We talk to Ravyn Lenae in the midst of her Laneway shows

Words by Eve Oswald

On Chicago, touring and the evolution of her sound.

It’s hard to find your voice when starting out in Chicago among the greats, but Ravyn Lenae has done just that.

She first burst onto the scene at the age of 16 with her debut EP, Moon Shoes. Since then, the American R&B artist has been delivering a new wave of neo-soul, injecting layers upon layers of sultry harmonies and experimental electronic beats.

Now, in her latest EP Crush, Ravyn flexes her musical muscles with ease, crafting lyrics with the weight and depth of someone twice her age.

We chatted to Ravyn ahead of her Laneway tour about body positivity, how Chicago has shaped her sound and what it’s like in ‘Ravyn’s world’.

Talk me through the evolution of your career so far.

From an early age, I always knew I wanted to be in the arts. I didn’t know what that meant or what that looked like, but I knew there was something about music that really resonated with me. I went to The Chicago High School for the Arts, that was where the doors just flew open for me. It was my sophomore year in high school when I realised I wanted a little bit more out of music. So I decided to make my own and dropped my first song, and I think that’s where things kind of got rolling for me. The Chicago music scene is very tight-knit, so it took a long time for people to acknowledge and recognise me and it just evolved from there.

How did growing up in Chicago influence your sound?

Well, some of the greats have come out of Chicago – I think it’s something in the water that makes us so artistic and have a calling to do any type of art. Also, I was influenced by how welcoming the community is and how ground-breaking their art is. Some of the best art is coming out of Chicago right now so, just having that to look up to, I think has inspired my music in a number of ways.

What was it like collaborating with Steve Lacy on your EP Crush?

Working with [Steve] was great. We’re the same age so we instantly connected in that way. It’s very rare when you meet a producer and just click right away. I’ve had very opposite experiences when I’m in the room with someone and it’s so obvious that we’re not on the same page and we should not be in the studio together, I try to avoid that at all costs. I just stayed open-minded and welcomed everything that he had [to say]. It was so easy because we both have the same taste and go about music in very similar ways, it was fun to do.

How do you think you and your sound has evolved since Moon Shoes?

I like to think of reflecting on music as going back in a photo album, it’s the same feeling you know. Moon Shoes was a very specific part of my life. I was thinking different, my sound was different, my writing was different. You know, I was probably like 15 or 16 when I wrote that, so it’s very different from the early 20s (laughs). I look back and I think I was sheltering a lot of emotions and feelings because I was so young. I couldn’t say certain things in music at this point because my mum was listening. The themes get a little more mature in Crush and the lyrics become more mature and there’s a little bit more clarity in Midnight Moonlight. Then we get to Crush where I’m coming into myself as a woman and experiencing those emotions with my body and feeling confident and dealing with men. I really wanted to tap into my femininity and how special that is and how beautiful it is to be a woman… I really wanted to hone in on that and make sure I was connecting with that through Crush and my music.

You sing a lot about confidence and body positivity. Where does this self-assurance come from?

I like to be honest with people about that. Me singing those songs is me pep-talking myself. Like yeah, “I love my body, I’m so beautiful.” So I’m listening to it and writing it at the same time. I hope that listeners are taking it in. I think that’s the best way to do it, because we’re both developing and evolving through the process of writing and listening.

I’ve been in a deep Ravyn Lenae Instagram hole and I love your vintage/retro style. Is there a certain era that has inspired you?

My favourite era is the space age era – there’s something next level about how they dress, the interior design, the style. It was all so revolutionary. It was so sleek and futuristic and I think a lot of what I do, mixes vintage with a futuristic edge.

It must be full on when you’re touring, how do you centre yourself and make sure you’re well physically and mentally?

I need my own space. I kind of go crazy mentally if I don’t have at least a corner to myself. On tour, there’s a lot of being around people and never really having that time to check in with yourself and hear your own thoughts. Over the course of the years of touring, I’ve been able to pinpoint things that I absolutely need on tour. Vitamins are a very important thing too. Daily vitamins and supplements to keep your body going. Just making sure you’re taking care of yourself physically and mentally and being okay with knowing you need that space.

I have just bought tickets for your gig in Melbourne. What can I expect seeing you live?

You can expect to be taken into Ravyn’s world, as I like to say. I take a lot of pride in my live shows and I make sure the experience is exactly how I would want it to be if I had my own planet. So I can’t wait for that.

Catch Ravyn at Laneway Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle or her Melbourne sideshow tonight.


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