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Interview: REL

Rel flowers

Los Angeles is known for its legendary rock bands and the downtown Riverbed that features in most blockbuster car chases and big-budget music videos. But 20-year-old pop artist r e l beats to a very different drum, and her brand of feel-good music, known as evoca-pop, is turning the heads of many local and international tastemakers. We asked the rising songstress about the creative processes behind her sound, covering Glass Animals, and the influence of Los Angeles on her music and personal outlook.

Your music has been given a number of different labels, from dream-pop and alternative R&B, but how would you describe your sound for readers unfamiliar with r e l?

Evoca-pop™ – Bold, bright, beautiful, blue, green, red, gold, white, left-leaning pop, and pop with heart.

You do have quite a diverse sound across your releases, who are your musical influences and how did you bring all of those sounds together?

M.I.A. , Michael Jackson, Sia, Beyonce, The Beatles, Rihanna, Jamie XX, David Bowie, Nina Simone, Kurt Cobain, Madonna, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Stromae, Frank Sinatra, Earth Wind & Fire, Kimbra, and Grimes.

I bring the songs together by soaking in the music I like, the music that speaks to me. I’m like a sponge, for better and for worse, especially when it comes to music. I am evolving all the time with my sound, more and more it grows stronger. I listen to the first music I put out, and feel so far away from where I was when I worked on that project, both sonically and as a person. Still with the same heart and intent, but more life, experience and direction.

In that case it’s not a how did I bring all the sounds together, but how do I. It isn’t something calculated with me, or at least it wasn’t when I jumped into it. I had to make the project, it was making me so anxious not to create and share. I’m constantly doing the work, it makes me happy!

What was the story behind your latest single, Factory

The story is a familiar one – assimilation, trying to fit in, being sad in the process, and maybe not even knowing you are sad. People have so much more control over their happiness than they realize. Factory has been labelled by blogs as a feminist song, and it is because I am a woman, so I’ve lived that perspective solely. Being a female comes with so many invisible forces that suppress and inhibit, but it is meant to be a song for all people, about awareness and happiness.

You’re working on new material for an album, what can fans expect from the first full-length release?

This is actually going to be a visual mixtape. I’ve been building it for a while now and it’s going to be pretty big, I hope. Self-love and consciousness are two things I’m very keen on, obsessed with, you could say. This project has my whole heart in it and it’s quite collaborative at the same time. There will be features on the project – I’m working with some really special people. There’s a visual component, a series of videos going along with the music. One is done and a few in the pre-production stage.

Los Angeles is an historic place when it comes to music, with so many different sounds being fostered in the city. Do you think that LA has inspired or shaped your music while you writing?

LA is inspiring and disheartening at the same time. I suppose all big cities can teach you lots about people… humanity with its quirks and qualms. LA is particular because the world is watching it. It is self-aware and ridiculous, visible and invisible, breathing and lifeless all at once. LA has shaped my writing, and so has the suburb in Chicago I grew up in until age 12. So have the places I’ve visited and people I meet, it all comes into my creative process.  

Your cover of Gooey by Glass Animals has an amazing ethereal quality, what drew you to that track?

I was listening to the radio in my car earlier this year and the song came on. I decided to do a cover then! I love the way Glass Animals worked on the track. They focused on creating an energy and let the words come as they built it. Jynjo is a good friend and collaborator, he’s brilliant and produced the track. We actually share the same birthday, only he was born one year earlier.

The music videos for your tracks always have an interesting visual style, do you write your music with the visual element in mind or are the productions formed after?

I never write a song with the intent of achieving a certain visual end, however I will sometimes imagine visuals while working on a new song. Other times the idea comes when the song is finished, and other times even, I have ideas for visuals and collaborate with someone on achieving them. The last way was how we filmed Gooey.

Lastly, when do you expect to bring your beautiful music Down Under?

Oh gosh, as soon as possible! I’ve never been. I have a feeling 2017 will be a big year, full of travel and light!

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