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In Conversation With: Riya and Collette Warren

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Riya (Laura) and Collette Warren, both hailing from Birmingham, first crossed paths at the stunning festival Sun and Bass in 2011. From there, not only did their love of Drum & Bass join them together, but a long-lasting friendship blossomed. The two vocalists have ruled the scene and have been involved in some of the best collaborations, from Markey and Skeptical to Lenzman and Hybrid Minds. From this, the powerful album ‘Two Sides to Everything’ was born, 14 tracks of exciting production and significant lyrics…it touches every corner of D&B and gives us all something to relate to. 

The two singer’s brilliance is highlighted in this album, listening to their lyrics shows their ability to create landscapes with words, and draw you into their world, covering topics people from all walks of life can relate to. From mental health to friendship, they invite us to hear their journey and offer us something to relate to and in times like these that can be a great comfort. 

Not only is the album itself moving, but these two icons were two of a dozen to be merited the Women Make Music grant from PRS Foundation – a well-deserved gift for their years of hard work and dedication to the scene. The purpose of this grant is to recognise women in music, what they have achieved and to encourage and inspire other women to follow in their footsteps. 

Riya and Collette have made some incredible moves (and tracks) for the scene, for women in music and for songwriters. Their chemistry is undeniable in and out of music and catching up with them both of them was a pleasure. Covering the process of the album, mental health, inspirations and their journey, it’s hard not to be inspired by these two great forces of nature! 

Hello to you both – Riya and Collette it’s so incredible to speak with you – have been a fan for years, you’re both huge idols in the dnb scene and have made a real stamp for women in music – nothing better than seeing two strong females smashing it! 

I’m so happy to see PRS have given this grant to you, and the album ‘Two Sides to Everything’ is going to be amazing. Two sides to everything is a theme I’m sure so many people can relate to but what was your influence/inspiration for this? 

Riya The pandemic affected us both greatly. We lost all of our work almost overnight and suddenly found ourselves with no job and lots of time to think and write. As you can imagine, our mental health took a bit of a beating and social media wasn’t helping. As we’re best friends, we’d often text and call each other to give each other a pep talk which was much needed and very healing. These chats became the foundation of the song lyrics. We just felt that something good had to come out of the pandemic and if these chats were healing for us, hopefully, they would be for the person listening to the song as well. Naturally, as there’s two of us with two opinions, it just felt right to call it ‘Two Sides of Everything’ plus we often catch ourselves saying “there’s two sides to every story”. That said, the Roni Size track ‘Two Sides’ is actually about there being more than two sides to every story because there’s two sides (or more)…and then there’s the truth. 

Your albums clips sound incredible, you have some of my favourite artists on there, LSide, and Technimatic to name a couple…couldn’t miss off Roni Size either! Did you have a process of choosing who to get involved? 

Collette – Well when we decided to do this, we sat down together and wrote a big list of who has been good to us, who has influenced us growing up, and also who we are absolutely loving right now! The list was huge as you can imagine, so it’s a good job everyone didn’t say yes as we would have 2 or 3 albums haha!

Riya – Haha, definitely. We’d still be writing lol. I mean we already have 14 tracks, that’s a decent length for an album. We also wanted to have some of our friends on there because this album is very much an expression of friendship – it actually releases on our ten year friendiversary. So to have other friends involved makes it even more special. 

Listening to clips of the tracks it all sounds funky and festival ready! I can’t wait to be dancing in fields listening to these I feel like a few of them especially are made for summer! Do you have any particular influences you have drawn upon when making this album or are any tracks/lyrics particularly meaningful to you? 

Collette As Laura touched on earlier, the whole album is all about healing in some way or another, so that was the influence for this. After the last 16 months that the whole world has had, plus me and Laura have been both going on our own healing journeys, as well as both of us separately learning new skills in the healing world, myself with Reiki and Laura with Sound Healing, so it just seemed like the most natural thing to do really. We found this album very healing to write, so we hope it heals people as much as it healed us writing it.

As COVID gave us all a lot of restrictions, did you have to remotely collab on this with producers? How does this compare to the usual process – do you find it harder to work together remotely or how did you work around it? 

Collette So Laura and I actually worked on the lyrical and melody parts together in my home studio in Bristol. She lives in Norwich so it was quite the mission for her (4.5 hours each way) but we made it work! We did do a few writing sessions via Zoom but it’s just not the same. We really vibe off each other in person and it’s so much easier recording in the same studio. 

Riya Yeah, I really struggled with Zoom writing. It’s so different to writing in person but it’s amazing that we had the technology to allow us to do that because it helped speed up the process even more. We had to work remotely with producers though because they all live in different parts of the country and there were different restrictions in different places. The only producer who we didn’t work with remotely is Roni Size. He invited us over to his studio in Bristol so we could all work together, and that really was a dream come true. I had to pinch myself. In fact, I remember proper fangirling to Roni, telling him how much I loved his track ‘Hopscotch’ growing up. He said, well we can add a bit of the Hopscotch bass into the track if you like which was a very special moment. So listen out for that!! 

Collette Yeah, that really was a special moment of the whole process. Not going to lie we did take a sneaky couple of pics in the studio haha…For our eyes only of course! 

Could you tell us more about how it is working alongside someone when it comes to song writing, do you work together on every track? 

Collette Yeah we definitely work together on every track, we feel that is very important. So we get the instrumental sent to us, and what’s so special is one of us will always get the verse melody and one of us will get the chorus melody, and then everything else just follows after that, so it really is so equal. Then with the lyrics we just write a bunch of things down on paper, drawing on what we’d been through and then we’d cut them all up into sentences and pick out our favourites and arrange them how we think they best fit. 

Riya Yeah, I remember reading this is how David Bowie used to write his songs so we gave it a try and it was such a fun way of doing it that it kind of stuck. For me, working alongside Collette made the whole process a lot more enjoyable. I’m used to writing on my own for the most part so it was nice to have someone else to vibe off and melodies and lyrics seemed to come much quicker. Two minds are better than one! 

I know all of us at DT are so excited for the album drop, alongside all of your fans! Any advice for up and coming producers or artists? 

Collette Just work hard haha. Sounds obvious but it really is as simple as that. Also, get out there and network, try and get out to as many events as you can and meet people, and of course, be patient, it doesn’t happen overnight, and you will get a lot of rejections, I still do now after doing this for 10 years but don’t take it personally, you have to remember that everyone has different tastes and different ideas to what they like.

Riya Exactly, I’d agree with everything Collette says but also I’d say to spend time working out what gives you energy and what you enjoy and just really hone it. I think it’s important to keep showing up regardless of the outcome of the track. Not all tracks will be as good as your last but that’s ok, that’s all part of the process. Finish them, move on. You’ll get to the golden one in the end. Listen to as much music outside of the genre as possible for inspiration. Do your research of existing artists and names but don’t focus on what they’re doing as it will stifle your creativity, and also you’ll end up copying them subliminally. You want to just find your own style and way with things. That’s how you stand out in the end. I also think it’s really helpful to build a network of other writers to work with because they can be a godsend when you’re experiencing writer’s block. I’ve had this at really inconvenient moments where I’ve just been offered an amazing collaboration with a huge producer and not been able to do it. Now I just reach out to other writers and it works like a dream. There are loads more but I’d be writing an essay! 

Going backwards then, how did you two first meet?

Collette The friendship started at Sun & Bass, 2011. Laura and I were playing there and I was a big fan of hers, so I thought I would send her a message to say I was excited to see her perform. I’d seen an interview with her and noticed she was also from Birmingham so I thought, brilliant another Brummy! We met and just hit it off!

Riya Then the following year I went to Sun & Bass on my own with Collette and we had so much fun it brought us closer together. We also went on holiday together with our moms and family. Also, around the time we met, I was thinking about moving to London because I’d been living in Birmingham and felt isolated from the D&B culture and wanted to be more amongst it. Collette helped me move and I lived with her for a month in her studio flat whilst I found somewhere to live, and she introduced me to all of her friends. She had a big part in me having that big life change and that really helped with me networking more in London. That cemented our friendship further.

You seem to have great chemistry musically and as a friendship. How long have you been working together for? When was the first time you collaborated in music? 

Collette The first time we did a track together was for Riya’s ‘Sublimation’ album in 2015, a track called ‘Piece of Me’ and we hadn’t worked together again since, until last year in lockdown, Laura had a track from Villem and Hadley that she was struggling to write to and asked me if I wanted to write it with her, so we did that together and that’s when we realised, we could do more of this.  

