Interviewed by • Jenny Entwistle
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man returns
His 2017 landmark debut ‘Human’ was a phenomenal success. A 4x platinum album which shot to straight to Number One on release in the UK and became the fastest-selling album by a male artist for the entire decade - earning him BRIT and Ivor Novello Awards.
If that’s a hard act to follow, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man tore up the rulebook and went to Nashville to write and record what would become ‘Life By Misadventure’, returning to the UK as the first lockdown started. While a dose of heavy blues and soul lives within some of these new tunes, the majority of this new album finds Rag‘n’Bone Man taking a huge step forward as an artist, a songwriter and as a singer, capable of showcasing tremendous warmth and real emotion with every breath. ‘Life By Misadventure’ is the perfect tonic for these times and an incredible collection of emotional songs to touch us when we need it most. It’s an album of depth and soul, about growing up and moving forward. Enjoy the trip.
The new album is a step apart from ‘Human’ sonically, but it feels like a natural progression - are you excited to finally get the music out there as you’ve been sitting on it for about a year?
Yeah, it sort of feels like I’m starting afresh almost, because it is so different to the last project. I feel like it feels good, it’s the right time to be releasing it, you know I can’t sit on it forever. The worry was that it’ll just get put off and put off and put off until ‘everything’s back to normal’. But, you know, I think I really needed this, to be honest.
You recorded the majority of the album when things were sort of normal back in Nashville, USA. What was it about the city that particularly attracted you to record the majority of the release there?
It wasn’t really the city, it was more of the people, to be honest. It’s hard to explain, Nashville itself and the downtown part of Nashville is like country music Disney. Then when you step outside of that part, you get to know the other parts and it’s really beautiful. There’s so many great venues and it’s not just country music either, there’s so much more than that. I went over there in the first place just to see what the song writing was like because I’d got to a point in the UK where I think I had maybe about eight songs for the record, but I’d fallen into a bit of a hole.
I didn’t feel particularly inspired. I was in a bit of a slump, then it was talked about that I would go away.
Nashville, I’ve been there before and I kind of knew a few people. I’d spoken to Foy Vance about Natalie Hemby, and how it would be amazing if I worked with her, so I did some writing with her. I also wrote with Allen Shamblin and Mike Reid the guys who wrote, ‘I can’t make you love me’ (Bonnie Raitt) which is in my top five songs of all time. The fact that they’re still working when they’re both in their ’70s, and were like, “we really want to work with you” and were gassed to work with me - I thought, “…these guys want to work with me?!... They’re like heroes”. So, we wrote the rest of the record and decided we’d record it out there as well, because the original plan was to write it and then just come back here and produce it. But I met Mike Elizondo and saw his studio and was like “we have to do it here. There’s no other option.”
So the eight tracks that you had before you went out there, did they have the Americana vein within them already, and then it was just honed and amplified by being in Nashville?
Yeah, I had written all of these songs pretty much exclusively on just acoustic guitar and piano. We hadn’t really touched any production at that point. The plan was to live with the songs in that space and not have anything get in the way of it. We really got to live with those songs for ages before we even thought about a production. We went over to Nashville this time last year as it was just as the pandemic hit that we were over there. We had three weeks set out to record the album then they said, “You’ve got to quarantine for two weeks when you get there.” So, it was me, my keys player and my bass player who I brought out to play on the album, and we had to stay in this house, which was next door to the studio - but we weren’t allowed in the studio. We just had to spend two weeks by ourselves in the house, which was so frustrating!
We had nothing to do for two weeks, but we started rehearsing the songs a little bit between us, and then realised we only had a week to record the whole album. It forced us to make the decision to just record the album as if it were live and put everyone in place. We just played it until we got it right and even though we were forced to do it like that, it was the best decision ever because it turned out right. We’ve got the most amazing drummer, Daru Jones, to play on the record which has given the whole record this amazing feel. Wendy Melvoin (from Prince and The Revolution) played guitar. She’s got this amazing cinematic sort of thing, she does. Incredible stuff and then Bill from my band at home, and B.J. who I wrote all the songs with. It turned out to be a real organic record and I have fallen in love with it. It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever done in my life.
You’re touring this autumn and will (hopefully) finally be able to play to a big live audience. How much are you looking forward to that after what has been a really difficult time?
