Get to know the winner of our latest songwriting competition: a New Jersey-based, Maryland-born songwriter with an alternative soul-rock sound
Recently crowned the winner of a competition organised by Songwriting Magazine and ReverbNation, Rasha Jay’s journey from a small Maryland town to the thriving music scene in New Jersey is nothing short of remarkable. Our conversation delves into the roots of her creative journey. Rasha discovered her love for singing at an early age, harmonizing through childhood and crafting her first song at the tender age of nine.
However, it wasn’t until 2015 that a pivotal moment prompted her to shift gears. Engaged in collaborations with established artists, Rasha realised it was time to seize control of her narrative. The result was her debut EP, Cicada, released in 2016, a raw expression of her unfiltered creativity.
As we explore her songwriting process, Rasha unveils a unique approach – trusting her instincts, capturing the essence of a moment without pen and paper. Her winning track, Fair Chase, submitted to the competition, reflects this methodology. It’s a poignant exploration of relationships with a sonic fusion that echoes Rasha Jay’s distinctive style…
Can you pinpoint when you first started songwriting, rather than singing other people’s songs?
“I can. I’ve been singing my entire life as far as I’ve known. My parents told me I’ve been singing around the house as a toddler. However, I wrote my first song when I was nine; I still remember it, it was called Turnaround. So, in my mind, I was already a creative person, at nine years old I just knew I would like to do these things. I started writing more songs in high school. By then I had sang a lot, I’d do a lot of showcases in Maryland, Virginia, up and down the East Coast. And then I moved to New Jersey, specifically to do theatre and singing, and I was still writing songs. But something happened in 2015: I just said, ‘Okay, I’m really going to put out something, I’m really going to write anything.'”
What made you shift your mindset at that point?
“I know exactly what it was, I had the pleasure of being called in over a course a year and a half to work with other artists who were signed, or that were. well, more maybe well known. And I love that collaboration, however, there was something that was like, ‘Well, it’s time you got to do it yourself…These are your songs, this is your stuff.’ And so I started looking for a partner in crime, a co-producer, with my vision, and I found it and his name is Todd. We just got each other and I just sang songs I wrote and had halfway-produced. Before I knew it, it just came pouring out and my first EP Cicada was released in 2016. I was just so happy to get it out. I didn’t do PR, I didn’t hire anybody, I didn’t say it was my debut, I was just so happy to have it. I even got CDs made and before I knew it, I was like, ‘This is it, now let’s get to performing it live. I’m definitely a person that wants to perform my music.”
Do you play any instruments or is it purely around your vocal? How do you how do you approach writing music?
“Ah, well, I was ear training myself when I was a kid – to do melodies without music. But it’s different for every project. With Cicada I had everything, I already had words, melodies and recordings in my phone. High Dive was based on further ideas and melodies and a little bit of keys, I play play some keyboards. And, in my head, I’m a drummer.”
How about lyrics? How do you tend to do look at do sit down with a blank page and let it pour out as stream of consciousness? Or do you come up with a concept and then write to that?
“It’s a little different [each time] However, I don’t sit with paper and pen. I trust in the belief that whatever my first or second thought is, is the song, and that’s been working for me. That’s how High Dive was written, it started with me hearing this sort of wave in a crescendo and decrescendo, I just walked around my place and I started singing to that. I have no clue what’s gonna happen but I like the sound, and then I come back to it… If I believe the first or second thing is the song, then I don’t do anything. I sit and I hit record, and that’s the song. That’s how my songs are written.”
Talk to me a little bit more about Fair Chase because that was the song you submitted and what we selected as the winner of the competition.
“It started with me putting the percussion together on my Mac – it was slower than what the recording ended up being – and I just hit record. It’s about the state of a relationship where you can admit that it’s been a fair chase, but an unfair game. You can’t be with them, can’t be without them. And I was happy to say that, at the end of it, it [sounds like] a bit of Rasha Jay and Gorillaz collab. But yeah, it ended up being really cool and a great opener for my album. It just felt like that was the song you open your album with, and it’s strong enough.”
Who would you say were your influences, either back then or now. Have they changed?
“Oh, what I’ve realized is that a lot of the people that I grew up being so directly influenced by, all of them are no longer here: from Prince to Whitney Houston to Michael Jackson. Especially Prince, I remember being a little girl and my uncle was our family DJ, he had his turntables out and I was in love with the song Raspberry Beret. And I remember running over to him and putting in my request to play it so many times. And obviously there’s Stevie Wonder and I’m in love with Arctic Monkeys, and Royal Blood, and I’m in love with St. Vincent and Foo Fighters. Oh, and a really wonderful band called La Luz.”
We’ve looked back, and we’ve brought it up to date, so let’s look forward. What are your ambitions, your aspirations?
“I know, in my heart, I will be singing and writing songs for the rest of my life. No matter what, that’s not going to change. So for me, I wait to be inspired and I’ve been inspired a lot lately. So I’m formulating songs and ideas right now, or ideas for percussion if that’s gonna inspire me. If I go outside and hear something, a phrase, a word…anything that’s inspiring to me, that’s what I’m going to be doing. So I’ll see what music stirs out of me for 2024. And one thing I do know for sure is I’m a big performer of my music. So I don’t just release music and say press play, I’ve booked gigs, because that’s the most important thing I want to do. So I’m hoping to be back in the UK as I was able to do a small tour some years back.”
Where did you play?
“I had a booking agent that was based out of Birmingham, but I played in London, like The World’s End in Camden. For a second, I was like, ‘I want to live in London.’ I was there for a long time, so I got to fall in love with many things, including the fan reaction… Fans showed their appreciation by buying me pints, which I’d never experienced before my life. It was wonderful, I do want to return.”
Amazing. Putting you on the spot a little bit here, but do you have any advice that you would offer to somebody who’s following a similar journey to you?
“The best thing I can say to anybody, whether you’ve written 50 songs, or a million songs, or you’re writing your first song and you don’t know where to start, is that there’s enough room for us all. There’s endless possibilities. And if you don’t believe me, go to your favourite streaming service and look at how many songs have been written and are being released every single day. So don’t stop thinking that we don’t need your song or your point of view. Someone may hear the same track, the same fully produced music and write something totally different to that same track. So if there’s any trepidation…the answer is, go for it. And I think that I’m not going to wait for someone to sing a song that resonates with me, I get to do it myself. I find that to be a great privilege, a great joy.”
Why were you particularly interested in our competition?
“I love talking about songwriting, I love talking about how my songs come about, and I can talk about songwriting all day…I love that, I saw Songwriting Magazine and I said, ‘Hello!…’”
Is there anyone who’d be your dream collaborator?
“Honestly… If somebody said anybody right now, it would absolutely be Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys… [I think he writes] very honest songs and I do those too, so it’d be nice to see that. But then it would also be wonderful to just go crazy and write a song with Arctic Monkeys and have it just be rockin’!”