Birmingham-born and bred vocalists Riya and Collette Warren first met at Sun And Bass 2011. Since then, amongst the competition of being industry rivals, they have solidified a friendship that is the basis for the first ever collaborative female vocal album in the world of 170. The first of its kind, Two Sides of Everything is a fourteen track LP that showcases all corners of the drum and bass spectrum, as well as fourteen of its best producers.
If that weren’t impressive enough, Riya (real name Laura) and Collette are just one of twelve to earn the Women Make Music grant from the PRS Foundation. This recognises their unique project as a representative for the foundation’s ambition to encourage women in music. Accompanying the duo are veterans such as Roni Size, front runners of the new wave like Monrroe and fellow female stars Kyrist and Tali.
Following previous collaborations they’ve done in the past with the likes of Villem & Hadley and Emperor, the album pays respect to many sub-genres while exploring the concept that all stories have different sides. Each track is an individual and personal journey, covering topics such as addiction and social media, with the vocals bouncing back and forth in a lyrical conversation. Their natural harmony and chemistry pours through each track, creating a project that is multidimensional in both content and delivery.
UKF spoke to Laura and Collette about their friendship, album inspirations and the full circle moments that led to this point.
Tell us how this friendship started….
Collette: The friendship started at Sun and Bass, 2011. Laura and I were playing there and I was a big fan of hers, so I thought I would send her a message to say I was excited to see her perform. I’d seen an interview with her and noticed she was also from Birmingham so I thought, brilliant another Brummy! We met and just hit it off!
Riya: Yeah, and then the following year I went with Collette on my own to Sun & Bass and had such a great time. Too much! Collette’s just an amazing person to know and she’s so friendly. Around the time we met, I was thinking about moving to London because I’d been living in Birmingham and felt isolated from the D&B culture and wanted to be more amongst it. Collette helped me move and I lived with her for a month in her studio flat whilst I found somewhere to live, and she introduced me to all of her friends. She had a big part in me having that big life change and that really helped with me networking more in London. That cemented our friendship further.
When did the album come into this?
Collette: It came together so quickly and organically. Laura had a song from Villem and Hadley she was struggling to write. She asked me if I wanted to help her with it, especially as we’d been talking about doing a new track for a while. So I helped her with that and then she had another track from Nymfo and she asked me to write that with her too. Writing those two was so easy & fun that we thought maybe we could work with a producer to write a Riya & Colette single and self-release it. We put the feelers out to some of our favourite producers and started getting lots of yeses. At that point we realised, wow this could be more than a single.
Riya: Yeah exactly, and after hearing about, applying for, and getting the PRS Foundation Women Make Music grant, it was kind of decided for us that it was going to be an album which we were really happy about. Also we’re releasing the album in September which is ten years to the month that we met at Sun and Bass. We felt releasing it then would make it really special because it’s almost like a ten-year friendiversary present to each other haha! I know, cringgge haha.
Had you never even discussed the possibility of a project on this scale?
Riya: Never! We knew we wanted to write another track together after doing the one on my first album called ‘Piece of Me’ but it was just when and where. That said, we nearly fell out once because we felt like there was competition between us. But we spoke about it and put it all out in the open. That was a turning point in our friendship. Since then we are always supporting each other and promoting each other’s music but without that chat, we probably wouldn’t have done this project but now we’re so glad we have.
Collette: I think competition is a common thing in the drum and bass scene, especially with vocalists, and especially in music. We thought there was competition there but there wasn’t. It was all in our heads.
I suppose it’s hard to know what the boundaries are when you are friends but also competing in a tight-knit industry?
Collette: It really is. It’s hard not to make business personal or take things to heart. I think if you look at all the vocalists in drum and bass, I don’t know any that are really good friends together, not like best friends anyway. Historically, there haven’t been that many which has made it very competitive whether it’s intended or not.
Riya: There’s certainly more mutual support and love than there used to be which is great. I think social media makes it tough as well. It’s hard not to feel that pressure and competition, you really have to go deep within yourself and know yourself not to get sucked in and to see through it. I’ve got to shout out Ruth Royall for the group she started ‘Keep it Real’ which is a great space to talk about these things as well as challenging the unrealistic standards placed upon us.
Collette: Yeah big up Ruth! But on that, I’ve spoken to other vocalists as well who feel the same about competition and it’s hard not to compare. They’ll be on Instagram and be jealous because one vocalist is working with a certain producer and another is in the studio with someone. We do it all the time too. It’s not just vocalists, it can be DJs, producers, bands. It’s really hard not to get sucked in.
