Going Focus: Rationale
Since April last year, there has been no stage of Rationale‘s career of which we haven’t talked about. We saw him amassing millions of plays with his debut single Fast Lane, we witnessed him going from being just a gifted but mysterious singer to becoming a worldwide acclaimed artist who can count on the praises of Pharrell and Justin Timberlake. It seemed quite natural, therefore, to speak with him about what the last eleven months meant to him, his African origins and the upcoming UK tour.
Going Solo: The reaction after the release of your debut single Fast Lane was overwhelming. Have you ever had the sensation that you were doing something great during its recording? What were you thinking the night before the drop?
I think Fast Lane is one of the few things I’ve made in the past couple of years that not only came about really really quickly, but once I got the groove right between the bass and the drums, the guitar lick was always there, and when it all came together I knew there was something there, which was a gamechanger for me, so I pursued it and try to follow that now.
I remember that when I wrote about Fast Lane my focus was on your voice, which I compared to Morrissey. Fast forward to these day, it seems I was missing the point or, at least, it wasn’t just a question of vocals. What’s your musical background? Which records defined the kind of artist you are now?
I suppose I’ve been writing music for as long as I can remember…Once I left school I realised that I wanted to do it professionally and pursue it, so I went to study at a local college, which wasn’t very agreeable with my mum at the time so she kicked me out the house. When I was listening to music at that time there was always a challenge in the way I wanted to emulate those people at the time. I tried to produce like The Neptunes, and I was listening to a lot of artists like Puff Daddy and cliche hip hop at the time, so I used computers a lot more and tried to record my voice in a certain way.
There’s this trend in recent years to debut hidden behind a veil of mystery. You did the same, until we saw your face in the Fuel To The Fire video. For sure a hint of mystery helps to increase curiosity, since human beings are curious by nature. You can’t speak on behalf of all the other acts, but why did you choose to not reveal yourself in the beginning?
I wanted to make the impression with the music and get that right, then afterwards work towards creating a controlled art form, just like the older musicians used to do, like Bowie. His public perception was constantly changing but in his control, and that’s the kind of legacy I want to look up to some day, where you look back over a period of time and you’ve achieved so much, your music taking a journey as a statement.
We now know that you were born in Zimbabwe. I’m curious, did you live there for a while or you moved to London when you were still an infant? Generically speaking, do your African origins – maybe through your family – inspire you in any way?
I did release some stuff years ago that was fairly heavily afro-tinged, and yes I think my upbringing has influenced my music. I’ve always played guitar and messed around with rhythms and melodies indicative of Zimbabwean culture, but if I’m really honest I’ve moved away from that because I feel like it’s too obvious and not challenging enough for me. Not to say that African music is not challenging, it’s difficult, the time signatures alone are so complex and intense, but I want to surprise myself and I’d rather somebody turned the radio on and heard a song like ‘Fuel To The Fire’ and thought that it was interesting and cool, but then they saw me and were completely blown away because it wasn’t what they expected. It’s a tough thing to create a world where the listener is wanting to constantly be surprised and challenged, and although I’m from Zimbabwe and can easily emulate some of the stuff from there, I’d rather push myself in a different direction.
What’s the process behind your songwriting? Music comes first or maybe you write down some words and then you create the music around them? I might have missed this point, so I’m asking.. did you work with one or more producers or you produced everything by yourself?
A lot of time the instrumentation comes before the lyrics. I write a lot of songs on bass, which is quite a weird instrument to write on, but i’m always searching for that spot in a groove that makes you feel almost nostalgic. I believe people listen to music and they look for things that they’ve heard before, just different versions of it, and familiarity is an interesting thing. For example when an artist puts something out and it becomes very successful, lots of other people then try to emulate that, for better or worse. I guess today it’s even harder to be unique as a musician, it’s a tough call to always surprise, so that’s what I want to do, but once you find your lane and no one else is doing what you do then you’re probably in a great position, you’ve just got to stay true to what you’re doing. I’m just trying to do that now in the best possible way I can.
We can say that the Fuel To The Fire EP has been a success. Numbers don’t lie, you’re amassing millions of plays on Soundcloud and ll the other streaming services. Moreover, radio stations love you and you’re now a sort of regular guest on BBC broadcasts. How are you reacting to all these praises?
The most surreal moment was having people that I’ve loved for a long time, like Pharrell and The Neptunes or Justin Timberlake come back and say “this dude’s amazing” and talking about it on air was incredible, and receiving positive feedback like that was the real moment. I’m not very good at gauging things myself usually, like I work with a small team so I don’t see it sometimes, I just know I need to do it.
I guess today it’s even harder to be unique as a musician, it’s a tough call to always surprise, so that’s what I want to do, but once you find your lane and no one else is doing what you do then you’re probably in a great position, you’ve just got to stay true to what you’re doingRationale
I saw that you’re planning to tour soon across the UK. What people can expect from a Rationale’s gig?
People can expect a bigger sound than on record, because if you’re going to a gig you want to be entertained, so that’s what I want to do, not just play 11 songs with loads of backing tracks. I want everything to feel like it has ambition, to take it to that next level.
Pick up one living artist to work with. What would be your dream collab and why?
Currently as it stands, I think Mura Masa is a real talent, he has something really special, and he’s quite young so I almost want to fast forward his career and see where he’ll be 10 years from now, I’d love to work with him.