Jordan Rakei talks Radiohead, Brexit and marriage — Sungenre Interview
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Jordan Rakei talks Radiohead, Brexit and marriage

Jordan Rakei talks Radiohead, Brexit and marriage

Dan Webb
Jordan Rakei is a supremely talented singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who is striving to release five albums before he turns 30. His third, Origin, has just been released, shortly after his 27th birthday.

You’ve explored various styles and genres in the past – hip-hop, soul, reggae, jazz and beyond – with a great deal of success. So why did you feel the need to draw a line under electronic dance music and separate that from the rest of your catalogue, via the pseudonym Dan Kye?
Interesting. That’s a good question. Um, I think at that stage in my career I was – I think I was making Wallflower, which at the time was super – it’s like, it’s my darkest work. Like, dark, minimal electronic, but, you know, melancholy vibes. And I thought, you know, I had this music, Dan Kye, that was fun and obviously dancey and housey. And I didn’t want to confuse people… At the time, before Dan Kye was created, I performed like, a night for my friend, doing like, dance music, and it went down really well. But I didn’t want to create that narrative going forward in my career. So I think it was quite cool to separate it. So, now I perform Dan Kye shows and some people don’t have any idea who the Jordan Rakei artist is. Which, of course, I sort of have two separate fans now. Which is what I wanted, because I think the music, other than my voice, which should’ve tied it all in together – the music’s quite different and I – but it’s a lot easier to go ahead and make house music without feeling any pressure of making it sound a certain way because I’ve already set a precedent with all my other music. So, it’s quite freeing to be able to do that.

Well congratulations on your new album, Origin. I understand that one of the primary themes on this album is technology’s effect on our sense of humanity. I also notice, previously on your track “Talk to Me” and on the Dan Kye track “iigo” you sing about being trapped inside a fake reality, which I’m assuming is possibly in reference to social media. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right, yeah.

Would you describe yourself as a technophobe?
Um. Interesting. I would say that I – I said this to my friend the other day, it’s funny because my career is born out of social media and SoundCloud. And like Twitter and Instagram, and people sharing me through their friends and that sort of thing. And I’ve always been like, apprehensive to fully use it for what it is. I know some of my friends that are really good at using social media, to like better their profile and their career. But I wouldn’t say I’m a technophobe that much. I try to use it as a tool, rather than letting it control or dictate my career. When I was writing the album, I was so inactive. I went months at a time without posting, because I was just focused on the music, and it didn’t control me. And now I get to that slippery slope, where the album’s out and there’s lots of people talking about it and I can get sucked right into that. You know, the dopamine release of reading all those notifications (laughs) every morning and I’m trying to basically distance myself as much as I can from letting it control me. So I still use it to like talk about a show I’ve got coming up or you know, asking advice, and sometimes I use Instagram stories as a good way of like, asking people really complex questions. And I usually get answers within like five minutes… so it’s really useful. I use it more as, more of the tool, rather than as like a personality projector, if that makes sense.

That sounds like a healthy relationship.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s good. And that’s what makes – that’s basically the worry of the album, is when – because you can control it now, but when it gets to the point where the signs are way, super powerful where they’re integrated in your mind. I don’t know. Whatever that fictional world’s gonna look like. It’s gonna be harder to give yourself space from it. So if you keep doing things that I’ve said I’m doing, and reminding yourself that it’s better to catch up with someone in person, or do human-like things, feel emotions, that sort of thing, then maybe we can be prepared. That’s sort of what it all talks about.

In a 2016 interview you said that you wanted to change the blueprint of how things work in this industry and that you were working on creating strategies that can enable artists to take risks without worrying about the consequence. Have you developed that idea any further, and can you reveal any of those strategies?
I had, at the time, I was basically, um – I haven’t fully been able to do it yet because making the music has become the priority. Because I realised that to do something – basically, I wanted to create like an academy, or like a school, or workshop based system, where people are taught the fundamentals of secular meditation. And then they use those tools in their creative process, but through like, mentorship. And I know because I know it helped me, but I had to discover all of these things myself. I know it works, like I know it works, and I don’t want to sound like the preachy meditator, but like it just honestly totally changed my life. And like, that’s basically the vision I have, is creating some sort of system where people can go on this intensive semi-retreat, semi-production retreat where like, I’m teaching elements of my production work and, you know, how I’d go about it, but also we’ve got – I bring in people that take the medication classes and yoga classes. So your creativity has a lot more room to flow out of you, when you’re in that better head space. So that was the vision I had and basically, a world where everyone’s meditating and creating music (laughs). And I think it’s gonna happen. Basically I just need more of a profile to be able to use it, use my profile to like, create an idea like that. Right now, I’m still an up-and-coming artist, so to speak. So, yeah. That’s why the trick is making music and keep making albums, and then, maybe further down the line, I can realise that dream.

