Rae Morris’s new album is a step away from her sound of old, into a brighter territory.
There's something quite special about Rae Morris. Born and raised in Blackpool as Rachelle Anne Morris, she signed to Atlantic Records at the tender age of nineteen, choosing them above offers from other labels due to their willingness to take things slow. After four years touring with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Tom Odell and Lianne La Havas, as well as a collab with Clean Bandit, Rae finally released her debut. A melancholy, experimental album which evoked comparisons to Bat For Lashes, Enya and Ellie Goulding, ‘Unguarded' charted her journey from unsigned teenager to seasoned songwriter.
The success of her debut had barely worn off before Rae was preparing for its successor. "I've been working on it for the last two years, pretty much since I finished touring the first record," she admits. This time around, the process was more relaxed. For Rae, removing all outside influence was the key to creating honest music. "I was just like, right, forget about everything, which is hard when you're surrounded by constant feedback from social media and friends, family, everything. It's hard to block all that out and make something that is one-hundred-per-cent pure, to avoid making changes based on external influences and just make things that felt right for my current world, and the things in it."
So, how does ‘Unguarded' compare to Rae's new release? "It's not all happy-clappy music, but it's definitely less restrained." It's an apt summary. ‘Someone Out There' is the colourful antidote to the pastel tones of its predecessor. Much of the melancholy has been dropped in favour of lively electronic vibes and empowering anthems. Her comeback singles – the appropriately-named ‘Reborn' and ‘Do It' – premiered her new direction to world, showcasing a carefree and catchy sound quite unlike the introverted Rae we once knew. "I didn't know much about electronic music. I didn't listen to that much of it at that time, and I think my taste over the last couple of years has changed and developed. I've been to more gigs, and I've discovered a whole other genre that I love," she explains.
With this newfound love of electronic music came a fresh approach to writing. ‘Unguarded' was heavily piano-focused at times, a sound that is noticeably absent from ‘Someone Out There'. "Not starting songs at the piano every time made a massive difference because when you begin a song in such a raw, acoustic way you do want to honour that. So that's why a lot of the songs on the first album were pretty paired back and quite raw-sounding. Whereas, a lot of this began by me playing a synth line or Fryars playing a synth line or playing with a serious of vocal melodies that became patterns or just one single beat that was particularly energetic and cool. Things just began in a different way so that they ended up in a different place."
The new sound has been well received. After such a long break, this strong reception was a relief for Rae. "That was amazing, people just taking to the song and feeling something from it, which is what I always hoped for. It's really touching that people have taken to my music so naturally."
For Rae, it has always been important to create music that listeners respond to in a personal way. The most poignant example of this sentiment appears on the album's title track ‘Someone Out There', a touching promise that love and acceptance are out there for all of us. The song itself, however, was inspired by a touching experience Rae shared with a fan, and the profound impact it had on her. "He made me a lot of beautiful gifts for my family and me around Christmas a few years ago, and it made me realise how one person's small gesture can really make you feel so special. You can bond with a stranger over such small things and make a massive difference to both lives. The idea of my fans or anyone's connecting over something creative is really special."
There is no doubt that ‘Someone Out There' is an exceptional album. It takes everything good from ‘Unguarded' and refines it. Rae's precise lyricism and heavenly voice tie the tracks to together, but ultimately the album is wonderfully varied. It's a mosaic of colours and moods, from the soaring robo-pop of ‘Atletico' to the powerfully defiant ‘Wait for the Rain' and the hymnal tones of ‘Push Me To My Limit'. The calibre of the album is no surprise considering the roster of those involved creating it. Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked with the likes of Adele and Haim, returns after producing her debut. There is also production and writing credits for Fred Gibson (think Stefflon Don and RAYE) and Buddy Ross (best known for working with Frank Ocean).
According to Rae, however, her favourite work on the album came from producer Starsmith and long-time collaborator Fryars. "Starsmith is a great friend and somebody who I think I really worked with on this album," claims Rae. "It was kind of unexpected, how well it went. We wrote the song ‘Dancing with Character' with Fryars, and that was a great moment. It was amazing, and I think he's amazing." Indeed, the swaying and romantic ‘Dancing with Character' is one of the best songs from the album.
Rae and Fryars are long-time collaborators, with his name on two of the best singles from her debut album, ‘Love Again' and ‘Cold'. Indeed, their collaboration has been a success in more ways than one. Speaking on Radio 1 last year, Rae acknowledged the pair had surpassed their professional relationship. "We spent so much time together [on the album], we just became inseparable. We were basically spending twenty-four hours a day together. He's wonderful and very talented," she confessed. When asked when the couple knew they were more than friends, Rae admitted: "It was actually right at the very end of the writing and recording process, which is great I think because it meant everything had been written with this kind of tension and undertone of ‘something's happening, but we're not going to talk about it'."
Despite the new sound, remnants of ‘Unguarded' still shine through on the new release. When asked what her favourite songs on ‘Someone Out There' are, Rae chooses ‘Physical Form' and ‘Rose Garden'. "They kind of standalone quite separately," she explains, "but I think they were an important element of what I do so I definitely wanted to keep them on the album. They're very personal and introverted, which is less of a massive part of me now but it's still a snapshot into that part of me."
So, what does 2018 hold for Rae Morris? She's already heading out across the UK from March supporting the album, but Rae confesses she hopes to go further afield. "I'd like to go to Europe again," she admits. "I always love playing shows in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. I'd love to do some more stuff in America. The last couple of videos have been made in the US, so I feel like there's an energy which connects there, so we'll see."
Whatever this year holds for Rae, it is bound to be good things. Her raw talent mixed with her complete lack of pretention is wonderfully refreshing. If anyone deserves the world and more, it is definitely Rae Morris. Despite the obvious leap between her first two albums, there is still the sense Rae has far to go. Within her sound there is so must scope for experimentation, so much promise of even more wonderful music. ‘Someone Out There' marks the next step for Rae Morris, but it is just one of many more to come.
Rae Morris's album 'Someone Out There' is out now. Taken from the February issue of Dork, out now.