Meet Raelee Nikole
Raelee Nikole is an up and coming singer-songwriter from San Diego, California. Her debut album, Answers, released in May of 2015 and quickly gained traction after her single Dreamin’ was placed on Spotify’s Viral 50 playlist, where it climbed from the 40 to 6 spot in just one week. Raelee’s music can be described as beachy acoustics with a generally positive vibe to her songs, a sound she loves, but says she would like to expand upon as well. A recent purchase of an Epiphone Les Paul has her transitioning to a more electric sound, exploring soul, funk and blues influences. AMS had a chance to chat with Ralee about her music career, growing up in San Diego, and how being added to Spotify’s Viral 50 impacted her music career.
Interview with Raelee Nikole
Hi Raelene, how’s it going?
I’m doing good! I’m leaving for Salt Lake City tomorrow because I’m playing a show there this Friday and I wanted to get there early. I’ve just been spending the day getting everything ready for that and packing, all that fun stuff.
Have you been there before?
No, I’ve never been, I’m kind of setting aside dates to go hiking and stuff just to explore. I’m excited it’ll be fun.
Are you doing a show with other bands or is this a solo venture?
So lately whenever I do a show in San Diego I make a point to ask someone from out of town, that way I can bring an audience in San Diego to them and then we switch it. So this duo I’m playing with now, they opened for me here in August, and now this week I’m opening for them in Salt Lake City. It works really well and makes for a fun show because you don’t have to worry about getting people to be there since no one really knows me in Salt Lake City, it’s a win-win situation for everybody.
When did you start making music?
When I was five years old, a good family friend of ours got me piano lessons and I grew up playing the piano. I was the piano girl in school, I would always bring my piano for show-and-tell in elementary school. Growing up I always just thought I’d want to play piano in an orchestra or something like that. I didn’t really think too much about it growing up, I always just had a piano and I loved the music, I loved music in general, not just classical music.
Then in high school, my grandparents gave me a guitar my freshman year. It was kind of different because you can’t take a piano anywhere. So guitar kind of opened the doors to be able to perform out in public, and performing used to scare me pretty bad. I definitely had stage fright, I liked the spotlight but it also freaked me out. It was around the summer after freshman year when I went and did an open mic at a local coffee shop. That whole summer I just fell in love with it, the atmosphere was very nice everyone was really encouraging. When I look back at old videos I think ‘oh my god that was terrible,’ but nobody told me it was bad and I’m glad that they didn’t because it pushed me to keep doing it and practicing more.
Ever since high school, that’s what I wanted to do on the weekends, was to go play in coffee shops and stuff. So by the end of high school, I was either going to a music school or just doing music with no college which is what I ended up doing. Music has always been a constant in my life growing up.
When did you start writing your own songs?
I would say during high school. When I had a guitar it was better, with the piano you usually play the melody so I never wrote too many songs, maybe I did for fun but nothing serious. It was in high school definitely, when I was 15 I would write songs. I remember thinking they were the best, like ‘oh man I’m never going to write anything better than this,’ but now when I look back they were very cringing worthy songs, I guess they were good for a 15-year-old.
Did you grow up in San Diego?
Yes, I’ve lived in San Diego my whole life, kind of like the suburbs, about 20 – 30 minutes from the beach. You take it for granted growing up here, not everyone can just go to the beach and have sunny weather literally almost every day, and even when it does rain it’s really fun.
The San Diego Sound
Would you say the city of San Diego has influenced your sound?
Definitely, I mean we’re not really a beach town, it’s pretty spread out. There’s lots of different lifestyles and influences as far as San Diego’s culture, everyone sort of ends up doing the Jason Mraz thing. They have their ukulele or acoustic guitar and rock a fedora all the time. It’s a chill place, and maybe it’s just the music scene, but you kind of end up writing a lot of music that’s chilled out, relaxed, laid back, funky and fun.
For the most part, a lot of happy songs, which isn’t always the best thing, I think some of the best songs were written when people were locked inside all day because it was storming outside. It can be hard to focus here though because, it sounds like such a stupid problem, but it’s such great weather every day that it’s hard to stay inside and write because you’d rather go to the beach. But yeah, I definitely think it influences my music with that chill beachy vibe.
Yeah, that can be nice though, as opposed to listening to depressing stuff all day.
Sometimes that’s what you need though, some of my favorite songs are sad and depressing and I do want to write more about that. There are a time and place for all types of music.
