From her collaborations with electronic music producers such as Metrik, Zeds Dead and ShockOne, to her own work as one half of influential duo Kito & Reija Lee, Reija Lee has proven herself as a significant vocal talent on the EDM scene.
Now as she embarks on her own solo career, Reija is showcasing her own songwriting talents with her new single Love Nobody, which sees the Perth-based musician creating her own flavour of ‘80s-inspired synth-pop.
“Doing feature work for other producers has really honed my skills at being able to write a really good topline,” Reija reveals about what she gained from her previous collaborations, “and I think that’s come in to play a lot now that I’m making pop music, because I feel it’s so important in pop music to have a memorable topline.”
In particular, Reija credits her long-term musical partner Kito for teaching her how to produce music. “She was the producer and I was the vocalist, but we worked in a studio every day together and over the years I watched her and learned bits and pieces here and there, and kind of taught myself how to produce music.”
Though Reija is reluctant to call herself a fully-fledged music producer at this stage, she believes this knowledge has helped develop her music writing talents.
Reija’s first solo single, Love Nobody, marks a departure from her previous EDM work, as she delves into the world of synth-pop inspired by a love of ‘80s music that began in high school while growing up in a family of musicians.
“I was always being handed music down to me, growing on bands that my parents liked like Pink Floyd and The Police, and my brother was handing me drum’n’bass music as I got older. I took all that on board, but ‘80s synth-pop was probably the first music I discovered by myself.
“It started with The Cure, getting really into them, and I started exploring from there, going on a download frenzy of different bands like New Order, Tears for Fears and Cyndi Lauper. I think maybe that’s why it has stuck with me, because of that feeling of discovering something on your own and feeling like, ‘Wow! I really like this and it’s just for me.’”
Another artist Reija cites as an inspiration for her sound is Kate Bush. “I just really resonate with her: her lyrics, the subjects she tackles and the way she talks about things in her songs is really deep and emotive. I like that style of lyrics, and that probably shows in all of my work including my electronic music; the things I usually write about are usually quite emotive.”
She mentions Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love for inspiration in an age of streaming platforms and a culture of disposability in music. “I feel that it’s a really good album that you can just sit down and listen to from start to finish, which I feel isn’t that common anymore.”
This feeling of a lack of engagement has led to Reija embracing the vinyl format. “There’s a different experience in listening to music when you put a record on and you have to be physically engaged with it: to flip it on to the next side to hear the rest of the album, instead of just having music in the background.”
With Love Nobody, Reija explores the concept of self-love in a break from traditional songs that look at love externally. “I had just come out of a five-year relationship in London that kind of ended when I came back to Australia, so I was still on the back of that.
“I had just gone to Melbourne to do these sessions with Styalz [Fuego] on my own, and it was kind of like the first time that I felt excited about being by myself and having the freedom to do my work and all other things in life on my own.”
For Reija the process of writing lyrics comes naturally. “I think maybe for me, a lot of the time, my subconscious feelings probably come out in my lyrics… Like, I didn’t sit down that day and think ‘I’m going to write a song about self-love!’” she laughs.
“I just went in there and was like ‘What can we write today?’ and usually the lyrics just come into my head… I guess that was my brain’s way of telling me to embrace my new singledom.”
Reija credits her collaboration with Melbourne producer Styalz Fuego with providing some direction with regard to Love Nobody’s sound. The collaboration between Reija and Styalz is one that she considered a great success. “It was pretty amazing! I’ve worked with lots of different producers before and he’s one of the few producers that I’ve worked with where it was kind of like a blind date… it was literally just going into a studio with someone I never met before and writing a song.
“I have done that with some other producers before and it’s not been so great when you don’t vibe with each other, whereas this time I kind of rocked up and we were just on the same wavelength. Sometimes you just click with people, and that definitely happened when we wrote that song.”
She mentions how building on the synth loop demonstrates the back and forth nature of the collaboration. “I’d be like ‘Oh yeah, put, like, really big drum sounds in there!’ and he’d be like [lowering her voice] ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I was going to do,’” laughs Reija. “It was just a really good dynamic between us, and if I could work with Styalz every day of my career I would because he’s amazing!”
Despite the daunting prospect of striking out on her own, Reija has not only embraced her new solo career but is attracting new attention, even being featured recently as triple j’s Unearthed feature artist.
“Yeah! I was absolutely stoked to have the feature artist on Unearthed, and this is the first time I’ve ever released music independently as well; all my other music before this has been through a label.
“It’s also the first time I’ve been self-managed and self-funded and everything else… It’s a really good feeling because it’s a huge risk to go out on your own and do something independently.
“It’s scary to do something on your own, even on a label; just being a solo act is scary because you don’t have anyone there in the boat with you all the time. No one else, it doesn’t matter if it’s your manager or your label or whatever, is going to care about that project as much as you do because it’s yours. So, it’s scary but I’m really happy with how it’s been received and hopefully it continues.”
In the near future we should be seeing some more work from Reija, including the official video for Love Nobody.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek and quite funny. I laugh every time I watch it! Hopefully we’ll get that out soon. I’ve got a second single that I want to get out later this year. I have an album’s worth of music that I plan on putting out in the future, but there’s nothing set in stone.
“I just want to let Love Nobody breathe a bit and have a life of its own before deciding where to go next. Just taking opportunities as they come, I guess!”
As for collaborations, is there anyone she dreams of teaming up with?
“I think Bat For Lashes is amazing and I would die if I could ever make something with her, but I don’t think she really does collaborations so it’ll probably never happen. Oh, and Client Liaison! That’d be cool! A match made in heaven!” she laughs.