Raffaella Embraces Her Inner Child in ‘LIVE, RAFF, LOVE (ACT I)’ [Q&A]
Photos: Grace Eire
Rising singer-songwriter Raffaella wears her heart on her sleeve with pride in her new EP LIVE, RAFF, LOVE (ACT I). The record is an eclectic body of work wrapped in an atmosphere of playfulness and chaos. Produced by Hippo Campus frontman Jake Luppen and featuring songwriting contributions from frequent Phoebe Bridgers collaborators Marshall Vore and Charlie Hickey, LIVE, RAFF, LOVE (ACT I) is a whirlwind of coming-of-age stories for your mid-20s.
The rising artist transforms seemingly mundane encounters into fully-lived stories that unfold seamlessly, blending sounds of indie-pop bops, singer-songwriter ballads, and pop-punk-revival bangers. The six-track project showcases Raffaella's talents and range as a writer and the excellent, easy-going vocal performances that make LIVE, RAFF, LOVE (ACT I) so exhilarating. The vibes shift from emotional to sardonic to unapologetic at ease, and yet, Raffaela effortlessly can keep it light and fun, strutting over each instrumental with effortless confidence.
Ones To Watch was able to sit down with the artist over a cup of coffee to discuss the ins and outs of the record, how they stayed grounded during emotionally difficult points in the creation process, and the importance of working with the right people.
Ones To Watch: Your record follows the release of the EP you put out with Samia, Sara L'Abriola, and Victoria Zaro (Ryann) under the name Peach Fuzz. Can you share a bit about how this group came together and how you go about writing for yourself to now working in a more collaborative project?
Raffaela: We started Peach Fuzz because it seemed kind of like a fun idea. I think me, Sam, and Sarah were just hanging out one night and we wanted to just make a band. This was like in 2019? Then we pretended to have a professional business meeting at The Craic in Williamsburg, and we figured out the name, and then we were like, "Okay, this is a band." Then we didn't do anything for a year. It was just like a fun little idea. So we had been listening to the unreleased versions of "Bum Ving Gatti" and all these like crazy songs and just felt really liberated listening to it. I mean, "Bum Ving Gatti," for example, is like a song with literally gibberish as lyrics, except for the amazing words that do pop up from time to time.
It's music that really sticks with you.
Yeah, exactly. It's very primal music, so we wanted to experience that. Sam and I had been working on our own individual projects, and we felt kind of pressure, or at least I felt a little stifled creatively when the pandemic hit. So we were like, "Damn, maybe we should revive Peach Fuzz?" Then I was talking to my friend Victoria, and we were all like, why doesn't Victoria just join? I think it didn't really exist until Victoria was a part of it, and then we were like, "Okay, maybe this can be a real thing. We should just like rent a studio, and Jake [Luppen], Caleb [Hinz], and Sachi [DiSerafino] were down to produce it. So we just rented a studio for a week in Burbank and just wrote a bunch of songs. We wrote like fourteen songs, and we definitely chose the tamer ones. But there are some wild ones in there. I think it was maybe the happiest week of my whole life. I was just so happy to be writing and doing what I love with the people I love the most, and it was a crazy time socially too, because it was the week of the election. It was just peak pandemic, so we hadn't really been in a room with other people since March. We just kind of went into a cave and wrote for 12 hours a day, and it was amazing. It was like a true collaboration. I couldn't say one person wrote one song more than the other. It was just a really honest, supportive, loving, encouraging collaboration, and it was just like a little blip. Then we were like, "Maybe we should actually put this stuff out? We thought it was good and wanted to share it with people, so the release was definitely as chill as possible. We just wanted it to be a fun side project about sharing music.
Were you working on your own project simultaneously at this time?
