Interview: Rianne Downey

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Fresh from the release of her latest single ‘Do or Die’ and with an EP and sold out King Tuts gig later this year, up and coming Scottish star, Rianne Downey is making her name as one of the most promising new artists in the UK. With ‘Fuel to the Flame’ and ‘Stand My Ground gaining Rianne fans and media acclaim alike, further performances aligned with Scotland’s recent Euros campaign have only increased the buzz.

This has been a breakthough several years in the making, with Rianne getting her first taste of the big stage when invited to perform a track with fellow Glasgow musician, Dylan John Thomas, during each night’s support slot for Gerry Cinnamon and Liam Gallagher.

We spoke to Rianne about the journey so far, discussing ‘Do or Die’ as well as selling out King Tuts, working with James Skelly and plenty more!

NC: I’ve heard the story of you busking on the streets of Glasgow with Dylan John Thomas and then sharing a stage with Gerry Cinnamon and Liam Gallagher, were you writing your own material at this point or did that come later?

Rianne: “I didn’t start writing myself until last year, it was always something I wanted to do and my heart was in the right place, but I was a bit scared of failure. I was afraid of writing songs that weren’t good enough and I kept putting it off. I started writing with friends and that went well, then in 2020 I kind of thought, it’s now or never.”

NC: How did you find lockdown generally, did you find yourself being creative or was it a struggle?

Rianne: “At the very start, I did struggle. It was just a lot of time to spend with myself and my own thoughts because I’m a very harsh critic of myself. In my head it seemed like the end of the world at first, it took me until about half way through the year to see the light. I started uploading a few covers and they were really well received, so it encouraged me to start writing and spend my time wisely. I’ve definitely become more confident in my songwriting as lockdown went on, I just gave it a go and it’s turned into something really special.”

NC: Your popularity has been on an upwards trajectory too in what must be the strangest circumstances, what has that experience been like?

Rianne: “Yeah it’s been a weird one. The fact I’ve got the following I do and nobody has seen me play live is strange in itself. It has been a steady incline with people joining in and following my music. Usually when you upload videos, you expect the followers to drop once the hype wears off, but everyone has just stuck with me and it seems to be getting bigger. It’s surreal but I feel very grateful.”

NC: One stand-out thing that happened was selling out King Tuts, what does that mean to you?

Rianne: “It’s crazy, I’ve never played a headline gig of my own before where I’ve had to sell my own tickets. The fact that my first ever gig here will be at King Tuts and it sold out in two days is incredible. The world is upside down at the mintue so I wasn’t expecting much at all. It’s exciting and there’s pressure now because I’m putting my own show, but it’s good pressure!”

NC: You played a role musically in Scotland’s Euros campaign, recording covers of national songs and performing at the Glasgow fanzone. What was that like to be a part of?

Rianne: “It was great, even though the team didn’t get far in the tournament, everyone was so patriotic. It was special to be a part of and a once in a lifetime thing for me. It was especially nice after the pandemic when you’ve been so far away from everybody, now we’ve all come together and it’s just what was needed.”

NC: We’ll talk about your latest single now, ‘Do or Die’. Can you give us a bit of a background on the song and the reception since release?

Rianne: “I guess it came from me having a do or die moment, feeling very insecure and questioning myself. It’s very easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it in the music game and how good you are at what you do. It’s a challenging thing and I’m someone who is very hard on themselves. It’s about taking those feelings of not thinking you’re good enough and saying it doesn’t matter, you’re only here once so you might as well give it a try. The reception has been absolutely amazing, I think everyone can relate to the lyrics which is what makes it so special. Even though the lyrics mean a lot to me and came from me, the song is speaking to other people as well, so it has been lovely.”

NC: You’ve mentioned a couple of times how self critical you are, so what will you have to achieve to feel settled in the sense that you are good enough and you are achieving something in music?

Rianne: “I don’t really know, to be honest. I think once I play my own gig I might think right, this is happening now, you’re actually achieving something here. It has been amazing so far though – Do or Die was up there with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in the iTunes country charts, I didn’t even know it was a country song! I think when you’re living in a digital world it’s easy not to take things in, so once I play a gig and see people singing my songs back to me, that will be a real sense of achievement.”

