“You would be a lot happier if I were blonde / Everybody’s thinking and everybody’s saying it too,” state the opening lines of Raffaella’s “BLONDE,” the first single off of the artist’s latest EP, released as the first act of her upcoming debut album Live, Raff, Love. The project arrives as a change of perspective for the New York City local who did, actually, dye her hair blonde around the beginning of this new musical and personal chapter in her life.
“I didn’t dye my hair because of this album or because I was reinventing myself. It was an honest reaction to where I was in life. It speaks to that inner child, chasing the innocence and optimism of having been a blonde baby,” she said while in conversation with Affinity Magazine, when prompted about her choice to re-introduce herself with this explosive, satire-laden song in particular.
Choosing to emulate a cheesy, overdone phrase for the title of her first full-length record was unreservedly intentional, according to Raffaella. “I was struggling to come up with a title. I was joking around with my friends, [and] my friend Nathan [Stocker, from indie rock band Hippo Campus] came up with it. He was like ‘absolutely don’t do that’,” and though the choice is representative of the humor she carries in every aspect of her life, it still bears meaning. “It was a joke that I took seriously, which is sort of the theme of the way that I write. It’s figuring out heavy emotions through finding levity within them.”
The six-track EP, released on August 12 through Mom+Pop, is a collection of personal stories told over upbeat production and sugary melodies, mostly. The piano ballad “come to nyc, pls” kicks off the project as a love letter that serves for unprecedented vulnerability from Raffaella, sticking out from the fiery flair that represents the following tracks. The song, Raffaella says, was originally sent as a demo to Jake Luppen, lead vocalist of Hippo Campus, who was both the person whom she had written it about and who she also hoped would jump in to produce. The musicians ended up falling in love with each other in the process and now find themselves as both creative and romantic partners, with Luppen being credited as producer in every track of the project.
“I felt like [“come to nyc, pls”] was a beautiful way to open the album because I made the whole album with the person that that song is about — which is sort of a mating call to get this person to love me, and it worked!,” Raffaella says between laughs. “[It] is definitely earnest, which is really scary. I’m not really keen on being vulnerable but I felt like this was something I should be proud of.” Though the relationship inevitably shaped the narrative of the creation of Live, Raff, Love, she affirms that switching from personal to professional was never an issue for the duo, “It definitely was a personal project, but we were able to put on different hats very easily.”
While romance is certainly touched on throughout this project, life experiences of all kinds inspired its composition, including the separation of Raffaella’s parents. “The whole album is just a child of divorce trying to figure out how to fall in love and believe in it, and that extends beyond romantic relationships. There’s other songs on this project about losing a very good friend of mine,” she briefly pauses, as I hold my breath for a second. “She’s alive, but we just kissed too many times, and it turns out that’s not a good plan for keeping a friend.”
Ultimately, for Raffaella, writing and putting out music is her therapy — but it’s also her way to make sure she has real-life representation of her current feelings to look back on. “I write songs initially as a cathartic thing, but it eventually becomes a way to remember everything. Our attention spans are shrinking, and I don’t wanna forget my life,” she explains, while also mentioning how playing those songs on tour later on affects her in different ways. “Sometimes it’s really hard singing them because I don’t feel as confident in my relationship with a certain person, [and] sometimes it’s funny because I’m like ‘I can’t believe I was so dramatic about this’.”
While sharp lyricism and openness are defining Raffaella’s artistic stamp, so is her visual output. The music videos and graphic promotional content accompanying this era’s musical products are defined by brightness, fun, and an ample sense of nostalgia — which the singer calls her Achilles heel. “I don’t even really do it intentionally. I just like feeling like I’m a child again. Maybe it’s because I was happy and my parents weren’t divorced,” she says, not letting her humor get in the way of her honesty. “It’s like a subconscious thing where I’m like ‘Why don’t we go back to the time when I was from a functional, unbroken home and I can dress up like I’m seven and have the awareness and life lessons that I’ve been gathering for the past twenty years?’”
Lots of the elements that make up Raffaella’s artistic persona can be traced back to the 1990s and early 2000s, a time in which she was just starting to learn what it meant to be human. “I learned confidence through Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani. I used to wear sports bras and leather pants and lip-sync to ‘…Baby One More Time.’ It’s how I found my passion for forcing people to listen to me sing and also how I found confidence as a young woman,” she confesses. “I guess I’m sort of chasing the 7-year-old me’s dream to be somewhat like Britney but not infantilize myself, because that’s what the men around me are telling me to do. I’m kind of honing in on what I understood her empowerment to be back then.” The most overt result of this influence can be found in track 5 of Live, Raff, Love, “drama queen.,” which was inspired by Lindsay Lohan-led Disney Channel Original Movie Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.
Though Act I of Live, Raff, Love serves as a starter in grasping where Raffaella’s mind and creativity lays at the moment, Act II is set to both complete the full-length album and show an even more raw side of her, as well. “I structured [the album] like a play. Plays usually have a first act that is very bright and happy and a little bit more optimistic, and the second act gets a little more introspective and darker,” she explains. The singer pinpoints having watched Pixar’s 2020 film Soul during the creation of the album and in the context of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic as inspiration for a track called “MILLENNIAL,” which finds her at her most nihilistic and angsty. “I feel like the second act fills in the levity of the first half with earnestness. It’s darker, but it’s not all dark. I wouldn’t call it ‘sad girl indie’ by any means, but it’s definitely more depressing.”
While this new chapter in Raffaella’s life has just begun, she has already started noticing where the stark contrast with her past self truly lies. “I moved to a new state, and I’m learning how to live independently from my parents, I’m 26 now. “It was a whole different world back then, and then the world ended!,” she says, referencing the pandemic and pointing out how personal and artistic changes have been going hand-in-hand, before uttering a simple yet confidence-filled sentence in the most frank manner possible. “I just know myself better now.”
Live, Raff, Love (Act I) is now available in all streaming platforms.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.