denai moore and director raine allen miller use creativity as a way of dealing with anxiety
You might remember Jamaica-born, Stratford-raised Denai Moore from that time she lent her beautiful harmonies to SBTRKT's "The Light" back in 2014. Or maybe you recall when, the following year, she put out her debut album, Elsewhere, a deeply emotional record that critics loved, declaring it "soaked in sadness." Fast forward to today, and we're thrilled to share the first video from Denai's second album! The record, produced by Steph Marziano, is due in the coming months via Because — the label she shares with the likes of Christine & the Queens.
Directed by Somesuch-signed Raine Allen Miller, "Trickle" opens with our star standing in a church, iconic in front of a colored backdrop. For a song about anxiety, it's got a very beautiful video. There's a little angel girl with flowers, some girls dancing, some boys sitting, and some very cool candles are lit. It's the stunning shots of Denai that we love the most; she's singing her heart out in front of a green velvet curtain. Flowers bloom, dogs appear, and there's a lot going on in this killer project.
Wanting to learn more, we got the friends and collaborators to have a good old chat about it all. Read on for a real insight into the life and work of a singer-songwriter and director. The pair discuss the importance of using your platform to say something meaningful, and why Raine was happy when Denai emailed to suggest that, "maybe we could go weirder!"
Raine: "Trickle" is written about your experiences with anxiety. Do you find it helps to address it head on in your songwriting and performance?
Denai: I don't think I'd feel very authentic as a songwriter if I didn't talk about issues that I face daily. I think that's how I see song writing; it's the most honest form of creation. I remember going through a bad spell of anxiety around the time of writing "Trickle." I had to literally cancel all my sessions and stop working. At the end of that period, I traveled for a bit and went to Paris on my own, which is when I ended up writing this song, so it was just natural. With songwriting, it's hard for me not to write about things I'm going through. It's definitely not forced.
R: It's a weird one I think, because I've only recently started talking about suffering with a mental health problem, and I also had to take time off and review my career. Now, it almost feels like talking about it is owning it more. I guess anxiety is also a lot about control, and creating work in response to those feelings is actually about controlling them. Moving on — a lot of people will be familiar with you through your collaborations with SBTRKT and Mura Masa, which is really just scratching the surface in terms of the breadth of artists you've worked with. How do you treat these collaborations?
D: I treat these collaborations almost like a challenge for myself, because I was such a private songwriter before. I remember the first collaboration I did was with this artist called Fantastic Mr Fox, and we just worked via email so I was able to write on my own. It opened me up to a different world and made me a better songwriter and more confident in my skills, in a sense. I've since learned a lot from people like SBTRKT, who has been in music for a lot longer than me. And Alex [Mura Masa] is so talented.
R: I'm curious to know, when you say you were emailing, how does that work?
D: Fantastic Mr Fox lives in Berlin, so he'd send the song to me, then I wrote to it, sent it back to him, and he'd give me feedback. We just worked like that; we'd vocalize our opinions about the track via email.
R: That's quite a nice intro into working with someone, it takes a bit of pressure away.
D: Exactly. Also, everyone is so different. A really important part for me is to make a connection with someone. I can't collaborate with someone without that connection.
R: It's a very similar thing with music videos. I can't imagine working with an artist that I've not properly met and spoken about the idea with, but I guess that's what happens when you start making your, you know, Taylor Swift videos — it is literally like a business transaction. Do you have a systematic approach when writing with others?
D: With this record and collaborators, we just hung out and spoke about what we wanted to write about. I think that's the most important thing; realizing what you want to say and how you want to use your voice.
R: So do you sort of come up with a theme, where you say, "I want to write a song about this"?
D: Yeah. It has to be about something I feel strongly about. I have a song on this record called "Do They Care." It's the first time I've ever written about social issues, which is something I really wanted to write about and it took me quite a while. I think sometimes when talking about issues to do with race, and systematic injustices, you find yourself at times being angry or just really sad, and it's hard to find the right tone for it. I knew the album was done when I knew there was nothing else I wanted to say.
R: It's like the Denai manifesto! Who would be your dream collaboration?