Answers by Raelee Nikole
How have things been going since the release of your record Answers?
That changed a lot of things for me, before the album – I always took it seriously and was working hard at it – but I feel like it was very much just a local thing. Everyone who knew about me, they had to have seen me in person first, except for some YouTube videos, anyone who did know about my music had seen me live.
Getting the word out
How did you get the word out about your album?
The album came out about a year and a couple months ago, and it was on iTunes but it was also on Spotify and I think that Spotify has made a big impact as far as spreading the music. I know a lot of independent artists don’t like Spotify because of the little pay, and that’s a valid reason to not want to be on Spotify, but I sort of advocate for Spotify because I feel like without it a lot of things wouldn’t have happened for me as far as a lot of people finding out about me or finding out about a song of mine.
Ever since the release, because of things like Spotify or people spreading the word, it sort of allowed my music to reach really far away places, like other countries and other states. Like going to Salt Lake City, I feel like there may be people at the show who do know about me, maybe because of Spotify. Sometimes I’ll get messages from people like ‘oh you were on my Discover Weekly.’ Having the album has allowed the music to reach further, and I think people take me more seriously ever since that. It sort of validates that you’re taking your own music seriously and you’re actually pursuing and trying to be a professional. I think having an actual, tangible album has been a really great step forward in the past year.
Spotify Viral 50
Spotify put you on their Viral 50 playlist at one point, what kind of spike did you see from that?
Yeah, my mom called me to tell me ‘oh you’re on this playlist, did you do this?’ I don’t think you can even apply to be on a playlist, it’s almost like Spotify chooses that. They have two different playlists, the US top 50 which is a bunch of songs that everyone would recognize off the radio, a lot of big label artists.
Then there’s the Viral 50, which I think is just a cool concept, to begin with that Spotify does, I feel like that shows appreciation for independent artists. By doing that it sort of gives anyone a chance, someone like me, how would I ever have the chance to be heard by that many people unless they had a playlist like that? And I think Viral means, it’s not about how many listens it’s getting, it’s kind of saying it has a high amount of activity or engagement.
So when my mom showed me, “Dreamin’” was at number 40 out of 50, and throughout the next week or so it climbed all the way to 6. I don’t remember how many plays it had before that, but it got into the hundred thousand plays, just for one of my songs. It was very cool because it was definitely the song I would want people to hear as my first impression of me anyway, and so I was pretty excited about that. It’s sort of a domino effect that leads to all sorts of attention.
Let’s talk gear, what’s your go-to guitar?
I’m definitely all about electric right now. I recently bought this beautiful Epiphone Les Paul, it’s black gold and white, the body is white and it’s got gold pickups, black hardware, gold trim, it kind of looks like Elvis, Vegas-y. It’s not even a hollow body which is the funniest part because that’s what I was looking for, and I bought the opposite.
But I just love it, it looks really cool and sounds really cool, and it seems to be a tiny bit smaller than the average regular electric and I like that because my hands are really small. I just love the sound because that’s the number one thing, but the look is definitely what caught my attention. That’s my go-to, that’s the one that makes me want to practice more, I just want to stare at it. I love that one.
So what’s next for you?
Currently, I’m working with a developing agency who is helping me create a lot of online content like professional looking videos with good sound, every video is a little bit different. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately and will continue to be doing that for the rest of the year. It’s also been over a year since the first album. People say you have your whole life to write your first album and then like two years to get the second one out, so I’m definitely feeling a little bit of that pressure.
I really would like my next release to be a big step forward from my last piece of work, because like we talked about, it has that San Diego beachy vibe to it, and as much as I love that, I’ve kind of changed the way I want to sound. I’m getting really into Soul music and electric guitar and funk, things that will hold over an audience at a bar.
I just turned 21 this past summer so now I’m thinking, I want to play these bigger shows with bigger audiences, I want to play standing venues, up until lately I’ve been playing tons of sit-down venues so I’d like to make that transition. I’ve also been checking out different producers and see who it might be cool to work with. I’ve been going to LA a lot to hang out with friends, learn from them, and travel a lot, I love to travel. Even if it’s just for one show like this week, I’m totally there. That’s the next step I get, to evolve as a musician and try and become a better musician.
Contact Raelee Nikole
Special thanks to our friends at QSC Audio for introducing AMS to Raelee!
*All shots were taken by Alyssa Boynton Photography