You know that tunnel scene in Perks of Being a Wallflower? When Charlie is driving with his friends, listening to the perfect song, literally looking at the light at the end of the tunnel? Listening to London-based artist Raissa feels like that. Her music brings out the freedom in your eyes, making you feel infinite. Making you want to stand in the back of a moving car with your hands in the air and the wind on your skin. Making you want to dance covered in glitter under a disco ball.
It’s not out of the ordinary to feel like you’re in a movie when listening to Raissa. Her EP HEROGIRL combines 80’s synths with dreamy pop to tell a classic heroine story of Raissa’s alter ego, Herogirl. She wants to tell the story in an inclusive way which is why she’s passionate about having sign language for her lyric videos and wheelchair accessible concerts, when COVID-19 allows her. In her single GO FAST BABY, we see the beginning of Herogirl’s story as she escapes from her antagonists. As she fights her way to freedom, Raissa embodies a liberation that feels accessible to all of us. It’s the song you want to listen to when the anime heroin finally wins. As you watch this character prevail, it makes you feel like you can be triumphant too.
FRONTRUNNER spoke with Raissa about her EP, the importance of making people feel included, her favorite anime, how lots of traveling has affected her music process, and more.
I love your music video for GO FAST BABY. What was it like doing a music video that you didn’t self direct?
It was amazing. The transition was very easy mostly because my video commissioner Bryan is just extremely supportive of my ideas. I basically wrote the treatment for it and then he had a couple of directors send me some treatments of what I wanted the video to be. I think it’s really important that my work comes from a very hopeful lens and doesn’t have any cynicism to it. The fact that the directors were so young and had done all these music videos, there was a perspective that was aligned with mine. The transition felt really smooth for me because I still feel like I have as much creative control as I did before. It’s just I have the resources and the people to make it bigger and better. I love the video and I felt really lucky to make a music video and be on a set especially considering the way the world is right now. That’s not something everyone can do. We definitely respected all Covid-19 regulations. Everyone had masks on and there was testing. To have the resources to shoot and shoot with the right regulations in place is not something everyone has been able to do. I felt fortunate to be able to do that.
In that music video, what looks like an anime version of yourself saves you from being kidnapped. Is this HEROGIRL? What can fans expect from the upcoming EP?
Herogirl is my alter ego in a lot of ways. She’s the main character of the EP and the main character of a series of projects that will come after the EP. It’s a part of a bigger project that is long-term. The animated sequences are flashes of her coming into her own especially in GO FAST BABY. I love anime. Anime movies are some of my favorite things to watch. I think it’s nice when there’s something violent that happens to separate it through animation and to keep it fun. Like her escape and her destruction of these oppressive forces which were these men. You could look at it as a symbol or just two main characters. The animation allowed for that violence to exist without being gory. I’m not a big fan of gory. I like to keep things happy.
As far as who Herogirl is and what to expect, I like to think of the project as like a hero journey and following the story structure of a hero’s journey. I think we can be the heroes in our own stories. We cannot always control the things that happen to us. Sometimes those things are good and sometimes those things are bad but we can rise up to meet it and show up for ourselves and show up for other people. That’s what the HEROGIRL EP is about. It’s about bringing hope and rising up to meet the things that are yours and doing it with as much love as possible. Herogirl is the ideal version of me. I’d like to think she’s me at my best with a fantasy and sci-fi lens. That’s what the project is to me. It’s about hope and bravery for sure.
Speaking of anime, many of your videos have anime in them. Does anime inspire you musically? What’s it like directing your own music videos?
Anime has a very special place for me especially vintage anime from the 90s and before. I’m a massive Studio Ghibli fan. That was like my Disney when I was a kid. I was really lucky that my parents had a friend that gave us a copy of Princess Mononoke which is a Studio Ghibli film. I must have been eight years old when I watched it and after that I was just obsessed with Studio Ghibli. I have all the books and I’ve watched almost every Studio Ghibli movie ever made. I’ve always loved anime. In my video for BULLYING BOYS, I used footage from this anime series that came out in like the late 70s or early 80s. There’s just something about that era of anime that is not cynical and it’s just so hopeful. All these crazy things happen and these characters rise up and meet whatever it is. Whether it’s someone trying to destroy a planet or it’s an invading force. I also love that genre of anime because of the female characters.
I love that your music radiates confidence, especially for women. Is women empowerment a passion of yours? What are some other things you’re passionate about that we can expect to hear on HEROGIRL?
Female empowerment is important because I am a woman and I think that your life is only going to get better if the life of others is better. Thinking about your own humanity and other people’s humanity is important. I wouldn’t say that I actively think about vocalizing social justice issues, it just kind of happens. Then after the fact I realize “Oh wait, I was saying something about how I felt about seeing other people be mistreated for things that no one should be mistreated for.” So I think that the EP and all the music after that is because HEROGIRL is about being brave and being brave for everyone.
I talked about this a lot with my manager about how we wanted to make it wheelchair accessible. I don’t want to play in shows that aren’t wheelchair accessible. I want to incorporate American sign language which we did for the lyric videos which was done by this amazing talented kid named Otis. He does sign language for all of the lyric videos. I felt really lucky that we got him to do that. Thinking about how if pop music is popular then it has to be for everyone. Some people may not like what I do but if someone likes it, I want them to feel like there’s space for them. I’ve tried really hard to think about any potential barriers. Me and my team have tried very hard to remove them. It doesn’t matter how hard I work at a song or a performance or a music video. If you make someone feel left out that’s all they’re going to remember. They are just going to remember that they felt left out and not how amazing the song was or the makeup or the costumes or any of that. So I feel very passionate about inclusivity in a world that often feels like it aims to exclude people.
Your lyrics can be so poetic. Have you ever written a poem that became a song? Or do you prefer to have the music before adding the lyrics?
