Photo Credit: Facebook @rafflalala
All musicians hope for a captive audience, but New York City native Raffaella Meloni – known professionally by just her first name – decided from a very young age that she wouldn’t bother waiting for volunteers. “I used to force my family to congregate in the living room, so I could use the ottoman as my stage,” she tells us in our exclusive phone interview, “[and] I’ve been singing to strangers without their permission since I was, like three years old.”
Lately, more and more have been paying attention to the now 23-year-old Rafaella without coercion, and the stages have improved over the old ottoman as well. In 2019, she toured with fellow up-and-coming songstress Sigrid. She also opened several northeast dates for Liz Phair, doing venues that held an average of a thousand people. Raffaella calls the Phair shows, “very surreal” because Phair was a huge inspiration to her.
Raffaella also sites St. Vincent, Regina Spektor and Billie Holiday as major influences, along with the Beatles and the Beach Boys (“those songs that my dad played every single day”). It’s all this – plus studying classical piano for a good part of her childhood – that prompted her to begin writing and recording her own songs while in college (she’s currently about six credits away from her degree), and uploading them online. The recordings caught the attention of BRAVES, the eclectic Los Angeles-based three-piece band who offered to produce tracks for her. She landed a deal with indie label Mom+Pop Records, putting her in the company of artists like Sleater-Kinney, Sleigh Bells and Toyko Police Club.
Her six-track debut EP, Ballerina, is light-hearted but is also deep-thinking alternative pop which Raffaella herself likes to describe as “tongue-in-cheek with a bite.” Lyrically, several of her songs use what’s almost a gimmick to introduce broader themes. The title “NASA’s Fake” was inspired by a conspiracy theory held by her chiropractor (which she herself does not subscribe to), but then the song becomes a laundry list of common everyday grievances (“I’m losing followers but gaining weight // How much can I take?”) “I’m essentially using these very literal experiences to portray a feeling of being privileged, and feeling stupid for complaining about such specific trivial personal problems when the world is truly falling apart,” she explains.
She takes a similar approach with “Bruce Willis”, in which the star of Die Hard and Pulp Fiction is less the subject of the song than a clever rhyme scheme (“They’re gonna kill us // Like f*cking Bruce Wills.”) Still, Raffaella was curious as to what – if any – response the song might garner from Willis himself, and he apparently responded “sort of, but I can’t say how.” Willis was seemingly appreciative of the song, but any more direct responses were supposedly blocked by his reps, whom Raffaella imagines are “very protective of anything that comes out of his mouth.”
Raffaella admits that she sometimes tends to create her own hindrances. Ballerina even takes its name from a pursuit that she abandoned at age five, which she calls “one of my biggest regrets,” and just one example of, “all the stuff I’ve quit because I was afraid of how people might perceive my progress, or lack thereof. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and if I wasn’t the very best at [whatever it was I was doing], I’d quit.”
Thankfully, so far no such self-doubt has prompted Raffaella to abandon music, since she says she currently has about forty new studio tracks (with “a bunch of different producers”) in various states of completion, at least some of which will hopefully see release in 2020. Despite her seeming complexity as both a person and an artist, when asked about her aspirations for the future she simply says: “I hope to have a steady income.” Even Bruce Willis would no doubt approve.