Jade Dierckx

7 Apr
Music

Raissa: “I’ve Always Related to the Idea of the Underdog”

If there’s something we learned from our chat with Raissa it’s that not all heroes wear capes. The 23-year-old singer ended up on ‘our radar‘ last year and has been on our playlist ever since. To celebrate the release of her debut project ‘HEROGIRL‘, we virtually caught up with the singer to talk about her favorite superheroes, the new EP, and how Lady Gaga helped her through a difficult time.

First of all, where are you at the moment and how is it there?

I am in Los Angeles, California, and it’s very sunny outside, which is nice because it’s the beginning of March which is usually pretty cold in London because I used to live in London, so it’s good. It was cold and rainy yesterday, but it’s back to being sunny and nice today.

You’ve already lived in many places and traveled a lot. Would you consider yourself a globetrotter?

Yeah, I think I definitely feel like a very global person and a very international person. I have a French and Spanish passport because my father’s French and my mother’s Spanish. I’ve never lived there, but we would go every summer, which is why I have been to Belgium because we would kind of travel around Europe over the summer. So yeah, I guess my identity is kind of in this in-between space where I have grown up in South-East Asia and Australia and I have parents that are European.

My dad is the son of immigrants from North Africa, so he grew up around Algerian and Morrocan cultures, food, etc. So I’ve always felt like I am in an in-between space. I don’t know if globetrotter (laughs) … it sounds very glamourous and it is but I have been super lucky to travel so much and grow up in so many places. To be honest, it also comes with its identity crisis, being like, “Ooh no, where do I belong? Where do I feel the most at home?” So I really try to make the people around me be what makes me feel at home.

In what way have these different cultures shaped you as an artist? 

I think it has definitely had a huge impact and influence that I cannot fully understand. Every day, I grow to understand that more, but in a lot of ways I felt alienated—not in a negative way. I know that word is often like a negative word, but I’ve often felt alienated from where my parents are from, alienated from the places I grew up because as much as I grew up there and the people that I grew up around and the cultures that I grew up around I never got to stay or become a citizen.

I’ve never been able to take an active role in voting and being part of the community more in a meaningful way. I definitely feel that feeling of alienation and that feeling of both feeling lonely because you can understand and meet people to a certain extent, but they might not necessarily be able to meet you in the same way—in a way that shaped my music. When I make my music I am very inspired by sci-fi and fantasy because that has always been that made-up place where there are a bunch of different species of aliens.

Obviously, the cultures and music that I grew up around and that I was listening to and the languages that I grew up speaking have had an influence. I do think that especially this feeling of “Ooh I have this very unique circumstance, and I can understand a lot of different types of people”, but at the same time I do feel a little bit isolated, and I do feel a little bit alienated. It has influenced the work for sure.

HEROGIRL, the EP, she’s a character, she’s this kind of umbrella-term of the hero of the story, and I think we can all be the hero of our own story no matter how unique or how universal our story is. And a hero’s journey is this universal thing that people love. It’s in Harry Potter, it’s in old tales, or big franchises like Star Wars, they all follow the hero story. So that has always felt like something that kind of unified all of the cultures I grew up in and also me feeling like I could have a unique way of telling that story. I don’t know if that is a very clear answer to your questions, but I am who I am because of my circumstances. They have given me a lot of love for people, and they also have given me a lot of time to reflect on who I am and where I belong. I am still figuring that out.

You created your music world and your sound because you wanted to create a different reality.

Yes, in a way a different reality. A kind of independent culture. A place where I could be myself, and I didn’t necessarily have to think about what that meant. I love when I see people that very confidently are able to label themselves as something about a cultural thing or about their gender identity or whatever, and I have always felt very—I wouldn’t say confused or unsure—but I have always felt like I wasn’t entirely certain of what I was or what I could call myself.

