RISSA

“Even though the situation around isolation has been really crappy, these small things, these small, really nice things have come out of it

Isolation has had us all feeling a little cooped up at times, and this feeling was all too familiar to me when I would listen to music from someone like RISSA because I was so desperate to get out of the house and dance! RISSA has a real sensitivity around groove and flow, and she’s able to bring that dance floor vibe even into my small bedroom. We sat down on zoom and talked through her current and upcoming projects

Have you been able to do much performing in Sydney lately?

I’ve kind of decided not to because of how everything is right now; I don’t want to play show and then find out that there’s been like a case from it! Also just the fact that the shows at the moment are so restricted; all seated and no dancing, It’s not really my vibe. I’d rather play in an environment where people are free to do whatever they want, so I’m just going to be patient for now

Yeah, and that first gig back is going to go off, it’s gonna be crazy!

Even if we have to wear masks and still able to move that’s okay!

We can all wear hazmat suits and dance as much as we want

Honestly! Like if they gave that out to just put over clothes, and you could actually freely dance

Yes! Might end up a bit sweaty but it would be worth it

I’ve listened to Twisted probably 30 times in the last two weeks and I’m still not sick of it! That one came out earlier this year right?

Yeah, I put that out in March right before everything started happening. I think at the start of this year everyone felt like 20/20 was going to be their year, and I had so much was lined up too. And then not only did like live gigs get canceled, but all these sessions that I had ready for ongoing music started to cut off too. And then of course with everything else happening in the chaos of the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, everything coming to light, I held off on releasing anything else because it didn’t feel like a great time to be like, hey guys, that’s cool, but check out my music!

Yeah, totally. It’s a strange time

So I literally just like held off putting out anything, and a part of me was like three months should be the maximum time you wait until you really something– which is just such a mental thing, theres a pressure to keep going and keep driving. It’s actually been kind of nice having that release from this ‘three months or less’ timeline, it’s been nice getting out of that mindset for a little bit. Now I have so much more content and so much more music down to the point where I can put it all out when the time is right

I feel like when you’re doing music it already feels really ambiguous with what the ‘smart’ thing to do is, and right now a real spanner has been thrown in the works, and everything shuts down for months and you have to almost redirect your entire business process. You need to figure out how to balance protecting your mental health, while still trying to make sure that there’s momentum in what you’re doing. It’s tough! So are you thinking you might do an EP or something like that?

That was the plan for this year. But I think having this time to create so much more music with different people- because for a while I was with always working with the same crew, and now I’ve been doing sessions with people from all over the place, and I’m getting other ideas and thinking oh this is cool I want to try that out. I did have an EP, but I was pulling out songs, and replacing them, and pulling out other songs, and I want it to work together, not just like a bunch of singles put together. I love the idea of when you listen to an album and you don’t even realize that it’s the next song

Oh my God I love that, feels so sophisticated

Yeah, and that’s what I want to do! So I felt like the EP that I had put together was more like a bunch of singles, and I didn’t have as much cohesion

Do you feel like your sound has evolved much in isolation and with collaborating with people you might not have collaborated with before?

Yeah, it has, it’s not totally different from what it was, but it’s stepped up which is nice. Even though the situation around isolation has been really crappy, these small things, these small, really nice things have come out of it. Yeah, That’s what’s keeping me sane.

For sure, and it’s precious. You got to hold on to that. I feel like I have been able to experiment a bit more freely in a way that maybe I wasn’t allowing myself to do, because when you’re busy and you have gigs lined up and you want to release music and you have maybe a job as well, it’s hard to actually spend time experimenting and playing music just because you love it, and because it’s fun. That’s been a personal benefit of mine, realizing it’s not all about hustling and trying to monetize every creative pursuit that you do

Yeah, that’s true

I would love to go through these songs a little bit, what was the process behind writing ‘Twisted’

