Describing his music as “tear dripping autotune,” Raven Artson has carved out a unique sound and vision that is otherworldly and authentically human. He is one of those unique artists that believes in the idea of art as a world of textures and layers – not only is he creating a sonic palette of strange and familiar sounds, but his interest in the visual side of artmaking is rendered in the way he comes up with his own music video concepts, as well as working with fashion designers and filmmakers. The end result has been this unique and exciting blend of soundscapes, which you can discover in his new album, Whatever, out today!
Could you tell us a bit about your upbringing and the way music played a part in it?
Growing up, my parents provided an environment where experiencing music was super present. When I was 6, they got me a drum kit, helping an introverted kid channel his emotion.
Moving from the Netherlands to Los Angeles must have been a big change for you. How did your music and perception change when you made the move?
First of all, I learned that the world isn’t as utopian as The Netherlands made me believe. It’s like if conflict were a city they’d name it Los Angeles. Musically, this means that underground and pop culture mix.
In terms of the sounds that you have developed over your time making music, who do you feel had the biggest impression on you to drive you to be the artist you are today?
In my personal beliefs, I borrow the idea of different persona from David Bowie, find self-motivation in Kanye West and discover pure artistry through Frank Ocean.
What inspires you to make music? Are you inspired to write lyrics or music first?
Writing is very therapeutic; I need it to organize my thoughts. New songs always start with a sonic palette that I’ll loop until the melodies and words are done. This outlining doesn’t take long, around one hour tops.
Your songs have these really interesting vocal effects throughout, and you’ve described your music as “tear dripping autotune.” What role do the vocal effects play in the overall sound you are creating?
Thanks! I love the synthetic and polished feel of autotune, both as a sound on its own and as a concept in today’s world. It’s like photoshop for vocals. I’m interested in experimenting with how far I can go while still conveying a genuine emotion.
You express yourself very honestly and openly in your lyrics, and pair that with these otherworldly effects and synth sounds – it has this blend of something that is both earthly in its expression and otherworldly in the sounds you are creating sonically. What attracts you to exploring music that is mixing the organic with electronic and synthetic?
We’re learning to coexist with technology and infobesity while maintaining a sense of authenticity. I’m trying to reflect that contrast in my work. There’s a lot of information in there. Some of it raw, like the voice memos, some of it polished, like my vocals.
One of the things I love about your songs, especially on the tracks Whatever and Notice Me, is there are these bursts of energy coming from different places in the music – the sudden changes in sonic palette become part of the unity of the song. Would you say that the idea of change is something you consider an integral part of your music?
Yes. My moods and opinions fluctuate heavily, they’re very non-linear. Because my work is a direct translation of my personality, it makes sense to disrupt from time to time.
You talked about the lyrics on Whatever being a “stream of consciousness.” I wonder how much you are tempted to change things written down in a stream of consciousness. Do you find yourself trying to go back and perfect something you have written, or do you like to keep the authenticity of the moment?
For this particular song, I completely rewrote the lyrics. As time passed, I realized how detached the new version was from the initial emotion and went back to the original. In hindsight, the demo was too confronting for me at that time.
I know that you work with fashion designer Sophie Hardeman and you creatively direct your own music videos, could you tell us a little bit about how the visual part of your work contributes to the art that you create?
In practical terms, I’m searching for strange and familiar symbolism to tell a story that’s set in reality. That’s why most locations in my videos and artwork have a personal story to it. Just like my music, it should trigger without explaining.
I love the way that you are combining and defying genres, as well as combining different artistic disciplines; it’s like you are exploring the idea of a ‘total work of art.’ Is it important to you that your listeners/audience are transported into a world that stimulates both the eyes and the ears?
Thanks! I think it’s important that different media strengthen the story, and I invite people to take it in simultaneously. However, how one experiences my work depends on so many factors and I fully embrace that. There is no ‘right’ approach.
Lastly, what do you hope to achieve in the next year?
Last month saw the premiere of The Performer, a short film directed by Folkert Verdoorn that I played the lead role in and composed the soundtrack for. It’s playing at film festivals right now and will release online next year.