Let’s face it, nowadays the more we listen to those pop radio stations the more everything sounds the same – some hollow lyrics about last night’s shenanigans melded with that familiar compilation of superficial d-floor beats and bass drops. So it’s one thing when an artist can boast a glorious set of lungs but another when they put them to good use through some good ol’ societal preaching; a heavenly and empowering combo that 20-year-old r e l so fiercely crafts in her infectious tunes.
Hailing all the way from the coast of Los Angeles, Arielle Sitrick (aka r e l) is a spirited artist with a gusty flair for songwriting – a knack that has garnered her both critical acclaim and over 500,000 YouTube views. With a fusion of dreamy alt-pop melodies and radiations of emotion, r e l embodies what she dubs as evoca-pop – music that makes you think and feel.
“It’s music that can make you feel a different way…it’s vocal, danceable and singable and has some meat.”
Following the release of her crowd-funded debut self-titled EP last year, r e l has returned with her latest single, ‘Factory’, the ultimate feminist anthem that after just one listen will leave you feeling like god damn Beyonce. (Shoutout to all ma gal pals out there) With dynamic electronic sonics and fierce vocals, ‘Factory’ sparks the sole testament of evoca pop – an empowering 2 minutes and 48 seconds of art that tinkers with your head and leaves you amidst a typhoon of feels.
Following the release of this kick ass track, I had the opportunity to have a chat with r e l all the way from her hometown in Chicago. The lovely lady and I talked about feminism, songwriting, creating, inspirations and her upcoming album, which both you and I should well and surely be way too excited for.
Welcome to Freckle Culture! Firstly, how would you define r e l in emojis?
You refer to your style of music as evoca-pop, could you tell us a bit about what this genre embodies?
I invented it because I wasn’t really happy with the limitations of genres. My Dad is an inventor and inventing kind of runs in my blood and my music so I thought, you know what, if I don’t like what’s out there I’m just gonna make my own sub-genre. I invented it probably like eight months ago, and I’ve moved pretty fast in terms of creativity and artistic expression. It’s music that can make you feel a different way. My music is about empowering people more than anything. I think that I want to empower people to be in control of their own life and their own happiness and not to be victimised or to put themselves in a victimising position. My next move is breaking the radios pop machine so to speak. My music coming out now is less mainstream pop. It’s vocal, danceable and singable and has some meat.
Congratulations on the release of your latest single Factory! I have to say that it is the ultimate girl power tune. What inspired you to pen such influential lyrics?
I go to the University of Southern California and as it’s great academically it has a very potent Greek community with a lot of fraternities and sororities. I was in a sorority for a year and the girls were great, I had a nice time but it ultimately just felt like an unhealthy environment. I grew up in the suburb of Chicago and it was one town over where the movie Mean Girls was based. It was the middle ground of ‘America’ and people were trying to fit into a specific mould, which meant they didn’t do nice things to themselves or other people. I was seeing what my friends were doing, what people I cared about were doing and what I was doing to myself and to other people. ‘Factory’ just kind of came together through those experiences I guess. I actually wrote it with Caroline, the same girl I wrote ‘All That Bite’ with. We had a song writing class together in our freshman year of college and we had to write a single together as an assignment and we started bouncing off ideas about relationships we have had. It then kind of formulated from that poem stanza format into a song and it was the first single I used in my Kickstarter funded EP. ‘Factory’ was the second song we wrote together and we have a really interesting collaborative process because we are very focused but also good at letting our ideas just kind of run out. They then kind of become the verses and the chorus and they are pretty fast paced and hard to play live (laughs).
What do you think it means to be a feminist in the 21st century? Why do you think it is so important?
I think what it means to be as a feminist is to care for the rights of all people. I think that comes into play a lot invisibly. As a woman, I’m very sensitive and very hyper-critical of myself and I’m growing to overcome that – especially if this is the realm I want to work in. I have a lot of friends that are high achieving beautiful women and they hate themselves and that’s due to a lot of invisible things that they have grown up with. You’re hyper aware of your body in a public space, you are aware of people watching you and you are aware of these idolised confections of what you are supposed to look like and what you are supposed to do. As a woman, I have experienced and seen so many invisible factors that contribute to self-hatred and I want to combat that. That to me is what feminism is. It’s empowering people, it’s not putting anyone down, it’s not man shaming, it’s not acting to push people away – it’s acting to bring people together.
I have to say your cover of Gooey by Glass Animals is one of the most magical covers I have ever heard. Do you find that elements within covers give you inspiration for you own creations?
I do. I find myself covering a lot of males. I cover ‘Kiss’ by Prince in my live shows. Even before he passed away. It was strange because I had been regularly covering ‘Kiss’ for probably about a year and then he passed away. And then about four months ago I did a cover of ‘Space Oddity’, right before David Bowie passed away. I think when you are covering someone you are covering them because you know their music is influential. You are inspired by what they’ve said or you feel an avenue to put your own creative spin on it. I kind of just let covers come to me, so if I’m listening to a song and I think “Oh my god, I have to cover this!” then I will.
What is so special about translating your own words, thoughts and experiences into lyrics for a global audience?
The process of it and the similarity of music. I don’t speak any languages beside English, Spanish, Dutch and some sign language, so I can’t speak every language out there, but it’s real cool to experience the way music connects people from so far away and across so many different barriers.