I had been working on my own stuff the whole time. The Peach Fuzz stuff definitely jolted a new energy into my own stuff, especially with songs like "BLONDE" and "GROWN UP" and this other song "drama queen." It was very Peach Fuzz-inspired, at least inspired from that liberating feeling of the writing sessions in Burbank. I flew out to Minneapolis in May of 2020 for two weeks with a backpack, but then that turned into two-and-a-half years and a house with a person now. We used working on my music as an excuse for us to stay together in the same place, which was great and worked out well. We wrote a bunch of songs, and we reworked a bunch of old songs, and I was going through a lot of management changes in 2020 and 2021, too. I was just learning how to respect my art and respect myself, and all due respect to my old team, but we just didn't really work well together, so the process of writing this album definitely was prolonged because of the pushback and miscommunication that involved boring logistics.
What advice would you give to artists who might be experiencing a similar situation?
I was crying when I got off the phone often, and my partner was like, "Hey, you shouldn't cry when you get off of the phone." So I guess that was like a wise piece of advice, even though when you're in it, I mean I loved the people I was working with, but it just wasn't working and it was really frustrating. So listen to your gut. Even if you really feel grateful to work with people, if the rhythm is off, the rhythm is off. It's hard to even talk about because I really don't want to like shit talk about them, but your question is so good! I want to answer it well. Overall, work with people you'd feel comfortable calling on the phone whenever you need to. Work with people that you would feel comfortable getting lunch with, hanging out with, and that will work hard for you, are focused on you and your vision, and prioritize your vision above all.
Which song are you most excited for people to hear?
I'm stoked for the song called "GROWN UP." It's very joyful. I feel like that was definitely very inspired by the Peach Fuzz world. Not the one that's out, but the part of the world we created in our little bubble. It's a fun song, and we, Jake and I, wrote it in a couple of hours. It's the last song we wrote for the record, and it really just tied everything together in a crazy way. I just feel happy when I listen to it, so I'm excited for people to maybe feel happy when they listen to it too.
Outside of the world you created with Peach Fuzz, were there other inspirations in your life that seeped into the record?
I mean, moving to Minneapolis was super inspirational. Working with Minneapolis musicians, they really put musicianship first. Collaboration, local support, community, and all of those pillars of what it means to be a part of that community inspired the way this music sounds. Having my favorite musicians ever play on it, like Joey [Hays] plays drums on most of these songs and Jake and Nathan and Zach and my friend Sam Rosenstone plays piano on this song called "come to nyc, pls." It's just so beautiful. It's so cool to hear these people that I love be part of it in a very real way, so every time I listen back to it, it really feels like something that I share not only with Minneapolis but with my friends. I would say Minneapolis and just this somewhat suburban vibe that it kind of invites. I listen to a lot of Beach Bunny and Bad Bad Hats, and I would say those two bands are definitely inspirational. I was listening to a lot of early Grimes and Gwen Stefani, and I was listening to a lot of Rachmaninoffat the beginning of quarantine because I was living at my parents' house. My dad, in order to relax, just blasts classical music, and he started getting really into Rachmaninoff. I was like, wow, this is amazing! "come to nyc, pls" is really a simple song, but there are little things in the melody that were definitely inspired by just listening to classical music. I also was inspired by Pen15 and Drop Dead Gorgeous. I think those two visual worlds really were inspiring to me.
What are your favorite parts about shooting music videos and the creative process of visual world-building? What challenges did you encounter when trying to translate something audible into something more?
I think there definitely is a responsibility that comes with visualizing a song because when you watch something as you listen to it, it's always going to affect how you're gonna hear it from then on. I do think interdisciplinary art is like magic. It's my favorite thing to do ever, so whenever I have the opportunity to visualize a song, it's just so exciting. I grew up acting, but I always felt really limited in it because of the scripts that I was going out for. But I love being able to create my own world through acting in music videos and singing things that I wrote myself about my feelings. I like the intimate, performative nature of music videos, and collaborating with new people was awesome. We worked with this director Nathan Castiel, and he really pulled it together in a week. It was a lot of work, and people worked hard and care about their art. It was kind of amazing to see how seriously somebody took something that they had no personal investment in, you know? It was just because they really loved doing what they do. That was really inspiring.
