Raised in constant global motion, Heavenly Reyna is a trilingual singer, songwriter and actress who is fluent in Mandarin and Spanish, as well as English. A talented multi-instrumentalist and popular live-streamer on Twitch and Tik Tok alike, she has recently gained notoriety for covering popular songs in both Spanish and Mandarin. Today, she released the stripped-down acoustic version of her single “Exit.”
She will be doing a live-streamed release party at 9 p.m. PT for the single here.
Read on for our interview with Heavenly Reyna, where in addition to exploring her upbringing into music and her creative process, we break down the new track.
How has your childhood of constant global motion shaped and informed who you are as a songwriter and musician?
Heavenly Reyna: To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ll ever know the full extent of how it affected me. I don’t have any other version of life to reference or compare. All I can say is that made me who I am. I don’t know who I’d be without it. I think that it definitely made me into the person that I am and it allowed me to have the freedom to be able to choose what I wanted to do and to believe that I could make the choices that I did.
Within that freedom to choose what you wanted to do, what drew you to songwriting? What inspired you to start making music?
Heavenly Reyna: Well I’d always been very musical. My parents got me into piano and violin when I was two and three, and so music had always been a part of my life and I had always been a performer and a very creative person. I started writing songs when I was a kid, but I don’t think any of us in my family really knew what it meant or if it would actually develop into this. But as I grew older and started to explore music and to figure out who I wanted to be, I naturally was drawn to music. I don’t think I really chose it; I think it chose me.
You’re a skilled instrumentalist on piano, violin, guitar—what has your education in music and in those instruments looked like, and how has that knowledge informed the way you approach writing a song?
Heavenly Reyna: I took piano lessons throughout my life from different teachers. When I was younger, I was taking lessons from this jazz piano teacher, so my early foundations were in jazz. In my teen years, I was classically trained. After that, I was more pop-trained. That’s when I learned how to use a pedal. I really started learning how to mesh that with singing. Same with violin. I had had lots of different teachers throughout the years, but I had always been classically trained. It’s not as much a part of me as it was when I was younger. It kind of naturally happened. It all meshed together to create a musical ear.
With jazz being the initial basis of your musical foundation, when you go to write a song, does your ear gravitate toward the kind of distinctive jazz chords, such as sevenths?
Heavenly Reyna: I think it’s funny, because yes, but I don’t think it’s because of that, which I find really interesting. I think it’s because my musical taste right now is I like more complicated and chunky and warm sounds. I just enjoy them so much more.
With that yearning for complexity in your sound in mind, what does your songwriting or creative process look like? How do you find an idea and nurture that into a completed song?
Heavenly Reyna: It kind of depends. It depends, also, on if I’m writing by myself or with somebody else. My main forms of songwriting are lyrics and melody. And so that’s my forte. What I’ll usually do is I have a lot of pre-thought-of concepts and I’ve learned over the past year or two that I really like free-styling over my own arrangement. I’ve also been a big fan of writing to beats off of Youtube; I don’t have to worry about creating a track or an arrangement. But I really like starting with a concept and then freestyling, and then figuring out the melody through that. Once that’s figured out, you go back over with lyrics.
The acoustic version of “Exit” comes out today: the lyrics of the track seem very story-based—what is the inspiration for this song? What does it mean to you?
Heavenly Reyna: The first line of the song came to me randomly one day when I was sitting in traffic. I put it in my little concepts book. At some point, I went into this session with these two people I had worked with before; it was me on the piano with some chords and I was like “hey, I was playing around with this idea earlier, what do you think?” And so I started playing this chord progression, and we were like “this is kind of stupid but it’s kind of funny, why don’t we mess around with it and see what happens?” And we just had so much fun creating these phrases for what you could relate to a relationship and being in traffic. It was such a beautiful family creation, I think. I still can’t believe that it resonates with people as much as it does, because of genuinely what it’s based on, which is the freeway.
You do something very interesting, musically, in the track—after you finish the first line of the verse, your left hand finishes the chordal thought, and after a very brief rest, your right hand plays a string of high F’s, which breaks up the melodic flow of the song. Is there thought and purpose behind that musical choice as a way to further the story of the song?
Heavenly Reyna: So the high F’s are actually representative of the seat belt indicator when I press them. I’m not a huge music theory person, as much as I grew up learning music, I still am not someone who is super well-versed in regards to music theory. So, I kind of just do what sounds good, and people will tell me, “hey, that’s not right,’ or ‘that’s kind of weird, but it works,” so that’s kind of how I do it.
I used to say it a lot more when I was performing it live. I don’t say it as much because I forget to tell people. It’s so prevalent in my mind, but I always forget that other people don’t know what that is.
You’ve got a very rare and powerful voice, with a lot of range and texture—have you ever had vocal training, and how do you train yourself to sing the “right” way?
