It wouldn’t be surprising if Raffaella actually stepped out of frame from some long-lost Jean Luc-Godard film and into reality.
Quick to rattle off Billie Holiday, St. Vincent, and Regina Spektor in the same breath as influences, the J.D. Salinger-quoting New York-born and -bred 21-year-old Columbia University senior cites The Godfather and Taxi Driver among her fashion touchstones and pens clever and catchy dream pop that’s as lively as it is literary. This vision unfolds on her forthcoming 2018 debut EP produced by shadowy anonymous triumvirate BRÅVES.
“Music is magic in that it allows people to think and feel at the same time,” she exclaims. “That dual-sensation is impossible in any other aspect of the world. If the melodies are strong and the lyrics are strong, people might just connect on personal and universal levels. Music has given me a lot of comfort. Literature has given me a lot of comfort. I wanted to combine those feelings somehow and allow others to experience the same energy.”
Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she studied classical piano from the age of four until thirteen. Though she can recall impromptu living room performances of the entire Hairspray soundtrack at six years old, she formally embraced her voice in musical theater during high school.
However, the family astrologist forecasted what she would eventually do with startling accuracy…
“My family took me to an astrologist when I was a day old,” she elaborates. “We’ve been in contact for my whole life. He always told me that I needed to be writing songs—that it was my gift. I thought it was fucking crazy for the longest time,” she laughs. “In senior year, I found the confidence to do just that. I discovered my love for songwriting through the power of lyrics.”
Upon graduation, the budding artist traded coasts and pursued professional acting while attending the University of Southern California. Joining a sorority 3,000 miles from home proved to be something akin to a social experiment.
It might sound like a detour, but it actually brought her precisely to the place the astrologist predicted nearly two decades earlier.
“In the sorority, I discovered this new species of females who were ridiculously manicured, pretty, mean, nice, smart, stupid, and driven for all of the wrong reasons,” she sighs. “It was just a world of contradictions. They desired individuality, but it was all about conformity. I got so sucked into the culture that I thought, ‘I’m not pretty enough to even go to this school.’ I started doubting myself severely. I wanted to have conversations about books and films and feed my brain. So, I secretly recorded the sorority meetings when I got in trouble like a spy - I embraced the normalization of this crazy behavior and made something out of it. I came home, got into Barnard, and opened up a new chapter. I started singing again around that time.”
Uploading demos and covers online, she caught the attention of BRÅVES who invited her back to Los Angeles in the summer of 2016 in order to record. The producers and songstress immediately harnessed an undeniable creative chemistry together in the studio.
“They definitely brought a lot of self-reflection, communication, and knowledge to the process,” she continues. “I was such a newbie when we started. They showed me the ropes. They had me fill out this ‘Epistemological Profile’ in order to get to know who I am. It made me grasp what’s important to me and what I want to accomplish.”
Her intent becomes clear on the debut single “Sororicide.” Bright piano bubbles under breathy harmonies and a Heathers homage as she confesses a fear of “being a basic bitch” just before the intoxicating refrain, “We’re getting high on sororicide. I can be your friend, if we just play pretend.”
“I really wanted to write a happy song,” she says. “That’s a challenge for me, because I’m so attracted to darkness. It was about capturing light energy and a dark subtext. I was like, ‘My biggest fear is being a basic bitch, but I’m also jealous of them because of how complicated I make my own life.’ That’s unfair of me to assume everything is easy for other girls; they probably have their own problems. I’m on the outside, but I’m also on the inside. By judging the girls in the sorority, I was just judging myself. In the end, we’re all women. We make the boys into men. We’re all smarter than they think we are. That’s the point.”
Elsewhere, “Vigilante” conjures up a film noir-worthy fantasy. Upon one listen, her voice captivated filmmaker Francesco Carrozzini who asked her to sing for his documentary Franca: Chaos and Creation following the life of late Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani. Meanwhile, Raffaella took the stage to perform at events for Galore, The House of Peroni, and more.
“It was about finding that jazz-y vibe and making it more modern,” she elaborates. “I wanted to marry the worlds of Lana Del Rey and Billie Holiday. Lyrically, it’s the feeling of when you’re a good person, but somebody fucks up. So, because you’re fucked up, you fuck someone else up. This guy I was seeing made me play games. That’s not a healthy relationship.”
With this honesty, wit, and heart, she ultimately possesses the potential to be something of a sonic heroine.
“It took me so long to find my voice as a young girl,” she leaves off. “I know what it’s like. I want to help young girls find their voices. That would be the best thing I could do.”