Rising star Anke Richards talks starting a career in music, the challenges of writing authentically and why Billie Eilish is her biggest inspiration

When Anke Richards released her debut single, “Two Weeks” (2019), I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the upwards trajectory her career would take in just two years.

Let’s be honest, making it as a musician is tough as hell, and in South Africa’s close-knit industry even more so, but with over 12 million streams on Spotify alone, Richards is taking every challenge in her stride, on a path that’s seemingly destined for stardom.

“It all happened so suddenly” she tells me, speaking over Zoom. “I’ve always known that I loved singing, but it was never something I took seriously enough to turn into a career.”

She was discovered by indie-pop label Cloudlight Records after a series of covers she posted on Instagram caught their attention, and shortly after, released her biggest single to date, “Tired”.

It’s the epitome of modern pop, with a slightly off-centre, crystal sweet melody that floats above a luxurious bassline, but the best part about it isn’t so much the music as it is the lyrics. They’re as relatable as they are unassuming, to the point where you hear her voice so vividly in the words it’s like she’s talking to you.

“When I first started writing with my current manager I was very inspired emotionally,” she says. “I was going through a hard time and I think all of those negative feelings I had inside of me found their way into the music. But then suddenly I wasn’t sad anymore, and it was like, oh, ok, now what am I going to write about?”

It was then that Richards started to look away from her own life and at the lives of others, a decision that brought her closer to her fans. “I started writing about other people, their situations, the situations I saw around me, and even though at first it was super challenging to try and write in a way that was still as authentic as my personal stuff, I’m so glad I did. I think I actually love writing more now because of it.”

Her debut EP is set for release later this year, co-written alongside singer-songwriter Jethro Tait, and while fans have come to love Richards for her kind of cool yet comforting sadness, she tells me that her new music is moving in a slightly different direction.

“This EP is going to be way more upbeat than my previous stuff. Up till now we’ve kind of stayed within the region of lo-fi pop, but I want to bring a little more happiness into my music.”

There’s an energy that permeates her words as she says this, almost as if there’s this entire other side to her sound that’s wild and untamed and just waiting to be heard. To put it simply, it’s exciting to see a young artist awash with such optimism, to which she adds, “You know, it’s been two years since I started going into the studio, three or four times a week, every week, and every time I walk in I still get excited. Literally every time.”

There’s no doubt that Richards is writing with a murky, modern-edge sword which has largely been influenced by the likes of Billie Eilish and Tate McRae, who bring this sombre yet joyful quality to their music, and I hear it in Richards’ sound too.

She says, “It seems silly to say because of how iconic she has become, but Billie Eilish is my biggest inspiration. I love how she uses her voice so subtly yet so powerfully. She just makes the kind of music I want to make.”

Dare I say that Anke Richards is South Africa’s very own Billie Eilish in the making? No, I won’t, but only because she doesn’t need comparisons to come into her own. She’s already built a name for herself, and she’s done so by being perfectly vulnerable.

She ends the interview by telling me, “I don’t want to be naïve, but music is my only goal. I really just want to focus on my career now and nothing else. My dream is for this to be permanent.”

I have no doubt that it will be. Richards is the kind of artist who lays everything she has of herself on the line, to the point where it feels like she can’t give anymore, but it’s there that she is her most authentic, most successful self. And it’s there that she’ll continue to make strides in her career as big as the ones she’s already achieved.

Pre-save Anke’s single “Never Forget” dropping 10 September.