by Richard Thorne

Riiki Reid: Departure Gate

by Richard Thorne

Riiki Reid: Departure Gate

It may well be hard to find a more balanced and composed pop star-in-the-making, but heading off to Australia in the middle of last year Riiki Reid suffered of an uncharacteristic emotional meltdown. A sudden gush of departure anxiety tears as she contemplated a six-week overseas stint, her first without the support of family or friends. Less than a year later the Te Whanganui-a-Tara artist has now made Melbourne her home for the next several months, and turning uncertainty into art-certainty has dropped a new single directly born of that tearful airport experience. It’s called Home With Me.

“The life of a 23-year-old, honestly!” Rikki Reid laughs happily, reflecting as much on the emotion-rich song as her increasingly layered career development.

We’re talking via Zoom and although it must be very early in the morning over the other side of the Tasman she’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Just returned from a weekend in Sydney she is relishing the opportunity to tap into understanding how the Australian music market operates. It’s a picture quite in contrast to that painted in her latest single.

Home With Me actually came about quite randomly. I wrote it in a session, along with Alex Burnett who’s a Sydney-based producer and songwriter. Pretty much we had this block of time in a day, and he said we were gonna write at least five songs! I had never ever done that in my life, and I was a bit like, ‘I can’t do that, at all. I’m never gonna produce a good song out of that.’ So I was really scared by his challenge.

“And we did it! We wrote four songs from this list of concept title ideas that I was trying to write to… but by then I think he knew. He looked at me and was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t working. We’ve got 20 minutes left of the session. What do you want to write about? Let’s put together even just an idea in that 20 minutes.’

“And I said, ‘I’m actually really homesick. I really just want to write about being like homesick and missing my partner and all that stuff.’ And that was it. We wrote chords and pretty much the words just fell out of my mouth… I’ve never written like that ever in my life! Even if I write like, most of a song in a day (which never really happens for me, it always takes a lot of time), I always come back to it, and I keep working at it for ages and ages. Although I wrote this song last year it felt pretty much finished after that session, in terms of we’d written – chords and lyrics all written in 20 minutes! I have no idea how that happened.”

Bringing the 20-minute wonder song back to Aotearoa she took it into a studio session with Josh Naley, aka producer/songwriter/artist Wells.

Reid recalls they first met during a songwriter week at Parachute Studios, where Naley has his own production space, when she was 19, pretty much, she says, when she entered the music industry. Together they then wrote and produced another song that she will be releasing as a part of this musical phase that Home With Me introduces.

“It’s funny. NZ is so tiny and obviously, like, we all find ways to kind of connect and work together, but I truly think like he’s killing it! I just I really love his style of production and I think he understands me. I guess that kind of more edgy alternative influence, plus the kind of poppy sound, you know? I think he gets it.”

Introspective, simple and powerful, Home With Me swells from a singer-songwriter tone of aching vocals over acoustic guitar to full symphonic-synth production, with Naley responsible for all the musical parts.

“Yeah, so it was really just me and Josh sitting in the room. I love being involved in that process. He played all the acoustics and we both kind of tapped into the production, with him controlling it all obviously. Then we worked on it maybe just a couple of times online, just to finesse it.”

Obviously excited about the song itself she’s almost embarrassed there’s little more detail she can add.

“It’s such a blur to me because it really feels like nothing ever happens that quickly for me. So it’s kind of like how did we do that? I have no idea!”

In 2022 Raquel Abolins-Reid rebranded her artistic identity from Riiki to Riiki Reid, partly she explains in order to showcase herself as the artist that she wanted to be – more than the youthful pop star that the huge early success her prophetically named 2019 hit single High Heights introduced.

“And along with that came wanting to show the styles that I love and the styles of music that I make, and putting that into one box or one genre, one category.”

Two very different mini EPs have followed quickly, the first featuring alternative, indie rock tracks, the kind of music the artist says she mostly listens to. The second EP reflected her history in dance and love of dancing music. Home With Me is the first of a set of songs (not an EP this time she notes with laughter), in which Reid is exploring the more raw and tender honest side of songwriting. All are music styles she loves and that she wants to be able to incorporate in the future.

“I kind of thought of it like that, like, ‘Okay, maybe if I can show the different worlds that I live in, for me, then whatever comes after that is really just going to be a mash-up of everything. And people will know that that’s Riiki, that’s Riiki Reid, I think that was kind of the goal with that.”

A direct love song to a partner she was already missing at the airport departure gate, Home With Me neatly encapsulates her present creative intent to open herself up for fans to know more about her.

“A goal for the next few songs I’m releasing is just saying how it was, saying how it is – which I probably haven’t really done before. I think it’s just taking another wall down and connecting with other people that understand what it feels like.

“In songwriting, I always disguise what I’m saying in some kind of way, I like getting quite poetic about things. But I guess with these next few songs I really am just saying like, ‘Yeah I cried in the airport, and I hopped on a plane,’ and you know, being really literal about it, which is a new way of kind of expressing exactly the core of what I was feeling at the time. I am okay!”