Interview - 2/4 of Urban Collective, RAYLO
I must admit, this interview was an interesting one. Not as if my previous ones weren't, but I mean in terms of what I expected initially.
Obviously as an interviewer I'm supposed to have a balance between being clued up on the subject & knowing what to ask, but it's also about the intrigue, wanting to dig deeper and learn more than what I already know.
For this interview, I talk to half of an urban quartet that simply cannot be labelled. I was challenged to put a label on these guys. By that I mean genre, a way of describing them. You can't, seriously. They have their own way of describing themselves and you pretty much have to go ahead and agree. I will embed their latest EP "So Gone" at the conclusion of the interview and you can listen for yourself, I'll also pepper in the music video of their title track just to give you a taste and because it's highly relevant for the way these guys carry themselves artistically.
In the interview itself, you will understand more and more as to how they are the way they are, how deep into this music they are, and in learning that, understand why you should follow this group as they continue to grow. I talk to Teni Solomon and Reece Whyte, front-men of the urban collective only known as RAYLO. Enjoy.
C: We always get started with the beginning itself. Where were you born? How was life around you and what were you like as a kid? Teni can kick us off.
T: I grew up in North West London. I stemmed from Cricklewood and then eventually Edgware. My surroundings as to how it affected my musical taste, my dad used to DJ funny enough. So growing up it was a lot of African, Caribbean music, Hip-Hop influence, R&B. At the time you had a lot of UK acts so anywhere I'd go, barbershop, friend's house, in the car, music was always around me, my friends and my family.
R: I'm from West London. The foundations of me have always been one of a creative. My first time experiencing any art was fine art, visual art. Then gradually music came into frame because I was listening to music and doing art at the same time. That is where the passion for music came. I did art throughout College, graphic design, architecture. I wouldn't pigeon-hole myself into one thing, I wanted to be a "Jack of all trades" and being in music tops it off. When it comes to RAYLO, I want it to be more than just music. More like an artist movement. So you can count on us for visuals, count on us for sound, come to us for a lifestyle brand. The image comes with the music rather than it being just a traditional music group. I'm not like that and neither is Teni. We all bring different things like tastes in music. If we all had the same tastes then RAYLO wouldn't be RAYLO. You may have heard of our sound before, but our vibe is unique.
C: So let's peel some layers from that. Teni, you said your dad was a DJ, was it just the music that he was into that gave you your taste?
T: Well he was a DJ on the side, his roots was West African background, crazy banger selection, especially that time in London there was a lot of Reggae, soca, calypso. The sound, the energy, the tempo, it steered me to what I ended up liking. I grew up on Gnarls Barkley, N.E.R.D, Sisqo, Usher of course so stemming from my dad's taste, you had a young kid jumping around the house and that energy got me into Drama School, singing lessons etc. So my dad had a massive influence that started from vinyls. Imagine just picking one up and you see Stevie Wonder and then you ask your parents about it, they go "Ah, you don't know that". It was a natural taste, it wasn't forced upon me and I really did like it and found it interesting.
C: For Reece, what did your family around you listen to?
R: My family listen to a lot of soul, Reggae, my dad had a lot of music. There was a bit of classical music as well, my mum and sister sing so I was exposed to it all from the beginning, then came the artwork and then wanting to do music myself. I started at an agency, doing backup singing. That was my first true experience of music. But then it died down because I was trying to find a link between the art and music. I remember you posted about us on Instagram, mentioning our visuals and that hit me because I believe in having good visuals and that was exactly what I was looking for. For someone to notice our visuals as well as the music.
C: Glad I could help! So where did this group begin? Where were you guys at when you decided to team up?
T: So at the time I was solo, with a manager. Around 21, 22 years old. I was finishing up a project at the time and my old management introduced me to two phenomenal producers by the name of George (Renwick) & Robin (Reeve) the other half of RAYLO. They helped me create a demo EP but sadly me & management didn't work out but I had such a great camaraderie with both of them that we just kept making music together and funny enough I came to a studio session one time and they told me about this guy called Reece. 'You'll really get along with him, he's a lot like you, got the same vibe, he can rap and sing, he's got this song that he wrote, you should meet.' I was like 'Alright, let me come to the session.' Three years later, rest is history.
C: When the three came to you, Reece, where were you at that point?
R: I was on my solo thing, a bit inconsistent at times, I was focusing on my art stuff. I was in it, spending money on studio time, but not totally wrapped up in it. Didn't have management deal or anything like that. I had a few tracks but they weren't serious. So one time, in the same studio I was recording in, I met George & Robin, we got a sync deal and we just continued to make music from then.
