One year on from our last catch-up with drum and bass veteran vocalists Riya and Collette Warren, their debut album has bedded into the scene and their partnership has reached new levels. Two Sides Of Everything totted up a whole number of nominations at last year’s Drum&BassArena Awards, and the pair have since been thriving on stage, performing side by side like never before.
“It’s been a crazy year,” says Collette. “We had really amazing feedback from the album.” Amongst the excitement of the album were many lessons learnt and new experience gained, as Riya explains, “It’s been a big year of growth for us both in lots of different ways really. It’s challenged us business-wise and we’ve had to learn loads of different things that we didn’t know before, which is obviously really challenging but has been really empowering at the same time.”
Collette adds, “It’s interesting to see how much work labels put into things. I’ve got a lot more respect for record labels now because I’m like wow there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that I didn’t know about. We’re constantly questioning ourselves about whether we’re doing the right thing or doing things right.”
After working on an album for months and starting a label with no prior experience, it was a real learning curve for both Riya and Collette. “Before the album we were so busy sorting everything but after it was like oh, what do we do?” they explain. “Luckily, we had a couple of album launch events and we made a little documentary as well with Burnt Box London which was amazing. It was more about letting the album be out there and seeing how it would go down.”
Beyond the successes of the fourteen track LP was a lingering question, what was next for Carnelian Records? Launched last summer, until now Carnelian has only hosted Riya and Collette’s own project. “We weren’t one hundred percent sure what the direction of the label was going to be, we hadn’t maken our mind up what we were doing with it,” says Riya.
With remix project More Sides of Everything firmly underway, ready to be released on Carnelian later this year, the duo began to evaluate what else their own imprint could offer, particularly to up-and-coming vocalists as they once were.
“We did a Surrender remix competition where we took our verses out and put it out there, asking people to put their own stamp on it and make a verse. We had loads of entries and people put their videos on instagram and stuff. We had one winner but the second place person was incredible as well.” explains Collette. The opportunity to hear from new, organic voices in the drum and bass scene was enough to inspire them both, with the Surrender competition becoming a driving force for discovering what Carnelian Records stands for.
“That was a real pivotal moment for us and the label,” Riya adds. “When we started getting all the entries in we got so much joy from seeing other vocalists put their stamp on it and make it their own. We decided we needed to start thinking about bringing other vocalists into Carnelian. We weren’t expecting to feel the way we did – it was such a nice feeling.”
“We just thought Carnelian could be the home of the vocalist because there’s no other drum and bass label doing this. The vocalists will always be at the forefront – usually it’s the producer featuring the vocalist but ours will be the vocalist featuring the producer. It will all be based around them, even the artwork.” explains Collette.
Both women feel passionately about singer songwriters, those who write organically, emotionally and often play their own instruments. This combined with a love for drum and pass seems to be the killer combination, unlocking the secret to an epic Carnelian feature. Riya says, “Collette and I both love writing [acoustically] and love acoustic music, piano and guitar songs. We thought it would be really nice if we could release drum and bass tracks with an acoustic version. Not only does it allow the songwriter and vocals to come through, it’s also just nice for playlists. Not everyone loves drum and bass so it gives them an opportunity to have a spotlight on them and show their amazing talent.”
Speaking of amazing talent, Carnelian are now releasing their first track since the album with a singer songwriter they scouted online and at a gig in Liverpool. After a lot of label soul searching and an abundance of competition entries scoured, Riya and Collette decided on Welsh artist Gemma Rose to take centre stage this July on Carnelian with her track Leave It All Behind.
Collette explains how the pair were “absolutely blown away by her” and “knew they had to get her on Carnelian.” Riya adds, “we just loved what she was about, she’s a very talented pianist, has a very angelic voice and she’s really good live.”
