Reilly Stith is a triple threat; she has been performing in some capacity since the tender age of four when she picked up the violin. Dancing and modeling endeavors followed, but Reilly is mainly recognized for her acting roles in 'Orange is the New Black' and the 2009 film, 'Brooklyn's Finest'. Behind the scenes, she has been faithfully penning songs on the side in hopes of expressing herself as a musical artist; her musical alter ego stylized as "RYLI."
After releasing the music video for her debut single "One Night," in December, RYLI premiered her new track "Tell Me," earlier this month; It's a sensual teaser attached to her Enter EP, due May 19th. She calls herself the "vibe goddess" and rightly so; the atmospheric singles are ripe for setting the mood, and being in tune with the energy.
All of this is in preparation for her full-length album titled 'Fear,' coming later this year. She chatted with us about her journey as a budding child performer to becoming the triple threat she is today, and how she’s facing her fears in order to put herself out there yet again as RYLI, the singer/songwriter.
You've made a name for yourself as an actress on season 2 of Orange is the New Black and the film Brooklyn's Finest. Which came first, acting or music?
Acting actually came first, and I was songwriting on the side; I’ve been songwriting for about 10 years. I moved to New York from Virginia to pursue a career as a film and TV actress.
Why New York and not L.A.?
Oh, it’s funny! It was closer to Northern Virginia, so it was easier for me at the time. My father would commute back and forth, and we have a lot of family here in New York, not much family in California, and I was accepted into a special school that catered to kids that were working called the Professional Children’s School. So, they allowed me to get a college prep education while pursuing my entertainment endeavors.
What’s the story behind how you pursued both facets of entertainment?
At four years old, I started out with the violin. From age 4 to 13, I was playing at the local orchestra at my school, won some awards, was first chair for a while. Then simultaneously, I picked up dance and got super inspired after I went to the Janet Jackson "All For You" concert; I came home and I was like "oh my gosh, I wanna dance!" So, I went out for this company, the Northern Virginia Dance and Theater Company, and I was accepted. I was doing hip-hop, modern jazz, ballet, songwriting on the side; I was young like 12 or 13. Then dance brought me into acting. Dance was a short-lived career, and you get bad feet with dance (laughs), so I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that, that’s the truth. So, I was like "how can incorporate my artistic endeavors in entertainment?" I thought acting, so I moved up to New York on the fly after I was accepted into the school, and I went out for Jeff Mitchell management, they saw like two thousand kids, and I was one of the five that got picked. That catapulted me, and I ended up signing with Abrams Artist Agency, whom I’ve been with for ten years now. I booked Brooklyn’s Finest, which was direct by Antoine Fuqua; he directed Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. In Brooklyn’s Finest, I played Ethan Hawke’s daughter’s best friend Myeisha. We did a scene together, it was really cool to work with him, and that transitioned me into doing a lot of commercials; I did JC Penny, and I did a lot of modeling campaigns for Venus-Gillette, Verizon. Then I booked Orange Is The New Black about two years ago. I did the first season, episode four, then I did this show on NBC called Believe about seven months ago.
Do you prefer acting or music more?
It’s so funny, people always ask me that, and I’m like they’re like my kids, you know, which one do you love more? I would say, what I enjoy more about music is bring my own writing to life and cultivating my own project, sharing that with people and introduce myself as RYLI and not introducing myself as a character that a part of this major production that was written by another screenwriter or playwright. So, I really enjoy sharing my story as an artist. I love music and acting, they're both the same and so different (laughs).
Who are some of your musical influences?
Some of my musical influences are Sade, Janet Jackson, and Aaliyah, those are my top three.
I can hear the Sade influence in your single, "Tell Me."
(laughs) Yeah people said that, they were like, "Oh my God, it reminds me of a Sade vibe (laughs)." I'm like "thank you, I love her."
What other musicians or producers would you like to work with?
I would love to do some collabs with A$AP Rocky, which would be cool, I live in Harlem, so just doing that Harlem movement. I would say Soulection is the sound that I like because they’re very eclectic, however, they have a really interesting hip-hop feel. I love taking Trap/hip-hop beats and turning them into these soulful, sultry sounding music for females. They’re the most appalling I would say; I’ve got my eye on them. Obviously, Timbaland as well, cause he's from VA originally.
