Raven Shelley Shares a Discussion on Music, Beginnings, and More!

Alternative indie folk artist RAVEN SHELLEY gives into great detail about her first ever release, getting her start, and what is set ahead in the future! See the discussion she shares with us below.

1. Please tell us about your history

I was born in the UK, but emigrated to Europe at an early age. After spending time in various different countries, my family settled in rural France, where we stayed for most of my childhood. This is where I first picked up a guitar and started to play. My parents are writers, and I was brought up in a house full of music, poetry, art and literature. Since I went to a small French village school, I educated myself in English works of literature, and it became my own private world. 

After almost a decade in the southern sun, we returned to England, which was a real culture shock, since it felt both strangely recognizable and yet deeply unfamiliar at the same time. I soon formed a band in which I was the lead singer and rhythm guitar player, and we performed at several venues throughout the North-West. It was around this time that I started writing my own songs. 

At college I placed particularly emphasis on studying Classical Literature, English Literature, History and Art. I went on to study English Literature at the University of Manchester, with a specialization in the poetry of the radical Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the songs of Bob Dylan. Immersing myself in literature and poetry day in and day out boosted my song writing to a new level. I also performed at several open mic nights whilst I was a student. 

After graduating I worked in a Covid Test Centre, during some of the worst months of the pandemic. During lockdown there were few benefits to living in a city, but many drawbacks. I’d been in Manchester for 4 years, and so when the lockdowns lifted, I decided to cut and run for a while, and escaped to a small village and a cottage in the Peak District, where I have continued to improve my songs, whilst enjoying the tranquility and the sense of community which surrounds me. 

I never tend to stay in one place for long though, and I already feel that familiar, restless feeling of needing to move on again and discover something else. I will be moving back to Manchester in the Autumn, as I still have connections there, and it has a very good musical scene. Much as I love the countryside, I know that I will not be able to launch a musical career form here, and I’m looking forward to the vibrancy of city life once again. 

2. What’s the origin of your name? 

I’ve often gone by several different names throughout my life, as many friends and partners have created their own nicknames for me. I love having different names for different situations and social circles. Juliet may well ask “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but sometimes having a different name can help you step into a different personality. And it shows a level of intimacy, because sometimes there are names which only one or two people ever call you, and which you associate uniquely with them. There’s also something liberating about using different names. Occasionally if I’ve randomly met someone that I know I’m never going to see again, I’ll give them an entirely different name to my own, and sometimes I even make up a whole backstory as well. It’s quite a fun exercise, you have to think “Who am I right now?” I mean we all have different people within ourselves; it’s Whitman who wrote “I contain multitudes”, and sometimes I find that changing a name can help to change your self, and your idea of your self for that day or that moment. 

Anyway, ‘Shelley’ has always been a nickname for me which my friends have used. It’s my middle name, given to me by my father after the radical bohemian poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who is also one of my favorite poets. At university my friends found this out, and adopted it (along with many variations, “Shell” and “Sheleyna” being favorites). It always felt like a comfortable name to me, and I love the associations. People also used to call me Raven; I can’t remember exactly how this came about, but I probably mentioned that I think they’re incredible birds. They’re playful, intelligent, and empathetic. They can imitate a huge range of noises, they are associated with many mythologies in different cultures, and teenage ravens leave home and roam about in ‘gangs’ until they pair off and find a mate! Plus, my house used to overlook an abandoned church which was popular with ravens, they used to wake me up squawking sometimes, and I loved watching them. 

So it seemed natural to me to pair the two names together, and Raven Shelly had a good ring to it; it felt right, so I went with it. 

3. Where are you based out of and what is your music scene like there? Are there any local artists you could recommend?

I’m based in a small village in the Peak District right now. I’ve only been here for a year, but I needed a break from the city, and I found the peace I was looking for here. It’s allowed me to breathe again, and explore myself and my ideas, how I want to live my life. 

Whilst there is plenty going on for such a small place, the music scene is not exactly thriving, which is the main reason I’m returning to Manchester. I’m spending the summer here, enjoying the countryside and beautiful weather, but come the Autumn I’m returning to the city to pursue music. 

4. How would you described your style?

Are we talking musical or sartorial style? If musical, then alt//indie-folk, with an emphasis on poetry and honest, real emotions. If we’re talking about clothing//appearance, then bohemian & counter-cultural are ones which often seem to crop up. Scruffy is another one! I like buying second hand clothes, borrowing them from other people, or making my own. I can usually be spotted with a short skirt, tall boots and a long coat (especially if it’s a fake fur one). I’m quite influenced by the 60s, people like Francoise Hardy and Anita Pallenberg. I also love that Stevie Nicks//Florence & The Machine look, with all the long floaty garments. You can see what I mean on my Instagram page @ravenshelleymusic. I have dreadlocks and plaits in my hair, alongside feathers and beads, and I make my own sterling silver jewelry which I wear a lot, so you can often hear me jingling and jangling when I walk – I’m not very good at sneaking up on people!