D: I'm a massive fan of Feist. I'm obsessed with her, she's one of the most influential artists to me. I'm a massive Kanye fan as well. I just think as an artist, the way he reinvents himself on every record is inspiring because a lot of artists aren't brave enough to challenge their listeners in the way that he is. I respect the integrity to just follow your ears and allow it to be exactly what you want it to be, rather than what people expect you to make as an artist.
R: Good choices! How do you remove that care for what other people think when you're making a track? Because obviously you want people to hear it.
D: Sometimes I think you underestimate what other people are open to listening to anyway. For me, I wouldn't be able to record anything if I didn't feel like anything was possible when I was making it, and if I didn't feel that free. The most important thing for me to consider is: "how will I grow afterwards, from making this?"
R: I understand you had a musical upbringing. From your younger years in Jamaica, to your youth into adulthood in London, how much of an impact would you say your family has played on the artist you have become?
D: My parents had always created this environment that allowed me to express myself, from when I said I wanted to be an actress when I was younger, or when I wanted to learn a new hobby. So they've definitely influenced how I feel about life in general, because I feel like anything is possible. My dad was a songwriter and he had a lot of misfortune, so there were some massive learning curves about the industry from his experiences. But Raine, it's been an exciting few years for you — moving out of working in creative agencies to working as a video director full time. What's been the best part of the transition for you, and what have you learned along the way?
R: It has been an exciting few years and I think a big part of it is the fact I've been working out my whole mental health issue, as I suffer from depression and anxiety. I went through a really bad period, which is actually when I got signed by Somesuch, which was such an amazingly positive thing to happen in tandem with something so tough. Through being in therapy, I realized that I can't really do what I don't want to do anymore, and that I've got to make a sacrifice, maybe even be broke for a while, and just focus on making films. I love advertising; it's a fun industry to be in because you're always making work, but you're constantly being told you can't do certain things. Whereas with music videos and filmmaking, you can pretty much do whatever you want. The exciting thing is being in charge and having the power to make the work you really want to make. It's quite interesting you talking about finding your voice, because in a different way, I've found mine. In directing, you're the person that everyone wants answers from, and I've learned that I've got quite a lot of confidence in my own vision. It was particularly nice on your video, because we had a shared vision. So it was great being able to go a bit wild. I remember you emailing saying, "maybe we could go weirder!" and I just thought "Yes! Let's make this really weird!"
D: Is there a particular style of music that you're drawn to when choosing who you'd like to work with?
R: Obviously you get sent a lot of briefs, and I like all kinds of music. But for me, I don't want to make music videos that feel like a music video. I feel like they have to be saying something. If anything, I question myself if I just like the sound of the track; I have to read the lyrics. Especially with music videos, as a lot of young people are going to be watching them, so we have to be making something important. I don't want to be that director that makes cool music videos. Mine have to say something. It's not being preachy; it's just about having substance and a bit of integrity. I want to make work that inspires people.
D: What, if anything, surprised you about us working together?
R: It didn't actually surprise me as such, but it was really nice. You were very trusting on the shoot. We'd had a lot of conversations about the creative and the ideas, and it was totally collaborative. But on the shoot day, I think you just fully trusted me.
D: I found it really refreshing as I'd never worked with a female director before. Especially to meet up beforehand and properly discuss where we wanted to go with the video.
R: It was a fun video, wasn't it? It was long, but really fun! That goes back to the other point about choosing who to work with as well; there's no money in music videos so you have to love it. I was ill on the day we did our shoot but I was so happy to be there and wanted to make it amazing. And you can't do that if you think the song is just "alright."
D: Any girls in particular doing amazing things in the creative industries you think we should be keeping a close eye on right now?
R: Nadira Amrani, who has started a platform called People of Colors, which is interesting because it's a collective of filmmakers that are of color, and it's not just about being black. Sometimes, I think of myself as a black female director, whereas actually now it's more like I'm a filmmaker of color and I think it's time to celebrate this. Her work is also amazing and definitely worth checking out. She's done a music video, she's a journalist, she's just a very smart girl. Also Dorothy Allen-Pickard is another director who has made an amazing film called Old Pal, that I think is brilliant. It's about a girl called Caitlyn who has her leg amputated, and it's all about her before she has the operation. And my hero is Dawn Shadforth, who is a director that's been around for a long time and looks like she's about 26. You should look at her work, she's fucking amazing. They're my top three for this week!
Text Frankie Dunn