It’s pretty funny actually! Ages ago, before I had even started thinking about being a solo artist, when I was still studying music, I was just doing short videos on Instagram of original music stuff. I wasn’t really covering anything, I would just find an instrumental on YouTube and start jamming! It’s not on my Instagram anymore, so you find it, but they were these little 30 seconds clips where I sang a the verse or a chorus, and I ended up writing part of ‘Twisted’. It was one of those things where I was always writing stuff and just keeping it, but I wasn’t using any of it. One day the guys who I worked with for ‘Twisted’, Sumatra, and I went to their house to just have a jam- when I start working together, a lot of the time it’s jamming. They started playing the skeleton of the track for ‘Twisted’, and I found the lyrics to that jam that I did on Instagram. I just started singing that and then it literally just evolved from two sessions. That’s my preferred way of writing, especially for my own stuff. I like to write like that because I realize if I think too much about what I’m trying to say, I block myself from saying anything. I over-think it

Yeah, it’s hard to focus on like a direction sometimes, and you can get caught up in trying to make things sound poetic or interesting and then you accidentally forget to have any meaning in what you’re actually saying. Do you find that you put pressure on yourself to be really clever or creative with what you’re saying?

Sometimes, and other times it can literally just be words that I think sound cool! Then I just hear all these other words that work around it and it becomes really subconscious. I might not think about it, and then after I finished writing I look at it and I’m like, wow, I didn’t know I felt like this

It’s what feels natural to you, and I think that’s a good train to follow because you don’t want to write stuff that feels like it shouldn’t fit. Sometimes the words can come so quickly you’re like, oh no is that too obvious or simple! but it just feels too natural to pass up! That’s what the lyrics just have to be. I think your music really sounds like that, like it couldn’t be a different melody, what you’re doing just fits so well with the instrumentals. I think part of that is the way you use rhythm your melodies and your singing, especially in ‘Twisted’. I really love how rhythmic you are with your performance. It sounds like it’s really fun to sing!

It is! I love rhythm in music, and at the same time I love beautiful melodies, and bringing those together is what you want  

I think a lot of singers, especially in the RnB world, it can feel like it’s all about the instrumental, and the singer is this extra part. It’s so good and so much fun when you can take control of that and figure out how to be creative and rhythmic and be an instrument as well. It makes it feel like you’re almost improvising as you’re doing it, it feels like everything is just flowing. What’s that song about?

I’ve only really been in one serious relationship, so I feel like a lot of my songs kind of stem from that relationship. It’s one of those things when you’re in love, and you don’t see things the way everyone else does. People might say ‘maybe be careful’, and I’m like, yeah, whatever I’m in love!

This song is me coming out of that relationship and then realizing how much I was in it and couldn’t see around me

It’s like the veil is lifted from your eyes.

Do you feel like the process of writing that song helped you kind of make it make sense in your brain as well?

Probably, but it’s so weird because I’ve written more than one song about it!

I totally relate to that

It’s not like I wrote one song and I’m like, cool, that makes sense. Done.

I’m so surprised when writers say they can write about a feeling or experience, and then feel like ‘yep that chapter’s closed, I can move on’, and I’m here writing 10 songs about the same thing!

I think it does help you in a way, especially once I’ve written it down. You realize what you’ve written, and it solidifies your understanding. It happened and it wasn’t great, but it’s nice to know that you have that understanding now, rather than just wondering why.

I always find when I’m writing a song like that, I’ll write the first little bit, but then I’ll be so sick of hearing myself complaining. I start kind of resolving my own problems in the lyrics and end up at, ‘but everything is gonna be okay’. Otherwise how we feel can just be abstract in our brain, a lot of people just they don’t really talk about how they feel. Music can let you make sense of how you’re actually feeling

Definitely, but one thing I do a lot when writing about these kinds of subjects and especially around this specific relationship, I like to use a lot of metaphors and not be super direct. It’s kind of nice because people interpret it their own way. The first song that I put out, ‘Do You Feel It, it’s so funny hearing other people tell me what they think the song’s meaning is, because it’s so metaphorical. People create their own meanings to it, and in my head I’m thinking that’s not what it means to me!

