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  • Writer's pictureHYSTERIA BY GIRLONFILM

AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM RILEY


We had the pleasure of speaking with Graham Riley, a 21-year-old artist born and raised in West Hollywood, California for Hysteria Issue 02. Read the exclusive interview below.



AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM RILEY:


HYSTERIA: GRAHAM, PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK.


GR: My name is Graham. I'm 21 years old and born and raised in West Hollywood, California. I'm currently a rising senior at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. My work these days is primarily focused on songwriting and artistry. That was especially amplified after signing my publishing deal with RocNation in 2020.


Since then, I've been aiming towards not only writing and producing my own music for my artist project but additionally writing songs for other artists, television and video games and movies, etc.


Fun stuff.


HYSTERIA: CAN YOU SHARE ANY SPECIFIC MOMENTS OR EXPERIENCES THAT IGNITED YOUR PASSION FOR CREATING AND PERFORMING MUSIC?


GR: Well, I started playing piano when I was three years old, with a focus on classical music, classically trained. I very much enjoyed that.


However, by the time I was entering middle school, I started listening to Doo Wops and Hooligans. In The Lonely Hour, more pop music, along with a lot of Kanye and Kid Cudi. I remember my teacher Margie Balter, (rest in peace), one day, we were sitting down for

a lesson, and I basically asked her if we could switch our attention towards learning how to write and play pop music. She was encouraging of that. I believe that we

both kind of knew, even though I was a decent classical pianist, that my brain had more of a tendency for pop sensibilities, melodically lyrically, etc., and so on.


So, I think that was a really important moment for me because Margie was encouraging of the path and route that I wanted to go down. It didn't have to be that way, but it was, and I'm very grateful for that. She was an unbelievable teacher, mentor, and figure in my life.





HYSTERIA: WHAT EMOTIONS OR EXPERIENCES DO YOU HOPE TO EVOKE IN YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN THEY LISTEN TO YOUR SONGS?


GR: This might be a cliche answer, but I hope that my audience feels whatever emotions or has whatever experience that is authentic to them from my music. I wouldn't say that I particularly gear my music towards a certain response from my audience, which is not to say that a lot of my music isn't sad, which it is. But I just hope that there are people out there who truly, on a spiritual level, connect to the message. Not just lyrically, but musically; connecting with the feeling that is in my music.


As long as that's happening, and I feel like people can connect with what I'm releasing, then I'm happy regardless of exactly what that experience or emotion that may or may not be.


HYSTERIA: ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC ARTISTS, BANDS, OR MUSICAL INFLUENCES THAT HAVE PLAYED A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN SHAPING YOUR ARTISTIC STYLE?


GR: Wow, this is always a tough question because it's ever-changing. I would say that my earliest, earliest influences were Bruno Mars and Sam Smith, (along with Kanye), and I would say that feeling continued on. My taste has definitely expanded the older I've gotten, as is, I think, natural. The melody and the melodic styling of those three artists definitely still finds its way into what I create now. As that was the sort of foundation or initial exposure or experience I had with that sort of genre, or style of music.


Going into high school, I think Kid Cudi was not only a musical influence for me, but an influence as a personality. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet him when I was 16 and ask him a couple of questions. One of which was, if he thought that school

was important, because he was a college dropout, and I clearly felt as if school was a waste of my time in a certain sort of way. I'm currently grappling with the idea of school and what it gives and what it takes. That was a really outstanding, shaping, just unbelievable, unique experience that I got to meet him. People say don't meet your heroes, but meeting him did nothing but fill me with inspiration and joy. He was so kind and so open to interacting with someone he had never met and had no responsibility towards. So that was

really big for me.


These days, I wouldn't say I'm particularly inspired by any one band or artist. But just to name a few people that I'm constantly impressed by. James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, Frank Ocean. King Krule. It’s always changing. Also, Daniel Johnston, one of the best songwriters of our lifetime. Also recently, I've been listening to copious amounts of 70s and 80s soul music. I think that soul, and not just in a genre sense, is really lost in a lot of music that's produced today. And I think it's something that we really miss as a society. Too much music is produced to sound perfect, but what about the feeling, the underlying feeling trapped in between those waves? That’s why I love soul music. There's so much emotion and so much raw power.


Additionally, I have been listening to a lot of Bossa Nova and kind of deep house techno music thanks to my friends Neema and Kobe. There's always so much incredible music. I always try to keep an ear out.



"I hope that my audience feels

whatever emotions

or has whatever experience

that is authentic to them from my music. "



HYSTERIA: YOU RECENTLY RELEASED "FRONT PORCH" AND "TEARS DON'T FALL", CAN YOU GIVE US A LOOK INTO WHAT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LOOKED LIKE?


GR: I wrote Tears Don’t Fall now two and a half years ago; right after my freshman semester of college almost a year into the COVID pandemic. It’s safe to say that I was not in the best mental place of my life. I had recently gone through a sort of breakup with a short-term relationship. That was still very impactful, along with having kind of a small falling out with a friend that, recently, the relationship has been restored. At the time, I felt not only low, but lacking that release of emotion, so I felt like I had a lot of pent-up feelings. And I think I put a lot of that emotion into writing this track.


