Back in August I had a chance to speak to former child star Riva Taylor. A thoroughly enjoyable conversation with an artist who has been in the music industry since a young age and is currently reinventing themselves under a new name.
Hi Riva, how are you doing? I’m delighted and honoured to interview you.
Hi! Thank you. I’m great, ready for what you have for me!
A lot! How is your summer going?
Too fast, but great. It’s been an exciting one on the music side of things with some of my new tunes being heard for the first time.
Amazing! The weather is quite grey today but it’s warm, do you miss the heatwave we had a few weeks ago?
I have to say I do. My family live out of town so it’s been nice being able to split my time a little between the big smoke for work and the country. But it did get a bit hot on a few occasions, we don’t do AC very well here !
Did that heatwave affect your creativity?
What an interesting observation — it can be stifling the heat. And that’s why I felt I had to get out of the city a little. The space really helped put me in a better creative mindset and helped focus me a little.
That sounds good to me. Are you looking forward to winter?
I’m a fair-weather girl I’m not going to lie! So my answer is a resounding NO! I just wrote a song about exactly that — my feelings going into Autumn and the emotions it stirs in me. I will often pack my bags and go to LA to write a little at least once in the winter. Though I am looking forward to the possibilities the next few months holds for my music and the next release this Autumn!
Oh yes indeed. Anyway, let’s move on! Can you tell us how you first got into the industry?
Lets, brrrr, I’m grabbing myself an ice-lolly. I’ve been making music and performing as long as I can remember! At 7 I was in the West End, 12 I got my first record deal. It was always something I loved and that just felt natural. A hobby that got out of hand! My dad has always been a huge supporter of me and my music career. Never pushed but always encouraged, a fan who has wanted the best for me. He is the reason why I got my first deal — he sent off a tape to a major label EMI without me knowing. Thinking nothing of it and not telling me to get my hopes up. The rest was history. I owe a lot to him!
That’s such a nice thing to do for your daughter! Your contract at the age of 12 with EMI, made you the youngest artist to have ever been signed to the label. How did you balance a music career and school at such a young age?
EMI were really understanding when it came to my age and school demands! But I did have to come out to promote and travel a few times in term time and fortunately the school were only supportive of things for me so long as I kept on top of my work. I have always really enjoyed being busy! There wasn’t much opportunity for downtime sometimes but I liked it that way. I still do!
Amazing. How was your experience at EMI? What did you learn there?
I wouldn’t change anything about my experiences with EMI. At their best — I was given the most fantastic opportunities to travel the world, perform with some amazing artists and do what I love. The major obstacles came as a result of the label, which fractured shortly after I had moved on, going through its own difficulties towards the end of my time there. I saw three different A&Rs come and go when we were discussing the music for the third album and I wasn’t left with a feeling of confidence that anyone really understood what I was or could be as an artist. At 17/18 after years of having been spoon fed the material I sang – I didn’t really know what I was either! Those experiences have been so valuable in spurring me on my voyage of self discovery and encouraging me to select a team who share the same vision as I do so that I feel supported, secure and able to react to the ups and downs that a career in music can expose you to!
You went through it all. Did anything frustrate you whilst you were there?
I’ve probably answered that above. I don’t think it was a frustration, fortunately being a kid at the time I had other distractions and hadn’t quite learned the life lesson of priorities quite yet! So if recording sessions got cancelled or my single didn’t sell as many copies as I had hoped…it was cool, because I had my fiend’s 16th birthday party to go to! I think that’s been a fundamental change in me. Music is the core of what I do, it is my life and my work and it consumes me. I do still like a party though!
What advice would you give any young artist on the verge of signing a recording contract at a similar age as you were back then?
I’d hope that if they have a supportive family and friends around them with realistic expectations then it could be an amazing opportunity to take! I’d possibly advise waiting and developing as an artist before signing if I were speaking to my childhood self however! Ensuring you have a great manager who has an understanding of working with child artists would be key advice, I didn’t have consistent management. I couldn’t even imagine being a young artist now with the important focus on social media to promote but I would imagine it would require a different level of support and monitoring from parents and team. Continuing with education is a must!
Great advice! I imagine you being the most popular kid at your school when you signed this deal. Did you make any enemies? Was anyone jealous of you?
So funny you should say that, I really played the whole thing down. I had been signed for a year and very few people knew what I was doing! I didn’t want to stand out! Only when I was on a morning breakfast show programme off the back of making my debut performance at the Albert Hall was my cover blown! I had had a few incidences at school before I was signed, every time I did anything involving me singing really (like when I was in the west end production of Les Mis), I’d get a healthy dose of childish unpleasantness with all the support and loveliness top of course. Kids will be kids. It’s possibly why I learned never to shout about my achievements but of course was happy to talk about them and sing when asked!
Did you always want to be a singer?
I wanted to be a performer. Up until the point I got my deal singing, dance and acting were all priorities. Singing took over when it became real work! I had a minor detour at about the age of 10 thinking I’d make a great pathologist…I think it was after watching the hot female doctor in Men In Black — I wanted to be like her! I’m pleased my parents talked me out of that one.
*laughs* — As a child growing up, what artists did you aspire to be like?
Remembering back my parents would often play Sade, Kate Bush and Aretha Franklin. Female artists who were all very different but all knew themselves creatively. I always wanted to feel that, though I would impersonate them all! I wanted to be like them. To be different. To be individual but relatable.
