Contrasting tones

She's patiently planned every step in her career but is happy to talk unguarded. Meet Rae Morris, the Blackpool singer-songwriter who's a bag of enigmatic contradictions. By Antonia Charlesworth

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Summer 2014 has been the biggest yet for Rae Morris. A string of festival dates including Glastonbury concluded with a headline set on the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals last month. Now, the Blackpool-born singer is gearing up for a UK tour – and all this before her debut release, scheduled for early next year.

You may well already have heard of Morris, however. With a string of EPs under her belt, she has toured supporting the likes of Tom Odell and Bombay Bicycle Club and provided guest vocals on the latter’s hit single Luna.

Her set at Kendal Calling last month drove home the reasons behind her gradual emergence.

The performance with her newly established full band was a far cry from her low-key appearance at Preston’s Mad Ferret three years ago, just before she signed her record deal with Atlantic.

Then just 18 and armed solely with her keyboard, Morris silenced the room of unruly drinkers with her flawless vocals and palpable emotion. Between songs, she spoke in shy whispers from behind her mass of curls, in stark contrast to her powerful performance during songs. If Morris was impressive then, today she is not to be missed.

“I think there’s a tendency for really young artists to be signed and pushed out straight away,” she says. “It was really important to me when I was signing the record deal that I didn’t change who I was in any way or change the ideas I had.”

Morris describes her reservations about the likely prospect of being moulded into something that wasn’t a good fit and says she feels lucky that she’s been allowed time to first of all do some living – she’s still just 21 – and develop as an artist.

“I started very young, when I was 17, and obviously it was stripped back – just me and a piano – because that’s all I knew,” says the musician, who began playing at age four. “Gradually I have learned a bit more about how to write for different instruments and how to grow a sound on top of those roots.”

Every decision in Morris’s career to date has been made with careful consideration. For a long time she was reluctant to play with a band – the typical move to allow a singer-songwriter to play bigger venues – but now she believes she was thinking about it in the wrong terms.

Morris’s sense of humour provides light relief between emotion-wrought tracks

“It’s about being on stage with people who you actually really, really enjoy playing with,” she says. “It’s enabled me to still be me but to do it on a bigger scale.”

Whether it is the band or the breadth of experience she’s had over the past three years, it is clear that her confidence has grown enormously. Morris’s sense of humour provides light relief between emotion-wrought tracks such as Grow, in which she articulates every word with mature clarity and conviction. When asked if this is a esult of professional vocal coaching, she laughs – she started singing a year before she was signed and says she doesn’t really know what she’s doing. Despite her apparent newfound confidence on stage, vulnerability remains.

“I’ve always had confidence issues and I’ve never felt 100 per cent sure of what I’m doing in terms of performance and my abilities,” she admits. “I think it’s a good thing, though, because it keeps me grounded. I’m not aware of myself in an arrogant way.”

This is something that has remained consistent over her three-year period of development. Morris has an indisputable ability to draw watchers into complete involvement with her music and charm her captive audience with her honesty and authenticity.

These qualities are equally apparent in her lyrics, which explore melancholy themes of lost love, dissatisfaction and solitude. “I feel I can totally bare my soul and I think it’s better if you do, because people understand where you’re coming from.”

She is equally sincere in person, offering insight into where some of her more personal lyrics come from: a relationship with another female musician early on in her career.

“It’s not something I will ever shy away from talking about, because it happened,” she says, pointing out that while she doesn’t feel equipped to be a role model she would like to help people feel that they can be themselves.

“I’d love to show people that sexuality is not important – you get to live once and if there’s another human being who you love and want to share a part of your life with, then it’s important that you do.”

This refreshing self-assurance, which she applies to both career moves and life choices, is a result of the secure home life she talks about with enviable contentment.

“Family is the one constant thing that I have in my life. I know they are always going to be there, throughout everything. They are incredibly supportive.”

Her parents were keen for her and her brother to have strong roots in music. Her paternal grandfather, Ray, was musical and her father grew up listening to him play the piano. He died young, and his absence in his grandchildren’s lives was instrumental in Morris’s parents’ decision to raise her with a love of music. The musician’s decision to adopt Rae as her stage name – she was christened Rachel – is a tribute to him.

“Sometimes I wonder whether, because I did classical piano music from an early age, I missed discovering my own music,” she admits wistfully. “I didn’t discover music in my teens and go through a hardcore scene thing.”

Despite her apparent newfound confidence on stage, vulnerability remains

But it is her classical background, along with the time invested in her development as an artist, that bodes well for Morris’s longevity. “I’m not trying to fit into a scene or a trend – I want my music to be around for a long time.”

Despite this claim, for her album Morris has teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked with bands including Charlie XCX, Sky Ferreira and Vampire Weekend. Although it brings his hit-making production to her album, Rechtshaid’s work with Morris is a more subtle effort, giving her soaring vocals the room they demand.

“I made the album in Los Angeles – it was so different from life at home in Blackpool, it was crazy,” she says, explaining that the physical distance was what she needed at that time. “I’d made these very low maintenance EPs and that was great, but I really wanted the album to be the next level and being so far away from home really did that.”

One of the early singles from the album, Do You Even Know, reflects these sentiments as she croons: “You want to leave where you came from, and cast your heart and mind to the ocean.”

“Blackpool is a difficult place to grow up and I do joke about it,” she admits. “But at the same time I feel really quite protective of it. It’s OK for me to laugh about it but if anyone else says anything bad about it, I will not have it.”

While she admits the lyric is about her hometown, Morris says it could’ve been about anywhere – she just needed to get away.

“I wrote that song just before I went out to America and I was just feeling the pressure of making an album and questioning whether or not it was going to be the right thing. I wanted to write a song that said to people: ‘Stop hassling me, stop pressuring me, you really don’t know me and I don’t know whether you ever will.’”

For fans wanting to gain further insight into the artist, Morris says her album acts as a narrative and coming-of-age story. Production-wise, she has come full circle and included some more organic, piano-led tracks. The album’s closing song, Not Knowing, is one example of this and Morris says she has become very fond of that track in particular, having played it since those early shows.

“I have made sure I’ve had enough time to discover things on my own naturally. I have had the experiences I needed to and they have led me to the right thing, and back to where I started. I feel so lucky I’ve had that opportunity. I have done something that is right and that I am really proud of.”

Rae Morris plays at the Deaf Institute, Manchester, 19 Sept, and Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 21 Sept, with more northern dates in Oct

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