Raz Tilley might be hard to pigeonhole, but I have to hand it to her, she’s a smart and fiercely independent artist that loves what she does. In recent years, she had begun to carve herself a niche with her distinctive brand of eclectic genre-hopping and genre-bending music. Music, of course, has always been a huge part of her life. From an early age she trained as a classic pianist, played sax in her high school Jazz band and even played drums in an all-girl pop-rock band. As a young woman, she graduated with a degree in both music and drama (adding the guitar to her skill set) to become a very talented multi-instrumentalist singer songwriter.
I contacted the Brisbane-based singer songwriter early in April (last month) after being caught up by her unique talents, especially her fondness for classic Rock n’ Roll. Though admittedly, it is her determination to persevere in what is a fierce, ruthless independent music industry, which led me to ask Raz if I could interview her. Anyway, without further ado, here are some of the things we talked about.
A few years ago you recorded a self produced 10 song demo album and more recently you recorded all the songs from the demo with the intention of releasing them as singles over the next couple of years or so. It is a unique approach to releasing music. Can you elaborate why you chose to take this approach? Why not release an EP?
I mostly chose this approach because the music industry has evolved so much since the turn of the century with the advent of iTunes, You tube, streaming and social media. In the past, a physical copy of your music, such as an EP, was the only way you could get your foot in the door. People would literally be handing physical product to various record labels, radio stations and at gigs in the hope somebody, somewhere, with the right connections, would hear it. Today, people don’t listen to or consume music in the same way. They’ll cherry-pick and choose one song at a time and construct their own playlists. So, with releasing and promoting one song at time, Facebookers, YouTubers, Bloggers and Tastemakers have an opportunity to really hear a single and digest it. Also, the notion of the “album” as a concept is sadly dying. As it was in the past, singles are the way people come to discover an artist. It only takes one banger hit to get a reaction that ripples and creates interest, and if you’re really lucky, an awful lot of money. Just ask Gotye or Lorde.
Your first three singles My Therapy, Stitches and Mellow Harmony are a nod to your eclectic love for music. Your arrangements are clever, and I particularly liked your Beethoven (tribute) introduction to My Therapy. Though, at the heart of it all, your gorgeous vocals occupy the very centre of the mix. What would you say is your strongest attribute as an artist?
Thank you so much Robert! I’m impressed and elated that you got the Beethoven reference and enjoyed my use of his Adagio in the opening bars. I’m often influenced by Baroque, Classical and Romantic music as it’s what I have played growing up and through training in traditional repertoire. I think my strongest musical attribute might be my love of these styles, too. Imitation and adaptation is my sincere form of flattery and homage. Using some of the chordal movements and harmonies from that of Mozart or Bach, for instance, is a wonderful starting point for the music I write. My other, non-music related attribute is probably a thick skin. Sadly, the music industry has its fair share of bigots, knockers and mean-spirited individuals who will dislike or even hate artists like myself. I’m difficult to pigeonhole, I don’t belong to any music cliques or ride any particular style bandwagon, I don’t like a lot of modern music, which is mostly crap and won’t stand the test of time, and I’m fiercely independent.
What can we expect from your next forthcoming release?
Well, if I told you that, I’d have to kill you, Rob. Only joking! My next original release is Silent Ones, a tripleJ and fan-favourite from my demo album, once described as “a haunting lament imploring us to listen to the deep and observant, but often silent thinkers among us.” Not what you’d call a typical pop song. A bit Leonard Cohenish, perhaps. After Silent Ones, expect some uptempo, fun and lighter-hearted releases, perhaps sometimes with a touch of silliness. Life is too short to be serious all the time!
What’s on high rotation on your stereo at the moment and why?
At the moment, I have a mixed CD in my car that I listen to a lot and it’s got a range of different artists, from The Beach Boys to Metallica. I’m not really one for sticking to any genre. Because I teach music, I have to open myself up to what my students enjoy, so that broadens my horizons. I recently got hooked on the riff for Jax Jones’ You Don’t Know Me and did a classical arrangement for one of my piano students.
Where do you write and find inspiration for your music?
Inspiration is everywhere really. Some days it can be the oddest or seemingly insignificant thing that sparks something. I write from what I know and feel, as well as from who and what I observe. There’s nothing better than people watching to get the creative juices flowing. This doesn’t always translate into some literal or obvious meaning, though. One of my songs came to me while watching a favourite TV show and you’d never guess from the song.
We seem to share the same love for artists like The Beatles, Sheryl Crowe, Missy Higgins and Carol King. Can you name one artist in particular who you love and why?
Oh wow, that’s a really difficult question. I mean, there’s so many inspiring artists out there who I love and would love to meet, but if you forced me to choose, it would be Neil Finn.
His career has been so impressive and he’s achieved the heady heights of musical legend and yet he’s so sweet, funny and self-deprecating. I like how he’s always been about the music and his family and that recognition and stardom is just a symptom of his brilliance. I love everything he does, from his songwriting in Split Enz to more mainstream Crowded House and his solo work like Try Whistling This. His voice can soothe me anytime, too.
I understand you performed a duet with the late, great Wilson Pickett at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in front of 8000 people, when you were only 14 years old. That must have been a great experience. I bet you were nervous? Who else would you be nervous to meet and why?
Oh yes! That was one hell of an experience. I mean, Wilson Pickett was a god of Motown! My parents are so wonderful and have always influenced my musical world. I was very privileged when younger that they would often take me to see greats like Wilson Pickett and Ray Charles when they toured. By sheer luck, Wilson Pickett picked me out of the audience and asked me to sing along with him on Midnight Hour. I think I was too in awe of him to be nervous, quite frankly, yet in hindsight I was probably shitting myself. And Ray Charles was listening in the wings. I can say that Ray Charles has actually heard me sing. How cool is that? Nowadays, I don’t think there’d be anyone I’d be nervous to meet. Excited, but not nervous or anxious.
I’d like to ask you about Crowdfunding. It seems to be an advantageous way that allows artists to directly connect and engage with their fans. Are Indie artists like yourself heading more and more in that direction out of necessity or is it about giving something back to the fans too?
Thank you for using Indie in its correct and original form to mean independent. I’m a proudly independent musician. Crowdfunding is a fairly recent phenomenon sparked from the internet and how music is delivered and received. To produce a song along with a video to go with the music takes a long time, dog-eared persistence and money. If people enjoy your work and become fans, then they’re often more than happy to donate to your music video or recording. I’m overwhelmed with my fans generosity, encouragement and willingness to help a sister out! Of course I want to give back to my fans and followers and it annoys me when some artists don’t. Do they not realise that, without fans, they’d be musically irrelevant, going nowhere and confined to their bedrooms making music that no-one will hear.
What is your motto or advice you live by?
Be appreciative to everyone for anything and everything they do for you. The love and support of family and friends are the most important things in life. Always strive to do your best. But have fun and have a laugh along the way.
Any last words Raz?
Stay tuned, I’m not going away, well, not quietly, anyway.