Tell us about your debut EP Enter.
Actually, it’s a funny story! I started working for this place called Jungle City Studios about a year and a half ago, and that was to get my creative juices flowing. I wanted to be surrounded in a part-time environment where there was music going on instead of a place like a restaurant. I was like, “how can I be inspired as an artist and still make side money?” So, I called Jungle City Studios, got the job, and that’s where I met my entire production camp. I got my mixing and mastering engineer; I got my producer. And we cultivated this project called Fears, so that’s my album that’ll be out between December and June and Enter is just a part of that. You’re sort of entering into the mind of RYLI's music. A lot of people know me as the actress who song-writes and plays guitar that have this acoustic, sultry feel. I wanted to give an unbiased approach entering into my world and sound, the vibe goddess and really channel my inner vibe. That’s where the title came from; I was sitting down thinking and I was like, Enter is like the most awkward and perfect title for someone like me because I’m this actress meets music, so it’s a triple threat situation. I’m not just an artist; I’m not just an actress or a model. I just felt like “entering” people into my movement. And then listening to the records, on the EP I have “Hold Up,” which is a VA-based record, I have “Heartbreaker,” which is a love song about a long lost friend that I’ve had a crush on for years. We’ve got some really cool stuff on there where people can really get into my world and vibe out with the “vibe goddess.” That’s really who I am; it’s all about vibes. I love to walk into a studio, a room of producers and they play me tracks, and I’m like, “Oh my God this is it!” it’s just an energy thing, that’s sort of how “Tell Me” came about.
Tell us about the album Fear and the concept behind that.
I’ve always been a songwriter, however, there are some insecurities where you’re like I don’t sound like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, and I have such an interesting, raspy voice, and I feared putting myself out there. I would always song-write as meditation and as a coping mechanism with a life in the entertainment industry and being a struggling artist, but I never had the inspiration to put stuff out. So I was like, "you know what? I should just title my album what I’ve always been afraid to do." So I named it Fear. Every time I perform or talk about the album, I’m facing my fear of putting myself out there as an artist and really vibing with my story and coming into my world, getting to know RYLI, this vibe goddess that channels her inner vibes at all times. People ask me, “what is the vibe?” I wish I could put it in a box and say this vibe is this, but it’s really about bringing your vibe to my show. So, if you’re a rock and roller, a jazz musician, you should just come to my show, vibe out to my music and try to find your story within my story and that’s really how that concept came about.
What do you like to do for fun outside of recording and acting?
I love sitting on my rooftop; I live in Harlem so I have a great roof. I love to get together with close friends and listen to music, we hit up the lower eastside, bar hop a little bit, dance to the New York thing. Also I write a lot of poetry on the side as well as play guitar, been playing for about four years. But that’s sort of my secret thing, it’s really just for inspiration, chord progressions and stuff like that. I really enjoy hanging out with family and friends. I don’t have a ton of time, so when I get to sit down with close people I love it’s always a great experience. Shopping, obviously and getting my nails done too (laughs).
Do you ever go on vacation as a break from ?
I wish. I’m a struggling artist; let’s keep it real. I’m on the come up, I can’t really vacay yet, I’m still living at the crib with my mom (laughs). I’m trying to get to a place where I can take a vacation. I was able to go to L.A. this past summer and stayed with some friends, recorded some music, I actually recorded “Tell Me” in L.A. I try to mix work with pleasure, but no I haven’t been able to get to the beach in a while (laughs).
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Gosh, in three years… I see myself on top of the world, honestly (laughs). I want to be able to be a songwriter, so I feel like, with the gift of songwriting, you’ll forever have a career. I hope to see myself living well, surviving as an artist in the entertainment industry, that’s the goal. So I won’t be in debt hopefully (laughs).
Oh, you’re gonna do fine!
Yeah, I’m so excited! I gotta tell you; this journey has been incredible. It’s been moving so fast. I’ve gotten so much love and it so funny, naming the album Fear, it really just goes to show you, you just have to follow your dreams, put yourself out there, and really not fear yourself. I think a lot of times we are our own competition, and so I kind of feed that with this project; put all that to the side and put myself out there.