In conversation with Jordan Rakei

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By Bethany Marris, Deputy Digital Editor

Jordan Rakei spoke to Epigram as he stopped by Rough Trade last Tuesday, marking the release of his third album Origin.

In 2013, producer, vocalist and lyricist Jordan Rakei conjured critical anticipation through his debut EP ‘Franklin’s Room’. Produced from the confines of his Brisbane bedroom when he was just 21, the EP boasts mature, soulful falsetto and jazz piano chords underscored by reggae beats. Australian record label Soul Has No Temp picked up on Rakei’s innovative sound, leading to his second EP ‘Groove Curse’ in 2014.

On moving to the UK four years ago, Rakei quickly scored a deal with Ninja Tune, aligning him with the likes of Bonobo, Kate Tempest and Mr Scruff. He has since produced three full LPS; Cloak (2016), Wallflower (2017) and Origin, released earlier this month. On Tuesday night, I talked with Jordan before his acoustic micro-set at Bristol’s Rough Trade.

Before delving into the making of his latest record, Rakei spoke openly of the way his sophomore album provided a vessel through which he could articulate and share his grapples with mental health. ‘Sort of like a coming out party, Wallflower was me revealing to the world that I had these anxieties’. Touring in 2017 had allowed him to connect with those who acutely related to the themes that Wallflower tackles, ‘people would come up to me...yeah they wanted the vinyl, but more so they wanted to talk about their experiences’. It became clear that many fans had taken refuge in Rakei’s art, and as he humbly admitted; ‘it was amazing that they felt comfortable enough to open up to me’.

Turning to his latest record, Rakei pondered, ‘In a way it sounds different from everything I’ve done, but at the same time it’s my most subconscious truest sound’. Analysing the roots of his style,  the artist states that as a youngster he ‘loved only soul music’. To Rakei, Origin is a manifestation of the soul music in his past ‘rising to the surface’. The album is bold, refined and cinematic. Jordan acknowledged that this apparent confidence, ‘energy’ and ‘vibrancy’ came from re-visiting Reggae, the area of music that he has ‘the most speciality in’. The ‘darker sound’ that the artist pursued throughout Wallflower  ‘wasn’t natural’, he explains, ‘I was really pushing myself to do something different’, yet in embarking upon Origin, Rakei ‘just wanted to see whatever came out naturally’.

It’s been four years since Jordan relocated from down under, and the impact that moving to London has had on his music is marked. ‘I feel like I exist in this world where I’ve got a semi-british sound but also American influence - a concoction of sounds but also my own thing going on’. Rakei discerns the ‘British sound’ to mirror an introspective culture in which people are ‘very closed off’.  ‘Something about the weather?’, he questions. Expanding upon this, Jordan notes that ‘everyone is doing their own thing in their rooms, and when you collaborate you get a taste of that person's sound’. Since living in the UK, the singer-songwriter-producer has consciously made an effort to work with a wealth of British artists including Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and REMI. He explains; ‘when I was in Australia, I was very comfortable in my own space, I’d made all my friends and I stayed in my comfort zone, whereas In London I had to break through it to make the most of the city’.

The educational value that Jordan sees in collaborating with other artists is pronounced, and he details his time working alongside London-Based ‘Urban Jazz’ artist Alfa Mist, a friend of his. ‘He [Mist] always talks about his process and how it changes, for his last piece of work he just went to a studio and recorded loads of stuff and whatever he liked made the album’. In contrast, the Origin artist refers to himself as far more ‘post-production’, and explains that Mist’s spontaneity and inadvertent creative approach has inspired him to take a little more ‘risk’ with his next album.

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Not to be overlooked is the attention Rakei pays to the visuals that elevate his projects, ‘we were really conscious of every aesthetic, every press picture’. ‘The Graphic designer came up with the concept of creating the fourth wall - we tried to create a lot of distance in the mediums’. Clarifying the album's deeper meaning, Jordan stated that ‘Origin is about distancing yourself from technology’, it’s about ‘understanding the history of our species’. The album artwork, originally an image of a diver from the 1960s olympics, was projected onto a TV screen, photographed and coloured to pose as ‘a beautiful analogy’ of the evolutionary notion that ‘all humans come from water’. Unlike the vivid atwork of Cloak, or the reflective, sentimental cover of Wallflower, Origin’s image is ambiguous and muted; with ambiguity being a characteristic that the artist sought to achieve lyrically too.

With every aspect of the musican's work meticulously produced, it comes as no surprise that his live performances are also heavily considered. ‘It’s about trying to find the fine line in keeping it interesting for yourself, but you also don’t want to disservice the song because someone came to the gig to hear it’. Although conscious to give the audience what they bought a ticket for, Jordan is open about the way in which he and his band have ‘changed quite a lot of the arrangements with the album’. He proceeded to rationalise this move, explaining that ‘fans should never have the option not to come to a gig because it’s like listening to another album, we want to bring a level of dynamism to each set’.

As the interview came to an end, we discussed where Rakei sees his sound heading.  The artist cited Bon Iver as his dream colab and spoke ardently of the band's work. ‘Through amazing lyrics and amazing production they [Bon Iver] create such raw, organic, proper art’. Other than this aspiration, Rakei gave little away, yet judging by the swelling success of his work over the last few years we have ample reason to patiently wait with confidence.

Featured Image: Jordan Rakei / Ninja Tune

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