Jordan Rakei is the genre-blending artist who first rose to prominence when he released his debut album ‘Cloak’ in 2016. Rakei’s debut provided him with the groundwork to tour the globe, upon which he began to collaborate with the likes of Tom Misch and FKJ, amongst others. By 2019, Jordan Rakei was on his third album and was continuing to fuse elements of jazz, soul, and electronic music. Rakei’s multi-instrumentalist talents and vocal abilities led to producing and featuring on Loyle Carner’s hit track ‘Ottolenghi’. The song has received an impressive 42 million Spotify streams, and Jordan’s music continues to claim over 100 million streams too. Now, Jordan Rakei’s new album ‘What We Call Life’ is due to be released September 17th, and it is definitely the eclectic mix of genres that you would expect to see from someone who boasts both production and vocalist abilities. In a conversational interview, Jordan Rakei sat down with The Student Pocket Guide to discuss the making of his new album, as well as providing an interesting insight into his headline set at Cross the Tracks festival in September, and the making behind his alternative moniker: the dance/house DJ known as Dan Kye.
A Conversation with Jordan Rakei on His New Album ‘What We Call Life’ by Jessica Doran
So, Jordan, what inspired the creation of ‘What We Call Life’?
I wanted to go to a studio with people with no preconceived ideas and just see what happened and just take a bit of a risk. So, that was my vision before I started and then lyrically, I wanted to talk about stuff I hadn’t talked about before like my experiences with going to therapy. I started with the music and then veered into the lyricism afterwards.
It’s clear to see that you aim to blend multiple genres within your music. Where do these influences come from?
It’s tough because I love so many different styles of music. I remember from a young age leaving university and being like “I don’t want to be pigeonholed into being a soul singer.” I think my voice is soulful, so I was like OK, my voice is doing the soulful thing. Then I love electronic music, I love jazz music; it’s just basically me loving so many different types of music and because I am my own producer, I’m able to take a little bit of each thing and put it in my own music. I find a lot of the time I’m trying to compare myself to artists, but I think now that I’m doing my fourth album, it’s just my own sound.
It sounds like you feel like finding your own sound was actually a very recent thing for you?
It has been recent, I think. ‘Cloak’ (my first album) was soul music, and I was doing what a lot of people were doing with time signature changes and chord changes and I was just a young student excited about music. Then ‘Wallflower’ was a lot more polished production, blending electronic with acoustic and blending drums with using my voice in a different way. I think that’s when I started building my sound. This album coming up is an evolution up from ‘Wallflower’ and sonically I think I’m doing my own thing with it.
How does this album speak to or differentiate from the others then?
It’s easily my most different piece of music. I’d say it’s my most ethereal and complex album yet. It’s an alternative listen, that’s what I say to my friends as a joke. It’s there to be listened to and it’s an experience for sure. It’s not really something you would put on when people are playing board games hahaha. But that’s what I wanted it to be. Some of my older music I feel is a bit safe and that’s where I’m growing and constantly pushing myself to produce different stuff.
What music of yours do you reflect on as being ‘safe’ in hindsight?
I always think there are a few tracks on each of my albums where I’m like “oh, I wouldn’t do that now.” For example, there’s a few on ‘Cloak’. I listen to ‘The Light’ and go “oh yeah, I know what I was doing.” It’s a traditional band production but there is nothing interesting for me now (production wise) on it. Going into this new album I wanted everything to be thought provoking musically.
So, you’d say this album is a lot more daring?
Yeah, I think so. I’ve shown friends and there has been mixed reactions. That’s what I want to do with it, just be a bit bolder. I’m getting older now and turning 30 next year, and when you’re younger you don’t want to alienate people. I’m doing what I really want to do now, so it will be interesting to see how the world takes it.
I sensed some disco influences in there as well this time round?
Definitely yeah. It’s funny because there are some really borderline pop stuff on there. The first few tracks are really good vibes and then other tracks are really sound scapey and cinematic, so there are definitely some disco vibes in there for sure.
Was it a deliberate intention of yours to make the album begin more upbeat and then verge into a darker musical style?
Definitely. I knew I wanted to end the album with a track called ‘The Flood’, which is like this really epic 8-minute track. So, I was like “how am I going to get there?” I wanted to hit people with high intensity for the first three tracks and then it really slows down, and it builds again into an intense darkness. I wanted it to be like you were seeing a DJ set, if you know what I mean? Where it feels like everything sort of follows each other.
Yeah, I can definitely see that. Is there a song that resonates with you most? A favourite perhaps?
It’s funny because the two polar opposite tracks ‘Brace’ (an epic cinematic experience, the darkest track on the album), and then ‘Illusion’ (which is the brightest track on the album), they’re my two favourites. I think ‘Illusion’ is just really fun and gets my positive side and happy personality and ‘Brace’ really shows the introspective darkness of my musical mind. So, I feel like those two tracks, in a weird way, represent me really well.
Well, I am looking forward to seeing you perform some of these new tunes when you headline Cross the Tracks this year! What song are you most eager to play to a live audience?