I tend to start from lyrics and then move into music. Sometimes I’ll have a melody and then the words follow. A lot of times I’ll be in the car or on the bus and think of a sentence or something someone said to me. I’ve been really inspired by conversations with people. If I pay attention, people say the darndest things and they don’t even realize that they just said this amazing piece of knowledge. They just move past it and I’m like “No, let me write that down.”
When I was younger, I wrote a lot of poetry but I kind of stopped when I was 19 going on 20 years old. I don’t know why, it just happened naturally. Lyrics are very important to me. Words are powerful. I think how people communicate with each other is really powerful and important. How you talk about yourself is really important. This project is about self. There’s this quote I really like that goes “I am my own muse; the subject I know best and the one that I want most to improve.” I think that’s definitely how I approach my work. The better language that you use when you talk about yourself and your work, the better the work is going to be. More so than it being poetic, I try to pay attention to how I speak about things.
I read in an interview that a great song to you is honest. What makes a song honest, in your opinion?
I think it’s in that moment you said what you had to say and you didn’t hide from it and you didn’t hide from yourself. Most importantly, you did your job. I think people see through what is honest and what isn’t. You may not like something but you know whether or not that person was being honest when they said that. I’m not the arbitrator of honesty but I think you can tell when someone just pulled it all out and tried not to hide. Trying not to hide is important and hard but I think the more honest you are, the more happy or you can be.
Being from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and traveling a lot as a child, how do you see your exposure to different cultures shaping your music?
I’ve been moving around a lot my whole life and I’ve come to a point where I just want to put all my stuff in one place and just stay there. My parents have different backgrounds. My mom is Spanish and my dad is French. I grew up in Southeast Asia and then I moved to London. I bounced around a lot and now I’m moving to the U.S. There’s a combination of me being really open and comfortable around a lot of different types of people in a lot of different places. Being comfortable in those situations makes me more comfortable with myself. Being more comfortable with myself, I find it easier to write. I’ve always felt like I had a really strong relationship with myself but at the same time, moving too much made me create this little shell around me where I could be creative. It was kind of like my anchor. No one knew I made music until I was like 20 but I started doing it at 14. It wasn’t like I was embarrassed or hiding it from anyone. No one asked so I’d just go in my room to go on GarageBand. I didn’t need anyone to know. I was doing it for me. So I think moving around so much made me create a creative cocoon which was a more constant thing. My identity was so much of what I was making because I never really got to be fully attached to anything that was happening around me because it was all temporary until I moved on to the next place. The only thing I had complete control over was my work.
I’m curious about your music process and how it’s cultivated over time. How did you make music when you were 14 and how do you make music now? How has that changed?
It hasn’t really changed. I don’t like too many people in my room. I don’t like when there’s too many people there at one time. I don’t really work with writers much because I like to work for a song. I don’t like when people give me the answer or give me a melody. I kind of shut down because I feel like I’m skipping steps. It stops me from being able to fully be myself. I have to go through the motions and if it doesn’t work for 5 days, that’s fine. I know it’ll work at some point but I don’t want to have someone to make it easier for me. I don’t think that working with writers is something bad at all. I think a lot of artists benefit from that and a lot of beautiful art comes from that collaborative process. It’s just not the process I have. That might change. I might change the way that I work but for the last 10 years it’s been the way it is. I just get on the internet and watch movies and do stuff that makes me feel nourished. At a certain point, I have some stuff that I need to get out and then I get it all out over a month or two. Then I go another month without making music. That’s kind of like my cycle. I’ll pound 30 songs in like two months. They’re all good, some of them are special and some of them are just not.
I saw this Harry Styles interview and he was talking about how writing songs is like practicing to surf. One day a good wave comes and you do the trick but you have to get on the board everyday and the wave may not come. It’s like that for me. It doesn’t mean I’m not getting on the board and not doing a good job but sometimes there’s a really beautiful wave that comes in and rises above everything else. That doesn’t say that what I have made before isn’t special. It’s just this one is a little bit more special than the rest.
As a big Lady Gaga fan, what is it about her that inspires you?
If I ever met her, I wouldn’t even be able to function. She got really popular when I was 12 or 13. She was one of the first artists that was actively talking about her experience with bullying and I was being bullied very badly at that time. She made me feel like these kids might punch me and leave me out and not like me but it didn’t matter how bad these kids treated me. I knew there was something that I was good at and I knew that one day it would take me somewhere. I wasn’t really sure what that meant but she made me feel like there was room for me. Just because these bullies weren’t making room for me doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for me somewhere else. There’s just something about looking up to her at that age that flipped a switch in me and made me feel invincible even when other kids were really horrible to me. She also put so much discipline in work. Whether you like it or not, you can’t deny the fact that she is creating from a visceral place and really thinking about everything. I love her. She’s great.
You were one of many artists to sign a letter addressed to the British government to ban conversion therapy. Why is this an important issue to you?
I think it’s appalling that anyone thinks that they have the right to literally intervene in someone’s life like that. In the most basic of terms, it’s a massive human rights violation regardless of how people feel about LGBTQ issues. It’s sanctioned torture. It’s completely unethical. Then on the flip side, I’m a massive supporter of LGBTQ issues. I always feel that I’m happy to be on the side of the oppressed no matter who their oppressor is or whether they look like me or don’t look like me or live like me or don’t live like me or talk like me. That’s not the point. I felt like it was a no-brainer to put my name on a piece of paper to stand up for something. It’s the minimum thing that I could do. It really grinds my gears. I’m not someone who really gets angry but something that really pisses me off is injustice like that. Just leave people alone. Go educate yourself or go leave people alone. That’s my take. I think it’s really sad that a lot of people project a lot of their own inadequacies on others and groups of people.