In a heartfelt interview with Guitar Girl Magazine, the talented musician, singer-songwriter, and social activist Raye Zaragoza opens up about her new album Hold That Spirit, due out today, August 11, 2023, via her own record label Rebel River Records, her personal experiences, and her mission to break societal norms through her powerful music.
Creating an All-Female Album:
Raye’s album Hold That Spirit was a result of serendipity. Initially, she didn’t set out to create an all-female project. However, upon realizing that a significant portion of her songs had been produced and co-written by women, she decided to embrace the concept fully. Raye saw this as an opportunity to challenge the male-dominated music industry and showcase the incredible talent of women in production and songwriting.
“I’m always doing my best to also have a message and a statement with every piece of art I put out. And I thought that making something with all women was really exciting and important and a fun challenge – that wasn’t even a challenge at all.”
Personal Experiences Shaping the Album:
Hold That Spirit was born from a tumultuous period in Raye’s life, which included a called-off wedding and her 30th birthday. These experiences deeply influenced the lyrical content and emotional depth of the album. Raye reflected on her fears and anxieties about turning 30 and how the break-off of her engagement forced her to rediscover herself. She emphasized the importance of holding onto one’s spirit even during challenging times.
“Once people hear the record, they can really hear that so many of these songs, I’m at this, like, kind of crossroads with myself and really reevaluating my place in the world. A lot of the songs sound like breakup songs, but they were written before my breakup, so I could kind of tell the path I was headed on. I’ve been a performer since I was a little kid, and I’ve always been taught that youth is your greatest currency and things change when you’re 30, especially, for a woman. And I’ve always had this huge fear of turning 30, and it’s always felt so far in the future.
I started playing music at 19. I kind of thought I was gonna be quote-unquote like youthful forever. And I’m still very youthful and very young. But I had a lot of fear about turning 30. And then calling off the engagement around that time, it just shook me up. And I think it shows in the music because I had to really rediscover who I am because I threw away all of these preconceived notions of where my life was supposed to go and who I’m supposed to be, and how I’m supposed to show up. That’s why it’s called Hold That Spirit because even through the hard times, you have to hold onto your spirit. And the timing just made sense, and you can hear it in the songs because they’re all very cathartic in a way. I’m asking big questions to myself.”
Collaboration with Anna Schultze:
Raye’s collaboration with Anna Schultze, an accomplished musician and producer, proved to be transformative. Their creative synergy led to the birth of powerful songs like “Hold That Spirit” and “Not a Monster.” Raye praised Anna’s exceptional guitar skills and production abilities, which allowed their ideas to flourish and bring a unique edge to the album. The connection between Raye and Anna was so profound that all four songs they wrote together ended up on the album.
“Anna is like one of my music soulmates, and I am so grateful to her. She pulled something out of me that I didn’t know was there. And a lot of the songs that she produced and co-wrote and mixed and played every instrument on, those songs were “Hold That Spirit” and “Not a Monster,” both of which were two singles on the record, and then also “Garden” and “Sweetheart,” which we wrote and recorded that song in one day – which was also the day that we met. It’s just wild to me when I hear that song that was all created in that one moment. And it makes so much sense because I felt such a kindred spirit with her.
I felt so safe with her. One, she’s an amazing producer, and two, she’s an amazing guitar player, which for a singer-songwriter, when you have someone in the room who can really elaborate on the skills that you have because my guitar playing, I get by, but she has been playing electric guitar for so long and is so incredible at it. She was able to kind of take my little seeds of ideas and then grow them into these amazing guitar parts and productions. And she has an edge to her in music.
That was really exciting for me. And I’ve always wanted to make songs a little bit edgier. I feel like the songs we made together are edgy and also have a little bit more of like a pop-rock influence to them. I tell her I want it to sound like this, she does it, and then she does it even better. So working with Anna has been amazing.”
“And so I feel like if I can start with myself and talk about it publicly, then maybe I can start that chain for another person too.”
Empowerment Through Music:
Raye’s music is a platform for addressing important societal issues, including body image and eating disorders. Her song “Not a Monster” tackles her own recovery from an eating disorder, and Raye uses her platform to promote awareness, conversation, and healing surrounding this topic. She believes that speaking openly about these struggles helps people feel less alone and encourages a chain of healing.
