Straight from the slums of Shaolin comes a multi-talented artist that is carving a place in the music landscape’s uncharted territory. Singer-songwriter Laya LaRochè does not conform to the traditional mold of a soul singer. LaRochè’s brand of “Alternative R&B” exhibits spellbinding vocals and edgy lyrics which puts the Staten Island native in a class all her own.
After dropping 2012’s Let Them Eat Cake mixtape, Laya is back with the 10-track opus Seraphic Nightmare. Her first official debut LP is a stirring exploration into the subconscious of the Alley Cat Gang siren.
DZI: The Voice chatted with Laya LaRochè about Seraphic Nightmare, some of her fellow S.I. neighbors, and why she’s “that bitch.”
Yohance Kyles: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Laya LaRochè: I’ve been singing all my life. There are literally cassette tape records of me singing when I was 2 years old [laughs]. I started writing my first songs when I was 8 (not that they were any good), but I always knew that I wanted to write music and sing/perform them for everyone.
YK: How did you first get involved in making music professionally?
LL: I was 16 when I stepped into a recording booth for the first time. It was the same year that I began to perform at local shows. People’s reaction and excitement to what I was doing, along with my own, is what solidified my passion.
YK: You’ve described your sound as “Alternative R&B”. How would you define that?
LL: I describe Alternative R&B as the nontraditional way of making R&B. It still has the soul at its core, but it’s free of traditional guidelines and templates. Alternative R&B is very much experimental – ie: extreme flips and changes in the beat, heavy industrial sounds fused with smooth melodic vocals. Someone once even called me an Electro Soul singer.
YK: You have a single called “That Bitch”. What makes you that bitch?
LL: What makes me “That Bitch”?” [laughs]. That’s a funny but valid question. I’m “That Bitch” because I do it all myself. Yeah, me [laughs]. I write all of my lyrics, make my own beats, sing, record, and mix them myself.
I edit all my videos and pretty much any footage of myself. I’ve made all my album covers, one of which (Seraphic Nightmare) was painted. I’ve created my own set of theatrics and props for all my live performances including wearing a skee mask and being tied up on stage.
I make all my own flyers, created the ACG/Alley Cat Gang logo from hand sketches, burned, printed, signed and kissed 100 copies of Seraphic Nightmare by hand. And I do my own weave! So, I’m “That Bitch”!
YK: You recently released your LP Seraphic Nightmare. What was the inspiration for the theme of that project?
LL: I was in a dark place when I wrote a lot of the songs on this project, and I was suffering from severe nightmares and lack of sleep. The new music I was making began to have a much darker feel to it.
I still stayed true to myself by keeping my sultry and melodic vocals intact and even truer to my nature finding the good within the bad, the seraphic in the nightmare. By the time I was wrapping up the project I was in a much better place, but I didn’t want to lose all the raw emotion and real experiences in my music.
Although there are some records that hit the cutting room floor, I was proud of the songs I did choose to release. They are the realest to me.
YK: On songs like “Mellow” and “NMA” you have a rap delivery. Have you ever thought about making an entire project of you rapping?
LL: No. I have a lot of fun with rapping, but that’s really all it is to me, fun. I’m a singer, that’s what I love to do. That’s what I’m good at. I love rap music and appreciate good rappers both male and female, but I would never call myself a “rapper”. I rap when I feel it’s best for the record. On both “Mellow” and “NMA” all I heard were rap flows in my head with elaborate ad-libs so that’s what I did. It’s just what felt right.
YK: Can you described how the treatment for the “NMA” video was developed? Do you have an idea when it will drop?
LL: The “NMA” video is a smooth collective of visuals of ACG and I. We mobbed out and took over the Hamilton Bridge Skate Park in Washington Heights. The song is called “NMA/No Mutts Allowed,” and I wanted to showcase the beautiful and talented gals that are a part of the movement and have a lot of fun while doing it. I can’t say exactly when it’s dropping because I’m still editing it [laughs], but I’m shooting for sometime in August. Pero, don’t quote me! [laughs].
YK: Nicki Minaj recently sparked a public conversation about females in the music industry writing their own lyrics. Nicki focused on female rappers, but what’s your opinion on the level of credit that should be given to any artist that does not at least contribute to the writing process for their songs?
LL: To be honest, I don’t believe that anyone who doesn’t at least contribute to the writing process should be called an “artist”. I call those folks singers and performers, because that’s what they do.
So many “artists” only have to “show up” but don’t actually create anything. This concept has become so accepted in the industry that any and everyone believes that they are an “artist”, and it blows.
I take it a bit personal at times being that I write everything and I sing. I’m proud of that. Certain “artists” even have ghost singers. Now how disappointing that must be to a fan to find out your favorite singer isn’t even singing your favorite song? We’re so consumed with “image” that we’ve completely lost ourselves and forgotten about the music itself.
YK: Staten Island is perhaps best known in music circles as the home of the Wu-Tang Clan. Are you a fan of the Killa Bees movement? If so, what are some your favorite Wu songs?
LL: Of course I’m a Wu-Tang Clan fan! I’m from the same hood! Park Hill! “RAW” by ODB has got to be my all time favorite Wu-Tang record, but I bump to “C.R.E.A.M” and “Method Man” any day.
YK: If you could collaborate with any three artists out now who would you choose?
LL: I would love to collab with Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean and/or Etta Bond. All three of them have inspired me the most in the past few years.
YK: How did you connect with Cloud Kicker?
LL: They’re from Staten Island, so the degrees of separation weren’t big at all. Mike D. of Cloud Kicker reached out to me one day and we started chopping about music and style over the phone. When we met he blessed me with some dope CK gear for me to Laya-fy for a shoot that I was more than happy to do. I support almost anything positive and of quality to come out of my borough. I love the boys over at Cloud Kicker! Hey Mike!
YK: You’re heading out on tour this summer. What are you most excited about as far as that trek?
LL: I’m the most excited to perform out there. It’ll be my first time overseas, so just the experience alone is exciting but to also be able to showcase my talents is what really gets me hype!
YK: What’s next for Laya LaRochè?
LL: Visuals. Lots and lots of visuals. Videos and tour footage as well as a few singles are what’s next to drop, so keep your eyes and ears peeled! Meow!
Stream Laya LaRochè’s Seraphic Nightmare: