia Was: Yes.
ATG: But talking about “I Can’t Reason,” there is a bit of that, but there also is that inherent tension there too. And it’s not full catharsis. Like, I do think you get to a moment of catharsis and I think that the best of Autre Ne Veut does this as well. But you have to work for it.
Raia Was: Yeah. Thank you. [laughs] I don’t mean to not make it easy. It’s just how it’s happening. You know, I think “Body Double” is more conversational. It’s more of a plea and it’s more a little more narrative. But it…the catharsis happened earlier on “Body Double” and then the catharsis gets bigger. And you’re sort of like: Am I allowed to have this? Is this okay? By the end, it’s like, is this too much catharsis?
Autre Ne Veut’s point of view with this production was: We’re going to give you more and more. And we’re going to keep up leveling the bizarre joy of the track itself. And now I love that song so much.
ATG: I love that song as well. It’s dance music you can think about, which is cool. Raia Was: Thank you. I think the way you just said that… Going back to the pain thing and going back to the brain thing is totally the vibe. I’m trusting that if the music is really coming from my body, that it will peak the brain because I come… I’m a brainy person. I’m a cerebral person and I come from a deep and long intellectual experience with music. But that just can’t be the first thing. That can’t be how it’s made. So yeah, I feel really, if it’s made from the body. Like you said: Dance music you can think about. I like that. That makes me feel happy.
Angel I’m Frightened (Side A) will be released on September 6th, along with an album release show that same night at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn. Listen to Raia Was on Spotify.