“All I can do is talk about it because it’s one of those things, like I still struggle with it on a day-to-day basis, and I don’t really know what the solution is for us as women being faced with such this toxic societal need to be perfect or thin or whatever. It’s weighed on me so heavily my whole life. For me, it’s helpful just to talk about it. And I see other public figures or actors or singers talk about how they struggle with it too. And that always makes me feel better. I feel less alone, and like I’m not the only one going through this. That helps so much.
“I’m always posting resources as well. I think that’s the start. I think that we’re maybe for a much longer period of time gonna live in a toxic culture of this unrealistic expectations of women. But as long as we’re undoing or unraveling and healing ourselves and our own relationships to our bodies and to food, then that’s a good start. And so I feel like if I can start with myself and talk about it publicly, then maybe I can start that chain for another person too.”
“Joy Revolution” and Ancestral Tribute:
“Joy Revolution” is a song that pays homage to Raye’s ancestors and their pursuit of happiness and freedom. Co-written with MILCK, the song captures the idea of finding joy in defiance of societal expectations. The accompanying music video reflects a fun and carefree atmosphere that captures spontaneity and creativity.
“Joy Revolution” I wrote with Connie Lim (MILCK) and AG, the producer. We were having one of those days where we were like, everything’s so heavy. Like we carry so much weight on our shoulders to be these really great vehicles of change and activist artists – we love being social justice warriors. There’s also something rebellious and social justice-y about joy because it’s so often that we feel as the child of immigrants that joy is not a priority.
My mom said that when she was a kid and they first got to the US that it wasn’t about playing; it wasn’t about joy or freedom or happiness. It was about getting food on the table and working and putting your head down and being a good student, being a good worker. They were in survival mode. And my mom didn’t really figure out what joy was until I was older. And that made me sad but also made me feel like my immigrant and indigenous ancestors have worked so hard to put me in a very privileged position to play music for a living. I’m not in a situation like they were when they first got to the US. And so, in their honor, I need to prioritize joy.
I need to prioritize laughter; I need to prioritize connecting with other people and being present and things that maybe they weren’t able to do as often on a day-to-day basis. Connie also has a similar story with her family. I pretty much didn’t have a music video made for this record for that song. So I showed up at her house and was like, ‘Hey, let’s make a music video.’ I told her I just wanna kind of capture the feeling of two women, you know, older than like sleepover party age – we’re not like eight years old anymore – but as if we’re at a sleepover party having fun with our friends. Connie kind of directed it and came up with all these shots of like, ‘Oh, let’s sing over here, over there. It was all in her backyard. That whole music video creation was so organic. It was just like, what’d be funny? Let’s do this. Let’s do that. And then, it turned into something really beautiful.”
Folk Music and Cultural Identity:
Raye’s presence as a woman of color in the folk music genre challenges its historical white, male-dominated image. She sees her role as an opportunity to decolonize the genre and uplift other artists of color. Raye emphasized the importance of continuing to push for inclusivity and representation in the industry and touched on the strides the genre has taken to further inclusivity.
“I like the statement of being a woman of color in folk music because, yes, it’s an incredibly white male-dominated genre. But the roots of folk music come from Indigenous people and the African diaspora. And it’s wild that so many country music and Americana folk music instruments originated by Black people, but it’s become a white-dominated genre. So for me, being a woman of color in folk music feels like this kind of way of decolonizing the genre. And I am always trying to uplift and shine lights on other people of color in folk music because it’s a whole part of decolonizing. I love being a part of a genre that we get to do the work because it’s long overdue.
Things are getting better. I think the pandemic and all the protests that were happening around the pandemic, I think that all definitely helped. And I think that, of course, once there’s growth, there becomes a lot of performative things and people just saying they’re doing a lot and then they’re not. But I think with that said, like Folk Alliance is doing amazing work, having an Indigenous music summit and the Indigenous representation at Folk Alliance is amazing. I have become very close friends with the folks with the Black Opry. They have been invited to some really amazing festivals. Like they were at the Newport Folk Festival, they were at Kemo, really getting a lot of visibility for these amazing Black artists in country music. So I definitely think things are getting better, things are improving, but we’ve always got further to go.”
Most Fulfilling Songs to Write:
Amidst the array of poignant and powerful tracks on the album, the process of creating “Hold That Spirit” was undeniably cathartic for Raye. With the difficult task of singling out just one song from her heartfelt collection, she acknowledged the challenge. Yet, she pointed to “Not A Monster” as the most fulfilling to write. This song holds a deeply personal significance as it addresses her own recovery from an eating disorder. Its resonance with her journey and the courage it took to openly discuss such a topic makes it a song that holds a special place in her heart.
