Listening to Rhodes’ album ‘Wishes’, it’s fair to say that this is an introspective experience. The album takes you on a journey and it’s clear that this journey is meant to take place within- through all the suppressed memories, the subconscious emotions and the internal battlefields.
Tonight, a huge crowd gathers at King Tuts to see the man behind the music. The fact that it is a sold out show speaks volumes with regards to just how many people his music touches, and this becomes even more apparent as the atmosphere tightens the moment he sets foot onstage.
On his album, Rhodes sings and plays solo, but the ‘Wishes’ tour called for a four-piece band to support him. Despite this, Rhodes is able to maintain a stage presence as if it really were just him singing. Intimate would be a bit of an understatement, as it truly feels like Rhodes is singing to just one person and every person in the audience believes that it is them. His back up guys add that much more power to his performance and his voice rings clearer than it did on his album.
‘Breathe’ definitely stands out as it feels like it has the opposite effect of its intentions – rather than breathing evenly, it is as if Rhodes takes the breath out of the room. To say the least, he’s a captivating performer, who seems extremely comfortable in the spotlight. Yet every song is followed by a sultry ‘thank you’, with a rather shy tone – which is a bit surprising to hear after speaking to him for twenty minutes prior to the show when GUM got a chance to chat to Rhodes about getting in the right headspace, going solo, and his feelings about his debut album.
Glasgow University Magazine: How are you finding the tour?
Rhodes: It’s cool. I’m feeling it a bit now. I mean this tour has only been going for about just over a week. I know I’ve been talking like ‘oh the tour starts on Monday’, but really I’ve been touring for months. But it’s great, it just feels like every night it’s getting a little bit closer to where I want it to be and that kind of thing.
GUM: And where do you want it to be?
Rhodes: Just with the band and stuff like that, because I spent a lot of time playing on my own, just with a guitar. In my head I kind of have this vision of how I wanted it to sound. I’ve kind of created that within the production on the album and it’s about translating that to the live setting.
GUM: Has it been a really long process trying to reconcile everybody?
Rhodes: Yeah, yeah it has. Finding the right people was quite hard and going through different people is kind of hard for me to do because I get really close to people and attached to the sentimental side of hanging out with someone. Suddenly you realize it might not be working musically, and that can be really difficult. But no, these guys are amazing and we’ve been working hard. It’s tight now. The guy [James Kenosha] who produced the album with me was at the show last night and he was so pleased. He’s like my second set of ears. Because obviously when I’m on stage I can’t tell how it sounds out front so it’s nice to have somebody there who probably knows the songs better than I do because he’s literally sat there, mixed it and gone through every take.
GUM: That’s one thing with venues too- artists can’t tell how they sound on stage versus when you’re in the audience. So what do you think of King Tut’s in terms of how you sound?
Rhodes: Yeah, I’ve never played here with a band, but I always really love playing here. I think the sound guys are so good. They seem like such veterans at what they do.
GUM: Do you have a favorite city that you’ve played so far?
Rhodes: I like a lot of different places. I haven’t done that much traveling before doing this. So traveling around Europe is amazing. I love going to Paris and Amsterdam is an amazing city to play in. It’s one of those places where I had a misconception of what it was going to be like before I went- and I went there and realized it wasn’t just druggies.
GUM: I know tonight’s been rushed, but do you have a pre-show routine that you get into or something to get you in the right headspace?
Rhodes: I think it’s really important to try and switch off and leave everything behind before going on stage. I think it’s really important to leave any worries or troubles or little things you’re thinking about in your mind. It’s hard to do anything when you’re preoccupied. So I’ll probably go back to my hotel room and just read my book for a bit and just chill out for a while. I do warm-ups on my voice and make sure I’m feeling good. I wasn’t naturally singing before and I’m still finding it a little hard. It’s really important that I’m on that particular thing for that hour I’m on stage and make sure that I’m completely. My mind starts wandering on to other things and it’s horrible.
GUM: The songs on ‘Wishes” are quite personal right?
