Comfort is a strange notion. Though a positive word, by all definitions, when one finds themselves too deep within its mitts, discomfort can often ensue as the fear of complacency looms. But why are we so afraid of complacency? It’s because we fear that if we do not keep moving forward, we may cap ourselves from reaching our full potential. Nonetheless, it’s this fear that sparks change, new beginnings and creativity for all of us and, for neo-soul singer-songwriter Jordan Rakei, that couldn’t ring any more true.
Over three years ago, Rakei packed up his very comfortable life at home in Brissie and headed to London. Dissatisfied with the lack of rawness in his creative output, his new surroundings not only cultivated a change in his songwriting, but also his personal development as a human being. In 2016, Rakei emphatically drove his stake into the ground with his debut LP ‘CLOAK’. A mellow meld of neo-soul, experimental electronic tones and organic jazz percussion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more accessible amalgamation of genre-fluid tracks.
Tangled in social-anxiety, his struggle with battling his own mind forms the inspiration and tales behind ‘Wallflower’, his forthcoming sophomore record (out September 22). Though Rakei’s music is mellow by nature, ‘Wallflower’ is a noticeably more solemn record than the last. It forces you to pause, think, and process your own thoughts, even when you don’t want to. Its honesty is its greatest asset, and Rakei’s sobering vulnerability will find a way to strike a chord with the psyche of even the most closed-off listener.
We had a chat to Rakei about ‘Wallflower’, and had him share the songs that inspired the evolved sound that can be heard on the new record. Though each artist selected is known for having their own, distinct sound, there’s a common underlying theme through each track – the controlled use of space and restraint.
Best Before: ‘Groove Curse’ was without a doubt a very important project for you, but how soon after you released ‘CLOAK’ did you really start to see the sea change? Is there a particular moment or tour where the power of having an album out in the world became apparent to you as an artist?
Jordan Rakei: I guess releasing a debut album is a special thing. For me, an EP is a snapshot into someone’s process. However, with an album, you can develop a story and create more of an experience for a listener. I think that’s what separates ‘CLOAK’ from my two EPs. It has a consistent underlying theme and tone. I think the defining moment for me was the tour I did for it last year –meeting a lot of people on the road that love different songs for different reasons and, hearing their stories about it.
How do you think your headspace has changed between albums?
I think I’ve focused a lot more on telling a story. All of my previous releases have been very referential, in terms of lyrics. With ‘Wallflower’, I’ve decided to take the “dear diary” approach and speak about stuff that’s a lot more personal to me.
You’ve been quite outspoken about the bubble you found yourself in living in Australia. What did it feel like to get out the bubble, and do you feel like you’ve completely come to terms with living on the opposite side of the world?
I think I definitely consider London home now. The bubble, for me, is more so being too comfortable and having life a little too easy. Right before I left, I was still living with my mum and making music out of my bedroom. There were no mental or financial struggles that could add an element of rawness to my creative experience. Moving to London definitely exposed a part of me that I’m still discovering.
Living in London, one could only assume that you spend a fair bit of time with guys like Tom Misch. What other musicians have you formed close friendships with over there and how have they helped to shape your development as an artist?
A few people have been really important in my growth as an artist since I’ve been here. Working with Alfa Mist has been amazing. His sound has rubbed off on mine a bit, and I’m really influenced by him. Also working and playing with my band Jim, Tom, Sheldon and Ernesto has been great for me. Jim helped me write and produce this whole album, so he’s been a big part of the next sound.
You’ve described ‘Wallflower’ as your most personal work yet. What do you mean when you say that?
I guess I mean, I’m finally talking about stuff, that usually, I was reluctant to express to other people. That’s the theme of the album, too – social anxiety. So, ironically, I’m having to express emotions that I typically don’t in conversation or everyday life.
Does being vulnerable in your music come with an element of anxiety or is it purely cathartic?
I’d say neither, to be honest. I’m never in a song-writing situation with elements of anxiety, nor am I using it to heal myself. It’s come to a point where it’s just part of my routine. I go to the studio to write and make music, because I feel that’s all I can add to the world. However, making music does make me feel free from judgement so, yeah, you could probably argue that it’s helping me deal with the outer pressures of anxiety.
It sounds like you’ve left a lot more time for the music to breathe and the listener to pause and just reflect on this record. Was that intentional or inspired by anything in particular?
Really good question. I think we were fairly conscious of that fact. Usually, however, it’s a process of me being sub-consciously influenced by the music I listen to. I was listening to a fair amount of music throughout the creative experience and it all somehow found it’s way into my sound. I love doing it that sort of way. Usually when i listen to a new artist or new album, I rinse it until I get sick of it. That’s how I manage to take certain things from my favourite albums.
It also sounds like there’s a lot more of a focus on live instrumentation on this album, which is surprising considering your recent work under Dan Kye. Is there a particular reason why you took a slight step away from electronic instruments?
I’ve always strived to have an album with more live instrumentation. I think it’s a lot stronger when a song is captured by a performance rather than programming. Dan Kye is an exception because that’s dance music. Going forward I’d like to keep it as live as possible!
Which track on the album means the most to you and why?
“Wallflower” means the most to me, I think, because it perfectly sums up the album and commentates about my sufferings with anxiety in a very honest way. Usually I like to be ambiguous with my lyrics, but I focussed on making this as upfront as possible.
What do you want listeners to get out ‘Wallflower’?
I guess, for them to consider and reflect on the fact that people go through their own battles. Hopefully they can come out of it thinking they aren’t alone and there are more many like them.
Jordan Rakei’s sophomore album ‘Wallflower’ drops September 22 – pre-order it here.
Until then, listen to the a playlist, curated by Rakei himself, and catch a glimpse of the inspiration behind the record: