QSC Aspiring Interview: RHODES on new music and creativity as therapy

Hertfordshire-raised, London-based singer-songwriter RHODES (who has opened for Sam Smith, London Grammar, and Hozier) talks about the inspiration behind new album, Friends Like These, and explains why music is all-consuming for him.

Hi, where abouts are you joining us from today?

I’m at home in North London, getting used to being at home after a long tour around Europe. It was amazing because it was the first headline tour I’ve done in a few years, so it was a wonderful thing.

What else has been keeping you busy?

Well, my second album Friends Like These came out in January, so that was amazing, but I’ve just been super busy. Since then, I have been recording the next album, so I’ve been very busy and creative and trying to get back into the swing of being in campaign mode and figuring out that balance with making sure I’m on top of everything and being with my family. It’s been a crazy few months.

Going back to the start, what were you doing before pursuing a career in music?

Music has always been in my blood ever since I can remember. I’ve alwasy been around music. I gravitated towards the music kids in school and was always in bands and my friendship group was very musical. It was my refuge and escape. I grew up with anxiety and had mental health issues as a teenager and music was my place of refuge, so it was a necessity for me. There was nothing else I was going to do. I had other jobs, but they were just a means for me to fund my music.

What kind of music did you grow up around? And have your tastes changed much since then?

My music tastes haven’t really changed that much. My dad listened to a lot of singer songwriters like Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan and a lot of blues artists. Then I started to find the artists that I loved, and I almost saw them as my companions. I was really lucky to have had a varied and diverse musical upbringing. The people I gravitated towards were people like Jeff Buckley, Damien Rice, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix. I remember when I heard the first Bon Iver record and it was a huge thing for me, I connected with it so deeply. And Damien Rice’s O. That was what made me want to start writing my own songs as opposed to just jamming and playing guitar in bands.

Tell us about your creative process?

It all starts with life experience. Everything I write comes from a personal perspective. I’m a deeply sensitive and emotional person and to have that musical outlet is like a form of therapy for me. So, when I am processing feelings of anxiety and depression music is a really important tool for me to move forward, that’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. But I always want to incorporate this sense of hope in my music, and I hope it resonates with people and helps them.

Tell us about your collaboration with Birdy on the song Let It All Go from your first album Wishes.

It was really cool. At the time I was really new to working with a label, working with a publisher and collaborating. That whole record was written in my bedroom and was all deeply personal, and then my label wanted me to get out and start collaborating. This was one of the sessions we did and initially it was meant to be a writing session for Birdy and the record she was working on. We were introduced and got on really well, and the song came together really quickly. Originally, she sung the whole thing. I remember her just singing it in one take and it was like, wow!

After we presented the song to our people there was this idea of both of us singing on it as we’d written it together, but until it was suggested by someone on her team I hadn’t thought of singing on it. So, it all happened really beautifully. And the song still seems popular as ever and I still get messages from people every day about that song. I’m super proud of it.

What has been your most memorable performance to date?

There are many that have stuck with me. On the tour I’ve just done there were a few shows where it really reminded me what I have. Having not toured for a while I was nervous about it and anxious about how the shows would be, and then you do the gig and people are singing along, so the tour was a moment of realisation. I did a gig in Amsterdam in this old theatre, and it was just a beautiful experience and was the first time I felt completely back in it. It was a wonderful show.

What’s been your proudest moment to date as a musician?

The proudest moment is always when the music comes out. As a musician it’s obviously a huge sense of achievement when you finish a project and when it comes out I always feel super proud.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

There are a lot of challenges. Everyone talks about ‘the difficult second album’ and I did experience that feeling but I didn’t really know that’s what it was. I don’t find it particularly difficult to write songs if I have the ammo inside of me to do that, so that wasn’t difficult, but when I started work on the second album there was huge amounts of pressure which fed into the doubt and anxiety I had always felt. That was super challenging for me.

I know a lot of people who have succumbed to the rejection and the way it makes them feel, and it all comes down to working with the right people. And a lot of the pressure is pressure we put on ourselves, it’s not always from labels or whatever. I think for a while I was going down the wrong path but luckily I have found the right people to work with and the right collaborators, and I now feel creatively free and like I’m on the right track. There were seven years between my first and second record, so it took me a long time to overcome those challenges and get back on the right path.

Tell us about the making your new album Friends Like These.

It was a strange process but one that taught me so much. I started writing it in 2017 but then I found myself in a really strange period where I was going through a lot personally and there were some toxic relationships within my team that I was working my way through. That really affected me. I was just working with the wrong people, and I wasn’t enjoying it. And it took me a long time to work my way out of that. Then before the pandemic I had to work out what I wanted to do, and I was working with a guy called Rich Cooper and he was like, what’s going on with the album, we need to figure it out?

So, we decided to work together and we listened through all the songs and chose 10 that represented the journey I had been on, and then recorded them. It was like listening back through the past few years of my life. We delivered it to the label, and they said they needed more songs and they still needed a radio song, and I just felt like I couldn’t keep doing it, as it felt like whatever we did wasn’t the right thing. So, my manager at the time suggested we should buy back the rights to the songs and find a label that did want to put it out. So that’s what we did that with Network who distributed the music.

You can listen to an extended version of this interview below.