We are all ready, me and my band are really well rehearsed because, luckily, we were able to get together last year during the summer to record sessions. We thought it was just a good opportunity to play together but it was great because now we know the songs well, so everybody’s just itching to get on that tour bus again. I’m ready!
I’m so bad at being at home for long periods of time. My missus used to tell me to go out when I got back from tour because she had had enough of me just walking around the house aimlessly. I really didn’t know what to do. It has been cool, because I’ve got to spend time with my family but at the same time it feels like a limb has been cut off because of that life that has been taken away.
Returning from Nashville you finished the album at home in Brighton. Brighton is also the first date of the UK tour - do you think it’s going to be an emotional gig?
I’m gonna cry! 100%. It’ll be well emotional because I haven’t sung most of the songs in public before properly, so I don’t really know how they’re going to make me feel. That’s always the worry that when you write the songs and you’re in the moment when you write them it’s great, but then when you have to play them in front of people and
you have to look people in the face when you’re saying these things, the worry is that it’ll be too emotional. But I’m ready for it.
On ‘Anywhere Away From Here’ you’ve discussed the struggles that come with being thrust into the spotlight. It’s such a relatable song because it’s translatable to so many situations. When you were writing it, did you think about how the songs would relate to other scenarios or is it very much just your personal experiences that happened to be relatable for other people?
It always starts off with a personal story, but it’s in the back of my mind ‘can this song be somebody else’s song?’ It always should be like that for me because I want people to make what they want to make of the song, and be able to relate it to their own situation. That’s what really helps people and that’s when music becomes everybody’s; when it’s relatable to so many people. So, yeah, it’s always in the back of my mind when I’m writing songs.
I’m gonna cry! 100%. It’ll be well emotional because I
haven’t sung most of the songs in public before properly,
so I don’t really know how they’re going to make me feel.
That’s always the worry that when you write the songs
and you’re in the moment.
What’s the song that you’re most looking forward to people hearing?
I wrote this song called ‘Alone’. It feels a bit ’90s, in a way, I feel, as I listened to a lot of Radiohead at the time, and Oasis and stuff like that. The sonic of it is very much like that, that era of music, but then the subject is really different. It came from a conversation I had with someone years ago, about the possibility of becoming a parent, and how
not everybody wants that. And it’s okay to not want that. As men we don’t really get stick from our families asking, ‘When are you’re going to settle down?’ and ‘When are you going to find someone’ or ‘When are you going to
make me a grandparent?’ But women do really get that and it made me think that it must be horrible, being constantly pressured. So that’s what the song’s about; the pressure from people to have a family when maybe that’s not what they want. It’s an interesting subject to talk about, it’s kind of sad and it’s kind of a really archaic way of looking at things.
Then talking about life milestones, since the release of ‘Human’ you’ve welcomed your son. How do you think your outlook has changed towards your music and your style since becoming a father?
I think you just become less selfish as a person. It definitely broadens your thought process, but it also makes me a lot more worried about the future, so I’ve talked a lot about that on the album. Like, what have I done, bringing a child into this world because it’s crazy at the moment? It’s definitely made me a lot more open and a lot more honest. I feel like this record is the most honest I’ve ever been on anything. It’s also made me not so scared of being honest as well. I don’t feel like I should keep that to myself because what will people think of me? I don’t really care now, because what I want from my son is freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of thought and freedom to love whoever they want. Stuff like that. So, it’s made me more open as a person, 100%.
‘Life By Misadventure’ is released 7th May on Columbia Records.
Rag n Bone Man will be touring the UK this Autumn.
Sun 17th - Brighton, Brighton Centre
Mon 18th - Dublin, Olympia Theatre
Tue 19th - Belfast, Waterfront Hall
Thu 21st - Leeds, O2 Academy
Fri 22nd - Bristol, O2 Academy
Sat 23rd - Bournemouth, O2 Academy
Mon 25th - Glasgow, O2 Academy
Thu 28th - Plymouth, Pavilions
Fri 29th - Manchester, O2 Apollo
Sun 31st - Birmingham, O2 Academy
Wed 3rd - Newcastle, O2 Academy
Sat 6th - London, Eventim Apollo