Gemma, who is classically trained and was working as a performer on cruise ships before the pandemic, writes banks of songs acoustically with her piano and pitches them to producers. A much different approach to many who sing to pre-produced tracks, Gemma is inspired by her own ideas and starting big, powerful drum and bass tracks from a simple piano riff. In the case of Leave It All Behind, Gemma is working with Pyxis and Alpha Rhythm. It kickstarts a whole new era for Carnelian Music so UKF also caught up with Gemma Rose to hear a bit more about her experience in breaking into the drum and bass scene, and how it feels to finally have her projects heard.
Tell us a bit about your musical background and what lead you to this point…
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I used to sing at all the singing competitions in school, so my parents asked me if I wanted singing lessons. I ended up at grade eight piano and grade eight singing through doing the ABRSM exams, then I went to University and graduated with a BA Honours in Pop Music. I had always enjoyed writing songs and poems, then at Uni we had to write songs as part of our course, this is when I started to understand how to write properly.
I found myself performing at open mics, performing in bands and making covers of songs because at the time there wasn’t a huge drum and bass scene in Cardiff, especially not for vocalists. There were a few of us that loved it though and we used to travel to Bristol and go to nights in Lakota and Motion instead. I then found myself enjoying doing stripped back acoustic versions of different drum and bass songs and some of them got noticed. I carried on doing that while my full-time job was being a cruise ship performer where I was a piano vocalist, then lockdown happened so I was stuck on the ship isolating for like six weeks.
When I came home, music wasn’t really how it used to be and I had a lot of free time during lockdown, so I decided that was my time to start taking song writing really seriously from then on. So, I recorded all of my ideas, I joined every Facebook group I could find and reached out to different producers and musicians and I wanted to really get into the scene this way. I did covers of different artists, tagged them in it and shared the videos and then eventually I got approached by Henry. Here To Stay was my first song and collaboration and was released on Fokuz Recordings, which was awesome! I felt like I’d got my foot in the door a bit. Then we did another song called You & I which was released on Celsius Recordings and that started generating a bit of interest.
Over the next year I wrote loads more songs, loads that haven’t been released and some that are still in the works, but I thought I needed to get enough of a finished product that I could sing a live set. Then I was offered an opportunity to perform a live set with Josie in Liverpool which was awesome, we had so much fun doing that set together, she absolutely smashed it on the decks! We were supporting Riya and Collette and Monrroe, so I decided to get all my instrumentals mastered and sorted. In that gig I managed to sing pretty much a full set of original songs. That was when Riya and Collette approached me and asked me to do something on their label, so I think they saw something in me then, which is definitely really rewarding because the whole build up to it was just me trying to find my way on my own and I did it by just putting myself out there and being persistent. Now here I am!
You talk about the fact you needed to get a load of songs written, how did you find that at a time when there was no live music?
I think it came in waves like most people. At first, I was really excited that I had all of this free time and I could get on with it. I released my first song and it was like okay, I have a lot of time and you have to keep yourself inspired. That can be tricky as I get inspired by going to festivals, gigs and watching live singers but I just had to keep inspired remotely instead. I then realised that if I just put my foot down and keep being persistent and positive that I might actually be able to do this. By having that one finished song out on a label showed that I could do it, and that was the motivation I needed.
Do you find that having the backing of other vocalists has been beneficial given you share the same songwriting background?
Yeah I do, it’s really motivating. I think that it’s really good to bounce ideas off people. It’s really nice to feel like you’re more a part of something. I think with a label you can talk about your ideas and I find it really helpful. You can be sitting in your room three quarters of the way through an idea and you sometimes just need another person to bounce an idea off, which is why working with a label is so good as they can offer suggestions. Riya and Collette have the expertise as well and can point me in the right direction. I have done alright on my own so far but now I have two professionals giving me advice. They are so encouraging and supportive and I have loved working with Carnelian so far.
Riya and Collette have been in the game a long time, it must have felt great to get this recognition from them as a newcomer?