I feel like I’ve succeeded on my original goal, and I try and remind myself of that a lot. But these new things just always pop up, and I guess it’ll be a constant popping up of new goals as my career progresses.

Sure. You sort of touched on something there which I’ve been asking a few artists about lately. You called yourself an up-and-coming artist. How would you define success and what’s your ultimate goal in making music?
Um, well the main goal, when I was starting out, back when I was living in Australia, was that all I wanted to do was be able to afford living and not having to work. Like purely living off (music). That was the end goal for me. So now I’m at a point where I can do that, but the problem is, when this is the classic thing about the world, and maybe it’s a human thing or maybe it’s just the way society is, but you achieve something and then you say, “okay, now what’s next?” Like, what’s the next thing I need to do, and you sort of don’t really ever appreciate what’s happening there and then. So I just feel like, you know, because it’s hard when sometimes – I’ve got a lot of friends, for example like, Tom Misch and Loyle Carner. They’re playing these massive shows around the world, and I always think to myself, “well, you know, I can be there, but I’ve got more time. It’s gonna take me more time to get there.” So then I think about like, “okay, when I play that venue, maybe I’ve made the next level of the…” Each time you make a goal, or each time I succeed. So now I’m living, I’m paying my rent, I’m doing things I love, like I get to go on holiday quite a lot. I’m touring the world… I’m doing everything really that like, an 18-year-old me would dream of doing. But then the new temptations of like, “well, now I need to play, I need wider reach. I need to reach more people. I need to play in different territories… now I want to buy a house.” I don’t know, all these things that come in. But, I feel like I’ve succeeded on my original goal, and I try and remind myself of that a lot. But these new things just always pop up, and I guess it’ll be a constant popping up of new goals as my career progresses.

You mentioned Loyle Carner there. He let slip in an interview recently that he was – well, he was hungover during the interview, after having attended your wedding reception the night before. So firstly, congratulations on getting married.
(laughs) Oh, thank you.

Two years ago you released a song called “Nerve” on which you sing, “how can I find a reason to love you, when I don’t love myself.” What changed?
Yeah. Well that whole album, Wallflower, was basically about my anxiety and my social anxiety. And coming to the realisation that in order to project happiness, like, in order to give people your best energy, you need to be happy within first. Otherwise you’re projecting this like, fake, um – you know, some people could be really depressed, but they’re like, on it, you know. They’re really happy, which doesn’t make sense because over time that’ll slip, and then the real them will come out. And it’s basically – that lyric is talking about my experience of really, truly being at peace with who I am as a person, before I can project it to anyone else. In a way, it’s like, selfish, but it’s also selfless. It’s the most selfless way of living if you can really give love to yourself, and like, how can I find a reason to love you, when I can’t even love myself. I’m just sitting here like, depressed all the time, or anxious all the time. So, it was like, overcoming that and then being happy with who I am, and then I can really be proud of who I’m presenting to the world, as me. So, that’s what the whole sort of song is about.

How did you meet your partner?
We met through music basically. She’s worked in music since I met her, and then she came to a show, she was impressed by my performance, and then (laughs) – we have been with each other since then. We met through a mutual friend, a rapper from London called Barney Artist, who put us in contact, and yeah. We’ve just been friends ever since. Well, more than friends. We’re married now (laughs).

And so the deal was to be – well, at the time it was nothing, but they would get five percent of my net profit for the rest of my career.

I understand that your father and your younger brother offered to donate half of their weekly salaries to you if you quit your job at a supermarket, in order to focus on music.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s true.