I think as well, when it’s your own experiences or feelings and they can feel so big and momentous, you write this song with all these big metaphors because it’s representing your feelings. ‘Do You Feel It’ is another awesome track. I really love the biblical references in the beginning

Thank you! This is the first song written with the guy who produces my music now. We had a jam and I wrote it in that session. It was another one of those things where I didn’t really think about too much, and I just wrote. Nothing really even changed in that sing after that first session, which is kind of nice

Yeah, it is. Do you feel like you get attached to lyrics very often?

There’s definitely been times where in the moment I think it’s awesome, and then I listen back and think….

This is not it…

But most of the time, again, coming back to the overthinking thing, I try not to overthink it too much because I think about if other people even listen to the lyrics? ‘Did she really say blah blah?’ It’s always much more of a big deal in my head

Yeah, totally. I think that when something is released it has an aura of completion around it that makes any mistakes or strange lyrics feel like a creative decision. So any strange vocal takes or weird guitar issues or lyrics that don’t fit well, when it’s released that’s suddenly just part of the intention of the song, which is a nice little safety blanket

Yeah, that is nice, but at the same time, I think because ‘Do You Feel It’ has so many metaphors, even reading it now, if I didn’t know what I was saying I wouldn’t know what it means

That can give you a bit of freedom and power to write whatever you like

Yeah, definitely. It’s funny because a lot of the time people grab the chorus because it feels like the main part- I found out that my friend added it to their sex playlist- I was like woah cool, but the meaning of the song isn’t like that at all! On one side, the song is about the drama and craziness of life and the world weighing so heavily on me, and the other side is about not worrying about it because you have good people around you, and you are stronger than that. So it feels like this really deep thing for me, but its weird that people can be like ‘yeah I’ll add this to my sex playlist’!

‘This is what gets me going, self-evaluation’! How did you get to the sound that you have now? Did it take you a while to figure out what kind of music you wanted to make or was is a natural process?

I definitely went through a process. Before I started working with the guys that I work with now, I was working a guy who’s now one of the horn players who play with me. When I decided I wanted to make my own music, he was getting into producing and wanted to help me out with it. My sound does gravitate to RnB soul because that’s what I listen to all the time and what I love the most. But I do feel like my sound is slowly evolving, which is beautiful, I love it! With all the experiences of this year, having the time to work on my sound has really helped me evolve. Those RnB, soul vibes, the metaphors, the rhythms, the harmonies, that’s the consistent part of my sound

Do you feel pressure to do something that’s going stay cohesive with the rest of your music, or do you like the idea of trying things that are a little bit out there?

I feel like in my writing there’s always some sort of similarity between my old music and new music. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of music in the past, and I like to take little elements from those styles and put it in my own music. There have been times where I wonder if my music sounds too old school to be current. It’s tricky, but at the end of the day, this is me making music to share with everyone. I’m not writing music to have it blow up and be this massive thing

I think that if that was the intention, you might end up making stuff that you might not connect to. I feel like we can water ourselves down a bit to try and do things that we think will be successful, and then we end up compromising what we actually care about in the messages that we’re communicating in the music

I feel like my music is genuine to me, and I feel like other people pick up on that. All my social media stuff is very me too; it’s who I am in real life, and it’s the same person that I am in my music

Definitely people pick up on that, and it also means that you feel more aligned with what you’re doing, because you’re not trying to put on a performance or a character that you didn’t really connect with.

Tell me about ‘Hold Up’

This new song ‘Hold Up’ is a lot more upbeat and dancey, which is great, and I love that. It’s got a special feature on it from my friend Zyad who’s a very talented rapper and musician. It was great to have him on the track to add a little extra something. The song is kind of a sad love story about being in a situation where you love and hate someone at the same time. Having Zyad to create that other perspective from mine was really great too

Did it make you approach this song differently to have him on it?

Not really actually, and I think Zyad is so good at what he does. He asks, ‘What’s the vibe?’ ‘What’s happening?’ ‘What’s the story?’ ‘What what’s what are you trying to say?’ And I would tell him what I was saying, and he was able to bring his own perspective and not just reiterate what I’ve been saying. It sounds great and it’s very exciting!  

What would be your dream collaboration?