Rhodes: They are very personal, yeah. I can’t really imagine any other way. I mean I don’t really write stories. It’s more about overcoming fears, family, friends and relationships that I’ve had-not just romantic ones but more people close to me drifting apart and growing up and leaving town- things like that. All of those things I think a lot about before I start to write. I was going through this time where I felt like things weren’t really going my way, and I felt to blame for that, like it was my fault. I had to just detach myself from the world I was living in because there was no other way of me finding out what I was really supposed to be doing and where I was supposed to be because I was so caught up in this world. At the time I was playing bass in a band and just enjoying myself a bit too much. So I just detached myself and spent a lot of time on my own. I was working during the days and then writing at night- getting a lot of time to think about how I ended up where I was.
GUM: You were playing bass in another band- what was that like trying to break away from that and do your own thing?
Rhodes: It was tough because they were my best friends- they still are my best friends really. I felt like I was turning my back on them. I felt like I was letting them down and I think they were really upset. I think I dealt with it in the wrong way- my only way of really doing it was just by turning my phone off and being like ‘I just can’t face this’. So it wasn’t the best way of doing things.
GUM: Going back to your album, what was the hardest song for you to write?
Rhodes: I think ‘Breathe’ was probably one of the hardest songs to write because it’s about something so sensitive. I wrote it for a friend and it embodies the sentiment of what I was writing about when I wrote the album. It’s just that importance of being there for one another, helping people out, not being too afraid of asking other people to help you out if you need it. My friend had depression and it’s kind of hard to watch. I think the songs that I’ve written are very intentionally left open to interpretation. Some people get the actual meaning and some people apply their own meaning. I like that a lot. I’ve always liked that in music too. You know sometimes you’ll have a favorite song, and you’ll be singing along and you’ll know the words, and you’ll be like ‘oh I love this bit’ and then you read the lyrics and you realize you’ve been singing the wrong words. Music touches people in different ways and that’s the beauty of it. It’s subjective and you can take what you want. I think that’s very important. It’s not that I don’t like talking about the songs, but I prefer it when they’re just listened to- because that’s what they’re for.
GUM: Do you think that there’s a song that audiences love to hear the most from you?
Rhodes: People seem to like hearing ‘Breathe’ quite a lot. I always find it kind of hard at my gigs because everyone’s just so silent. To me I’m thinking, ‘are they enjoying it?’ Now I think they’re being silent in a good way. So it’s really hard for me to tell, but it varies from place to place- it’s quite strange.
GUM: Someone quoted you saying that ‘Close your eyes’ was a song about your own stage fright- is that right?
Rhodes: Yeah, it wasn’t so much stage fright- I didn’t have stage fright because I was always on stage. It was a fear I had of actually singing. I was so, so frightened of singing. I never even sung backing vocals. I still hate listening to myself. With the album I spent so long- so, so long recording the vocals. I kept re-doing them because I wasn’t happy with them, and I’d have all these fits of rage, crying, and all this shit. And James went off and mixed them and he ended up using some of the first few takes on every song. It just goes back to not over thinking things. Sometimes you can try and be too perfect and that detracts from what people actually like about what you’re doing in the first place. I don’t listen to my own music. I mean sometimes. I had this thing when I started writing the songs- I was drinking quite a lot at the time. I don’t drink anymore when I’m touring- otherwise I lose my voice. I used to get drunk and listen to the songs, and smoke and that was my way of feeling comfortable, listening to what I was doing. I still find it so hard listening to my voice. ‘Close your eyes’- that phrase comes from when someone said to me, ‘think of where you feel the most comfortable singing- when you’re on that stage you just need to close your eyes and imagine lying on your bed, playing your own songs. That’s kind of the mechanism I started used to cope with that. But then I thought that that sentiment can apply to so many different things, any fear, any sort of troubles. I tried to broaden the lyrics so they weren’t all about me.
GUM: Do you try to constantly write or do you take time to sit down and write?
Rhodes: I like to sit down and finish things. The idea of writing on the road sounds appealing but it’s not easy because you’re just constantly doing something. When you’re in the van it’s just cramped and it’s weird. So I do need to be in the right headspace.
GUM: Do you have any artists that you’re dying to collaborate with in the future?
Rhodes: I’d love to collaborate with someone who’s a real classic, or someone who’s a real heritage singer. I’d love to work with the National, or Justin Vernon, or something like that.
By Gina Pieracci