That sounds like a pretty incredible offer, from what sounds like an incredibly supportive family. Have you been able or willing to pay them back?
Yeah, so, what the deal was actually was that they would give me – because I worked at a supermarket my whole, um, that’s been my only job. And I worked there to save up for the production, recording and mixing of my first two EPs. And they were always like, “oh, I feel like I’m, you know, doing nothing where I am.” Like, I wasn’t progressing, “I want you to move to America or London, or somewhere”. And they were like – they didn’t pay half their salary, they paid half my salary (laughs). Maybe I worded it wrong back in the day. But they basically paid me half my wage. So I saved up all this money from the supermarket, then I quit. So, let’s say I was getting like 600 a week. They gave me like 300 a week, combined, to like, you know, basically try and get something out of this. And so the deal was to be – well, at the time it was nothing, but they would get five percent of my net profit for the rest of my career. And, so, I saved up all their money, I started writing my album, I saved, and then I moved to London and basically, their money wasn’t covering rent, but I had enough saved, and then by the time I ran out of all my savings, I had just started making money, and then it was just amazing, like the opportunity. I couldn’t have been where I am, I couldn’t have moved to London. I couldn’t have done all the progression I’ve done without those two doing that. And now they obviously, they’ve obviously stopped. They stopped paying like a year into London (laughs). But now I’m paying them back. So, yeah, I do have, I’m making net profit now. I haven’t fully paid them back, but once I fully pay them back, like, I’m not gonna stop. They’ve made their investment for the continual five percent, so I really – because I need to reward them. Because they basically made the career for me. So if I make five million one year (laughs) they would get five percent (laughs). And then they can do something with that money for their own progression in their own life. Like, start a business or whatever.

I’d imagine even some of my biggest fans would probably listen to my album for like two weeks and then a new album pops up from like, Radiohead… everything is really quickly digested.

That’s awesome. You once said that you wanted to release five albums by the age of 30, and 25 in your lifetime. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s true. Well, it’s true because, um, I’m on track now. I just turned 27 like, last month and I’ve got two more to go (laughs). I made a joke with my friend, I was like, “should I make a double album? Does that count as two albums?” (laughs) but the reason is, you know, and especially in this day and age, where everything is like quick, you know, quickly consumed and then thrown out the window. Like, I’d imagine even some of my biggest fans would probably listen to my album for like two weeks and then a new album pops up from like, Radiohead, and they’re just listening to new albums all the time. And so everything is really quickly digested. So, that’s one of the reasons. But also, if you don’t set yourself those sort of goals, or like, if you don’t pressure yourself, you can just sit around… I have friends that, you know, have been writing the same album for four years. And they – you know, I’m not the same. Four years ago I moved to London, I’m a totally different person. I can’t imagine sitting on that music. So luckily enough, I’ve managed to get ideas out pretty quickly, but I just want to keep making music and capture that snapshot in time, rather than trying to make this perfect album that is gonna be quickly digested anyway. So I do want to be at the end of my career and have the whole thing that Prince had, or Joni Mitchell had, where they have like 30 albums and some of them are bad. In fact, a lot of Prince’s albums I’m not much a fan of. But I don’t really think about that, I just think about the body of work he’s created and it’s really admirable to like, look at what he’s done with his life, and that’s super inspirational. He basically made music like, every year, and released it. And that would be amazing if I could do that.

You mentioned Radiohead there. Have you listened to any of the leaked minidisc recordings?
No, I haven’t. But I know they released this B-side to OK Computer last year or something, which I checked out and loved. But, there’s like a hundred hours worth of (laughs) music that they just released because of a hack. And supposedly my friend told me that like, it’s not filtered or edited, so you can sit through lots of talking, which at the moment I don’t even have time to like, listen to music. So maybe when I get on this – I’m coming to Australia soon, on a long flight, so maybe I’ll like, try and sit through it all then (laughs).

When I was in Australia, I couldn’t get much backing, I think, in the sense of getting radio plays because it’s better to support local acts. And then I moved to London and I’m sort of like, not an English artist (either).