There’s so many! My biggest musical inspiration is Erika Badu, but I also feel like I would be a classic fan girl, I’d be like, oh my gosh!! I automatically think of massive artists like Erika, Anderson .Paak, Duckwrth, H.E.R , but there’s also definitely people in Australia too that I’d love to work with. I love the people who are around me who I haven’t done a lot of original stuff with

I would find it hard working with really incredible musicians because I might not want to present my ideas to them! It would be so intimidating

I think in the moment I would get really excited and end up talking way more than I should

What would be your dream performance environment?

The first time I went to Kudo’s Bank Arena, I was like, I’m going to play here one day! Because I just loved the idea of not just getting on stage, playing my set and then off I go; you get this massive visual show as well. Before I started singing I used to dance, and when I think about shows I try to think about the choreography that would work with my songs or with the shows in general. I would love to play a show with plenty of space to have all of that happening, it would be amazing

It would be awesome! Does your dance background influence the way that you write?

I think that’s why I enjoy rhythm so much, because catching those rhythmic bits when I’m writing is sick, and I like to imagine dancing to it when I’m writing

It’s cool to write something with those elements in mind, and think about what it looks like for someone to watch it live. How does your performance mindset influence the way that you write?

I didn’t really think about the performance side too much with my older stuff, but now with the newest music I’ve made, I’ve been thinking about that performance especially because I have a few different setups with my band. When I played my first few shows, although I didn’t have it in my music, I always had a dance break down. It’s easier to create that kind of thing when I have the band because there’s so much energy. One of my favorite shows that I’ve played, we literally jumped offstage, and the band kept playing and we were just dancing with everyone. So many more people came and joined because they want to see what’s happening. It was a really nice way to engage a lot more with the audience

I can see how your music would be so much more than just watching music in a live context, more like big fun party

Honestly, that was the goal when I was first starting to perform!

I feel like that speaks a lot to your personality as well. I think a lot of people want that in their music, but I don’t even know where to start to bring that sort of energy to the playing field, I guess because there’s a lot of insecurity when doing music and it’s hard to be open enough to treat it like a party. I think it’s really great that your music can facilitate that kind of environment, so much fun!

I think that’s I get so excited when I’m on stage, and I think I just want everyone to be on that same level

Do you find it hard to release songs that feel really personal to you, or do you like that process of releasing things?

There’s one song that I’ve written that I’ve held on to because it’s very personal. I do eventually want to put it out, I just feel that because it means so much to me there’s this pressure of making it 100 percent perfect. I’m not really big on being a perfectionist, but for this song everything needs to be perfect and I need to be super happy with it. Besides that, I don’t really get too attached to what I’ve done

When do you feel like your songs are done?

I definitely don’t sit on things, I have a catalog of music, but they are usually finished after two sessions, I’m like, I can’t do more than that. All the ideas that I come up with are pretty solid, and I don’t want to go back and change too much because I’m already happy with how it sounds. I can get so much more done that way, and it doesn’t take heaps for me to feel like It’s done

That’s exactly what you want I think! Do you collaborate much with your band to get the structure, or is it mostly your ideas?

I mostly use the band for the live shows, and when I’m making my music, it’s with the producers and some of the horns that play for me in my band. I generally have more ideas after I hear the track, I’ll have melodies and rhythms and lyrics ready, but when I work with the producers I get inspired to try a bunch of new ideas  

It’s good to be able to bounce ideas around a little bit and figure out what’s going to service the track the best way. Having no room for flexibility or anything can make the music sound so stale.

What do you want to stand for in this industry?

I really care about being genuine with my music, and I’m not worried about getting that big kind of fame and attention out of music. When I put out a song I have to turn my phone off because it’s so overwhelming to get all that attention! I want to be seen and known for being the most like me, and being genuine. I want my personality to come through the music and people like seeing that. With social media, I have no idea who these people are that follow what I do. People from all over the world are listening to what I do, and feeling positivity from it, and that’s what makes me really happy, when people are encouraged

For people to feel validated and get a positive sense from what you’re doing is really cool!

Even if my songs can be about bad relationships or feeling the weight of the world, I want people who listen to feel like there’s always positivity that can come out of that. I feel like that’s basically at the core of everything that I make

You can find RISSA from the socials below

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