Raveena's Debut Album Is a Dreamy R&B Universe
The Indian American singer crafts a world of self-acceptance on her debut album, 'Lucid.'
Photo by Kelia Anne
Every night, dreams find their way into our subconscious, creating a heightened sense of emotions linked to our memories. The ability to control your dreams, or lucid dream, provides a new sense of autonomy over those feelings. New York-based singer Raveena's debut album, Lucid, evokes a similar sentiment. The album finds the 25-year-old singer using R&B and soul to parse through the trauma she repressed as a teenager.
Raveena's SoundCloud is scattered with loosies that predate her soulful signature sound. In 2017, she released Shanti, a 7-track that emphasized the practice of self-love. "In order for us to advance, heal from intergenerational traumas, and reach our full potential as women of color, we have to recognize the importance of acts of self-care," she said in a Rookie interview last year. Two years later, the singer and producer Everett Orr have continued to handcraft their sound, drawing from influences like D'Angelo, Minnie Ripperton, and Stevie Wonder. "We’re one unit and wanted to create this really cohesive universe you could escape to with our music," she told Noisey.
Lucid is Raveena and Orr's offering of a world that exists beyond pain. On the record, the singer examines the relationships that compromised her mental health ("Stronger") and her physical space ("Salt Water"). Together, Raveena and Orr's greatest strength is translating intense lyrics about abuse ("I froze in a hot shower / I scrub away his sins") across dreamy, synthy productions. "Mama," the album's turning point, finds the singer looking inward at the women who raised her, before preparing to love again. Her 74-year-old grandmother even makes a cameo on "Nani's Interlude," giving maternal words of wisdom. "We should be thankful for every moment. [...] You will love this life more."
A week before the release of Lucid, the singer chatted with Noisey over the phone to share how it felt to relive the trauma of her past for her debut album.
Noisey: How would you describe your entry into music?
Raveena: I was really introverted as a kid and fell in love with music. It was my main source of working shit out in my head and entertainment growing up. I fell in love with jazz and soul, and Billie Holiday. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and all of those soul classics. I’d sing to myself in the bathroom for hours, studying how to use my voice and how to stretch it as an instrument.
I moved to New York when I was 17. I worked with a bunch of producers and songwriters and I didn’t really find the right sound until I met Everett [Orr] when I was 21. He had this background in hip-hop and worked with people like Yo Gotti and DJ Khaled. He actually used a lot of soul samples in his beats. We fell in love over our mutual love for R&B and soul. The rest is history. We’ve been developing a sound together. We’re one unit and wanted to create this really cohesive universe you could escape to with our music.
How would you classify that universe?
There’s purity from the heart and a childlike sense to that universe. It allows manifesting and pure feelings of love, kindness, and unity. We want music to be a space of healing for people. It’s also very vulnerable and meant to be somewhere you can express what you’ve been through freely—as a safe space. Escapism is a big part of our music as well. It’s ethereal and surreal.
You've recorded music before but consider Lucid a debut album. What is it about Lucid that feels more like an introduction to people who may not be familiar with you?
A big goal of mine was to make a concept album—something you could listen to all the way through that flowed together well. It feels like a very complete body of work because it tells a story and there’s an arc, release, and resolution in the album.
That’s a big way that [my music] grew. I pushed myself musically to explore different ranges of my voice and try out different songwriting methods. I even co-produced a song ["Petal"]. We both kind of were just pushing ourselves—Everett in his production and me in my songwriting. We finally landed somewhere where we really found ourselves. We found a sound that really takes all of our influences but delivers them in a way that’s completely ours.
Why did you decide to name the album Lucid?
To be lucid is clarity after a period of confusion. It sums up the story of the album really well. The first half is darker and sadder. I'm trying to figure myself out through all this pain, heartbreak, and trauma. The second half you feel a lot more clarity. You feel joy. The name alludes to the story that it’s telling.
“Nectar” feels like a continuation of “Honey.” They’re both inherently sensual and sexy. What would you say is the correlation for you there?
“Nectar” is a way more open version of “Honey.” I was really trying to assert my sexuality as a grown woman on that track, especially with lines like: “You’ve been missing my sunflower / Sunshower, I know.” I was envisioning myself as this free goddess and someone coming into that world. I love approaching sensuality and sexuality in a way that feels very empowering to the woman. Like you’re not doing it for anyone else’s pleasure than your own. You revel in your own beauty and sensuality and that’s completely for yourself. If you invite someone into that world that’s a treasure for them. It’s not like you’re putting on a show for the male gaze. I wanted to embody this woman who was very free and feminine but was just for herself.