‘Illusion’ I think because we’re going to extend it. Oh and ‘Family’ as well because it’s a slow burner. I think I’m playing around 6 o’clock so it’s a good time of the day preparing people for the party. I don’t feel like I have to deliver this party set at that time. When you get headline slots there’s this pressure where everyone’s had a few drinks and they’re like “give us the bangers!” Whereas for me, I’m at a good slot. I’m going to play loads of new tunes, but I think ‘Illusion’ is going to be really fun because it’s good vibes and it’s a new track.
We’ve discussed how you don’t like to be tied down to one genre. Is there anything that you haven’t experimented with that you’re eager to explore?
I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic, piano, minimal, beautiful sounding album. If that makes sense? Like cinematic, really simple, beautiful parts and letting my voice carry the music. I’ve thought this my whole life and even with this album it’s quite prevalent, that I’m much more of a producer that is lucky enough to sing on my music.
Would you ever look to producing music for a film score?
That is honestly another one of my goals, but, in a daunting way, I have no idea where to start. I love challenges like that, and I always had this vision of doing a career in music and making albums and then being mentored by a composer. I’d love to start with an Indie short film and be given total freedom. There’s sort of two ways I’ve thought about it, like would I want to be booked to do the whole Hans Zimmer thing (the epic orchestra thing) or would I want to be booked to do my own personal take like Pharrell did with Despicable Me where he did his own thing. I think I’d rather that because it would be really cool, and I could do my own take on it.
I watched an interview recently where you said that another lifelong dream of yours is to produce an album for someone. I wonder who would be your ideal person to produce for?
It’s a good question. Hahaha, basically someone who is a classic artist who would have a massive budget for me to be able to get a choir and an orchestra in a song. Someone like Adele would be amazing, but obviously everyone would want to produce that. I love Little Simz as well, I think she’s amazing. Funnily though I’ve never thought of that.
What can we expect to see from you aside from the album?
I imagine I’m going to be working on some Dan Kye stuff. I also have this thing called Patreon where I teach online to these people that sign up. But mostly preparing for touring really.
For those that don’t know about Dan Kye, what’s the difference between that project and Jordan Rakei?
When I’m making a Dan Kye song, I’m having more fun with it and when I’m making a Jordan song, I’m like “is this something that I’m going to take to the next level?” So, there are so many layers to the Jordan thing. With Dan Kye I make a beat and I’m just going “cool, that beat needs a base line.” It’s a much more expressive experience but also genre-wise Dan Kye is more dance, house, and jazz. It’s just upbeat party vibes. I created the alter ego initially because at the time I created Dan Kye I was making slow hip-hop music, so it’s such a difference. Now the Jordan project has had a few upbeat things as well so it’s like do they co-exist, but I think Dan Kye is a lot more electronic and Jordan stuff is a lot more song based.
I think you’ve done really well as an artist to have two personalities and then on top of that in your new album you’re deliberately aiming to be more daring, it’s definitely an accomplishment.
Aw thanks yeah, I really want Dan Kye to be its own. Like, Dan Kye has fans. I was doing a Dan Kye show and it was a really early nightclub show and someone came up to me and said: “good work, keep at it, you’re going to go places.” I said that this was my side project, and I am Jordan Rakei, I make soul music and they were like “I don’t like soul music.” Hahaha, so they were just Dan Kye fans they didn’t even know who I was. So that’s funny I really enjoy that.
Would it be an aim of yours to make Dan Kye as prominent of a name as Jordan Rakei is now do you think?
Yeah! Well, my manager and even some of my friends think that Dan Kye weirdly has more potential than Jordan.
That must feel so weird!
Hahaha, I know it’s weird, isn’t it? It’s because dance music is quite huge and also on a more logistical level the expenses are so much lower. I can just fly to a city and do a show, versus like I have seven people in my band and four crew members and trying to go to Istanbul and do a show is really difficult. I would love Dan Kye to (it’s funny talking about Dan Kye in third person), but I would love that project to do really well but at the same time I never want to take it seriously. I still want to have the energy of like I’m doing this for fun and I’m not trying to think of it as a brand. But it would be funny if my side project was bigger than Jordan Rakei one day hahaha.
Seeing as you’ve suggested Dan Kye could have more scope to be popular with a wider audience, I wonder who you could see that version of yourself collaborating with?
It would be vocalists I think, which would be really cool because dance music has a lot of that. I think I’m possessive over my sound, I would still want to make all the music. I would love to get Lianne La Havas on a track because she’s a beautiful soul singer and it would be cool hearing her in a dance music environment.
Let’s conclude with a final teaser for the new Jordan Rakei album…
A lot of interesting vocal melodies, interesting sonic exploration. It’s got something for everyone which I think is cool, like there are about four or five songs which you can gravitate towards, and the others might not be for you. There’s the happy stuff, the dark stuff, the groovy stuff, the introspective stuff. So, give it a chance, there will hopefully be something in there that you like.
You can listen to all of Jordan Rakei’s music here.
Jordan’s new album ‘What We Call Life’ will be released on 17th September 2021!
A Conversation with Jordan Rakei on His New Album ‘What We Call Life’ by Jessica Doran