T: I think what happens with some groups, their coming together is manufactured, you see that on TV. Speaking for myself, there's power in numbers. Having someone that shares the same passion as you. These days you need people who are as hungry as you and you can rely on them whenever you're down. I was listening to Halfcast Podcast, and Chuckie was talking about how your people will happily be there when you're succeeding, but when you need support, they tell you the wrong things. But going back to the original question, how did RAYLO start. On genuine fucking foundations.
C: Nice way to tie that up! Now, listening to you guys talk, there's a, I don't want to say 'jaded', but you are aware that there are people that'll talk to you and advise you on things but it ends up being a "Wolf in sheep's clothing" situation. You've hinted at this in you EP and I just wanted to know how is it, trying to avoid those industry pitfalls?
T: It comes with anything in life, it may be a little different in the music industry and being honest it is still a bit new to us, but it's a rat race, everybody wants to be at the top. Things aren't supposed to be easy, if it was you'd be questioning why is it easy. Whether it's a day job or the music industry, we all go through it. But I do value when people speak about it. When you see artists you aspire to and wonder how they got there, they don't tell you how they were shut down 99 times, 'managers left me 55 times, label shut the door, I was broke, sleeping on a couch'. Nobody tells you the come ups but there is always a story there. Our experiences have taught us a lot as young men. I wouldn't ever burn a bridge, that one thing I love about this group, even if we don't get the answers we want, we'll still shake hands and say 'you will see us again'. Our experiences mould us, you hear it in the music, you can hear it in the production, you can hear it in our tones.
C: I want to get into the day-to-day, how does it work between the four of you? Who starts the process? Is it the producers or you two as the front-men? Who gets the ball rolling?
R: I'd say for me, it starts anywhere, I could be at home and I hear something or have something on my mind, make a little melody and record it. Either way it can start from a vibe and it will be little steps from there.
T: Just trial and error. Sadly, I wish we could spend all day in the studio, sit down, make music. That's in an ideal world. Even if we're on the train we hit each other up saying I've heard this track, have you heard this track. Our individual characteristics are so different, you have to black makes and two white males in the group. I may play one thing and then G comes in saying 'Let me put this on it' and he brings his influence. That's another thing I love about this group, it's never generic. Reece can write a hook on any beat, I might be sceptical but we give it to G or Robin, they flip it, chop it up and then what we have is a sound and you have no idea how it came about.
R: That's the end product, it's our individual influence mashed into one sound. It's actually mad thinking about it.
T: And it can only happen in music! If it was like a "Ready, Steady, Cook" situation, putting in Jamaican & Nigerian ingredients, what kinda dish would that be?! It's a blessing in disguise.
C: It would end up being a Jamie Oliver ting!
*The conversation derails into laughing about the "Jerk Rice" ordeal. We get back on track soon enough*
C: So with the EP itself, in a few keywords, how would you describe the EP for someone that hasn't listened?
R: Letting the public know that we're bringing something different. The inspiration was to articulate that "We're here". Subliminally, the artwork is space-y. As if we're not from here.
T: When you walk into meetings with managers and labels, they're looking for something, a mould. When you don't fit into that mould, they don't take you. We understand it's a business but they don't take risks, a certain look is popping but it's not our style. You have to make the decision to not try and fit in.
C: For sure, even from a marketing standpoint, following you guys on Instagram. The flow was constant, these teaser banners, cinematic posters and when the EP actually dropped I was immediately intrigued so I just wanted to shout out the great effort put into that.
You've mentioned the word "Cinematic" a lot and I've been interested in that word choice. Are you guys into film or the idea of it?
R: My older brother loves films and is always watching them. Star Wars, Harry Potter etc. And what you find in these films is that they're so big, the music and the visuals are always in sync and it allows the viewer to immerse.
T: Reece is a big fan of Peter Pan in the sense of giving someone a different world. Music does that as well. It's such a powerful thing. When I met Reece, I knew he was good because of how artistic he is. To the point where he's cooking up visuals while we're making the track. I'm going 'We need to focus on this track, it needs to bang' where as he's going 'Nah trust me, when you see the visuals for this!' And mentioning the banners from the detail and how they're positioned. This guy is a genius.
R: Respect! Respect!
T: For us, when you press play, we want you to get immersed. Sometimes that lacks in the current scene.