Heavenly Reyna: I’ve had consistent vocal training for the past eight years of my life. I started getting vocal lessons when we were living in Malaysia when I was around 12 or 13. I started off singing in a choir in my school in Malaysia. That’s kind of what triggered the music thing, for me. When we moved back to the states, I’ve been working with one vocal coach in particular for the past six years, now; since I was 14,15. She was the one who really helped unlock a lot of different levels in my voice that I didn’t know how to unlock before. I think a big thing for me that’s helped my vocal abilities has been singing on Twitch for the past year. I had vocal training, I had vocal lessons, I’ve been singing for years and years. But the biggest shift I’ve noticed in my voice has been the consistent, between 15 and 20 hours a week that I’m just singing on Twitch.
When you’re laying down vocals on a track, what kind of thought, if any, goes into the way you sing a song? Or do you just sing it the way that you feel it?
Heavenly Reyna: I genuinely do just sing it the way that I feel it. And, depending on who I’m working with, some producers are a little more instructive on how they want me to sing. I think that it really just varies depending on who I’m working with, I think.
You seem very comfortable in an acoustic, stripped-down setting—just you and a piano—do you prefer writing more acoustic-styled songs, or do you like the fullness of a more modern production?
Heavenly Reyna: I don’t know which one I prefer. I like them both for different reasons, just because you can do so many different things with a piano, and it can be so simplistic and beautiful. I think that at its core, if a song doesn’t sound good on a single, simple instrument, then you didn’t do a very good job at writing the song.
Does recording and performing an acoustic version of your music give a different meaning to that song, for you?
Heavenly Reyna: Yeah, I think it’s a more innocent and kind of vulnerable way of releasing it, at first. I’ve never released an acoustic version of anything before this, so it was kind of a new experience, just simply doing the piano and the vocals and that’s it. It is kind of strange because there’s nothing behind it to support it or hide behind, but I think that that also allows it to be more vulnerable.
You said you’ve got about 100 unreleased songs—what can you tell me about those songs? Any thematic through-lines; albums or Eps in the works?
Heavenly Reyna: Right now, I think I’m just gonna be focusing on doing singles, but I’ve done so many different songs over the years and I’ve just been holding onto them, not really knowing what to do with them. But I’m finally ready to start actually releasing them and putting them out into the world. I hate that I can’t show people what I’ve done.
Is it a cathartic feeling to mentally say “I’m ready to get them out there into the world?”
Heavenly Reyna: Totally. It’s cathartic and it’s also a little scary, too. These are my children that I’ve had locked away, and now they’re being released and they’re gonna tell everybody what I’ve done.
You do this really unique thing on Twitch and Tik Tok, where you cover popular songs by translating them into Mandarin and Spanish—how did the idea to do that come about?
Heavenly Reyna: It was actually somebody that I had a meeting with and who I was asking for advice about what they thought I should do to evolve my content and use my skills in a way that I could share it with the world. And I was like “Oh my god, this is a brilliant idea,” and I got on it right away.
Does singing in different languages, especially Mandarin, change the way you approach singing and performing a song?
Heavenly Reyna: I wouldn’t say it’s super different, but for example, I did a cover of “If I Ain’t Got You,” by Alicia Keys, and I’m super used to singing that in English; that’s one of my most popular songs that I sing on Twitch. The one part that I sing in Mandarin, the vowel placement and the sound of the words made it a little bit harder to sing the song just because of where it was placed. I thought it was really interesting.
Having achieved all that you have at such a young age, is there ever a feeling that things have happened too quickly, or do you just keep pushing back the goalposts in your own head of where you want to end up?
Heavenly Reyna: For me, I feel like it’s never enough; I’ve never done enough. I feel like, even though I’ve done these things, I still don’t feel like I’ve done that much. I feel like I’m constantly striving for this level that I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve. When people are constantly going, the goal is constantly shifting, and so maybe they never end up actually hitting the goal because it keeps getting so big the more you do of the things you are trying to do. So, I feel like that’s probably going to me.
Out of all your creative pursuits, is there one that makes you the happiest to do, or is maybe the most fulfilling?
Heavenly Reyna: I think a really big shift for me was finding Twitch and finding the community that I did. It’s just another level of artistry that is so interesting to me. You’re connecting with people in real-time. It’s unlike anything else that I’ve ever done or experienced because it’s so interesting and enjoyable to do.
Between all the different social media platforms, you have an audience in the tens of thousands; is it strange at some level to have this virtual community paying attention to the things you do?
Heavenly Reyna: I definitely think it’s very heartwarming to see people from all different facets of the world come together and enjoy something that I’m creating. And it just inspires me more to keep going and to not give up for them.
Do you see yourself narrowing your pursuits at some point? Maybe focusing only on music, or only on acting? Or do you only find fulfilment in the pursuit of every creative outlet available to you?
Heavenly Reyna: I think that as time goes on, I’ll definitely narrow down my focus. Right now, it’s kind of like, I enjoy doing all of these things and I wonder which one will go forward the fastest, or the most successful. It’s kind of like, “let’s see what happens and take it from there.”
I’m so excited for (“Exit”) to finally be released and for people to hear it and for me to be able to share it.
You can listen to “Exit” (Acoustic) here.