An interview with RÁJ

An interview with Raj

In September 2013, Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 debuted a track entitled ‘Ghost’, performed by LA-based singer-songwriter, RÁJ; in April 2014, the artist followed up with the song ‘Let Me Love You’. Both tracks are notable for their stark lyrical honesty, otherworldly atmosphere, and combination of traditional folk aesthetics with various degrees of brooding distortion. The artist has previously been lips-sealed on personal details of his life, background, and music, choosing instead to deliver somewhat-cryptic Twitter messages. That is, until now…

 There has been a scant amount of background information available on you. As such, would you be willing to provide some of the most elementary of these details? Perhaps your name, birthplace, or birth date?

Of course, my name is Raj, I was born in Westlake village, California, on July 22, 1993.

 To what extent has the hiding of your personal details been deliberate? Why might this be the case?

It hasn’t been important at all for me and the initial campaign. When I put out my first song “ghost” we released my name, my location, and a photo of myself. I’m fairly open actually, and pretty much willing to answer anything. My twitter is @rajnoise, ask away.

How important has social media and online distribution (including uploading and streaming services) been to the establishment of your own ‘identity’? 

I think that in today’s entertainment world, it is the only way for artists to stay relevant. Social media is SUCH a beautiful thing. I can let the world know everything I want you guys to know, when I want you to know it, and it’s coming right from my mouth. We “the entertainers” are controlling the information that is given out about us. Before social media existed we were being spoken for by companies and brands, like TMZ, who go out of there way to manipulate a situation for their benefit, regardless of what is the truth.

How did you become a musician?

I always knew I could sing. I would be sitting in the back of my car with my mom when I was little and would sing along to what was playing and I always remember her looking back smiling at what was coming out of my mouth. She’s an incredible singer, so I think I got a little bit of her gift.

Are there any non-musical influences that have had an impact on your attitude to being a musician?

Yes. Anyone, in any field, who is considered “the best”. Woody Allen is first who comes to mind. I don’t know a TON about Woody, and I haven’t seen all of his films, but what I do know is Woody sticks to his guns. He has such a distinct taste and style, and it wins. Seeing someone “win” time and time again by doing exactly what they want is so inspiring. And Woody is SO himself. It’s really amazing. Also Johnny Depp. He definitely isn’t the most well rounded actor, but what an amazing guy. Every role he takes, he makes his own. Everything he does is just an extension of Johnny Depp. That’s how I want to be. I want to go play and sing on old blues songs, and you guys can hear ME. I want go feature on Kanye West hooks and I want you to still hear ME. I want everything I do to just be an extension of the core of RÁJ.

How would you describe your sound? What other music was perhaps an influence on you, and would you be able to provide any comparable artists for those who may be unfamiliar with your work?

I’m still finding that out. It’s becoming much clearer to me these days. The only thing I can say I strive for is to be tasteful. It’s such a vague word but I think if you understand it, you know exactly what the word means. I’m really inspired by darker sounding music generally. Oasis is my exception there, but they even have their dark moments (“Wonderwall”, “Talk Tonight”, “Morning Glory”). Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Sidney Betchet, Jeff Buckley and Burial are my go to influences. They’re all such amazing artists.

Your music is quite open-hearted and introspective, and implements interesting usages of more typical folk instrumentation with heavy effects of distortion and reverberation. What is your approach to songwriting? What guides you in this process?

I don’t know anymore. There isn’t really a process these days, I just let it happen. In the past, I would generally start on guitar, write a melody, throw a couple words together, and then take it to the studio.

I had previously described your two tracks with some of the following terms: dark; minimalistic; brooding; ethereal; and melancholic. Yet, I had still referred to them as ‘pop’ tracks, atypical as they may sound for such a designation. Where might you stand in your approach to ‘pop’ music? Would you see yourself as a pop artist?

Yes, 100%. It is my goal, and I’ve just came to this idea recently, to be a pop artist. Not in the sense of production, but in the sense of being popular. I’m not saying I’m going to compromise my vision for what I think will do well, that’s the opposite of what I’m saying really. I’m here to take my abilities and write music for the entire world. For everyone’s home. I’m interested in writing songs your mother will love, and your super hip elitist brother or sister loved 6 months before you found it (classic art elitist). I want to make art that I like and in return the world likes. That’s my goal.

The video for ‘Let Me Love You’ contains some heavy symbolism of spirituality and religion. How central are these concepts to your songwriting? (And, perhaps by extension, your life?)

