London-based musician Raphaella is what you might describe as a triple threat. Working in the music industry as a producer, writer and singer, the 29-year-old has collated an impressive back catalog of work, which includes collaborations with Rudimental, and most recently, Little Mix. On her latest EP Real, Raphaella draws on her first-hand experiences with heartbreak, finding inspiration in that tumultuous and very familiar feeling of loss of identity.
“I wrote Real because my heart needed to,” Raphaella tells Audiofemme. Released in May, the artist described the EP’s creation as a natural process, culminating from an eight-month period of writing. Yet it wasn’t until she looked back retrospectively that she realized Real functions as a detailed account of moving on after heartbreak and the stages that follow. “I always use songwriting as a form of therapy and I often write songs as I’m actually feeling that emotion,” she says. “I was badly bullied at school so when I was about 13 I turned to songwriting as a way to express how I was feeling. The Real EP just happened sort of naturally.”
The track order of the EP is demonstrative of its organic inception, though Raphaella didn’t set out to create a collection of music in such a chronological fashion. “I think in a really cool way, the order in which I’d written the songs turned out to be the most honest representation of the story,” she explains. “Instead of being led by tempos and genres when organizing the track listing, I kept them in the order of how they were written so when you listen to it, it’s sort of like therapy.”
Whether we are searching for love or trying to move on from it, the imperceptible, abstract feelings it dredges up can have an extraordinary effect on our consciousness. With this in mind, Raphaella sought to investigate those connections – not only from her own perspective, but also within the symbiotic relationship of singer and audience, offering some respite in return. “As I write I unpack, work through, understand and come to terms with how I’m feeling, and when I finish writing, it’s a relief because it feels like I’ve finally got off my chest what I needed to,” she says. “My songwriter friends and I often joke we’re in constant therapy because every time we go to a session you literally have to open up to someone you just met a minute ago.”
Driven by her complicated emotions, she gave form and body to complex feelings by experimenting with a multitude of sounds that comprise the EP. “That was the exciting thing,” she recalls. “I knew I wanted to find different soundscapes, different sound palettes and synths that I hadn’t used before.”
The EP starts with the atmospheric and somber “Closure,” featuring Amsterdam-based alt R&B musician Nambyar. The two sing despondent lyrics, echoed in unison throughout the track to amp up a feeling of uncertainty. “I kept it almost entirely empty of full drums until the very end,” Raphaella says of the sparse, moody opener. “I really loved the feeling of suspense the whole way through so I wanted to keep that going – playing with synth LFOs and automation to create the rise and falls. I loved the space created.”
Following “Closure,” “Alright” takes a sassier turn, entering a new stage in the process of returning to who she was before the break-up. “When I wrote ‘Alright’ I was really annoyed! I’d just been let down by someone I thought loved me, so I started free-styling around with melodies with that emotion in my head and heart,” Raphaella says. In the song, she makes a point to say that she’s over it, or at least will be soon.
These tracks communicate the physical and spiritual listlessness that occurs in a relationship’s aftermath. “When you’re in a relationship for a long period of time you adapt your identity,” she points out. “You make sacrifices and concessions, which is part of being in a partnership, but sometimes that goes too far one way or another and you start to lose yourself.” The EP’s power lies in how Raphaella responds to that all consuming feeling by tackling it head on; as producer, Raphaella deliberately chose heavier sounds for the final two tracks, as if to metaphorically tether the listener back to reality.
With penultimate title track “Real,” Raphaella reflects on previously forgotten strengths that she still possesses, and in turn reminds listeners of the greatness they too harbor within. “My My,” a substantially more upbeat track continues this theme with an added element of newfound optimism, documenting her feelings of renewal and willingness to give love another chance. “My main production choices were keeping these two very ‘drop’ or ‘chorus’ focused,” she says, leaving listeners on a triumphant note as she readies herself to jump love’s hurdles again.
Heartbreak is not something we can ever prepare for, but as the singer-songwriter puts it, that doesn’t mean we should shy away. “I don’t think we can prepare for anything major that life throws us but that’s sort of the beauty of it,” she says. “You never grow from only experiencing things that you can control.”
As much as it signifies romantic rebirth, Real highlights a new era for Raphaella as a songwriter – and perhaps, even moreso, as a producer. With each track she’s ventured further and expanded her expertise by incorporating new sounds that encapsulate the very visceral emotions she, and many of us, have felt. And she’ll never let heartbreak hold her back. “I write nearly every single day – not just for myself but for others too,” she pledges. “I’m always just looking for something that feels new.”
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