Definitely, it was so good to finally get recognised. There are only so many covers of songs you can do, and half-written ideas you can write alone, it’s really great to get these song ideas developed and made into something special. Now I’ve been noticed by two of the most well-respected female vocalists in the scene and they want to work with me, I’m really grateful. It hasn’t sunk in and I don’t think it will until the song is out. These past four months I have been writing, recording and we have all been working really hard, but it really feels like all those covers and the persistence has really paid off and I can’t wait till Leave It All Behind is finally out!
Do you find that your acoustic roots have helped a lot when writing for drum and bass, despite classical training being so different?
One hundred percent, I feel like the practicing has all finally paid off too. I play every day, I feel like I now have the skills to write the hooks, riffs, the melody by myself, and now I’m learning how to mix too. I used to sing a bit of light opera and have quite a high voice so maybe that’s something that makes me a little bit different. I have performed so much on the cruise ships, but it just doesn’t quite give you the same reward as singing your own music live.
I love drum and bass and I want to be part of this scene because you can really hear the lush emotional vocals and lyrics of the singers combined with heavy bass and the energy of crowds, which I think is the perfect combination. I feel like it’s where I’m meant to be right now.
You may not think that classical and drum and bass would mix but maybe that’s why it works because it’s a different combination, its exiting. I’ve always written songs, just writing little notes on my phone throughout the day. Over lockdown, I decided to go back to University to train to be a music teacher, so I studied my PGCE in Cardiff. The course was mostly remote so I was trying to juggle that whilst still writing and collaborating online with artists I’d never met before. I was learning so much. Now I run song writing workshops at the school I work at which is also a good time to scribble down some ideas!
I treat this like a full-time job alongside my full-time job as a music teacher in a school, which I love. I want to make this work, and I’ve seen artists like Charlotte Haining, Riya, Collette, A Little Sound, Emily Makis, Solah, all these female vocalists have done it, you just have to keep trying. One song out of thirty or forty songs might be the one, but you have to write all those songs to find out.
The new track coming on Carnelian, Leave It All Behind – what was the process behind this one?
I’m originally from Bridgend but moved to London with my partner roughly a year ago which is where I wrote Leave It All Behind. We have turned one of the rooms into a home studio which has always been a dream! The song is about how sometimes you just outgrow a place you have lived in for such a long time and things change in your life. A lot of my friends have all moved away from Bridgend and it was just about moving from one place to another, starting fresh and leaving all of the negative parts of your life behind you. I sent Riya and Collette a few ideas but we decided that this one had something quite special about it.
I told Riya and Collette that I would love one day to make an acoustic version and they said that’s also what they wanted to do, so I recorded it straight away! That’s one of the most special things about it is that there is a B-side because that’s how I write all my songs originally, at the piano. Sometimes good ideas come to you, sometimes they don’t, and this one turned out to be a good one. The fact they wanted to release the raw piano version was a dream of mine as I’d always recorded these acoustic versions in the hope that some great producers would remix them.
Going forward, is there something you are aiming for in particular beyond creating more acoustic and drum and bass music?
I am constantly writing. I have this motivation now because it’s actually happening and things are moving, so I’ve got loads of ideas. I’ve been approached by some artists – I don’t want to say too much yet in case I jinx it! I think at the moment my sound has been mostly influenced by liquid and incorporating lots of jungle breaks, but I think some of my new tracks are probably going to have a bit of a heavier sound, so I’m exploring that too. I think if anything my sound will just continue to diversify and grow, especially depending on who I start working, the unknown can be exciting.
I know my roots and what my strengths are, so it will be interesting to see what collaborations can happen. I’m going to stay true to myself and write how I always have and see how the song develops and I just want to keep getting better. The creative process is becoming more fun because it’s going somewhere now and my ideas are being taken seriously by Riya and Collette. I am really enjoying working with Carnelian right now, I have learnt so much already and I’m just really excited to be part of this label as their first artist. I want to take my music as far as possible, performing more live sets, and really, I feel like I’m only just getting started, so let’s see.