I remember that afternoon well, January 28, 2021. Ryan Baer, who's one of my long-time, honestly, one of the first, if not I think the first person I ever started working with; sent me a beat. Ryan is an incredibly talented, humble, down-to-earth person. And on this track, I kind of just let my imagination and spirit take over. I think we made something really raw, really authentic, spiritually powerful. It took years of tweaking, rearranging, updating, mixing, mastering, but I'm very proud of the final product we put out.


Furthermore, Front Porch had a slightly different, but not super different method of construction. That song was written just about a year ago, March of 2022 from my dorm room at Wesleyan. This beat I had gotten from Max Beck, who is also a lovely collaborator. And instantly after hearing it, I was so drawn into the feeling of the song; it held so much nostalgia. Also, just this unbelievable emotion, in the guitar, in the drums; lots of room for me as a songwriter, to express and to mold. I always feel like as a songwriter, working with producers, it's sort of a dance and a puzzle. My y job as the songwriter is to not overshadow the beat or crush it, but to mold with it and to create a fusion. This beat just made that very easy for me, it felt like it was tailor-made for me. I attribute a lot of that to Max, his knowledge of my style, and Henry Heideman, who did an outstanding job playing guitars on the track. This is a song I wrote all in one go, just a couple of hours... it happened almost too naturally.


Again, I’m so proud of what we made. As far as songs that I never get sick of listening to, this one is up there for me, and it's inspired by all of the great Los Angeles music that I grew up on; Tyler the Creator, Steve Lacy, and Frank Ocean. I tried to pay homage to my heroes, while adding my own little twist and spin. It was just really fun. Front Porch has been one of my favorite songs and just such an easy process; it came together so fluidly and I'm very, very proud of that.





HYSTERIA: AS AN ARTIST, HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE PROCESS OF EVOLVING AND GROWING CREATIVELY? ARE THERE ANY CURRENT TRENDS OR MOVEMENTS WITHIN THE INDUSTRY THAT YOU FIND INSPIRING OR

EXCITING?


GR: First, to answer the second half of that question, it's a funny question because

oftentimes, I find myself having a very similar conversation over and over again with my peers, of the sort of dystopian nature of the music industry. Somewhat as it pertains to the rise and hold of TikTok. I would have to agree and say that I don't necessarily love the kind of onus TikTok has put on the music industry where creatives are forced or forcing themselves to sort of play the game and create music and sounds, they think will do well on that platform. It is entirely antithetical to being a creative.


However, there's a flip side to that coin, which is beautiful. It’s never been easier to be recognized. The playing field is level; TikTok rewards hard work and talent, even though it's not always displaying the widest variety of genres or the most artistic endeavors.


There are some positive attributes to the kind of widespread, you know, TikTok, hysteria (no pun intended).


One thing that I'm not particularly in love with is this idea of influencers being more valuable to the music industry than artists, which I see happening a little too often.


As much as that is uninspiring to someone who really loves the craft, and just wants to create, express and be an authentic artist, there are still avenues to do exactly that. I think it's important to ensure that you know what you're doing, and why you're doing it in this business. Because sure, you can gain success, popularity, fame, etc.


But for me, at least, I want to make sure that first and foremost, the product (being my music) is at the highest level. It has to be something I'm very proud of. I feel like I'm always growing and evolving, challenging myself to take risks, inside and outside of my creative life. I think the life of an artist is all-encompassing, even when you're not writing, even when you're not singing, or playing; you are still doing things that detract

from or attract to your artistic output.



"I am always trying to find new ways to improve myself. Yes, as an artist, but as a human being too. I really enjoy the challenge of that."



HYSTERIA: WHAT'S NEXT FOR GRAHAM RILEY? WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO SEE YOURSELF IN THE FUTURE? WHAT DO YOU DREAM OF?


GR: Tough question. Definitely.


In the immediate future, I've been working on an EP. I've been working on an EP which is set to debut towards the end of the summer. There may be another single before that. I'm really excited for that. There are songs that I've been working on for over a year, videos, content, etc. Just a lot of hard work and soul poured into this.


In terms of my immediate future, I have three shows this summer. Two in LA and one in New York City. I’ll really be trying to perfect my craft in that sense, so those will also be a lot of fun.


In general, I've always said that my goal has been to survive off of my artistry, my authentic artistry. What that means to me is that I don't want to sacrifice... maybe sacrifice is the wrong word. But I don't want to compromise too much, too much of my integrity,

pursuit, passion, and vision. It’s easier said than done.


However, as long as I can do what I love (which is to create) and survive off of that, I'll be extremely happy. Of course, I would love to sell out stadiums, play festivals, and travel around the world.


I do see myself doing that. But nothing is guaranteed in this industry. Nothing is handed to you. Everything takes patience, hard work, dedication, connection,

and authenticity. And those are tenants I'm trying to run my life through. I have big dreams, and I don't plan on letting go anytime soon. Or ever.


Hopefully five years down the line, we'll be chatting again after my first World Tour.


If not, and I'm still making music every day and living and thriving and having great friends and great relationships and great experiences, I'll be more than satisfied. I've been blessed enough to have the opportunities and responses that I’ve had already.


Everything from here on out is just a cherry on top.


Thank you, Hysteria, for giving me a chance to share some of my thoughts and tell you all about myself. This is a great magazine. I wish you guys all the best in the future. Again, thank you for this opportunity!


Peace out.



You can find Graham Riley here:


Or you can follow Riley on Instagram here:



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