Riya I also did an acoustic version of ‘Piano Funk’ before we wrote the album track and Collette did the backing vocals. We knew then our voices sounded good together and we worked well together. But it wasn’t until the Villem & Hadley track ‘Invisible’ that the penny dropped that we could and should work on more tracks. 

For the album, what was the initial drive to get it all going? Could you tell me a bit about the process?

Collette It just all happened so naturally, it was never planned, but like I say, I guess the writing of ‘Invisible’ was the initial spark. We just thought, this is fun, maybe we could do a Riya & Collette single and self-release it. 

Riya Yes exactly. Then we put the feelers out to some of our favourite producers and started getting lots of yeses. At that point, we realised, wow this could be more than a single. After we heard about the PRS grant, the decision was sort of made for us! 

How long did it take from start to finish? 

Collette We did the album in 4 sessions, so very quick! In one of the sessions we wrote 5 tracks over 3 days, and on my own, I’ve never done that before! 

Riya It was pretty unreal. It felt like a songwriting camp of sorts. We locked ourselves in the house and just kept writing. Luckily we had a lot to say because of the pandemic. Although it really hit us hard, I guess without it, or the PRS grant, this probably wouldn’t have happened. Not like this anyway. 

What do you do to keep motivated? I know I had a huge creative block during lock down. I can imagine as an artist it was hard, especially without seeing the crowd’s reaction to your tracks like we usually would if clubs etc. were open as usual.  

Collette For me, I was doing a weekly live stream with Ben Soundscape where we had a proper little community where people would watch every week, so I did have a platform to showcase new music and see the reactions from the listener’s comments etc. It’s not quite the same as in a club but still actually reading people’s comments about the tracks was more informative than playing them out in a club, so the live streams really kept me going.

Riya Exercising keeps me mentally fit and well. But in a weird way, I thrive off struggle, adversity and challenge because I didn’t have it easy growing up. When I go through a struggle, it makes me hungry and gives me great songs lol. I think working with others kept me going too. Having fun, putting the world to right in a conversation. I had some great chats with Bcee, Villem, Technimatic, Collette, Ben Soundscape, Ruth Royall and Visionobi over lockdown, and that gave me a sense of community and togetherness. It reminded me why I’m doing this and not to give up. It also helped me creatively. I’ve found that collaborating with others really helps with my writer’s block. It just takes the vibe and energy to a different place that sometimes you just can’t create on your own. 

Coming out of COVID or being on this side of it, I’m sure has been a huge journey for us all, I know I have been taught and learnt things I never knew about myself and my goals during lockdown. How was it for you girls in respect of music and also your wellbeing? (If you don’t mind talking about it) and on that note, could you give out any tips or advise you have for others in a similar position?

Collette Music definitely saved me, without it I don’t know what I would have done, I have written more music in the last 16 months than I ever have in my life, so that’s a positive thing. I also had time to work on myself as well. I suffered a lot with OCD when I was younger, and at the start of last year it came back again, so I used the extra time to heal myself, I started meditating again, working with crystals and the moon, and as I said before I have started a Reiki course and just passed my level 1, so it’s been a great healing year for me in that sense. Always got to try and find a positive out of a negative ay! I have also learnt to be stronger, being a woman in the music industry, especially drum and bass is very tough, so you need to be stronger than the men actually, and they have it way easier than we do! So it’s just about knowing who you are, and not taking any shit haha. Also knowing your worth is very important. And carving out your own sound. There are a lot of singers out there who sound the same, or who try to sound like someone else, so find your style and own it!

Riya I’m the same as Collette when it comes to music and the pandemic. I’ve written more than ever which was a positive thing to come out of it. But it also reminded me of some pretty big life lessons like always have money saved in case you lose your work overnight. Appreciate what you have and try not to take things for granted because tomorrow it may be gone/taken from you. It reminded me how important love and community is, and how that love and community can get you through anything. That technology can be a tool for good and in keeping people together. I guess it gave me a different understanding of loneliness too, particularly when it comes to those that are isolated or elderly. I really struggled with being alone for long periods of time, I missed conversation and I found my monkey mind went crazy just having too much time on my hands so I feel I understand that better and approach that differently now, offering more support to the elderly in my life. Similarly to Collette, I used the time to focus on my own healing too. I did some more Sound Healing training, I exercised loads, I turned vegan, and I got a dog! Spending time outdoors was a huge boost for the soul. I also spent the time honing my skills and thinking about how I can expand my skillset and monetise my talents further. 

