Sat in her dressing room at Birmingham’s O2 Institute, I met to have a chat with Blackpool singer-songwriter Rae Morris. Fresh from a show in Oxford the previous evening, Morris is calm, collected and steaming her voice to make sure she’s on top form. And I’m not surprised; with a new pop-synth sound and a more colourful presence than previously seen from her on new record Someone Out There, I’ve no doubt her stage set-up is just as impressive. ‘I still play piano on a couple of tunes’, she admits, alluding to her debut, Unguarded, ‘But it’s definitely not my only base. I’m mostly at the front of the stage, jumping around, dancing. It’s really invigorating… I kind of give myself more energy by moving around. I come off stage feeling like I’ve done a work out.’
Talk turns to progression, mainly that of her new sound. It does seem rather different this time around. ‘For me it was different too, but I had a lot of time to get used to it and to also develop and change into a person who makes that kind of music…I think it’s really natural for people’s tastes to morph and change, and as an artist I value the idea that you can constantly transform yourself, try new things and see what your take on that is’. And from her show it is clear that she has developed significantly since 2015. Morris is evidently more confident a performer, and her more dominant stage presence allows each song to take on a new identity, bounding around the stage, yet not once letting her powerfully ethereal voice falter. It is no mean feat, and seeing her on stage, losing herself in the music, it is clear she’s having more fun.
‘[My music] is still very personal. There are a couple of songs where I’m working with the same feelings from the first record and kind of getting around ideas of loneliness’, she begins, referring to touring for the first time and adapting to moving from her home of Blackpool to London. ‘I deal with that, in a way, in ‘Push Me to My Limit’ and ‘Reborn’, and then I guess gradually as you go through, I just find happiness in all sorts of ways. Not only in the relationship/love sense, but in creativity and making things. You can hear that I’m happy.’ She begins with these two tracks, the former acting as a powerful palate cleanser for the night ahead, slowed down even further to build to a crescendo as the electro-beats of ‘Reborn’ kick in, signalling that she’s here to put on a show.
Collaborating once again with FRYARS, aka Benjamin Garrett, her friendship with him developed into something deeper and inspired some of her strongest tracks to date. ‘Do It’, perhaps the most explicit track about their blossoming love, was one of the most anticipated of the evening, eliciting a sing-along from the entire crowd. ‘Dip My Toe’ was a similar experience, a track clearly about having sex with a new partner for the first time. The two tracks are playful, carefree, and make it impossible not to dance along with Morris as she sways and spins around on stage.
Her newfound happiness is a truly infectious thing. ‘I had a completely clean slate’, she tells me, talking about new and changing inspirations. ‘The first record was mostly piano-based, songs written when I was about 17-20. I couldn’t just crowbar in a load of production. To be in a studio and be like “okay, I can start the song any way possible, I can go over to a synth and play this weird melody and feel like it can go anywhere” was super freeing and exciting. Loads of stuff came out that I wasn’t really expecting and just kinda worked, [it] felt like exactly what I wanted to portray from that period of my life’.
However, she did include some of her fan’s favourites from Unguarded. Performing ‘Cold’, a duet with FRYARS, with a backing singer on her tour, this track painted Morris as the star of her own show – she probably could have sung the song alone, given the strength and beauty of her voice. However, it was ‘Love Again’ that garnered the best reception from the Birmingham crowd, feeling as though they’d come alive once more as they heard the opening bars.
A song that perhaps would sound at home on either of her records would be ‘Wait for the Rain’, one of the stand-outs of the evening. ‘Every night I feel excited when we play [it]. I think because it feels like quite a story, and it’s quite empathetic. I wrote the song around something that was not close to me, so I’m able to embody it in a different way every night. I perform it as more of a story-telling experience.’ This is the true essence of a Rae Morris performance. It feels as though rather than performing these songs, sounding as vocally perfect as on record, she is telling each individual person in the audience a new story that we can all connect with.
This is most true of ‘Dancing With Character’. Pausing mid-way through her choreography to tell us the story of the track, of her best friend’s grandfather who would go dancing every night after his wife passed away, the track was highly emotive, a gorgeous, waltz-like pop song that dared you to sob from the get-go. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
‘You have to consider how to connect with your fans, not just through selling music to them, or going and playing live shows. How do you show them what your craft is?’ she ponders. ‘Very basic things like expecting album sales is kind of hard, because people aren’t really buying them, they’re streaming them.’ She admits that social media has become much more important to her career since Unguarded was first released. ‘I found it quite hard at first [finding a voice], but I’ve really understood that if I just completely be myself, that’s what [fans] want to see.’
And it’s hard not to feel as though you know Morris well by the end of her live show. It feels personal, powerful, a performance that resonates long after you’ve walked back through the venue doors. In her own words, the entire album cycle of Someone Out Therehas been ‘euphoric…though I was also going to say exhausting. Euphoric is a good word. It feels like a big relief to have music out there and have people connecting with it and singing back words at gigs. I still pinch myself because it’s really surreal, and I’m super grateful for it’.
[Originally written for Redbrick]