If you could collaborate with one of those artists and an artist that has a top 10 single right now in the charts, who would it be and why?
Sadly I think Aretha Franklin probably covers both those bases. I grew even closer to Aretha Franklin’s music when I was studying at University. I wrote my thesis on R&B music and explored the perception of exploitation in the Civil Rights era in this genre. I spent my days listening to music of the time and Aretha’s voice was prevalent. But I will select someone current too and that would be Sam Smith. I did a few gigs with Sam before he got signed. We were both a little different then but I remember thinking how special his voice was then. If love to see what we could do now.
I love that. What would the song be about?
Very interesting. What else are you passionate about?
Our planet. I struggle with waste and try as best as I can to approach life ethically. I love animals and support the Born Free foundation. I sponsor an Elephant! I’m quite passionate about clothes and shoes too. Hey, I’m sure I’m not the only female to say that and constantly be on the hunt for my next outfit of the day! But again really interested that brands are beginning to focus on sustainability in fashion too.
Well, yeah I guess *laughs* — You’ve kind of reinvented yourself as Riva Taylor in recent months. What was the inspiration behind this?
The feeling that the name I had as a child is now a different person. Riva has seen and experienced more. Riva is a derivative of Rebecca and it feels bold and more expansive but safe, it feels me! Which I think is important when presenting yourself to an audience to feel safe and confident in yourself. I don’t think I felt that ever as a kid.
I understand. What are your aims and goals under this brand new artist name?
To hopefully replicate some of the exciting performance experiences and places my career took me before…and beyond! With the benefit of hindsight and a better personal understanding! I’d love to collaborate with some great vocal artists, keep it fresh, work hard and have loads of fun!
I’m sure you’ll achieve all of that! I was blown away when I first heard “My Mouth”, that’s an epic pop song in my opinion. At the same time it’s very mature too, which makes it even better. However, in your own words how would you describe the direction you’re taking your music now?
You’re right — it’s pop music with maturity. It’s got a feeling of grandeur and expansiveness but hopefully I’ve managed to retain a degree of honesty and intimacy. It’s dynamic.
Sure. One thing you did on “My Mouth”, was make a real statement in my honest opinion. How did that track come together?
I knew I wanted to make a statement with my first single. This song is relatively simple in its construction but powerful in the lyric. It’s about not talking — something so many of us are guilty of and something I can relate to. We knew we needed a powerful sounding arrangement and a wall of vocals in the chorus for impact. I’m pleased you feel it’s a statement that was our objective!
I love it! When you released “My Mouth” did you set yourself any expectations?
I tried not to! I wanted to surprise people who had been following my career for some time. The song is a song a woman would sing, and it’s crossed my music over one step further into the mainstream. I was so excited when Elton john picked it to be on his Beats 1 Apple Music radio show. I didn’t expect that so it was a nice surprise!
Amazing stuff. On a scale of 1-10 how nervous were you when you released it as a single?
I released it on my birthday! So I was genuinely really happy and having a blinder of a day! But obviously cared about reactions and giving the audience what they want. If 10 is ‘extremely nervous’ I’d go for about 4!
Cool! Did you play it to anyone close to you first?
I played it to a couple of my closest friends and family! All from very different professions and ages. I like to do that.
How did they react to it?
They all, thankfully really liked it. They felt the title was bold. And interestingly “Chaos Killed The Thrill” and “My Mouth” was almost split down the middle in terms of people’s preferred track.
Your new single “Chaos Killed The Thrill” is one of my favourite songs at the moment. You mentioned it is inspired by a break up. Did you find it difficult writing the song after going through that?
Thank you that means a lot. It was the best thing about the break up!! When the ceiling crumbles in you have matter. I had bucket loads and it was a healthy mental diversion. The song was written in a matter of hours – I had all the material I needed!
Powerful. Tell us about the music video, was it your idea?
We knew we wanted to involve some music in the video and do it to involve some dynamic performance. I’m so pleased the director chose to set it in London in such a cool open space.
What’s the message behind it?
For the video and movement is like a girl in her own world. Performing to a space that’s waiting to be filled. That’s me in my career at the moment. I’m waiting to see if people fill that space with me. The lighting is warm and hopeful but there is a feeling of vulnerability and loneliness with being in such a big space on our own. The two dancers (to me at least) represent the friendship and support I have. They leave me to dance on my own at times and they throw themselves around dynamically to mirror my emotions.
Sweet. Do you think your ex has heard it yet?
Ha. He has. He’s yet to give me his true point of view
Let’s hope he likes it! Right, so you’ve released two very strong singles this summer. What shall we expect next?
We have a few more singles coming up and music videos to record and some exciting live performances in the pipeline. I can’t wait to get all of this material out there in a live space.
Do you have a date set for it?
Yes!!! And you’ll be one of the first to know! But it’s going to be here within the next couple of months is all I’ll say.
As an artist with plenty of experience within the music industry, what advice would you give any unsigned artist struggling to be heard?
If you can, read and research as much as you can. If you are offered a deal, make sure it is the right deal for you and it helps you sustain the career you want (short term success? Longevity with a slow build?) Keep evolving and pushing your boundaries. You know best, say authentic.