Waif Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with musician
Rae Isla to discuss her work and her upcoming EP Release.
Waif Magazine:How are you doing?
Rae Isla: I'm doing well, sitting in my back patio it's really nice.
WM: Are you in Brooklyn?
RI: I am in Brooklyn, where I live!
WM: How long have you been in new York?
RI: I think it’s going to be 4 or 5 years in the spring. I'm originally from Seattle. I went to school in Boston first and then I came to New York so I'm earning my east coast stripes.
WM: Did you study music in Boston?
RI: Yes I did, I went to Berklee, which is one of the main music schools there
WM: Did you enjoy it?
RI: "My mother (a very straight person)…she believes that Gays are a better version of humans that God has created to make the world a better place or save the human race or whatever."
I did, I love music, I studied it my whole life, so it feels very much like a natural medium and a natural thing to study, something I excel at academically. I think the culture was really unique because Boston is a very collegiate medical and technical city, there’s not a real music scene compared to Seattle or New York (at least not when I was there). So it was almost like going to school in this little bubble, learning about music in theory and learning about being a musician in theory and then the second that you leave you have to be like “wait a second that wasn't real I have to do this over again and learn what it really means to do music. It was a weird experience but of course i loved it.
WM: I feel like it’s so rare to have that kind of foundation as a - well, do you consider yourself a pop musician? or what do you call your genre?
RI: I produce music and I write and I sort of have to do it all. So from that standpoint I wouldn't say I make pop music but it depends who I'm talking to. I use the genre name Ether-Pop […] I definitely try to write about and come from a place compositionally that’s spiritual. I'm very much a truth speaker. Pop music is often associated with maybe more digestible ideas […] but I'm a kind of a folk singer songwriter so my songs end up being a mix of indie folk, pop and some cinematic stuff in there too.
WM: I love your song "Jesus Was a Woman," it’s so beautiful.
RI: Thank you!
WM: All of your music is so good - we love "Turbulencia." It’s such a cool - not only song, but the look of the video is great as well. We love, here at Waif, that it’s so queer.
RI: Oh yes, really queer.
WM: The queerer the better we always say
RI: I'm here and I’m queer
WM: Tell me a little about that - because your music has a religious side to it, if you call it religion, or spirituality…?
RI: I don’t think they're mutually exclusive
WM: How does religion play into the queerness of your music?
RI: That's a great question and I could talk at lengths about that, and I do often. There are a couple different sides to it. I guess what I'm trying to champion, in a social aspect, with this music, is; I think there's this separation between being a queer person and having some sort of religious or spiritual ideology. To me that’s pretty much because most religions that are known or accepted in Western culture are built on a foundation of men being idolized and male personas being the idols within the religion. Jesus, God, all of the main symbols of religion are based around what man should do and what he intended. I think it’s hard for a queer person to look at that and say “Oh, I see a place for myself in this” and it’s easier just to say “Religion is right wing,” or, “religion excludes people like me,” which has some truth too, but for me I don't think there needs to be a separation between the LGBT community and spiritual & religious ideology.
I think that queer people are - and this is going to sound crazy but this is something my mother (a very straight person) believes - My brother and I are both gay, and we’re also best friends, and she believes that Gays are a better version of humans that God has created to make the world a better place or save the human race or whatever. Which is a bit extreme, and she's definitely an eccentric woman, but to see someone like her who was raised Catholic in the Midwest and now lives in Seattle, have this kind of crazy idea [with] this beautiful upbringing of devout Catholicism and she's also really progressive, to see that exist in someone like her, gives me hope. I think that’s probably what sparked, you know, this realization that I'm a very spiritual person. I’ve always been fascinated with religion particularly Catholicism (because of my parents) but I'm also a very queer person. So I want to spread this message that the two are not mutually exclusive.
WM: And you work with your Wife? Your creative partner as well?
RI: Yes! Guada. We sort of split managing the project. I love the business and finance and she does more of the creative and visual. It’s super fun and I feel very lucky to have a life partner who's also a creative partner, it's been a dream of mine.
