In the midst of comprehensively calling out his heavyweight contemporaries this summer, Kendrick Lamar didn’t totally restrict himself to making enemies. And in the soulful R&B of Raleigh Ritchie, he has one promising friend indeed.
Despite the mystery of his low profile, Bristolian Ritchie was the handpicked recipient of an invitation to open for the rapper on recent UK tour, and as he prepares to pull back the curtain on the spotlight, looks set to step towards a promising 2014. As gritty as it is groomed, the lush emotion of his The Middle Child EP depicts, with striking individuality, the intimate moments of the underdog in the face of everyday agonies and hemmed-in urbanism, reaching beyond its confines towards the metaphorical escapism of panoramic view, or unfolding ocean. We’re proud to be presenting his live show in London next month – but in the mean-time, we caught up with Ritchie to unveil the intricacies of his rise over the past year.
Do you have an origin story? How did you get started in music?
I started writing songs when I was about 14. I always wanted to be a writer but never knew what form it would take. It sort of naturally turned into songs. I started making beats in music lessons, and trying pass songs onto singers at school, until one of them got angry at me for being a control freak and told me to fuck off and sing them myself. Me and a friend started a band and it didn’t work out so I started again.
Where are you from? Who’s the man behind ‘Raleigh Ritchie’?
Raleigh Ritchie is me. We’re the same person, he’s just got a much cooler name and he’s more honest. I’m a Gemini. It’s complicated. I grew up in Bristol but it kind of didn’t work for me to live there anymore – as much as I love it now, we had a rocky relationship growing up. So I escaped to London when I was 16. I’ve lived there for about 7 years and it’s home. It feels right. I’m a trendy London type now. I believe sell-out is the word.
What did you want to do when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a writer. Or a dinosaur handler at Jurassic Park. Either or. I believe there was a long period where I wanted to be Will Smith. Not an actor or a rapper, just Will Smith.
What was your first song like?
The first proper song I wrote was a love song about Norway. Which is a weird thing for a 14 year old boy to do in hindsight, but I made it sound like it was about a person. I went there for a wedding and just fell in love with it, so when I left I got dead angsty and wrote about it. You know when you leave somewhere and it dawns on you that it will be a while before you return? It was like that. You could mistake it for a pretty standard love song. It was like a Luther Vandross kind of thing, but it was much stranger than that. I was weird. I am weird.
Who are your musical heroes?
Morrissey is a hero to me, particularly in a songwriting sense. I’m pretty adamant that “This Charming Man” is the definitive pop song. Kanye West and David Bowie are my heroes in pretty much every respect. Artistically, they evolved, album to album and have been consistent. They’re two artists that, in my opinion have never really hit a bum note, because it’s hard to be wrong if you present something with that kind of passion and intent. Donny Hathaway is a big hero of mine. When he sings something, he really means it. He had a sincerity that artists rarely have now. These Songs For You, Live is the most incredible live album you will ever hear. It’s like being there, and it breaks your heart.
What inspires you to make music?
Aside from the people I just mentioned, it’s less a case of inspiration and more a case of it being like free therapy. I’ve never been any good at keeping a coherent diary, or speaking, so I write songs instead. It’s how I make sense of things. I just have to hope people know what the fuck I’m talking about.
What do you think is the best thing about music?
It’s universal. It’s something we all have in common, but we own individually. Everybody likes different stuff, but that’s not really the point. A song is a song, and one song can mean a million different things to a million different people. I think that’s cool.
How about R&B as a genre?
I don’t listen to a lot of R&B. I did when I was younger. But I just love music. I love music you can feel. That’s the most important thing to me with any genre of music – is that it’s meant. R&B seems quite a loose definition now. I feel like it’s a by-word for dance music, or even just popular music. R&B seems to have become what guitar music was in the 90s. It’s become comfortable. It’s funny, because a lot of people say I’m an R&B artist, and I think there are a lot of elements associated with R&B in there, but it wouldn’t be safe for me to put all my eggs in that basket. I might disappoint people.
What are your all-time favourite tracks?
My favourite song in the universe, the song I want to be buried with, is “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder. It fills me with everything good – anytime, anywhere. “Young Dreams” by Young Dreams is a recent favourite. It makes me feel like I can climb a snowy mountain with only my pants and my youth.
How did you write and record The Middle Child EP?