Songwriting? Not so much. I haven’t gone there yet. But in my life, heavily. “GOD” is an English word, and the concept seems Western to me. But the concept of “GOD” is rather worldly, or at least it should be. I believe there is a higher power that created all man. I believe Buddha, God, and Allah are all the same person (I know I’m missing a few). But it’s really been butchered. I don’t go to a specific church, and I don’t practice a specific religion. But I believe and respect in a higher power.

What was the impetus for having the video for ‘Ghost’ be one of a cinematic breed? Would you see it as being any less ‘personal’ than that made for LMLY (which is composed entirely of amateur footage of RÁJ walking around various areas of France)?

It was just fitting. I don’t know if it was so thought out to not have me in it. It just felt right though. In hindsight,  maybe it’s less personal to the viewer (me not being in it), but it’s still a moving video. I don’t think it lacks passion at all.

What can we expect from you in the near future? A full EP or LP release? A continuation of your current touring? 

I’m just writing right now. It’ll all come out eventually, I’m not sure if it will be an EP or LP, but I’m working hard at making it the best it can be. That’s my main focus. What comes after it, I have no clue.

And, finally… Have you caught World Cup fever?

YES! Love the World Cup. I don’t pay attention SUPER closely, but I have seen majority  of  the games. Predicting  Netherlands win.

RÁJ has most recently performed as part of KCRW’s Chinatown Summer Nights series on Saturday, June 14, in Los Angeles. 

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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RÁJ – Let Me Love You

Last September, an artist known as RÁJ had a track debuted by Zane Lowe on BBC RADIO 1, entitled ‘Ghost’. At the time, not much was known about this figure: his online presence was replete with cryptic Twitter posts, elusive interview answers, and images of himself which showed a middle-aged man largely cloaked in black, often with a scarf covering his face and a fedora hat revealing only a glimmer of his eyes. With almost no background information, RÁJ encouraged us to focus on the very thing we may often leave subjugated to an artist’s image: the music.

The music, however, was itself a reflection of his image, the center of ‘Ghost’ is a reverberated acoustic guitar with soft, fragile vocals, and slow, heavy drums leading to a catharsis of falsetto cries, electronic swirls, and sweeping strings. Minimalistic and dark, RÁJ ensured this was going to be a pop track without much ‘pop’, but fascinating and open-hearted in its own unique manner. It is fitting, then, that his latest track, ‘Let Me Love You’, both continues this tradition of evanescence while carefully allowing the listener to gradually understand him better. With its honest, sorrowful lyrics of pain and loss, the echoes of guitar and brittle vocals emphasizing that isolation, and a bass that rumbles heavily, ‘Let Me Love You’ becomes a natural companion to ‘Ghost’. RÁJ’s dark pop aesthetic continues to bewilder and fascinate. The slow buildup to falsetto calls of desperation (“Let me love you/‘Til it hurts”), distorted drums, and yawning strings is familiar when also listening to ‘Ghost’, yet is unlike many artists today who utilize acoustic/vocal pairings to detail their emotion. It is otherworldly, yet familiar; distant, yet relatable, the shift from a tender melancholia to one of a purgative nature marking a move from introspection to desperation itself.

While the video for ‘Ghost’ detailed a narrative of a female coming undone, LMLY takes a more biographical approach. At its surface, a man is walking around the streets of France in a bout of seeming wanderlust. This, however, not only helps to visualize the song’s themes (isolation, introspection), it also allows for a connection between artist and viewer. The song takes on a wholly personal dimension for RÁJ, allowing us to both better understand enigmatic figure, and to see him as inherently relatable. In turn, RÁJ opens himself up to a greater extent in establishing an ‘image’ for himself, yet the music is still (rightly) taking precedence.

Perhaps what the video most helps with is allowing us to finally understand what the mystery, intangibility, and ambiguity surrounding RÁJ and his music is all about: spirituality. As the track begins with the ringing of church bells, many of the proceeding images are of a mystical nature: the stained glass windows of a church; a crucifix; and various sculptures of who appear to be historical or biblical figures. RÁJ may thus be representative of somebody who is seeking guidance from a higher power or, perhaps conversely, is disavowing it through his own pain. These could alternatively be interpreted as attempting to come to terms with one’s own state of limbo. Whatever the case may be (and this uncertainty seems central to appreciating his music), RÁJ continues to only let us see fragments of the entire picture, which may be an extension of how he sees life itself. In so doing, this becomes some of the most open-hearted music in recent memory, and the continuation of RÁJ’s journey is one in which we should all participate.