5. What have you released so far and what can someone expect from your works?

This is my first release! I’ve put out acoustic demos before on Soundcloud, and I had an EP which was about to be released when Covid struck and forced the studio to close. It meant we could never finish it, unfortunately. It actually worked out well though, because it gave me the time to rework some of the songs, change how I wanted them to sound, and write plenty more stuff. The singles I’m releasing now are better than what I had on the EP, they’re way more mature, and the recording quality is hugely better. 

People can expect raw and honest feelings in my work, as well as literary references (there’s at least 3 in ‘Sink in Solitude’ alone), and – I hope – a good story. I have different styles of writing, some are far more metaphorical & obscure than others, and some are just raw emotion. When writing recently, I’ve tried to just forget about what other people might think of it. I think to myself “Exactly what do you want to say?” and then I write it, reminding myself that I don’t have to put it out to the public if I don’t want to. But it does mean that I  end up with something that is completely uncensored, and completely honest. I love music like that; it’s why I’m such a fan of people like Ani DiFranco. She’s unapologetic in her views, and she says things people are afraid to say often.

I think there’s a lot of self-censoring in music; you have the typical narrative of many pop songs (ie: ‘You broke my heart, you’re a bastard, but I’m going to rise like a phoenix and show you what you’ve missed’. Or alternately ‘I broke you’re heart, I’m sorry, I’m only just realizing what I’ve lost, please come back’) and I just get bored of those. Music is a powerful tool, we can use if for so much good, and to say so much. But you have to push against the banal, and you have to explore what really want to say. Plus, it can show many different aspects of oneself; I mean you write songs when angry, happy, sad, funny, in so many different moods. Again, we come back to the whole multitude of selves thing; the songs you write are very indicative of this. 

6. Do you have any new music in the works?  

Always! I have 4 more singles which will be coming out over the next few months (the next one is called ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’, it’s out on the 26th August), and I’m constantly writing new stuff. Keep up to date with it on Facebook and Instagram!

I go through phases of being more creative than others; often if something emotionally draining has happened, or if I’m in the middle of a really chaotic situation, I’ll only start to process it all afterwards, and then I’ll write about it. You tend to cannibalise your own life, and the lives of those around you, to write. It means that I can be in the middle of having an argument with someone for instance, and then they’ll say something or I’ll say something and in my head I think “Ooh, there’s something in that!”, and I file it away to use later in a song. Artists are like magpies, constantly on the lookout for something shiny which will catch our eye. 

I have so many notebooks and scraps of paper dotted about which are filled with ideas and phrases. Sometimes I only use them years after I first thought of them, because I haven’t found somewhere for them to fit up until then. But they do get used. I’m sure I read an interview with Leonard Cohen once, who said he had hundreds of notebooks with many discarded verses for songs, things he didn’t think were good enough; I thought at the time “I bet loads of people would give their right hand just to have written some of those verses which he didn’t think much of”. 

I also have plenty of material to write about at the moment, having recently been through a messy breakup with the person I was living with. I sometimes think I must subconsciously cause chaos in my own life so that I have stuff to write about! I’m currently basically sofa-surfing, and it’s a really liberating experience; I barely have any stuff with me (a guitar, some books and clothes), and I’m liberated from the constraints of household maintenance, bills etcetera, and can just focus on the music. Plenty more songs on the way!

7. How about playing shows and touring, have anything planned out?

I play regularly at the pub I work in, and at a few other venues around the area. They’re small gigs, but a lot of fun, and everyone has a good time! Upon returning to Manchester I’m planning on playing every open mic I can get my hands and guitar on, and hopefully I’ll start being offered gigs. That’s the plan anyway!

8. What plans do you have for the future as an artist?

I’m currently focusing on the release of these 5 singles, and pushing that as much as possible, as well as continually improving my guitar and lyrics, and writing more stuff, playing more shows. In the long run, I’d like to get a backing band, and play bigger and bigger shows, creating a stable following.  I also want to record an album or EP soon, and have a couple of ideas for how I want that to work. 

9. Where can we listen to your and where can we buy your stuff?

You can listen on all major streaming platforms, like Spotify and Amazon Music, as well as Soundcloud.  

10. What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most when hearing your music for the first time?

I would like them to remember the lyrics, and to actually think about them. You know that feeling where you’re listening to the radio or to someone else’s playlist, and there’s stuff you don’t know on there, and usually you think “Yeah this is ok”, but you’re not actually curious enough to find out who it is, because you’re not planning on listening to it again, but then suddenly something comes on that makes you stop and take notice? It really forces you to listen? That’s what I want, because too many people just stick on background music, or have ‘favourite’ songs that they don’t actually know the name of, or the artist, or the lyrics. Or they’ve never even thought about the lyrics. 

Someone said to me at the last gig I played, on a rowdy Sunday night, that something happened when I started playing. They said that people actually quietened down, and listened, and the emotion of the room shifted. They said that it was strange to watch, because it was just me and an acoustic guitar, it wasn’t loud, but there was something that made them stop talking and take notice. I want that to be what people remember. I want my songs to have that power to silence a room, not through being louder than the room, but by subtly commanding attention.

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