It’s been a year since UK-based Rationale seemingly came out of nowhere with his “Fast Lane” single, capturing the attention of people all over this pale blue dot and serving as the inspiration for an ecstatic Vehlinggo post.
His music spans genres and decades, tapping into everything from Fela Kuti, Meatloaf, and Tears for Fears to modern pop and R&B — some of this influence built from exposure to his mother’s expansive record collection. His vocals are rich and serve as a medium for lyrics that touch on the often Sisyphean task of being human.
The message, codified on his debut EP Fuel to the Fire and on his latest single, “Something for Nothing,” resonates. His Spotify and Soundcloud streams are north of 10 million. His music has been licensed for HBO shows. He recently closed the night at Radio 1’s Future Festival, where he performed “Something for Nothing” for the first time.
And now, as the Zimbabwe-born Rationale works on his debut LP, he has kindly agreed to a quick Q&A with Vehlinggo.
Vehlinggo: In some circles, such as music fans in the U.S., it seems as if you came out of nowhere with “Fast Lane” nearly a year ago. There was an aura of mystery. However, I recall Googling you and finding that you’ve been involved in music for some time. How’d you get involved in music and how did “Rationale” come about?
Rationale: After I left college, I went around playing a lot of music in a lot of rubbish venues on my own, and pretty much got nowhere for a long time. I think there comes a time in every musician’s life where something connects in your head, from sheer practice and dedication, and you end up writing songs that mean something to you. You almost have a eureka moment where you start creating songs that people might want to listen to.
I remember packaging these songs up on CDs — when that was still a thing — and sent some demos to every label that I could think of. I got pretty much nothing back, apart from one friend who was a scout at Sony, and she said, “Listen, I don’t think the label are going to work on anything, but let’s work together as I love what you’re doing.”
This was the first time when I really started connecting with other musicians, and working behind the scenes on stuff and really learning my craft. I was only about 18 at that time. The first professional music job I had was actually singing some backing vocals for a chocolate bar that we’ll say was manufactured in Holland, and from those weird moments I guess I got into the scene in a different way.
While I’m sitting here writing my album, the “Rationale sound” is evolving. It definitely has a sense of mystery to it, which I didn’t exactly plan for. It just came about by me wanting to create a project that didn’t have a need to be judged on its aesthetic or the character of the person that was fronting it.
You’ve had a lot of support from the BBC, from music supervisors licensing your work (HBO’s Ballers comes to mind), and you’ve received recognition from Pharrell. Of course, along the way you’ve attracted an ocean of fans. How does this all feel? What kind of impact does that have on your songwriting? Do you fear ever getting to the point where you can’t walk around London (or New York or some other large city) with anonymity?
When it comes to writing or recording I just enjoy the process, and once it’s finished it’s not the same for me anymore. I think the surreal thing is knowing that process comes from my head, in this room, to being consumed by loads of people — that still trips me out.
Pressure is natural, and I mean I’m signed to a major label now, so there’s the business kind of pressure where I have to deliver a record. I’m very lucky to do what I do, and the pressure is there to enjoy myself, so is that really pressure? Not particularly.
I’ve noticed that each of your songs so far speaks to very particular elements of the human experience, which you recognize in your SoundCloud tags: “Music to wake to, make up to, etc.” Was that at the forefront of your mind when you were writing each song that’s been released (or unreleased)? Are you thinking that you’ll write a “song to make up to” and then “Something For Nothing” is the result? If not, then what’s your process?
“Something For Nothing” came about from conversations with my friends and life observations, which were then likened to myself. I had been speaking to a friend, and she was telling me about how when she’s speaking to a person who she’s met for the first time, she feels as though everyone wants to get something from her, which she described as “everyone wants something for nothing.”
Unfortunately, I tend to do that a lot. Every song I’ve put out has been derived from situations and things that people have said. I’ve just explored the subject matter, and made more of an effort to make those songs more personal.
You have a profound ability to synthesize multiple genres into one song — I hear everything from modern R&B and the 80s pop of Steve Winwood to the sultry dark disco of Chromatics, and then of course there’s the tempered guitar riffage on “The Mire,” which sounds like Genesis at times. Add your particularly recognizable vocals over all of that, and you have in many ways carved out your own genre or path. When people first hear this, they love it (I’ve witnessed it). How did you develop this sound? Did it take a lot of trial and error?
The Rationale sound is evolving. I guess the sound is most defined by my voice — which actually sounds like shit at the moment as I have a cold — but I only really explored the deep baritone of my voice recently.
In terms of instrumentation, I play everything on my record, so the sound is always crafted from my influences. I love Tears for Fears. At the same time I love a lot of modern pop and R&B, and the old classics like Donnie Hathaway and Stevie Wonder to name a few, but I think the sound as it stands is ever-evolving and ever-changing.
Rationale has some live shows coming up, for those who will be in the UK. Pre-order here.
March 30 – Brighton – Prince Albert SOLD OUT
March 31 – Nottingham – Bodega
April 4 – Manchester – The Deaf Institute
April 5 – Glasgow – King Tuts
April 7 – London – Village Underground SOLD OUT
May 10 – London – Scala ADDED