“Stronger” is beautiful because you are detailing a toxic relationship but you still see yourself “holy as a sunrise.” Can you talk about the songwriting process on that song?
That song was an intense song to write. I was going back into the place I was when I was a teenager when I was allowing myself to be used and abused by men. I didn’t really understand what that was doing to my body, but there was a little voice inside of me that was like “You’re worth something. You have to want better for yourself.”
“Stronger” is about being in the worst place with yourself and this other person. The beautiful thing about being a human—and the strength of a woman especially—is the little voice telling you something about this situation isn’t right. You hear me getting stronger and more free as the song goes on.
The first couple of listens of "Salt Water" I thought, “Wow, this song sounds so pretty.” But the lyrics seem to be the most tied to physical trauma. You literally say, “I think my body’s had enough.” You said it was intense to write “Stronger,” but I would imagine that "Salt Water" would be harder to write?
I’ve always wanted to write a song about being physically traumatized or in an abusive relationship. The feeling of the day after when you’re sitting there and feeling so raw and taken back and traumatized. I thought it was important to have a moment on the album about that because it’s a very hard thing to write about. I think the feeling of people wanting to shower that off is a pretty universal experience. It can be intense to listen to, but we tried to deliver it in a way that was also beautiful. If you hadn’t experienced [abuse] you could still appreciate [the song] for what it was.
It's so easy to forget that your parents are people who had identities before you came along. Coming into adulthood, especially as women, you realize a child may come into this world thinking your sole purpose is to be their mom. What was that instinct that made you see the humanity in your mother and your grandmother on "Mama?"
I always hear stories about my mom and grandma coming to America with the classic immigrant story. They actually escaped genocide in [India], so they were coming from a very traumatized place.
My mom had me around 25, and I recognize how different my life is at this age compared to where she was at 25. Having a baby and having to go through everything she did in India, all while trying to figure herself out. I was in awe of her and I was like "Wow if I was going through half of what she was going through, I don’t know how I’d deal with it on top of having a baby." It trips you out. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet. [LAUGHS]
“Mama” is the turning point of the album, and by “Floating” we find you ready to pick yourself back up and you’re reading to love again. Aside from using music as therapy, what would you say it took for you to get there?
Using psychedelics I was able to access this childlike happiness again and this freedom from all my worries. I wanted to write a song about being in nature, being high, and seeing your lover and experiencing those really pure, overly joyous moments that help you get back into a place of normalcy again. I think it’s important for anyone who’s been through something to have time for that. Being able to be that free and experience freedom of your body and the freedom to love again is a form of self-care. It’s so important to the soul that you create space for those moments.
You’re 25 now and you said a lot of the abuse you suffered was as a teenager. Is there an age where you’d you say most of this trauma happened?
I was pretty young. Most of it happened from 17 to 22. I’ve really been healing and rebuilding myself in the last three years. Everett really helped with that too. Being able to have somebody help me bring out all of the stories. They were stories I’d been wanting to tell forever, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right producer and the right person to open up to.
Everett is not only your producer but your partner too. It couldn’t have been easy on him watching you relive those moments.
This album took a lot out of me because I was reliving the trauma. In between recording “Stronger,” “Salt Water,” and “Stone,” I would just cry. There were a lot of tears for this album, but I knew I had to tell my story from when I was younger.
The final song, "Petal" shows your evolution throughout the album. At the beginning of the album you say you're as heavy as a stone, but by the end are "weightless." How does it feel to get rid of the weight?
This album feels like I'm really letting that part of myself truly go and let it be in the past. It's beautiful, I feel like I'm entering a new part of womanhood, and "Petal" is reflective of that. It's me having a birds-eye view on everything, and I love existentialism because it gives you perspective on all of your worries. On the song, I say: "When I feel like I'm down / When I'm checking my phone" You can be mad about some stupid email but at the end of the day you should be enjoying life like my grandma says. We have such little time on this Earth, why waste it?
Lucid was not just giving space to the sadness, but also realizing there's a time to let it go as well. Once you're ready you should step into this calm and peaceful version of yourself—maybe it's not today. It's a journey to recover from any kind of trauma, but you can end up happy in the end. You just need community and love and self-love to get you through it.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.