We’ve sung the praises of Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Jordan Rakei in recent months. With his light continuing to shine brighter on the daily, we decided to have a chat with him and see what makes him tick. From dropping accounting studies at university to songwriting in New York City, this unique talent is on the up and the sky doesn’t appear to be the limit. I picked his brain on inspirations, supporting Raul Midón on tour and his parents giving him the nudge to take music on as a career. To cap it off, check out Rakei’s live recording of the upbeat reggae-tinged number “Bey Shing” after the interview.
SoulBounce: What inspires you, in day-to-day life and creatively?
Jordan Rakei: Hearing new music and trying to always reach what I’ve heard. Hearing new stuff and changing as I hear it, that inspires me the most. I guess, yeah, trying to find new music. Live music inspires me. Live, new music inspires me.
SB: You’ve been playing music since you were young. How has music shaped who you are?
JR: It’s totally made me who I am. I’ve been playing keyboard since I was six and guitar since I was thirteen. Even stuff like self-discipline and practicing and getting to rehearsals on time. It’s shaped that side of my life, but also it just makes me happy. Playing music makes me happier. Hanging around people that are musicians as well is really good. You surround yourself with those creative people and then you’re living a creative life. So yeah, it’s changed my life totally.
SB: To people who may be new to Jordan Rakei how would you describe your sound?
JR: It’s really hard because it’s many different genres. But I guess my main sort-of underlying theme would be groove or soul. I play reggae and I play funk and I play hip-hop but it all comes together under the “soul” or “groove” tag. I would label myself as soul-groove.
SB: You’ve touched on how your style is a fusion of all different genres, so what artists did you grow up listening to and who influences your style now?
JR: Earlier in my life I grew up listening to all the main R&B acts like Usher. All the pop sort of stuff. But then I also grew up listening to my parent’s stuff, so Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and mainly Bob Marley as well. Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, a lot of old Motown era artists. But then as I started discovering my own sound and my own music I started heavily listening to Fat Freddy’s Drop, D’Angelo and John Legend even, the earlier John Legend work. It’s just been a mixture of all different types of stuff so it’s sort of changed as I’ve grown and my music taste has changed, but yeah, I’ve listened to a whole array of different genres.
SB: Sounds like a good diet of music to me! But Australia is a tough place to make it as soul artist, did you ever have any doubts about pursuing music? Is it something you didn’t really have a choice in?
JR: I usually hear musicians and singers say “I’ve wanted to be a singer/musician since I was a kid” and stuff like that. But that’s not the case with me. I was in school and I was good at maths, but I didn’t know what to do. I thought OK, I’ve left school and I need to study something. I was going to study accounting at university and my parents were like, “No, just give music a try.” I was making songs earlier, but they pushed me in the right direction to pursue music as a career. Ever since I’ve started I didn’t really mind if I wasn’t going to make it, it’s just that I enjoyed it so much. There was no fear of making it in the soul industry. I just liked making music and that was enough for me. That’s all that really matters.
SB: You’ve recently supported the legendary Raul Midón, what was that like? How did the crowd react to your live performance?
JR: That was really nerve wracking because I’ve never been on a tour. Let alone without my band! I usually play with my band, so that’s a lot different. I felt really vulnerable and exposed to other people’s perception and what they thought of me. But when I played them, it was a really different vibe and really cool to see people sitting down and listening to my songs in a different light. ‘Cause as I said before my stuff is all about groove, and that’s what my band does for me and I sort of hide behind my band and just sing. But when I’m exposed as a singer-songwriter it brings out a different side of the crowd. Which really cool to see. In Melbourne and Sydney, from what I’ve heard, they really liked me and enjoyed it. So yeah it was really cool, and I look forward to doing more stuff like that, too. It was fun!
SB: Yeah, that’s got to be nerve wracking to support someone of that caliber, especially as you’ve only recently had a lot of recognition worldwide in what seems like a relatively short amount of time. How does that recognition feel for a guy living in Brisbane?
JR: It’s so surreal. Especially online, I’ve been played on these major shows like KCRW and 22Tracks in Netherlands and all these really big radio stations overseas, and I’m still just this guy from Brisbane, hanging out with my friends and stuff. It’s surreal. I’m still writing songs in my bedroom, it still hasn’t really hit me yet. Not that I’m famous or anything, but it’s cool to know that people around the world and people I don’t know listen to my songs and they love it. It’s really weird but really cool.
SB: It is cool! You recently returned from New York, can you tell us a bit about the highlights of that trip?
JR: I came back from New York. The first week we went to go the CMJ music conference, and the second week I was recording with another Brisbane artist called Georgia Potter. We were working on her new projects. The third week was just a really cool holiday, really inspiring. I saw heaps of live music and poetry jams and all that stuff.
SB: Your EP Franklin’s Room is out on Bandcamp. This has been a nice introduction to you as an artist, but what’s coming up next for you?
JR: So, like I said before I’ve changed my influences, even what I listen to. In the past few months after I wrote the EP I’ve been looking into a lot of stuff like Robert Glasper, D’Angelo and even older stuff like A Tribe Called Quest. The more I listen to something the more I will write like that something. So I’ve been writing heaps of neo-soul, acid jazz, hip-hop sort of stuff. The next release will be more that sort of genre. It will be groove with a hip-hop ’90s style and me singing over the top. It’ll be a weird mix but pretty cool. I’ve written some songs already so I’m pretty excited to share it.
SB: Will we see you collaborating with any artists in the future?
JR: I would love to. I’m collaborating with Georgia Potter regularly, we write songs together. There’s some artists on Soulection, which is the Los Angeles indie label that has really good DJs and producers. A few of them want to collaborate with me. Other than that, there’s nothing else set in stone.
SB: So, if you could put together a dream list to collaborate with, who’d be up there for you?
JR: There are really just three. Fat Freddy’s Drop are my favorite band. My life has changed since I heard them seven or eight years ago. So jamming with Fat Freddy’s Drop on stage would be a dream come true. Then, D’Angelo and James Blake. I love James Blake, he produces really cool stuff.
SB: Lastly, we all know music can alter moods, that’s what your music does to people, but I’m wondering is there a go-to song for you that when you are having a bad day, does the trick and makes you feel great?
JR: Yeah there is one. It’s my favorite song of all time! It’s called “Big BW” by Fat Freddy’s Drop. It’s the first song and their second album. It is the most well-written song I have ever heard, and it’s just the best. I try and listen to it 10 times a day!