It was actually pretty separated, all written at various points and then I just worked out what I wanted it to be. I feel differently about different things day to day so it’s the best way for me to go about it.
What influenced it?
I wanted to put something out that felt appropriate for the kind of summer I was having. The three songs sort of represent where my head was at. Putting something together in that way was potentially dangerous for a first release, but people seemed to like it. The next one will probably be more coherent thematically.
Is there a central theme throughout?
Sort of, but it was more personally thematic. It’s a taster. It’s called The Middle Child because its kind of scattered, it’s not really linear.
What was it like making the video for ‘Stay Inside’? How did that all come about?
It was great. It was exciting. If we had ideas on the day, we could try them. The crew we had were incredible. The treatment was ambitious, and they made it a real thing, I’m really proud of it. The director Kieron (Hawkes) is a friend of mine that I’d worked with before and we have very similar tastes and sensibilities so I knew working with him would be the purest way to make it. And he’s just very talented. I said to him about 6 months before that I wanted to make a video with him, and we did.
How about ‘A Moor’? Can you explain it a bit for us?
That song is just about wanting to escape. As far as you possibly can, with the person you love. Sometimes everything around a relationship can crowd it – “Me, you and everything else over there” sort of thing, so most times the best thing to do is eliminate everything else. It took us a while to get it right. The verse vocals are actually the rough vocals I put down on a mic whilst writing. I panicked a bit and thought the song needed a chorus, but I actually think its better without – it’s part of its charm. Keeping it simple, it matches the song nicely I think. There are about 5 choruses floating about somewhere though. I have them in a steel vault. I’ll release them as a cash-in when I’m broke.
Are there any more releases coming in the near future? Do you have plans for an LP?
Absolutely! As I say, The Middle Child was very much a taster. I’ve got another EP coming in the next month or so, it’s called Black and Blue. I think it might alarm a few people. Hopefully in the good way. I’ve been working on my album too, working with some awesome people here and over in the States. I’ve got grand plans for it, I’m just working it out at the moment. I’m like 70-80% done. I want it to be perfect though. I don’t just want to write the album I’ve been writing for 23 years like a lot of debut albums do, I want it to feel like a thing of its own.
Who would be your dream collaborations, alive or dead?
Slick Rick. In the late 80s though – “Children’s Story” days. I met The Internet in LA and I fuck with those guys. They’re awesome. Hopefully we’ll get together and make something at some point. I would strongly recommend their new album too. It will be your new favourite thing.
Who do you think is the best producer in the world at the moment?
I don’t want to say anyone that I’ve been working with because I don’t want anyone thinking I have favourites. I do have favourites, but I feel like that’s not cool. I might get cornered next time I’m in the studio. But I’m a big Diplo fan. And Major Lazer is the only reason I can run for more than 20 minutes.
You’ve got a great aesthetic – the big ’80s pop/’50s b-movie writing and neon pinks are really bold and memorable. What’s the reasoning behind your image/branding?
I wanted something messy and violent, but in bold, bright colours. Hot pink is a badass colour. I love it when darkness and light get smashed together. There’s something that makes sense about things going together that don’t really make sense together. Does that make sense?
What did you make of the Mercury Award nominations? Who would be your winner (on the list or not)?
“Retrograde” is one of my favourite songs of the year, so I’m happy James Blake is on there. I’m glad Bowie’s back in the world. King Krule’s album was cool, I think he could of got a shout. He’s like a jazzy Joe Strummer. I have to listen in moderation though otherwise I get moody.
What’s a Raleigh Ritchie show like?
Energetic. I’m going to break something sooner or later. I just kind of feel my way through it as I go along. I’ve got a great band and we just have fun on stage. Thats the only rule. After one of the Kendrick shows someone tweeted that I was like Tigger. I think that’s a fair assessment. Maybe that’s my thing, that’s my niche, an R&B Tigger. That sounds dangerously close to a very offensive old racial slur.
What was your first show like?
It was like The Inbetweeners. But in a nice way. It was a very, very young crowd. I was nervous and they were kind. I’m grateful to them. I’m being cryptic so not to offend anyone.
Do you have many plans for this winter?
The opposite of hibernation. My to-do list for the winter is doing a load of shows, finishing the album and finally sending that application for Jurassic Park.
The Middle Child EP is available to download for free from Raleigh Ritchie’s website. His next London live show is at Birthdays on 7 November, co-presented by The Line of Best Fit. For more information head here.