Photo: Markus Sein
Friday, 15 October 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 41 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
For all that completely new genres of music have to offer, there's also a need for musicians to carry forward traditions, and to say something new in a tried-and-true format.
Rita Ray (born Kristi Raias) is Estonia's answer to that. While, for example, the music video for her song “Love Ain't the Same” has a film camera aesthetic, a retro American car, and a twangy country style guitar riff, her rich voice and the band's swaying rhythms address listener's lives today without limitations.
In anticipation of her Estonian Music Week concert on October 22nd, she's shared a little bit about herself and the four-piece band, so we can get to know them.
Most people wouldn't associate Estonia with soul music. What is it that you love about this genre?
I think the reason I fell in love with this genre is because soul music is so expressive and full of emotion. The style of singing takes the listener on a trip. It makes them feel things and reminisce. Every word has meaning and every emotion is connected to the way the voice moves. It's the same way for me, when I'm singing this music.
What's the story behind forming the band and starting to record albums together?
I've known Jasper Alamaa—the band's bass player—the longest. We were in the same year when were at Georg Ots Tallinn Music College. He was studying bass and I was studying singing. We got along really well from the first moment. So there was no question about asking him to record and perform the music I had written.
While I was studying there, I was attending a lot of jam nights at Philly Joe's Jazz Club in Tallinn. A very frequent visitor was guitarist Kristen Kütner. We became friends and I asked him to do an Etta James tribute concert with me. I had asked a drummer to play for that concert, but he backed out at the last minute. So Kristen recommended Ott Adamson, whom he had known and played with for ages.
Lastly, I went to study jazz singing at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre along with Jasper and Kristen. There, we met Latvian pianist Artis Boriss, who clicked with us right away. After that, I knew that, together, we had a band. We started recording and performing locally, and that's where everything began.
How would you describe the process of arranging, of adding strings and horns onto the core of your songs?
I think a lot of listeners don't know about my fascination with arranging. To be honest, arranging for my own music is the most satisfying thing to do. The process itself starts with me gathering ideas and writing out melodic lines. Then I try out the voicings and start writing down the material.
Thanks to the miracle of computers and notation programs, I can listen to the stuff I have written. Then I just correct and write what's left to write. The process can take weeks, or even months, but I have to feel that an arrangement is perfect for a particular song to be happy and proud in the end.
One of your songs is titled “Disco Stu.” Aside from the clear stylistic disco connection, is this meant to be a reference to the character from The Simpsons
? On that note, in what ways do you put together inspiration, stimuli, or even humorous aspects of your life into songs?
I wrote “Disco Stu”, while I was in Põlva, my hometown. There weren't any recurring words to consider as a title. I just asked my sister what the title of the song should be, or what kind of feeling it has. Right away, she said “Disco Stu”, so I went with that. Although, she was watching a lot of episodes of The Simpsons at that time, so I think that was the reason.
In my songs, even the really sad ones, I want to be optimistic and funny through the lyrics. I haven't succeeded every time, but I guess making those hard experiences sound a bit less harsh is a way of coping with them.
You and Vaiko Eplik recorded “Talk About it” / “See pole nii” together. It has a classic mid-century feel with the female-male vocal duet and steady drums. What was your favourite part about working together?
He's a legend and an inspiration, so I was so happy when he asked me to sing on a song with him. We definitely both have an appreciation for that type of music, but my favourite part was to see how we worked together in the studio. I learned a lot from that experience and I hope that our paths will come together again at some point in the future.
What's one piece of music that suits every moment and feeling?
I don't think there's a piece which suits me at every moment. Although, I would say “Here Comes The Sun” by The Beatles makes me happy if I'm sad and makes me even happier if I'm happy.
Catch Rita Ray's live-streamed performance in-person at the Paradise Theatre (buy your tickets at estonianmusicweek.ca ). You can also watch the show for free on Estonian Music Week's Facebook page or YouTube channel.This interview has been edited and condensed.
Written by Vincent Teetsov