You once said the Australian soul music scene is emerging but quite niche. Do you in any way resent Australian media, and especially Triple J for not pushing it further?
Um, that’s a really good question. I sometimes – I had a – well, I’m sort of like this weird entity, even now I’m living in London. Like, living in Australia, my very first press release for Franklin’s Room was like, New Zealand born artist. There was this big thing about being a Kiwi growing up in Australia. Even though I grew up most of my life there. But I still consider myself a Kiwi by blood. You know that there’s a rivalry between the two countries. So there’s always been this like, identity crisis, where I haven’t been a fully Australian artist, but I haven’t got – even when I was in Australia, I couldn’t get much backing, I think, in the sense of getting radio plays because it’s better to support local acts. And then I moved to London and I’m sort of like, not an English artist (either). You can sort of get like, the same sort of thing. And then when I come back to Australia to play, I’m considered now maybe like an international touring artist, rather than someone coming back home to play. So I’m just in this weird world, where I don’t really have a home for my music or my sound. But looking as an outsider, because I’m not sure what’s happening now because I’m obviously over here. But I see lots of my friends that get recognition, a lot more recognition. Like, soul music and hip-hop seems like it’s growing now, a lot more than it was. I think that’s due to – I’ve said this before, but like, Hiatus Kaiyote putting it on the map. And like, everyone looking to them as the beacon of soul music, to bring it back to Australia. And I mean, they were really inspiration for me early in my career, and still are, they just haven’t released an album in a while, but you know. And then bands in Melbourne, all the cool soul is obscure, like alternative soul coming out of Melbourne’s really cool. And it seems like it’s getting love. But, yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I just haven’t got as much because I’ve never really been able to – no one’s been able to find the identity, or like, to really determine where I exist. Does that make sense?

Yeah, for sure. You seem to be doing something that’s not exactly soul, it’s not exactly hip-hop, like it’s sort of blurring the line between multiple genres, which I think is incredibly cool.
Yeah, yeah. It is cool. It’s really cool to be able to like, exist in this world, because you know I can play – this summer I’m playing a jazz festival. But then two weeks later, I’m playing an indie-rock festival, because like, some of my songs cross over in that world. And you know, that’s the really exciting thing, I can play multiple places and different sized rooms around the world, and different sorts of listeners can be into my music, which is cool. the room is usually full of totally different demographics. Everyone looks different in the crowd. There’s not just like one sort of people that come to my shows. Which is really cool. And like, that’s what you want, ideally.

I’m really against that whole mob mentality thing of people getting behind an idea when they don’t even know the meaning of it.

You’ve spoken previously about your writing being a pure expression of the subconscious, and given your new album deals with a dystopian atrocity, I’m wondering if the uncertainty of Brexit has had any impact on you?
It has. It has. It’s funny because it has in the sense of – not necessarily a direct issue, more in the sense of like, mob mentality and, uh, social media. What do they call it? They call it – sort of mob mentality, but the way people get behind an idea on social media and the divide just becomes amplified. And that’s like what has happened in circles in England. There’s like a post that goes on Twitter that goes viral of like, some corrupt cop talking about Brexit, and then everyone’s against the police, and it’s just not healthy. That’s what I mean. It doesn’t really add anything, it’s just used as a divisive tool, the social media. That subconscious experience, of like, living – because I’m so – well, I’m not pessimistic to that word, but whenever I see stuff like that, I feel like I’m really against that whole mob mentality thing of people getting behind an idea when they don’t even know the meaning of it. And because they’re easily persuaded by anything. Like, even I would say I’m like a – I try to be a deep thinker about things, but I have no idea really what’s happening with the Brexit situation, because I haven’t done any research. And no one’s really done any research, they just see a tweet that goes viral and they back an idea. And that’s the worry about technology is, it’s not gonna – because there’s no filter any more, anyone can share information. Like, what’s to say when the years come when technology is super automated and easier to digest, and, I mean, it’s hard to imagine, but like, a world where information could be shared by thinking it and if there’s a lot of people that had like corrupt thoughts, then they’d be spreading their corrupt thoughts just by thinking. I mean, that’s a fictional world, but they could just be spreading it via thought (laughs). And then no one can talk about it all, so we’re trapped by people that have crazy thoughts and they’re sharing for a lack of a better word, fake news (laughs). But yeah, it’s interesting. It’s definitely had an impact.

I’m gonna have nightmares thinking about that now, Jordan.
(laughs)

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
I mean, god, it’s funny because I basically like two different parts of music. I like well, types as in, on the level of like, soul, American, black music and like (laughs) droney, emotional, um, alternative rock music. So for example, I love Pink Floyd, but I love Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. It’s always a hard choice of which people I’d rather work with, but honestly I think I would learn most and would love to work with someone like Jeff Buckley. It would be the dream. Because he’s got it, he’s got everything, he’s got the voice, he’s got songwriting, he’s got guitar playing. He’s got like, really strong lyrics. And he’s just been one of my biggest inspirations over the last, you know, my life, really. So he would be the dream and we’d try and make a – we’d try and blend both of our worlds together, even though I basically jack all of his ideas and his style, we could make something special, I think.