Riva Taylor started out as a young star, Becky Taylor, securing her first West End role in Les Miserables at seven. At just 12 she was The youngest person, twenty years ago, to sign for EMI records. She has performed at the FA Cup Final with Michael Ball and garnered praise from HRH Prince Charles after performing at the Royal Albert Hall.
These days, after a musical rebirth as Riva, she has just released the first part of her super album ‘This Woman’s Heart’, and has just launched the This Woman’s Heart online community for Mental Health Week and beyond.
She is an advocate for emerging female talent in the arts and has sold out two years running at The Roundhouse with her Writing Round series of concerts.
The first series of TWH exhibitions and events were due to launch this Spring but have been moved back to the Summer. We have so much to look forward to and I was lucky enough to get to chat with this inspiring woman about her world at the moment.
EP: I guess the best place to begin our chat is at your artistic rebirth. After a successful career dating back to when you were 7, you decided to change your name from Rebecca to Riva. A beautiful name, but one with a meaning. Why did you choose it?
RT: I started my career so young, I was signed at 12, and I had a first wind, a completely different career during my childhood and that was actually under the name of Becky Taylor. So after this, when I was in my twenties, I came back to music after a short break at university and got back on stage.
I was actually touring with Alfie Boe and the music didn’t feel right. Everything didn’t quite feel….me anymore and I think that I’d grown up and realised I needed a change. I discovered the name Riva which is a Hebrew derivative of Rebecca and thought firstly that I love the name and I could feel it.
I felt it was time to change, in my twenties, and it wasn’t too far away from Rebecca; it still had the same meaning. It also represents a voyage of discovery, I had been on a voyage of musical discovery myself so I really connected with the name.
EP: You have decided to release your album ‘This Woman’s Heart’ in two halves. What was the thinking behind that? Was that a decision made before lockdown?
RT: It was always going to be the way I released it actually, it was a decision taken long before lockdown. We sat around in a team meeting, as you do with these things, and I was explaining the songs and the premise and it kind of just came to me….”you know what I would rather string this out a bit longer!” It was so long in the making, this is about my heart, about becoming Riva.
This is about before; a real journey of discovery and during that time there had been highs and lows and so the song’s very much represent that time moving from being a young girl in the music industry to the woman that I am today. So the first half is what I call ‘The Dark Heart’, ‘This Woman’s Heart.1’, and the songs are about the journey, about the highs and, well, the lows I would say more, and they’re darker in sentiment, and the second half is all about the bright future and hope and love, and that’s coming out at the end of the year.
EP: Perfect timing given the situation we are all in at the moment; we need to look forward to a brighter future.
RT: I’ve reflected quite a lot that when I brought the first part out we were all feeling a bit glum and unsettled and that’s what the first half represents. The fact is that there is a second half coming that is all about things being alright and I’m a firm believer in that. I think things will be alright for us all.
EP: Even maybe slightly better ….One of my favourite bands are Ben’s Brother…..
RT: Mine too!
EP: …..and the hugely talented Jamie Hartman was lead singer and inspiration behind them. You have written with him. How did you find that? He is, in my opinion,one of our greatest songwriters.
RT: Absolutely. It’s a funny one because we were actually initially connected because I was submitted a few songs that he had written. This is back four years ago before ‘Human’ ( the massive hit for Rag’n’Bone man penned by Hartman) and I heard the voice and I thought “where have I heard this voice before?” and like you I was a huge fan of Ben’s Brother. I’d taken that break, I had gone to university and they were the soundtrack to my first year; I’d sit on my bed and listen to ‘Let Me Out’.
I actually did a cover of that and it wasn’t half as good as Jamie’s so I left it. So when I was submitted those songs, I wondered am I just liking these songs because I think Ben’s Brother are fantastic or is it because they’re great songs. I think it was a blend of both, so instead of actually using those songs I went over to LA and I wrote with him.
It was an interesting time because ‘Human’ hadn’t been released but he played it to me and said he’d written it and he thought it was quite good. I told him I agreed and so it was very exciting when that one came out. It’s a real honour to have him as a writer on the album.
EP: I’ve read that your vocal style is influenced by Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and Adele but I hear so much of Sharlene Spiteri of Texas fame on your style. Have you ever heard that before? Is she an influence?
RT: It’s so interesting that you should say that because I had never heard it before till very recently. We were talking about one of the songs, I think it was ‘Let Go Too Soon’, and someone said it feels almost like that if you changed the mix slightly it could be a Texas song. I thought “I’ve never heard that before but it’s fantastic”, they were the soundtrack to me growing up so thanks for the complement.
EP: So almost an unwitting influence…
RT: Exactly, it’s funny what does infiltrate because the Kate Bush thing has just happened organically. I grew up listening to her music; my Dad had the music videos on a video tape and I used to sit and watch them but at the same time I was also listening to Sarah Brightman, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin ….all sorts of female vocalists with very different styles and I suppose you just absorb all of those sounds and then create your own.
EP: It’s a really organic process, the artist that you become. Your music videos are really well thought out and add to the music, as I think they should; seeing Jack Garratt let loose in the ‘Better’ video has been the highlight of the last few months. What creative input do you have, if any, in your videos. Is it something you like to be involved with?