So I guess for me, I want to be global. There is so much hatred and tension and stereotypes that if you can find a connective ground then that’s the ground I think you should walk on the most. For me, that platform is pop music. It’s so popular and I feel that it is the fast food of music. My boyfriend is a DJ and he is into techno music and the warehouse party scene and is really talented. He always asks me “Why do you listen to the radio? Do you actually like this music?” and I don’t always like it. So if I don’t like it, I want to be able to change it. Whatever your story is, pop music is the fastest and the most accessible music to get your hands on. I want to be the sub-way in that equation.
How did all this begin for you – when did you know you wanted to start writing and performing?
I’ve been singing forever. I feel like I’m a sponge, so if I hear a song whether it’s sad or happy, I will inevitably start singing along with it. You know when you’re in elementary school and they give you those behaviour cards? Instead of talking too much I would always be told off for singing too much. Singing has always been there and I’ve always been a writer and a creator.
Recently I was in Chicago for the first time in a while visiting family and I was on the train and a song I wrote when I was eight years old got stuck in my head. It was the weirdest experience. What I noticed though is that when you are in school, you get fostered to be a writer, but the way you get fostered is academically and analytically. No one ever really talks about song writing, so I kind of found it again in high school. I had a choir teacher that everyone was in love with, me included and he had a song he had written for his college graduation that this beautiful girl Elena sang for our graduation in my junior year and everyone cried. It was gorgeous and I thought I want to do that. I want to make people cry with what I’ve written and I want to make people feel something. So the next year I wrote a song for graduation and it was amazing. From there, I just kept writing and singing. It’s been a really exciting journey and I’ve learnt so much.
What was moving to LA like? Since moving do you feel as though you have grown both personally and musically?
Moving was hard. It was right before high school started so I was in a new town and a new school within a hundred different ZIP codes, so it was a big change. I think going from a small middle classed suburban neighbourhood in Chicago to a cosmopolitan beachy town in LA was definitely a culture shock, but I kind of processed with it underneath. But, it was really cool to experience a kind of different environment at that period of my life at 13 or 14 when I was starting to have my own freedom and go through puberty and all those gross scary things.
Do you think your experiences in school really impacted your creative approach and outlook to music?
Absolutely. I’m studying a major that when you tell adults they are like, “Oh what are you gonna do with that?” and I kind of look at them and say “Whatever I want to do”. It’s narrative studying which is the study of story telling. It’s Anthropology, Literature and Film. All across the board it’s stories and I think that it translates perfectly into writing songs and telling stories that way.
What is the creative process of your writing like? Do you draw inspiration from anything in particular?
My creative process varies so much. I’m always writing. I have probably about 20 notebooks and way too many notes on my phone. Melodies come all the time and typically if there is a melody, words will come too. If I’m lucky, a whole song will come at once in a span of like ten to thirty minutes. Usually, then I know it’s a song that I want to move forward with. There are other times when a hook or a chorus will come. I try to let it pop back into my head again, one or two weeks later, because if a song doesn’t continue to pop into my head I often won’t move forward with it because it’s a way for me to filter. It’s very cathartic. I can sing and I can write about a lot more things then I can talk about. It helps me process what I’m going through and I think in turn the reason I love music so much is because it helps people deal with their emotions that they can’t always talk about. There are so many ways that music touches people.
Where can we find you when writing your music?
So many places. Outside…I like to be outside with the grass and the trees. Other times I’m in my bedroom by myself or in sessions with other writers, on the train or in the car – all over the place really.
Do you have any artists in particular that you find influential?
M.I.A. I think it’s really cool that she raps what she cares about and does it for the cause and is really fucking good at it. I love Michael Jackson and Sia. Her approach to songwriting is brilliant. Oh, and of course Beyonce!
Give us some scoop on your upcoming debut album, what can we expect?
Ideally, I’ll release it on my 21st birthday or around then which is September 21st. About half the songs are finished – finished meaning that I’ve decided they are going to be on the project. It will definitely be released this year, though I’m just trying to get the best material that I can. I think the release is coming more together as a piece about self-love and empowerment which is exciting.
What has been the craziest experience in your musical career so far?
One was when ‘Before The Storm’ started racking up hundreds and thousands of views and I figured out they were coming from Brazil and I thought holy cow I’ve never been there! It was such an amazing feeling.
And then recently on the flipside, I played a show in LA and I had my purse in the green room and the next morning I found out that all my cash, credit cards, ID’s and keys had been stolen. It’s okay because I got them cancelled and it’s not as bad as a terrible car crash or anything but it sucks. So it’s just kind of learning to be on your guard. It was a good physical enactment of watching your back.
Also directing and producing a music video for one of my songs! I’ve co-directed them all so far but this is the first time that I’ve really had my feet in and have been both behind and in front of the camera.
As an up and coming artist, what are your thoughts on having an online presence? Do you think it has made it easier for people to follow their dreams and get their work exposed?
I think it can be daunting. There are people out there with 2 million followers and I think that’s something that can be scary. If you are doing it because it oozes out of you then you will find a way of making it work.
What’s the best thing about performing live?
The energy. When you bring it and when the audience brings it. When they are feeling what you have to say, there’s nothing like it.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
Kendrick Lamar, Jamie XX or Beyonce.
Top 4 goals for 2016?
- Go on tour
- Release my album
- Have the tour be global
- Have something go platinum
There’s no doubt that r e l’s tunes will be a new addition to each and every one of your daily SoundCloud playlists because quite frankly we all can’t get enough of her hazy synths and dreamy vocals right? Make sure to purchase her self-titled EP on iTunes now and keep your eyes peeled for the release of her upcoming LP that you will be able to snag super soon!
Keep up to date with r e l on…
Photo credit: Kacie Tomita