I have spent ten years in Malaysia and five years in Beijing and I spoke the language fluently, I ate the food and whatever, but that doesn’t make me … I’ve always felt a bit wary about claiming like “Ooh I am Malaysian!” or like “This is home and this is how I dress!” Do you know what I mean? Even though I felt like, “I have a stronger connection to that.” or “I feel this connection to being French.” even though I feel a strong connection to being French. So it has definitely been a way of me creating a space where I could 100% be myself. Where I didn’t need to apply rules or labels or that I didn’t even know I had a right to, if that makes sense.

That makes sense! Well, let’s look back at 2020. It’s been a while now, so how do you look back at that important year in your life and career?

So I got a lot of wonderful things to happen to me in 2020. And that is in such a big contrast in what happened to the world in 2020 and what is still happening to the world. I feel very, very fortunate and very lucky that I was given the types of opportunities that I was given and the type of stability I got in a time where a lot of people lost stability and their ability to survive. It was just a really horrible time for a lot of people. I mean, the world has always been difficult for a lot of different types of groups of people, and it has not been just 2020, it’s been happening forever, but I think that 2020 really highlighted that and how many cracks there are in our system.

2020 was an interesting year. It was a year of missing my family, it was a year of finally being able to have the resources to really make my work the way I want to make it. It was the year of a lot of brutal growth. But I look back on 2020—on a personal note—in a good way but I am happy it is behind us. (laughs)

But is it also a motivation to know that so many people aren’t in a good place right now but can escape from that through your music?

Yeah, 100%! I’ve always really related to the idea of the underdog. My biggest fear is to have someone feel left out, and I don’t want people to feel left out. I have felt that way before, and it’s just a horrible emotion because I think as human beings, all we want is to be with each other and connect and feel like we have a community around us. So with Covid and with everything that happened in 2020, I definitely keep it at the forefront of my mind that my work has to be hopeful work.

I try hard not to put myself down in my music. Even if I am feeling bad, I try to talk about feeling bad without putting myself down. I am not a role model, and I don’t think I am setting an example for anyone, but I do think that there is a healthy way to feel bad about something without putting yourself down and telling yourself that nothing is worth it or telling yourself that you are not good enough. I try to be honest about where I am at but not put myself down because I don’t want other people to put themselves down. I think that if I don’t put myself down then maybe people will think, “Ooh I don’t have to put myself down!” So yeah, I definitely think about how young people are feeling, and I am a young person too, and how I can best impact those people. I think about the artists that have impacted me. I am a massive Lady Gaga fan, like a huge Lady Gaga fan …

We’re big Gaga fans too!

(laughs) I am a little monster! I love her so much, and I just remember how she made me feel. I was in middle school, and I was bullied really badly, and she was becoming really big at the time. She was talking about her experience with bullying, and I just felt like, you know, it’s okay if these kids don’t like me, it’s okay if these kids are mean because Lady Gaga went through that too! My little 13-year-old brain was like, “How these people treat me isn’t actually an indication or a sign of what I am like or what I am worth or what I have to offer.”

It has nothing to do with whether I am a nice person or not or whether I am talented or not. And it made me feel very strong like I had something to give, and that one day I could be like her. So I try to—whenever I feel a bit lost—I try to think back to that time in my life and what that meant to me, and I try to focus and say okay, “That’s what I want to give.” or “That’s what I want to try at least to give.” If anyone is interested enough to pay attention then I want them to take that away from listening to my music.

Is there something specific you want to show with your EP HEROGIRL that you weren’t able to show before or that you want to accentuate with these songs?

I had gone through a lot of really difficult stuff personally and in the music industry before I released my first three songs in January and February of 2020. I had only just come out as independent, and I just kind of regained my confidence and felt like, “Ooh yeah I am capable of doing this.” I think that HEROGIRL is about me realizing I am fully in control. This is the first step towards the things that I want to do. That is how this EP feels to me. It was the first time where I felt that no one could bring me down or make me feel like I wasn’t capable. I just really threw other people’s opinions out the window with this EP.

It’s very important to trust your instincts as well. If you make something so personal. As an artist you get so much feedback from all sides, it must be difficult to stay focused to be who you are because other people try to tell you who you have to be.