RT: I do actually, I really enjoy getting involved in the music videos. Actually ‘Jealous’ was something that me and a creative director that I’d been working with on the last few videos, since ‘This Woman’s Heart’ actually, just sat around and brainstormed, and I really wanted to see light and shade.
I wanted it to represent the light and the dark heart that was coming, the two halves of the personality, and the inner conflict of feeling envious….because it’s a dark feel, isn’t it, when you’re envious or jealous of somebody. So that’s not necessarily something that’s in me but had been brought out at a moment in time so I wanted that cross play between dark and light in that.
Generally, across the other videos that I have I’ve always wanted to have dance in them. I’ve been dancing since I was very young and when I did ‘Running at Walls’, that was great fun dancing with the fantastic ex-Royal Ballet dancer, Lewis, so, yes, very much it’s a thing that I get involved in these days.
EP: It’s a very collaborative process then. Your Writing Round series at the Roundhouse is very much in the Nashville tradition of songwriting. Is this because you like Country music or just enjoy that collaborative style of creativity?
RT: The writing round came from the traditional Nashville writing round that has its roots in Country music but the one we do at the Roundhouse is actually a little different because I was really keen to showcase the eclectic blend of talent in the UK so it’s not just Country, though we have had Country artists like Sarah Darling and The Shires come and perform.
When I write, it is collaborative, and I also love to travel when I write and that’s why this time is so difficult.
I’ve just finished a Skype session with some writers from Stockholm, which is fine when you know the people but it’s difficult trying to form a relationship over Skype, but yes, for me, it’s always a collaborative effort, whether I take a song that’s already formed and we hone it or we start things from scratch, it’s always great to work in a collaborative way.
EP: It’s Mental Health Week, although there’s an argument that every week should be mental health week as we strive to look after each other, especially at this unusual time. You are busy launching the This Woman’s Heart online community. Can you please tell me more about this initiative?
RT: Absolutely. About eighteen months ago I was reflecting on things, on the parts of my career that I enjoy and also what I’d like to achieve in life and this woman’s heart which is the name of the album and also one of my favourite songs on the album which is all about the people in our lives who help us through the darkest times.
I realised that it was more than a song, that it was a sentiment that the power of music has to help us through difficult times. I lost a friend about eighteen months ago, a couple of friends I have sadly lost a mother and I was asking them how they were doing, how they were processing the loss. One had started art classes again, one had joined a choir and I realised there was something in this. So we have a small community that is growing hopefully to become a larger community and basically it is an inspirational platform that has at its heart creativity and community. We do online classes, or we are starting to, for women.
I also interview; I’ve just started a series called ‘Creative Light’ with women across the arts about how music and art, any of the arts, have helped them in life so it’s an exciting time. Today I’m launching an interview I had with Hayley Sanderson, who is the vocalist on Strictly Come Dancing, and she’s done a lovely thing in this lockdown period. She has collaborated with Women’s Aid and she’s taught some of the women from there to sing and they’ve recorded a song, a cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Stronger’, which is a song that I’ve never really listened to but the words are absolutely perfect for what they’ve done here; so I’ve interviewed her about that process and that’s on line today. She’s stripped the song down to just piano, it’s really lovely and very emotional, it’s magic!
EP: So finally, how have you coped during lockdown? Do you think the enforced break has helped you to focus creatively or are you chomping at the bit to return to some sort of normality?
RT: A blend actually, it’s interesting. I’ve definitely slowed my pace, it’s been a time of reflection for me which I think is very important. I know I’m guilty of, not moving too fast, but of pushing on and I think that this has obviously caused us all to stop, evaluate and find new ways through. It’s been very good for me in that respect but obviously I’m itching to get back and perform and that’s been a frustration for me with the album coming out and live dates but there’s a feeling of community , that we are all in the same boat.
You can’t be anywhere else and follow guidelines so it’s a blend of the two. I can’t wait for normality, to be back to normal, to carry on and perform and travel again, but at the same time this has been, not the thing that I needed, but not a bad thing for me.
EP: I think that giant reset button has really helped a lot of people. I think one good thing to come out of this is some of the online performance of artists using social media and sharing their music by inviting people into their lives, their homes. Particularly I’ve loved Rhodes and his wife everyday, and Pete Gardiner who have really come into their own online.
RT: I’d say that’s something that has been positive. I find social media easier than I used to but I didn’t take to it naturally back in the day and I suppose, right now, it’s broken down the barriers. I’ve really enjoyed doing live sessions from the sofa, things that I probably wouldn’t have done before but as it’s the only option, now you kind of have to and I’ve really enjoyed the process.
EP: I think it will make music fans really appreciate the live stuff when things get back to normal. Not just the music but the whole community a live gig brings…
RT: Absolutely! I can’t wait.
Neither can we!
You can find Riva Taylor online on her official website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also find This Woman’s Heart Online Community on Instagram. Stream and download ‘This Woman’s Heart.1’ here. Listen to more of Riva Taylor’s music on Spotify.