Next Wave #1175: Margo Raats

Rising pop lyricist hits us in the feels...

Margo Raats strives for profound connection. For the past two years, the alt-pop singer-songwriter has been working hard on her debut EP, ‘Paper Paradise,’ unwaveringly dedicated to building her own universe, all while studying and working several jobs to make ends meet. 

Having moved from a ranch in the Belgian to the bustling yet often desolate sprawl of London, Raats’ disillusionment with the city naturally inspired much of the record, imbuing it with a sense of loneliness and longing.

The result feels almost delicate to the touch. Each of the project’s six tracks, which explore themes of disposable love and the complexities of modern dating, spill over with Raats’ raw emotion. From the haunting ‘I Wish I Was The Moon’ to dance-cry synth-pop number ‘Crying in the Taxi’, it’s hard not to connect with Raats’ expressive storytelling.

Raats’ creative process is fitting for a record that captures the essence of late-night feelings, her tracks beginning as freestyles recorded on her phone. This impromptu release is a form of catharsis, she explains. “A lot of the time when I feel like I need clarity or feel heavy about a feeling or a situation, I just feel like I have to write it out.”

“Some songs come in pieces like a puzzle that needs to be placed,” Raats adds. “I’m very big on production and creating a world in all its colours.”

Raats has always longed to bring others into this universe. “Connecting with people through music is the most special thing; performing is my favourite part of making music,” she shares. “Music tells what people never say. To be able to share an honest perspective on my findings in life so far is so pure and beautiful.”

Margo Raats’ carefully curated world extends beyond the music and into a visual sphere too. The cover art for ‘Paper Paradise’, which was shot in her hometown of Bergen, captures Raats in a near-mythical way, a sprite-like flash in the darkness. 

“Visuals are very important to me,” Raats tells CLASH. “I always try to paint music out to give clarity for soundscapes and sharpness and other elements. To me the artwork is the most important thing, I wanna present the character in the story that’s told.”

Now that the project is out, Raats is letting go of the reins, inviting her listeners to build their own universe from the fragments of hers. “I hope people can find a little piece of themselves in the music. That’s my favourite part about the music I love too,” Raats says. “When I listened to ‘Both Sides Now’ by Joni Mitchell for the first time, it moved me so deeply and it gave me perspective. My wish is for people to connect to my music in their own world. It no longer belongs to just me, it belongs to anyone who listens and whatever feeling that might bring.”

‘Paper Paradise’ explores themes of disposable love and the complexities of modern dating. What message do you hope listeners take away from these themes?

I hope people can find a little piece of themselves in the music. That’s my favourite part about the music I love too. When I listened to ‘both sides now’ by Joni Mitchell for the first time it moved me so deeply and it gave me perspective. My wish is for people to connect to my music in their own world, it no longer belongs to just me, it belongs to anyone who listens and whatever feeling that might bring.

The EP’s title track was written in a spontaneous, late-night session. Is this typical of your usual songwriting process?

A lot of the time when I feel like I need clarity or feel heavy about a feeling or a situation, I just feel like I have to write it out, a lot of my songs are just freestyles and I record them on my phone, that’s how ‘Paper Paradise’ came to be but also “I wish I was the moon”. Some songs come in pieces like I puzzle that needs to be placed out. I wrote the ‘Finish Line’ chorus section on GarageBand and took it to Dan and we finished the song together, this was in our very first session together. Funny how some stories begin with the ending. The overall ep is a collection of collaborations with magical people I’ve had the pleasure to work with and vulnerable moments just me in my bedroom at night, little trousers I’ve collected.  I later took the project to Dan who I closely collaborated with, I’m very big on production and creating a world in all its colours, and telling the Paper Paradise story with Dan felt like it was meant to be. 

Tracks like ‘Finish Line’ deal with self-acceptance and feeling deserving of love. How important is it for you to connect emotionally with your listeners through your music?

Connecting with people through music is the most special thing, performing is my favourite part of making music, music tells what people never say. To be able to share an honest perspective on my findings in life so far is so pure and beautiful. Being able to share this is honestly so special, it truly is my favourite thing. 

Which song on the EP resonates with you the most right now?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one, I shift so much in this, I’ve found a new love for ‘Paper Paradise’ over the last couple of days since this wasn’t a single I just didn’t listen to the song for a while, I love how big and bold it sounds, the space it takes up and how dramatic it feels. I’m so proud of that song now, it’s like I needed time to appreciate this. I was editing a visual for the song yesterday and I showed it to my brother and we both went quiet, I think it’s very special. 

The artwork for ‘Paper Paradise’ was taken in Bergen and is quite natural and unedited. How important are visuals to your overall artistic vision, and what was the thought process behind this particular artwork?

Visuals are very important to me, I think even In my music I’m very visual and colourful, I always try to paint music out as well just to give clarity for soundscapes and sharpness and other elements. To me the artwork is the most important thing, I wanna present the character In the story that’s told. I  guess I’m old school for this but I just always think ‘how does it look on a wall as a vinyl?  The canvas we have for night & day was also an important element for me too, having a ballet dancer dancing in a parking lot in dirty Soho was a visual I was obsessed with in my head for the longest time. The visual aspect is something I’m excited to explore more that’s for sure. 

Do you have any plans for live performances or tours to promote the EP? What can fans expect from your live shows?

For sure! We’re planning on putting on an EP release show late summer, and I honestly can’t wait for this, I’m working on my live set up at the moment and I can’t wait to share this, I just wanna give people who like the music a special experience and make the music come alive even more and show all the layers to it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing any updates on this on my socials so stay tuned!

You’ve just been in LA, what came from the creative trip? 

Yes, I’m in LA at the moment and I have been for a while, writing new music, gaining some clarity for my next project but also hanging out with my brother who I’m super close with. Being with him during the release feels very special too.

Given your disillusionment with London, what was your experience with LA? The city holds a reputation as a near Mecca for musicians; did it live up to your expectations?

Oh I prefer London over LA forever. The feeling of culture and community but also my lovely friends and the whole world around me is something I love so much. I think it’s a big part of who I am. I do like LA though I really do and the weather is so nice and I love being close to the beach, going to the water reminds me how small I am. I feel like I need this sometimes. I love being on location for writing. It gives me a very reflective POV, being away from my day to day life. 

Paper Paradise’ is such a raw and authentic creation that it almost feels unnatural for such a delicate piece of art to exist in tandem with the warped world of streaming and TikToks. How do you feel about it?

I think stuff like that can be very stressful but at the end of the day I try to remind myself, it’s just a profile, it’s just a selfie of me in the car, it’s just a clip. I always try to remember I’m a living human and I’m not striving to be a perfect Instagrammer or TikToker, I just wanna make music so I try to keep it pretty real and not overthink stuff too much so I just create my little online world for anyone who likes to be part of my universe in that way. I make my own clothes for a lot of projects. I love fashion and dressing up so much and any other form of art so I always like to include this in my own way too. I do think being able to connect with strangers on the internet is beautiful, I’ve received messages about the music that moved me so, so much feeling the love all the way through my phone, even though the internet can be stressful it’s also beautiful and powerful in my opinion.

‘Paper Paradise’ EP is out now. Stay in touch with Margo Raats on IG.

Words: Aimee Phillips

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