Yeah, 100%! And I think especially as a woman that people feel like they have more of a right to tell you what you have to do. Sometimes I get DMs from random guys that I have never met in my entire life, and I don’t know who they are. I got this message from a guy: “Hey, if you ever need help with your creative identity, just let me know.”, and I was like “What?” (laughs) I am a person with a brain. I don’t need you to give me my identity.

And that’s an extreme example, but there are a lot of opinions. And a lot of times those opinions come from people who genuinely want to see you succeed and want to help you do everything that you want to do, but I think its important to take a step back and realize that too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the meal and many point of views make you lose your point of view. I like to practice the nod (nods) like, “Ooh yeah, I can see that!” (laughs) and then just completely not pay attention. That’s kind of how I move through the world. Because I think that getting confrontational is not productive, it just stresses you out, and it makes the other person feel like you think they are not … you know because everybody is entitled to their opinion … So yeah, I just nod and move on.

Is there a specific song that’s representing you the best or is it the whole concept that is representing who you are?

I think it’s the concept more than a song. I feel like people are very complex individuals, and we have a lot of different sides to us. The EP is a good first step in showing that. Some things are a lot more vulnerable and emotional, and I have things that are just for fun like “Shades On”. It’s just a fun song, it’s not meant to be super serious. But then there is music on the EP that is a lot more—you know, I am admitting things to myself and being super vulnerable.

The concept as a whole and the idea of what it means to be a HEROGIRL, which is something that I hope to develop after this EP with more music that I have been working on, is more an idea that contains many parts. Those many parts are what make us who we are, and those many parts are what make me me and especially as an artist. So it’s more the whole concept as opposed to one song that somehow encapsulates who I am. Maybe one day I will make a song like that, but for now, I think it is more the project that is representational of where I am at.

As an upcoming artist, there’s a question we have to ask: are you working on a debut album? 

Well, I have been working on the follow-up to HEROGIRL, which hopefully will be an album. Making the music isn’t stressful for me. I have been working a lot with someone who has become a good friend of mine now. His name is Nate Donmoyer and making music with him is a dream. He makes me feel very comfortable and confident in what I am making. For me, because I have heard the EP so many times, I’m just like, “I want to do new music!”

You’re mentally already over HEROGIRL.

I am, I am! And I think that’s normal, every artist goes through that. By the time something comes out, it’s a little stale because you have heard it so many times. But yeah, there is a follow-up. I wouldn’t say that I feel pressure while making music. I feel very confident that my music is really good and that my writing is really good, and if someone likes it or not that doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel like I have done something really interesting with the music. Where the pressure sometimes comes in is this idea of “making music”. What does that even mean? The anxiety is really that there aren’t enough people that will care for the music.

It isn’t the quality of my work, I have always felt very confident of the quality of my work. I have felt less confident if whether or not people would care. And that might come from being bullied as a kid, I don’t know, maybe I should go to therapy. (laughs) I try to not give that thought too much attention or energy. Some days I don’t and some days I do, and I just don’t have that great of a day, but I am lucky that I am surrounded by people who really love me and are really good at like, “Shut the f up! Shut up! Don’t do that, you are not going to achieve anything by that!” I would say no pressure about the work but definitely pressure of it coming out and seeing how it does. Do you know what I mean?

To conclude this lovely talk on the theme of your EP … If you could be a superhero for 24 hours, who would you pick and why?

I think … when I was a kid, I loved Teen Titans. Did you watch Teen Titans? Robin? Batman’s sidekick? Batman wasn’t in it … Anyway, there is a superhero named Starfire in Teen Titans and as a kid, I always wanted to be Starfire. So, I would say Starfire.

I would say someone from Winx Club, but they aren’t “superheroes”…

Ooh yeah! Yes, they are!

Yes, I guess they are (laughs) They are my superheroes.

I do love Winx. Have you seen the new Netflix show?

I haven’t because I am afraid that I will be let down by everything.

You just kind of have to go in to—like it’s just not the same thing, but I loved it, you know what I mean? Like I loved it, but it’s not the same thing.

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