WM: How do you go about creating together? Are you always working or are there times when you're “on the clock” and times when it's “just us?”
RI: I’d say it’s kind of the first, we’re always working. But we’ve gotten to this place where we’re essentially freelancers and we make our own schedules where it feels - well I won't say that it doesn't feel like work because sometimes it really does - but I don't think I've ever wanted a separation between my life and my work, because my life is my work. She bears that and it's why we’re such a good match. Starting the work day at 9 and punching out at 5, even if you're not going to an office and doing that, we create when we’re creative and we watch Netflix when were lazy whatever time of day that is!
WM: Tell me a little bit about the way you work? What's your writing process like?
RI: This question I always get asked and I always say the same thing which is; I don't really have a writing process. Every song is unique, the way that it’s written, and I'm ok with that. I don't want to ruin that by trying to be a formulaic writer. Although I have a songwriting partner now and that forces me to write consistently and create a bigger body of work. But for the songs that I write by myself, which is the whole EP and previous releases, a lot of songs are inspired by dreams. "Jesus Was a Woman" was from a dream, the melody to the intro was already there, I just was singing it upon waking up. Which in itself is a very religious experience. That’s part of the charm of the song for me. A lot of songs come from dreams, "Turbulencia" I wrote in 5 minutes, picked up a guitar and all the words were just there. I guess I'm kind of grateful for that, that it’s a surprise every time.
WM: I love the idea of you waking up to the melody of "Jesus Was a Woman"
RI: That was on a solo trip abroad to Mexico so that was definitely a good moment for that.
WM: Guada told me you work with a lot of Mexico-based creatives. Is that something you cultivated when you started your music career or did you always know you wanted to work in an international way?
RI: My dad lives in Mexico - has for 10 years. Before that, my parents are very American from the Midwest, but they're both fluent in Spanish and are obsessed with Latin America and they have been going since they were young. […] I think that attraction to Latin American culture specifically, going to Mexico a lot as a kid, was always there. I took this formative trip to Mexico in 2017, and I lived by myself, I quit my day job - I was like - I'm doing music, I'm going to Mexico by myself, very Eat Pray Love, and I experienced Mexico on my own terms as a combination of broken woman and open book, ready for anything. I left everything behind for a while. It was transformative and I wrote a lot of songs [and] I realized how much Mexico had influenced my entire life. It took me going back as an adult to realize that. I have a song out called "Mexico" that captures [the experience]. When I took the trip I reconnected with all these friends in Mexico City and started working on these songs and it felt very meant-to-be, I felt very at home there.
WM: So do you have a team of creatives that you work with or is it a constant collaborative process?
RI: Most people I work with over there I met in Boston, it’s a very international school. So I had these people that I’d collaborated with in class at Berklee so when i went back it was re-sparking those relationships. I have friends from childhood in Mexico City so it’s kind of a one-off - most of the songs I produce here [in Brooklyn] so it's kind of just reaching out to my friends - I have a guy who plays amazing Spanish guitar so he plays on some of the songs. I have another guy to produce with who lives [in Mexico] and he does production work. It’s just reaching out to my friends to be like “can you help with this?” It’s less putting together a team for a big production and more pieced together.
WM: When are you performing next?
RI: I have an EP release show at Mercury Lounge[in NYC] on November 19. It’s going to be a special show - we’re adding onto our 6 piece band!
WM: Great! Now I'm going to ask you some random questions.
WM: Spaghetti or Mac and Cheese?
RI: Mac and Cheese
WM: Coffee or Tea
RI: Tea but only if it’s Guayakí Yerba Mate
WM: Whats your favorite candle scent?
WM: Fruits or Vegetables?
WM: Drink of Choice?
RI: Mezcal Margarita
WM: What does Waif mean to you?
RI:I picture a housewife from the 1950’s dressed as a man. ♦
Watch Rae Isla's new music video, "Turbulencia"
on this page or on our home page.