NC: Releasing your EP will be another big achievement this year, with Do or Die being the third single from it. How are you feeling ahead of release with pre-orders selling out?

Rianne: “It’s out in September, pre-sale sold out in two weeks with just two songs out at the time, which is absolutely mental. We’ve got one more song on the EP that nobody has heard, so it’s really exciting!”

NC: You’ve worked at Parr Street Studios where there seems to be a growing list of new musicians supporting one another, a real sense of unity there. What is that like to be a part of?

Rianne: “It’s like a society or something going on, it’s brilliant. Everyone has grouped together, supporting each other and cheering each other on. It’s great because it can be a lonely place making something of yourself in the music industry, so it’s lovely having a group of people, even though we might not see each other, that are supporting one another.”

NC: And what has it been like working with James Skelly there, was he someone you admired beforehand?

Rianne: “I loved the Coral growing up. They were pivotal in sparking my love for songwriting, so getting to work with James Skelly was brilliant. It’s weird because once you see them and they’re just like you, it just makes you really content. To see I could do some of things he could do and that I wasn’t so far away was reassuring.”

NC: Who else have been some of your influences and where would you pinpoint your genre?

Rianne: “It’s hard to pinpoint my genre. When I write my music I think of indie, but when I release my songs it can turn more pop, country, alternative etc. My big influences have been The Stone Roses, Amy Winehouse, The Specials and Madness!”

NC: You were involved in the Alltogether Now single for Music Venue Trust, I assume this is a cause you can relate to as you look to play these small venues and build your music career?

Rianne: “Definitely, without the grassroots venues the majority of artists can’t make anything of themselves because these are the places you start your career. For me, it was where I started seeing other musicians and became inspired to do it myself. So they’re not only pivotal in the sense of providing a platform, but they also create dreams for people who maybe wouldn’t think it was possible otherwise.”

NC: There has been a lot made of the gender imbalance, particularly across festival lineups this summer. Is this something you have been aware of in the industry when breaking through and has it made things more difficult?

Rianne: “I do think that the music industry is and always has been male dominated, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a drive against women. However, when I hear people saying more girls need to pick up a guitar, that does get to me because I know there are loads of girls out there who are releasing music just as good as the guys. It’s harder to be heard as a girl, people seem to think we don’t have anything to say or what we do say doesn’t matter as much. I think a lot of people just expect us to release soppy love songs, but they need to take more of a chance on us and realise how much talent there is out there. We do have a lot to say, we do think and feel as strongly about things as guys do. We experience the same things guys do too, we can all go out and get steaming but when guys sing about it everyone seems to relate, yet when girls do it seems more of a grey area. There are so many people now who do listen to female artists, I think it’s more the promoters and people running the festivals that need to take a step back and consider the wider picture, rather than what’s going to get them the quick cash. I don’t think guys should be losing out on opportunities either though, I think there needs to be the right balance!”

NC: On the topic of festivals, what are your particular favourites, are then any you’ve got your eyes on in terms of playing in the future?

Rianne: “The dream would definitely be Glastonbury. I’ve only really been to T in the Park and TRNSMT myself, but aside from those I’d love to play Neighbourhood or Reading!”

NC: What else have you got planned for the rest of 2021 aside from the EP and gigs?

Rianne: “Just more gigs, more songs. I’m constantly writing, trying new ideas and different sounds. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, that’s all I can say!”

NC: And finally, what are your short term and long term goals as a musician?

Rianne: “Short term is to play gigs and hear the crowd singing back to me. My long term goals are to just keep writing, releasing better tunes each time and do this as a living for the rest of my life!”

Rianne Downey has a big future ahead. The ‘Fuel to the Flame’ EP is out in September and remaining tickets for the upcoming dates are HERE. In the meantime, check out ‘Do or Die’ below!

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If you haven’t already, make sure you check out our Fantasy Pints Podcast, where we interview a different guest each week and ask the one common question – “if you could go for a drink with any three musicians past or present, who would you choose any why?” Latest episode below!

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