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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Some of the best bands you might not yet know at Canadian Music Week 2014

2014 Canadian Music Week

 

Canadian Music Week takes over Toronto May 6th-May 10th this year, hopefully leading to significantly nicer patio weather than when it was held in March in previous years. With hundreds of bands across dozens of venues downtown, CMW is one of Canada’s largest and oldest annual music festivals. If you’ve got a wristband and a pocket full of TTC tokens, here are a few of the best acts you can find off the beaten trail:

Paula Gomez – Singer/Songwriter

Hailing from across the pond, Irish singer-songwriter Paula Gomez combines her skillful percussive guitar work with dark and soulful vocals that fill one with longing. This captivating sound is hypnotizing and intimate in a way that feels like she could be playing in your living room or on the small stage at your favourite bar. Versatile and unrestricted by the boundaries of genre, Gomez’s music ranges from blues to country to folk, creating a sound that can be enjoyed by any fan of acoustic music. Gomez is kicking off CMW as the opening act of one of the strongest folk showcases of CMW. Check her out at 7 PM at the Cameron House on Tuesday May 6th.

 

The Rathburns – Rock/Blues

Toronto natives The Rathburns embrace the whiskey-soaked, smoke-filled lifestyle of dark, grungy blues. Passionate and raw, the band forces their high-energy set on anyone in the room, making it almost impossible not to groove along with them. Built on a simple foundation of classic blues rhythms, the band throws impressive guitar licks and shrieking vocals on top, which help them stand out from pack, thrusting their musical skills into the forefront. The result is an aggressive but addictive sound of musical ferocity. If you’re looking for an intense, sweaty show, check out The Rathburns as they tear apart the Bovine Sex Club, May 6th at 1 AM.

 

The Beer Patrice – Hardcore Funky Punk

St. John’s band The Beer Patrice combine hardcore punk rhythms with funk music and doo-wop vocals, resulting in an intense sound that somehow manages to get you snapping your fingers and tapping your feet. With more than half their songs coming in at under two minutes, the band often adds high levels of distortion and wailing vocals to cram five minutes of energy into a two minute blast.  However, they also have a lighter side where they embrace the vocal aspects of traditional doo-wop music, putting their punk-rock spin on the lyrics to create a sound of chaotic tranquility. From the lighthearted “Zombie II” to the destructive “Changin’ the World, Doin’ Stuff,” the band’s contrasting sounds from song to song keep the show interesting and dynamic. For one of the most versatile bands at CMW, check out The Beer Patrice at Rancho Relaxo, Thursday May 8that 11 PM.

 Maylee Todd – Pop/Soul

Local artist Maylee Todd takes the stage Thursday May 8th at 9 PM at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Todd draws from soul and blues, as well as electronic and pop, to create a sound that I can only describe as modern and full of nostalgia. Her lyrics are full of honesty and creativity and her vocal talent is simply mesmerizing. With her quirky and fun attitude, Todd’s live show reflects a feeling of sincerity. It’s been several years since the debut of Todd’s first album Choose Your Own Adventure, and she has since received international recognition from a variety of sources. With the talent to make every show and every song feel like its own intimate experience, the chance to see her live at a venue such as the Horseshoe is almost too good to pass up.

GRUVE – Funk/Rock

GRUVE has been a familiar name on the Canadian music scene for several years. Their funk/rock style and raspy distortion live up to their name, resulting in a sound that is infectious. Think of the best band you’ve ever seen in a dirty basement bar after midnight and you’ll have an understanding of GRUVE and their style. Combining heavy guitar riffs with rumbling vocals, they take the essence of hard rock FM radio and pour it into everything they do. Their live show has been polished over years of touring, leading to what will likely be an epic experience at the Underground Garage on Friday May 9th, at 2 AM.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Psychedelic/Punk

Coming to Toronto from down under, Australian rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a massive seven-piece band with influences ranging from the early punk revolution and psychedelic rock to modern garage and surf music. Full of reverb and distortion, the band’s set feels like one never-ending explosion of psychedelic passion.  Despite having seven contributing members, the band’s sound is graceful in its complexity, showcasing the true skill these guys have as musicians. With a repertoire filled with sing-a-long tunes and crowd-surfing gems, King Gizzard shows are one big party. Playing a whopping three times at CMW, King Gizzard can be seen Friday May 9th at the Hideout at 10 PM. If you dig their sound, you can check them out twice on Saturday May 10th, first at 4 PM at the Horseshoe for the Aussie BBQ Showcase as well as at Wrongbar at 11 PM.

-Micheal Vipond
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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