Raye Zaragoza, Pima, who performs using the mononym Raye, has daddy issues—the good kind. Her father, the Broadway performer Gregory Zaragoza, instilled in her both a passion for music and the faith that there’s money in it. “I’ve been singing since I was a little kid,” she recalls. “I grew up watching him, and always wanting to do that. He and my mom started us at a very young age, me and my siblings. They would pay us to sing in front of our relatives. So, I would be singing, every other week, at some family dinner. We have videos of us singing and it sounds absolutely terrible. So, I really hope I’ve gotten better by now.”
The 21-year-old singer-songwriter currently a regular presence on the New York City club scene, having played the Knitting Factory, the Bitter End, Arlene’s Grocery, and other well-known venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn; in 2013, she was a featured performer at the LA Skins Music Fest. She has recorded some studio tracks, but stays focused on her live act. “A lot of artists love being in a studio because if you mess up at a take, you can do it over,” she says. “You can reach that level of perfection that you want. Personally, I love singing live. I really love the adrenaline I get from being on stage. I mostly trained as a live performer, rather than a recording artist. So I always try to bring that technique into the recording studio.” Her demo CD (available streaming at rayemusic.com) is a mixture of live recordings and studio tracks. “I try to create a continuity between being in the studio and being on stage.”
Raye describes her sound as having “a classic influence. I a huge fan of Norah Jones and Billie Holliday. I grew up listening to classic rock, and classic jazz. I love the Beatles and Elliott Smith, and a lot of those classic song-writers and bands. I feel like they influence my writing. My voice is definitely influenced by a lot of jazz artists, especially Billie Holiday. I always thought their voices were so pure, and so beautiful. I always envied that, and want to embody something like that. So, I worked hard to create my own way of translating that kind of feeling.” Different people recognized the similarity between her and Norah Jones before the singer really knew of her material. “I didn’t start listening to her until after I had started performing. I’m always very flattered when people compare us.” Raye’s process is not unlike any other writer. “A typical day includes one hour of piano practice, one hour of guitar, maybe an hour of rehearsal for an upcoming show. Some days, I just spend the entire day writing—I don’t practice anything, I just write songs, all day. I try to write for at least 30 minutes per day.” Her songs have a distinct under-tone of sadness, which is a far cry from her personality. “A lot of my songs I write from other people’s experiences. They’re not all from personal experience. I think that sadness is some of the greatest inspiration. I find melancholy feelings to be very, very inspiring.”
One of Raye’s most recognizable songs, “Drink Me Dry,” was included in Indian Country Today’s best music tracks of 2013. She can’t hide her exuberance at making the list. “I remember headlining a show in early 2014. And, someone came up to me and said ‘I’ve heard of you. I just hear on the street that you’re an upcoming artist.’ That was the best feeling that I could possibly have—to hear that people know my music.” She’s currently recording an EP in a New York studio. “It should be released in the next few months,” she says. “It should be pretty cool.”
Raye’s last performace took place on December 30 at the Bitter End; she intended to take the winter off but has just announced a last-minute gig at the Bitter End—tonight, February 4. After that, she’ll be playing Bizarre Bar in Brooklyn on February 22, and Arlene’s Grocery March 3. You can learn about future dates at her websitem rayemusic.com.