Do you have any stand out moments musically – from the first lock down, to working on the album, must have been a real experience with a music career in lock down! 

Collette Yeah, working on the album has been an absolute highlight for me, if lockdown didn’t happen then this album wouldn’t have, so I have to be grateful for that! I am SO proud of this album and it’s some of the best songs I’ve ever written and I’m super honoured to have worked on this with Laura who has always been an inspiration to me, so I’m really happy about that. I also self-released an EP on my own imprint CW Music which was really empowering and definitely helped me to understand this whole self-releasing thing which has helped with the album and our joint label Carvelian Music. 

Riya Same, the album was an absolute highlight. Also, getting the grant and making the decision to self-release it on our own imprint. That’s a huge step for us both and we’ve already learned loads from doing it. It gives me so much more respect for what the labels do. I also got the chance to collaborate with Technimatic, Monrroe and Whiney which was a dream come true. And just before the first lockdown, I went on tour to Australia and NZ with Bcee, Fred V, and Villem which was mega. We flew home on the day the UK locked down which was very bizarre and also a huge slap back down to earth. 

Collette Yes same as! I was also lucky enough to go on tour in Australia and New Zealand at the start of last year which was incredible so feel very grateful for that as I know so many artists tours there got cancelled last year.

What plans do you have for your music and the album? Now things are starting to open up a bit can we expect any exciting things coming up for from either of you? 

Collette Well we both have a lot of other tracks that we are featured on coming out this year too, but our main focus is the album! As far as things opening up, we have two album showcases we are doing which we are SO excited about, one in Bristol and one in London, so look out for that!

Riya After the album, I have a solo EP due out in November on Spearhead which was produced by Whiney but right now, the main focus is the album and our showcases like Collette said! We just want to savour and enjoy every minute of it. 

When can we expect the first single to be out, and then when is the album dropping?

Collette The first single ‘All For Something’ produced by L-Side is out on 6th August, and the full album is set to drop on 17th September!

Riya We have two other singles forthcoming as well. The second one is produced by Whiney, and the third is Roni Size. Exciting times! You can pre-order the single on our Carnelian Music Bandcamp: www.carnelianmusic.bandcamp.com. The vinyl bundles will be up there very soon too so make sure to follow us. 

Thank you so much for your time. Just before you go I have some quick-fire questions for you, answer with whatever comes to your head! 

1. What song do you sing in the shower

Collette – My head is like a radio, I have constantly got a song in my head, sometimes the most random song ever, so just whatever is in there!

Riya – I’m the same as Collette. It’s never the same thing, it’s always something random, and if it’s not random, it’s a song I’ve just written lol. 

2. Favourite song NOT in dnb 

Collette – That is impossible to pick, I’m so sorry haha!

Riya – Yep, can’t do it either. 

3. What era do you wish you’d been born into (and why!) 

Collette – Definitely 1950’s for me. My style is very 1950’s with a modern twist anyway, I just love that style so much, and how the men used to dress too, they looked so handsome back in the day. 

Riya – If not the 1950s because the fashion was gorgeous, I’d say the 1960s because it was such an exciting time in so many ways, musically, culturally, socially. 

4. What inspires you about each other?  

Collette – I’m inspired by Laura’s drive and strength. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets it. She will not take shit from anyone and if she is not feeling something, she will say! 

Riya – I love Collette’s sense of humour. She always makes me smile. 

5. What musician would you bring back? 

Collette – It’s got to be Amy Winehouse. I would so love to hear all the music she would have come out with if she was still with us. She was a massive inspiration to me and still is. Can’t believe she was only 27 when she passed, so sad.

Riya – George Michael. I was a huge fan of him, his voice and his songwriting and was really sad when he died.

Riya & Collette Warren ‘Two Sides to Everything’ is out on 17th September…keep your eyes peeled! Riya, Collette Warren and L Side ‘All For Something’ drops this Friday (6th August) make sure you grab a copy from here

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