R: Going back to your question. Think about a film like The Godfather, you hear a train coming in. The train has nothing to do with what is happening in the scene but it makes you feel like something is coming to a climax. You can do the same thing with music, add different effects to influence the listener as cinema does to the viewer. Cinematics are the way man.
C: I completely get where you're coming from. There are some films where I'm watching and the best thing about it is the sound and how it immerses you. I think sound and music sometimes goes understated.
T: One thing quickly. Robin does a lot of film scoring, so bear in mind that as much as we love films, we actually have a guy that makes soundtracks so that makes the camaraderie much nicer.
C: I just want to go back a little bit to you four guys, Teni mentioned that you listen to people like N.E.R.D etc. If you could speak for George & Robin for a second, how far apart are your individual tastes?
R: George is a massive metal fan, he likes house as well but metal is his main love. Mad crazy death metal music. Robin enjoys stuff like Foreign Beggars, Wu-Tang, political rap. I like classical music, all types of music. It really depends on my mood. Right now the body of work I'm really into is Plan B's "Strickland Banks". I say that because of the story and the visuals for every song are realness. I'm not a massive Plan B fan but that body of work is so cold. 6LACK, Bryson Tiller types as well.
T: We're from London but we take inspiration from everywhere. You can hear Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Tiller but on the other side, 'Wildheart' by Miguel for example, we'll take elements from that and try to implement that in our work. Cause our work is so different, it will be interesting to see what kind of fan-base we'll gain. Who will gravitate to us.
C: So what's next in terms of music and your artistry? R: We're gonna start killing the visuals. We'll obviously release more music, another EP so people can get to know us more.
T: Anyone can do music these days and have a Soundcloud account. I can play you someone down the road and you think 'Fuck, this is incredible.' Now it's a matter of figuring out how to sell it to a wider audience. With RAYLO, it's lyrical and visual, like an art exhibition. Our visuals are going to get people interested and intrigued. Another influence, MJ. MJ would give you a video and before you knew it, you're stuck to the screen. That motivates us.
C: You guys put a lot of effort into the visuals as you've stated. That is very rare in this musical climate. In the 80's, if you had a single, you needed a music video for it. It needed to drop on MTV. The fact that you guys put that much effort in, knowing that people these days don't is very interesting.
T: Strongly agree with you. Sometimes it does come down to the act. One act that really does visuals well, Reece will agree with me, Frank Ocean. You notice he lets the songs simmer and then drops a video that just adds so much more to it. I think it makes a hell of a difference.
C: Where did the name RAYLO come from?
T: So the last studio we used to go to had a hole in it and light would shine through it, so that is where you get the "RAY". And that day we were feeling quite low. We were underground so you wouldn't know what time of day it was. So as mad as it sounds, as cheesy at it sounds, that is how it came around. Ray of light, low, underground, boom RAYLO.
C: I'm going to put this bluntly and you can contextualise however you want. What is RAYLO to you guys.
R: RAYLO is a collective of energies that bring different life experiences. Everybody is different from each other and that's what makes us who we are as a group. I always ask, how would you describe us? What would you cast our sound as? You can't really explain it and you can't say that about many acts.
T: We're not a band rolling up with guitars, we're not a "Boy band", it's a collective.
C: I mean, I'm genuinely trying to label it but I can't!
R: It could be a negative, but I see it as a positive.
C: I see what you mean, but I would agree in saying it's a positive. It's formless, not bound by anything.
T: That's dope.
C: So we end our interview the same way I always do. What is your Top 5?
T: Okay... Influences. Pharrell Williams, Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, MJ (Jordan & Jackson) Musiq Soulchild and if I can add a sixth... Jesus Christ. Boom!
R: Okay, my Top 5. Water, Family, Food, iTunes & Sleep.
C: So is that like Top 5 Things in Life?
R: It's just my Top 5!
T: I love his answer.
C: Yea he flipped it! With literal influences! T: I feel like I should've put a couple of women in there now.
R: I knew my answer would mess him up!
T: He does this all the time!
C: Can;t change my guy! It's set in stone, officially on wax! But honestly, that's one of the most interesting Top 5's I've had so far. That's the beauty of open ended questions.
Amazing way to end our talk, I really appreciate the time.
T: Thank you man, God bless.
R: Keep in touch!
C: I got you.
And there we have it! Thanks to Reece & Teni for their time. Their debut EP is below, be sure to give it a listen and maybe you can answer the question; what is RAYLO?