In fact, I try to delete my apps a couple of days of the week and it’s so nice because I don’t get envious, but then as soon as I’m back on it I feel sh*t again. You have to have social media as an artist to promote your music, so it’s a tricky one.
Riya: The pandemic has made it worse too as us musicians and vocalists have lost most of our work. It’s really affected our mental health. We wrote a song on the album about social media called Say No More.
But coming back to boundaries and competition, it’s good to have competition if you look at it right. Without it, music and art stays stagnant. When new talent comes through, it invigorates the art form and it’s certainly spurred me on to work harder and not be complacent and we all need that reminder from time to time.
It’s as though the events of the last year or so have just been recreated in musical form for this album. Was that the plan?
Collette: Definitely. There is only one love song on the album. The rest is all about what’s affected us this past year. It’s been healing for us to write and we hope that people can listen to it and feel better too. That’s why we called it Two Sides Of Everything because a lot of the songs are us having a conversation or a debate about the two perspectives on things. Some are more obvious than others though.
Riya: Yeah exactly. We felt that we were lacking balance these past couple of years and as a result we wanted to find that and write about that in song. If you listen to the lyrics you’ll notice that all of them discuss the duality of life and resolve it in song to create that balance.
Collette: It has actually healed me writing the songs. You don’t take your own advice a lot of the time, so sometimes if I feel something I will think about a certain song and it will make me think about things differently.
Riya: One lyric is ‘all for something it’s not all for nothing’ because we would often talk about why we were doing this, what’s the point (especially after the pandemic hit) and whether we should give up music, especially when you compare yourself to other people. So ‘all for something’ was a pep talk to each other. It’s real life conversations in lyric form.
Sounds like a good dose of couple’s therapy!
Collette: We hope that it is like therapy for people!
Do you feel like this project was best justified as being a collaboration because of the two-side concept, since so often the healing process involves more than one person?
Collette: Definitely. We feel this is some of our best work that we have ever done. I think because we both bring a different flavour and when you bring those two together it’s great.
Riya: It’s not just the lyrics, I will think of a melody line that Collette wouldn’t, and vice versa. So, what you hear in terms of the melodies, I could not have thought of on my own and Collette wouldn’t have either. What will quite often happen is that I will think of a chorus line melody and Collette will think of a verse melody. Equally so, I have a higher range and Collette has a lower range and then we do the harmonies together.
Collette: One of the reasons we wanted to do the album together was because we thought our voices go so well together, especially in harmony.
Riya: I guess you could say it’s like two sides in many ways – not just lyrically or opinions, it’s also how we fit together vocally and musically. It’s certainly a collaboration album and it couldn’t have happened without each other.
PRS have chosen you as one of twelve to join the Women Make Music Foundation – how did this come about and what has it meant to you both?
Collette: There is an amazing supportive group called EQ50 for women in drum and bass and I saw Sweetpea, one of the founders, post in there with a link to this PRS Women Make Music grant and I knew that was the one.
Riya: Yeah shout outs to Sweetpea and all the EQ50 group! When we started reading about the grant, we thought it was amazing because we’re two women doing something different that hasn’t been done in our genre before, so it was a perfect fit for us and hoped PRS would see that too. We spent ages on the application so when we got it we were absolutely gobsmacked.
Collette: We just couldn’t believe that we had got it, honestly. We always try to manifest things and think positive but deep down I didn’t think that we would get it, especially since drum and bass often gets left behind. We’re so grateful that they took a chance on us.
Riya: I do feel though that it is a unique project and considering drum and bass has been around for so many years, this is the first time that two female vocalists have done anything like this which is quite special. We’re really proud that we could do it as friends too, but also all the tracks are so different to each other and personally, in all the years I have been listening, I have never heard an album like it.
Collette: Every track is completely different to the next and that is what we really tried to do so that there is something for everyone on there and nobody gets bored.
I love the collab with Roni Size because it is just so different to anything I have heard recently!
Riya: Me and Collette actually used to go to all the same raves without even realising it and we both loved Roni Size and drew inspiration from him growing up. I grew up listening to him and bought his records and those on full cycle back when I owned Pioneer 1210s!
Collette: I’ve known Roni for years just from raving and moving to Bristol. I didn’t think he’d say yes to doing a tune but I sent him an email and he said yes. We were absolutely buzzing! He’s a legend. His track was the only one where we actually went to the studio together as he really wanted us to be in his studio doing it all together. His song is actually that there are more than two sides to a story because you have two sides and then the truth.
