March 28, 2019
By: Matt Williams
Rayannah has been making music for ages. Beginning—like many musicians do—as a kid and then pursuing musical studies in university, she eventually switched gears to work as a freelancer, playing weddings, contributing to fellow artists’ songs, and doing restaurant gigs. But a few years later, she decided she wanted to try her hand at writing her own stuff instead of interpreting existing material. It was her looping pedal—a BOSS RC-50, which she settled on after renting and testing out a bunch of different models—that she got as she was finishing up her bachelor’s degree, that opened up new worlds of potential for the places she wanted to take her music.
“I’d seen the French artist Cyrille Aimée playing a cover just with her voice on a loop pedal, and I’d thought, ‘Wow, that’s such an amazing way to transform your voice into an instrument,’” Rayannah says over the phone from her home in Winnipeg. “It kind of opened the door to producing for me, because I had never considered that I would wind up becoming a producer. But having the possibility of changing my voice into an instrument gave me the confidence and allowed me to explore other instruments and get into beat-making and all of that.”
She says her ‘poor little RC-50’ had been gathering a lot of knocks over countless tours and being dragged all over the place, so recently, she upgraded to a newer model, the RC-300. But the learning curve for effectively using any looping pedal is a steep one. She spent a lot of time cutting her teeth with the RC-50 to get to the place she’s at now, and found that the biggest challenge was that looping really shines a spotlight on any inconsistencies in your musicianship.
“If you waver in the tempo even slightly, it really shows up in a loop, whereas you can kind of get away with it if it’s just a quick passage in a song,” Rayannah says. “On a loop pedal, that just becomes the backbone of the song, so if you’re wavering, that’s no good. Same thing with pitch—it really forces you to be extremely precise with your pitch. So that was the biggest challenge for me. It allowed me to focus on those things and really hold myself to a higher standard regarding rhythm and harmony. That was the trickiest part—making a loop that feels good and creating a beat that grooves.”
She says that process has made her a better musician, but it’s also paid dividends elsewhere.
“More than anything, also, it’s made me a better producer, because a loop pedal can only take so much information,” Rayannah says. “It kind of forces you to think about what is critical for a beat. It really makes you think about what is necessary to create a soundscape that makes sense for an audience to consume.”
Earlier this month, Rayannah released her debut full-length, Nos repaires, a collection of soulful and often gauzy electronic music, sung in French and English. The songs are intricately and lushly textured, occupying that sweet spot between minimalism and sensory overload. Likely due to Rayannah’s persistence with the looping pedal and its inherent inclination to push one toward perfection, they’re exquisitely balanced. She writes songs differently depending on the instrument she originally approached them on. With the loop pedal, that creates a very specific process, that she says has allowed her a doorway into songwriting that leads to completely different places than those opened by other instruments.
“Some songs, it’s pretty obvious listening to them whether they were written on the loop pedal first or if the loop pedal was brought in later,” Rayannah says. “I’m thinking of some of the songs on my most recent record that have really wild time signatures—those definitely weren’t written on a loop, because the loop pedal generally encourages you to stay in one time signature because of the nature of the beast. The song that I’m thinking of particularly was very much written with a melody, and then the loop was brought in. I used it to create grooves to complement the structure that was already there. But then some other songs are very loop-dependent because they originated from an idea that was built on the loop pedal. So the entire feel of the song is dependent on the groove that came from building loops.”
Similarly, the size of the role the loop pedal plays in her live sets depends on whether she’s playing solo or with a band. The musicians Rayannah plays with are scattered throughout the world—there are some in her hometown of Winnipeg, for sure, but also Montreal, and Berlin. So she always has a solo set up her sleeve if need be, and those shows are more improvisational, which she says is more in line with the original intention of the looping pedal—building riffs with her voice on the spot. As well, while playing with the band involves a little more structure, the solo sets lend themselves a bit more to the natural hypnotic state looping can lean toward.
“I think it’s something that happens mostly when I’m playing solo,” Rayannah says. “I can get kind of lost in it, too, and I try to balance the set with some of that, which I think can be really nice. I like going to shows where I can daydream and get taken somewhere else. But I also like being right in your face and very present and raw, so I try to balance it with other pieces in the set that are maybe more naked.”
Ultimately, the most significant value of the looping pedal—which Rayannah calls, ‘an old friend, in a way’—hasn’t necessarily been its ability to help build a trance-like vibe or provide the backbone beat for a rousing pop crescendo. It’s the freedom that it has granted Rayannah to experiment wildly and without limits.
“I really owe a lot to that piece of equipment, honestly, because I think the reality is, for a number of different reasons, women and non-binary folk that work in music have certain barriers in terms of considering themselves to be producers or feeling comfortable or invited into that world,” Rayannah says. “I think that’s changing, and that’s great, but I certainly had those barriers in my mind. And I don’t know that I would’ve wound up where I am now if I hadn’t had that kind of portal. Because I started experimenting with the loop pedal, and I wasn’t thinking in my head, ‘I’m a beatmaker’ or ‘I’m a producer’—I wasn’t thinking any of those things—I was just having fun and making beats. But I think if I’d come at it like, ‘I want to be a beatmaker,’ I think I would’ve had some hangups or some insecurities around that potentially. The freedom the loop pedal gave me was to try all of that stuff without knowing what it was called and to let the creative process lead me.”
“I’m really quite grateful for that,” she adds. “It let me bypass some of those negative ideas I had internalized around what I was able or unable to do.”