“’Not A Monster,’ for sure. I think that’s a song that was very cathartic, and I felt a lot better after it was written, like it needed to come out. I’ve never spoken openly or written anything about struggling with an eating disorder. And it’s something I’ve struggled with since I was like 16. I’ve been a public person for like a decade, but I never really felt safe within myself. I wasn’t at a place with my healing that I could talk about it openly. And so it’s such an amazing thing for me that I’m finally at a place that I’m able to talk about it openly. So writing that song was like a whole new chapter in my life. I get to be on the other side in many ways, and I’m still in it in many ways where it’s not the kind of thing that just goes away overnight, but I am very much on the other side compared to where, where I was years ago. And that’s such an exciting feeling. And, yeah, that song for me is so cathartic.”
Guitar as a Lifelong Companion:
Raye’s journey with the guitar began at a young age, starting with her admiration for a classmate’s guitar skills. Over the years, the guitar became an extension of her identity as an artist and songwriter. It offers her a versatile means of self-expression and a way to connect with audiences on a deep level.
“I love the guitar so much. I could never be the kind of musician that hauls around a keyboard or upright bass, or a heavy instrument. I’m from New York, and I was able to throw my guitar on my back, get on the subway and go. And there’s something about that to me that’s really romantic, and it’s really exciting to have an instrument that can go with you anywhere. I even have a mini guitar that I bring to Europe.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12 years old. I started playing guitar because I had a crush on a boy in my class who played guitar. He was like a child prodigy of guitar. He was the hand double in August Rush, and he was on Broadway. I just thought he was really amazing. We’re still friends to this day. And I was like, ‘Hey, like, do you wanna teach me how to play the guitar?’ And that’s how it all started. And then, I started doing guitar lessons when I was young. I wasn’t as interested in the guitar as I was with songwriting, but the guitar was my vehicle to becoming a songwriter. And I would learn songs all the time on the guitar, but then like, halfway through learning it, I would just use the chords to create my own song, which made me kind of like the worst student because I never wanted to learn anything! I just wanted to learn enough to be able to turn it into something else.
I really started taking songwriting seriously when I was like 18, 19 years old. I already had like six years under my belt playing guitar, even just basic stuff. So I didn’t have to go through that whole process of learning an instrument to become a songwriter. I play a Taylor now, and they are so amazing to me, and it’s been amazing to be a Taylor artist. Yeah, I love my guitar. I take it everywhere.”
From Modeling to Music:
Raye’s early experiences in modeling and competitive gymnastics provided her with unique perspectives and insights that have contributed to her artistic identity. Her modeling background introduced her to the entertainment industry, while her brief foray into gymnastics highlighted the importance of pursuing a path that resonates with one’s true self.
“I started modeling growing up in New York City. My first modeling job, I was on the cover of a magazine when I was 11 months old. I was born into the entertainment industry. My dad was on Broadway when I was a kid. Then I started modeling for Capezio Dancewear and a bunch of different dance companies. I was a child dancer. So many different things. I was always in auditions when I was a kid. It’s hard to remember. My sister was really the athlete, and she was doing competitive gymnastics, figure skating, and all these things – I pretty much just did whatever she did. So I got into competitive gymnastics, but I wasn’t cut out for gymnastics “
US Tour and Future Aspirations:
Excited about her upcoming US tour, Raye expressed her anticipation for headlining shows and performing with a trio band. She looks forward to connecting with audiences through her music and creating a memorable experience. Fans can find more information about her tour and shows on her website and social media platforms.
“I’m so excited for the tour. This is my first tour ever where I’m doing headlining shows, so that’s amazing. And then also I’m playing with a small trio band. Usually, I’m an opener on tour playing alone, but this time I actually have some support behind me, so that’s a literal dream come true. So it’ll be fun getting to have a fuller sound on the road and also getting to have shows where I’m the headlining act. It’s going to be a lot of fun!”
Raye Zaragoza’s interview with Guitar Girl Magazine reveals a passionate artist who uses her music to challenge norms, promote healing, and empower others. Her journey from personal struggles to self-discovery is beautifully encapsulated in her latest album, Hold That Spirit, demonstrating her commitment to making a positive impact through her art.
To find out more about Raye Zaragoza and to stream her music, visit her website at www.rayezaragoza.com.