After self-releasing his debut album Cloak last year, supremely talented singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jordan Rakei was scooped up by Ninja Tune after someone from the label heard one of his tracks playing in café and Shazamed it.
Easily one of the most respected record labels in the world and (along with sister label Big Dada) home to some of our generation’s most important artists, from Bonobo to Kate Tempest and Wiley, a bedroom producer couldn’t dream up a better fairytale scenario.
a bedroom producer couldn’t dream up a better fairytale scenario
Now with the weight of Ninja Tune behind him, the 25-year-old New Zealand-born artist has been earmarked as a serious up-and-coming talent – making that elusive step from a Soundcloud artist to someone with the potential for genuine longevity and, dare we say, his own name-checkable sound.
His new album Wallflower, released this September, makes a fairly significant departure from the jazzy, soul-driven, electro rhythms of Cloak; however, there remains a discernable Rakei sound that can be found somewhere between the hi hat, jazz piano and electronic grooves.
there remains a discernable Rakei sound that can be found somewhere between the hi hat, jazz piano and electronic grooves
‘I still think it’s soul music, but it’s not traditional soul music. I kind of think of it as ethereal alternative hip hop / soul – there are influences from Radiohead to D’Angelo,’ Jordan tells us, as we get him on the phone to talk about the new release and upcoming headline tour.
Written in the wake of a move from Brisbane, Australia to London, Wallflower sees Jordan delve further into singer songwriter territory, whereas Cloak feels somewhat more led by the music, with vocals – however good – as accompaniment.
This change in direction, however, is nothing to do with label involvement. In fact, the album was already half written when Jordan got the call from Ninja Tune. ‘I showed them the new songs and they said, “This is great, can we sign you now?”
‘For Wallflower, I wrote all of it on guitar and piano – which I’ve never done before – then took the songs and produced them up. I always like to change up my sound, otherwise I feel like I flatline creatively, so I’m always nervous before a release. But because this album is very different, I have no idea how it’s going to go down…
‘Joni Mitchell and Prince are good examples of where they just write albums and are not attached to a sound, they’re capturing a snapshot in time. That’s what I see this as – I can’t please everyone, so I’m just going to keep making music. But this is the most nervous I’ve been before a release.
I always like to change up my sound, otherwise I feel like I flatline creatively
‘It’s amazing how much the association of being on Ninja has helped. They have this clout in the industry – they post something and people are interested. I’ve had a lot of people that have come on board after my first few singles from this album. The Ninja push, it’s a whole other beast.’
While being part of the Ninja bubble is a new experience in itself, this isn’t Jordan’s first experience working with a label. After moving to London, he became friends with Rhythm Section founder Bradley Zero, who encouraged him to redirect his production skills toward a handful of dancefloor tunes. These turned into the four-track EP Joy, Ease, Lightness, which he quietly released on Zero’s label last year under the alias Dan Kye.
And before that, other notable studio time includes his contribution to Disclosure’s 2015 Grammy-nominated Caracel, co-writing, co-producing and voicing the number one album’s closing track, Masterpiece.
The electronic duo reached out to Jordan literally days after arriving in London, after they were tipped off by a friend who had seen Jordan play a tiny basement bar in Australia.
studio time includes his contribution to Disclosure’s 2015 Grammy-nominated Caracel, co-writing, co-producing and voicing the number one album’s closing track, Masterpiece
‘I got an email from Disclosure saying, “Hey, we love your stuff, we’d love to get in a session. When are you in London next?” It was amazing how it worked out, because I’d just moved to London the week before.
‘We wrote that song together. I got in to the session and they said, “Usually we produce and we hand it over to the singer and you write, but we know you’re a producer and a beat maker, so do you want to help us make the beat as well?”
‘We made and tracked it all in that one day, and then there was this big wait until it came out to see if it was going to make the album. The exposure that came after that was amazing. People have come up to me after my shows and said they heard me from that album. And loads of people from that album – Nao, Sam Smith and The Weeknd – have DM’d me saying they love my music, so that was mental. The album is stacked full of massive features, so to be on the same release is crazy. That was massive for me.’
While Jordan’s output can, without doubt, stand up on its own merit – it’s impossible to not appreciate it a little more knowing that he writes, sings, plays most of the instrumentation and produces all his own records.
‘I started off purely as a producer, or more so a beat maker – as I think they’re two different things. I was making beats in my bedroom from a young age, and then for friends who rapped. Over time I started singing the choruses that went over their tunes, and they said, “Why don’t you make your own stuff?” That’s when I started learning about production.
For this album, I did all the songwriting, all the instruments and all the production
‘I love all parts of the process, so I’m always quite hands on in doing it all. For this album, I did all the songwriting, all the instruments and all the production. Doing it that way is best for me, because I know how to create what’s in my head. I still want to find my own sound and find who I am as a producer and artist.
‘I was producing Wallflower with my drummer and we might get to the studio at 10am and by 1pm we’ve layered everything – 20 tracks down, we’re just pumping it out. But then it was a matter of trying to realise what we need to take out: did we go too far here? Are there way too many layers there?
Making those decisions was a massive learning curve for me in this album
‘They’re the decisions that are the toughest and that’s where collaboration helps, because I might have layered six guitars and my crazy piano parts. But at the end of the day, all you need is four parts that sound really good sitting next to each other, and I think making those decisions was a massive learning curve for me in this album.’
This different production approach also brings a new live show for Jordan as he heads out on a headline European tour, which stops in to Thekla on 12 October.
‘I’m bringing my biggest band yet. I’ve got two guitarists, a percussion player, bass player and then me on synths, piano and guitar.
We’re able to recreate the really dense production in a live environment
‘There are so many layers on this album, and I’m not really a big fan of having stuff on track, so I’d rather have someone play all the parts. We’re able to recreate the really dense production in a live environment.
‘It’s going to be this massive wall of sound in a small venue, which is what we’re looking forward to more than playing Shepherd’s Bush in London.’
It’s going to be this massive wall of sound in a small venue, which is what we’re looking forward to more than playing Shepherd’s Bush in London
To follow up the album release, Jordan is already working on a remixes project, including some dancefloor reworks from his Dan Kye alias, as well as some other exciting collaborations.
‘It’s going to be several different remixes and acoustic versions, which are sounding really nice and almost like their own songs in themselves. It will probably be released early next year – we’ve still got a way to go on it. I’m trying to get my friend Loyle Carner to jump on something!’
Photos: Hollie Fernando & Jon Bergman