The cementing of your friendship, the PRS grant, the amazing producer recruitment. It’s like everything has fallen into place for this project!
Collette: We’re massively into the idea that everything happens for a reason. We’re really into the moon and setting intentions every new and full moon, and at one of our first meetups we were together and it was a new moon so we decided to do a meditation and set our intentions with a list of things we wanted, like getting Roni Size involved, getting the grant and it all came true!
Riya: It really felt like the universe was helping. The universe is all about frequency and vibration after all. Whether it happened because of that or not – it’s all part of our process and certainly helps us to focus our minds and goals every month so we have things to work towards.
How does it feel to be representing the genre with such a unique album?
Collette: It’s been so much fun. I have to big up DRS and Dynamite because they are the two male MCs that came together on an album last year and they came to inspire this as well. We thought if they could do it as two male MCs, then we can do it as two female vocalists.
Riya: I feel proud more than anything. It’s a real honour. Of course, we want everyone to like it and it’s scary, it feels quite vulnerable putting your heart and soul into something without knowing how it’s going to be received, but whatever happens we had so much fun making it and it was a real joy.
Collette: I think what the pressure is, is that we don’t have a big label releasing it. We’re doing it all by ourselves on our own label, Carnelian Music.
Riya: We wanted to do that though because less than 5% of labels are run by women in drum and bass. We’ve been doing it for such a long time that we knew we needed to do this for ourselves to learn and grow. We’ve been able to make decisions that we wouldn’t normally have been able to, like who does the artwork and what the singles will be.
How did you go about picking all the different producers to work with?
Collette: Once we realised that we were doing an album, we put our heads together to think about who we wanted, who we love and who has been good to us. We wrote a big list and contacted them and most of them said yes! Timings didn’t align with some of the list but we have 14 tracks so it’s a good job we didn’t as we’d have two albums.
Did you always plan on it being a multi-sub-genre album with different voices and sounds?
Riya: Definitely, I think that reflects us growing up in drum and bass. We started raving when we were fifteen, so we have listened to every sub-genre there is and love all of it.
Collette: The album captures that with the jazzy funky tunes, the techy tunes and the darker tunes. There’s some nice liquid, dancefloor, uplifting anthem sounds, soulful and some darker ones. That was a deliberate thing to reflect our influences and loves.
On that note, have you got a favourite or particularly special track on this album?
Riya: They’re all so unique – every time you make a new track you love that one! But the one that I can’t get out of my head right now is All For Something with L-Side. We have had so many conversations about whether what we’re doing is all for nothing, and it feels like the anthem of lockdown. I love the Surrender because Tali was a huge influence of mine and Collette’s growing up. She was the reason I became a vocalist really so it’s an honour to have her involved. Stepping Stone with Kyrist & Sofi Mari is great too because it’s about the gender imbalance that exists in music. There’s a real lack of women on line-ups and just generally in the scene so it’s something we wanted to talk about and address. Everyone did an amazing job though and we’re so grateful to have the producers involved that we do. Big love to them!
Collette: I am always indecisive about picking a favourite of anything, but for me I love the SL8R one because I feel that it is so different. It’s called Showtime because we wrote it with the start of live shows in mind. It’s the perfect set opener. I really love the Koherent one as well because even though it’s quite chilled, I love the lyrics. I love the Roni Size one too because it’s so different. I love them all – I can’t choose!
You mentioned your own imprint, Carnelian Music. Let’s sign out with a shout on that…
Riya: A label meant we would get control of everything, but also because the album is so different with so many styles, we couldn’t see it going on any other label. We’ve worked with so many different labels between us and some of the tracks suited a label whereas others didn’t. Also, with the number of artists, there could’ve been a conflict of interest on other labels.
Collette: Yeah and when we got the grant from PRS, we felt it was the universe saying to us that we should do it ourselves. As we say, later down the line, we want to push other females, as well as our own music. We called it Carnelian Music because of our love for crystals. The Carnelian crystal is the crystal of singers, creativity, courage and transformation.
Riya: All of those things described what we are trying to do. We’re trying to transform ourselves and what we do, and it takes courage to start a label and do a project like this. So it made sense! There’s also a song on the album called Carnelian with Koherent which is all about courage and vulnerability. We had to write about that given our label is all about that and named after the Carnelian stone.
The first single All for Something ft. L-Side from Riya & Collette Warren’s album Two Sides Of Everything is out August 6. Pre-order now.