It makes a nice change from all the break-up albums. Someone Out There by Blackpool musician Rae Morris is a dayglo love story, the tale of her growing intimacy with her producer told through vibrant electronic pop.
He’s called Fryars, real name Ben Garrett, and is currently working on Lily Allen’s comeback as well as his own album. He co-wrote and produced some of Morris’s debut album too, but it was this time around, making her second, that things were different. It’s an office romance, if you like, played out over mixing desks instead of photocopiers. As she put it boldly in her fantastic comeback single, Do It: “We could write another duet, or instead, babe, we could just do it, do it, do it, do it…” Now they’re doing up a north London house together, with its own studio space.
I picture their eyes meeting as they both reached for the same volume dial, but it wasn’t such a lightning bolt, the 25-year-old tells me. “We met years ago,” she says. “He really was one of my best mates but I didn’t see him very much because I was busy touring. But I deeply cared for him and always kind of knew that it was a thing. It was always going to happen, and making these songs really brought everything to the surface.”
The pair did a duet together on Morris’s first album, Unguarded, in 2015. It was called Cold, and that time it was a break-up song, but most of that record was about her teenage relationship with another Blackpool singer-songwriter, Karima Francis. Unguarded reached the top 10, and while it has its electronic flourishes, its songs are sadder and stem from Morris’s background as a pianist. It’s very pretty but significantly less fun than what she’s doing today. With her high, sweet voice, surrounded by vivid, fizzing synths, now she ought to be competing alongside Ellie Goulding rather than Tori Amos.
“I used to perform solely at the piano which was very comfortable, but I realised I was missing out on a whole range of connection,” she says. She hasn’t consciously tried to be more of a pop performer, she tells me, though she did see a choreographer to learn how to move more naturally on stage.
She’s also been seen sporting a latex catsuit, Britney Spears style, on the cover of the new album and also in a YouTube clip of a Radio 1 Live Lounge performance, during which she mixed two number one singles: Post Malone’s Rockstar and Camila Cabello’s Havana, plus Psycho Killer by Talking Heads. That broadened her fanbase, shall we say.
“I’ve had a load of latex fetishists messaging me on Twitter, which is quite scary. I didn’t know it was such a thing!” What do they want? “They just ask if I’m going to be wearing latex in the next video. No I’m not! It’s very weird.”
It’s a long way from teenage years in Blackpool, where she played piano and occasionally sang at school but was so far from the London record labels that she believed she was more likely to become a firefighter like her dad. She was discovered nonetheless and signed to Atlantic in her late teens, where the endless cash generated by her stadium-packing labelmate Ed Sheeran has so far kept the pressure off for a hit single.
“The thing that maybe could have been different is I wasn’t completely allowed to be myself,” she says of her early career. “I got signed off the back of massive Adele success so it felt like they were looking for another powerhouse female. There was a bit too much overthinking it. This time they said you just need to be yourself because that’s the only thing that’s going to work. I almost breathed a sigh of relief. I know how to do that.”
When she finished her touring schedule for the first album she went straight into the studio with Fryars to try some things out. “That year of touring really opened my eyes, watching other people at festivals. I learned a lot in that time from people like Grimes – that freeness of electronic music.”
Appropriately, the first new song that she revealed to the world was called Reborn. “These are new beginnings/Won’t let the past determine where we go from here,” she sings over icy synthesizer blips. “Before, what I knew was to write songs on the piano and play them live,” she says. “This time we started with a completely blank canvas. A lot of songs began with a synth or a vocal melody. I felt really free. It really did feel like we could do absolutely anything.”
What they’ve ended up with are bright, catchy songs precision-tooled for mass appeal, so I admit I’m slightly baffled why two singles in particular – Do It and Atletico (The Only One) – haven’t yet been all over the radio and the charts. “Yeah me too,” she says. “I don’t know if I should be posting more selfies? But they’re out there, people seem to like them and I got to make some fun videos. And the front line at my gigs seems to be more people my age, which is nice. Before it was mostly older dudes. There’s a new generation coming to the table now.”
In person, over lunch in a cafe near her new home, she’s lovely, down to earth company. Maybe she’s too nice for the tough pop world, where yesterday’s million seller is nobody today. “That feeling that I’m lucky to be here was a very strong personality trait of mine,” she admits. Superstars don’t tend to come from Blackpool, home of pier entertainment and donkey rides. “I didn’t allow for my ability and talent to be the reasons why. I just felt fortunate. I had to allow myself to believe I was good at this. There was a point when I didn’t need to hold on to those things that were holding me back.”
Well she’s back, and she is very good at this, and there are 11 brilliant new pop songs in the world today. This is one love story with a happy ending.
Someone Out There is released today on Atlantic. Rae Morris plays March 28, Heaven, WC2 (0844 847 2351, heaven-live.co.uk)