Is there one moment on the record that really speaks to you?
There are two that I can think of right now. The first one is in "LIPSTICK." I wrote that song in 2019 and then finished it with my friend, Jonah Shy. We had a totally different version that Jonah produced, and then I brought it to Jake. He got a totally different version and then, to be honest, it had trap hats in it, and that was like, "This can't have trackpads in it. We cannot have that on this record. We're gonna have to veto that." And he was like, "You're right, we have to redo this." So we redid it, and I still didn't like it. We tried to do different things, so many different times, and I was like, "Fuck this! I don't want to release this song. I hate the song." It's a tough song for me to sing emotionally. It's about losing a friend that was my best friend. It was hard. And then he was like, "I really believe in this song, and I really think we can get a good version of it," and I was like, "Okay, I'll give it one more day," and he was right. We managed to figure it out. We solved the puzzle, and this crazy thing happened that day where Nathan came in and started playing piano over the bridge. I think my favorite part of the record is Nathan's piano and the bridge of "LIPSTICK" because it sounds like my childhood. It's very delicate but also chaotic and beautiful. It's like, amongst a really chaotic, loud soundscape where it gets, I don't know [makes crushing sounds]. I feel like that's like a really beautiful example of the paradox of beauty and chaos, and I tried to strike within the first act at least. Then the other part I liked musically is just the bridge in "drama queen." I just think it's really weird and fun.
When you have moments that are emotionally hard to sing, either due to frustration or the story of the song being particularly taxing to tap into, how do you stay grounded or try to come back to your creative center?
I really struggle with stopping myself. I'm so stubborn that I'll try to keep going even if I'm working from a bad spot. So I really rely on the people I'm working with to kind of wake me up and be like, "Hey, you need to take a break," because sometimes you really just need to take a breath, go outside, sit for a second and then go back in, but it's hard to do that because then you have to think about the fact that you have to start all over again and you kind of want to just get it out of the way. It's a balance of being honest with yourself and asking yourself, "Okay, do I really need to take a break? Is this just not working? It's been 10 takes, and I can't get this right. Give me three more tries, and if I can't get in three more tries, then I'll take a break." But it is hard. I was dealing with losing a friend throughout writing this, and it lasted for a really long time and so singing was really hard emotionally, especially because I was singing with people who knew this person, and it was really vulnerable. I mean, we're all good now, but there's a really difficult balance to strike when it comes to being emotive because you have to hone in on those feelings to convey what you're trying to convey in the song, but you also have to sing on pitch, and you have to say the words clearly, and you have to get the rhythm, right. You're juggling all these things at once, and then it gets too cerebral. Sometimes, you just need to take a break.
What do you hope people take away from this record other than enjoying it? Do you feel like there's an overarching story that people will tap into, or is it more up for interpretation?
I think it should always be up to interpretation, but I will say my side of it is definitely coming from the perspective of a child of divorce, learning how to love. I think that's sort of the central thesis of this whole album. I also write just because I have terrible anxiety, and I can't sleep, so I smoke weed to sleep at night, which is awesome. I would rather smoke weed than take Xanax or pharmaceutical drugs, but the downside of that is my memory is shit now, so I just forget so many things. So, I try to write simply just to remember feelings and moments and the way that I saw people at certain times or saw myself at certain times. I hope that maybe, it could spark memories for other people that they have forgotten or feelings that they might not have been able to crystallize with words. That's how I feel when listening to the songs I love. You can't really pinpoint a memory, but it just kind of pokes at something from the past that is a part of you that you kind of buried. I hope it can ignite some sort of inner child or silly memories with friends or any kind of catharsis. That would be cool.
Is there anything you'd like to experiment more with in the future?
I want to experiment with the more polarized versions of these things. So maybe do a super maximal one, like hyperpop, and another have half of it be bare and just me and a piano, or just me and one other instrument. I have this one song on the second part that's really bare, and I was nervous about singing it live because I thought people were gonna just talk, but it was actually the one that people were the quietest for. That was an interesting lesson.