Hold onto your heart; this man wants to rip it out.
A bold, new boogeyman - with a holler like hot buttered rum
Blues music champions the rabid underdogs of society: Son House, Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin' Wolf, and all those dastardly, devilish outlaws. At over six foot, built like an ox, and with "funk" and "soul" tattooed across his knuckles, you can easily picture London's Rag 'N' Bone Man rising from the Mississippi swamps – a bold, new boogeyman - with a holler like hot buttered rum. "I can see that!" laughs Rory Graham (aka Rag 'N' Bone Man), admitting that he stole the name from an obsession with Steptoe & Son. "People do say that though, with the blues," he adds, “it sounds... synonymous."
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE POWER VIDS IF YOU'RE IMPATIENT
& DON'T WANNA READ
Loaded with refined influences, Rag 'N' Bone Man has been a prolific underground name for a couple of years now, honing a ferocious live reputation through guitar wielding solo performances, as the resident vocalist of rap's Rum Committee, and now through his first release through independent label ‘Best Laid Plans’: Wolves. And, like many things, it began with the blues.
Graham discovered the genre as a child, and the rhythmic troubles that rang out from his parents' record player planted a stubborn seed in this kid's head. "It was my old man," he explains, "he always played guitar and had a lot of records. I would always sift through them, looking at the covers. John Lee Hooker and all that. I'd play the ones that looked cool, and keep playing the ones that sounded cool." He was obsessed, and it wasn't long before the youngster was venturing through classic realms of soul, jazz and folk.
"Music become an everyday part of my life,” admits Graham, and eventually, beats joined his daily consumption. "I had a couple of mates who were into hip hop. When you're thirteen or fourteen years old and you hear someone swearing on a record, you know it's gotta be good. Hearing the way people rapped: their lyrics and the 'syllablism'; it attracted me straight away. It was all about hip hop and jungle, so I wanted to be a rapper or an MC. A few mates had decks, so we would make tapes of garage and jungle with me rapping over the top." he laughs: "If anyone found those, it would probably end me."
Despite these beat-laden flirtations with bedroom-based rap, his first dice with performing real live music was to be rooted in those earlier fascinations. Twenty five years younger than most of the clientele, Graham used to hit up a local jam session, and one particular evening, after a couple of pints, he'd end up making a decision that would define his future. "I was nineteen or twenty at the time," starts Graham, "I would just go along to listen. I knew the words to all the songs, because I had a big back catalogue of blues on CD and vinyl. I knew Muddy Waters, B.B. King, the lot. One night, I had one too many and got the courage to jump on stage and sing a Robert Johnson song. I remember being up there and thinking 'this is cool as fuck'. I knew I could carry a tune, because I used to sing to myself. Unless you're a moron you know whether you can sing or not, but I didn't expect people to actually like it. So, I did it a bit more. I went every week, and sat in the corner playing harmonica or singing on stage. At that point, I knew it was what I wanted to do."
A move to Brighton and a slice of fate introduced him to two influential figures. Firstly, the rapper Gi3mo, who immediately shipped Graham's vocal talents into his hip hop crew, Rum Committee. He explains the formation: "He had a crew and they already had their stuff recorded, so I was just adding to it, but it was conducive with what I was doing because of the samples they were using. We came together really well." Next came a meeting with the prolific beatmaker Leaf Dog, resulting in an intense meeting of minds; their six track Dog n' Bone EP.
Add to that his Bandcamp hyped Bluestown EP, and it's obvious Rag 'N' Bone Man doesn't find creation a struggle, instead embracing the cathartic quality of just getting something made. In his good friend and producer Mark Crew, he found a kindred spirit and the two began working towards a 'project'. After eight months, they found themselves staring down the pop, soul and hip-hop cannonade of nine blistering tracks, which Graham has named ‘Wolves’. "I knew I wanted to start writing songs from scratch and really get into songwriting," begins Graham, "the whole blues and hip hop thing was great, but writing to a beat is limiting. Working with Mark Crew and Dan Priddy, they opened a bit more of a songwriter world for me."
The creative graft took place in a little studio in Battersea, and pretty soon songs were materialising. 'Lay My Body Down' started out as a simple piano riff, layered with drums, with Graham's massive melodic growl driving it forward. But something wasn't right, and he decided to let it simmer. "We came up with the idea of a guy who was a serial killer. He lived this double life of murder, and he's basically saying 'when I'm gone, don't mourn me, because of all these things that I've done.'" On the track, the morbid lyrics are juxtaposed with gospel vocals to create a powerful and spiritual sound, with one foot placed in the light of life and one deep in the dark mud of death.
Conversely, 'Let Her Go' finds a softening of the heart for Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, as his vocal register drops to a sweet and gentle tone; sounding more Anthony & The Johnsons than Blind Lemon Jefferson. That said, much like his idols, Graham's embittered lyrics are the meat-and-potatoes of his musical mind, and these come back to the fore on 'No Mother'. "It's a very personal one for me,” he explains, “me and my friend were on a night out, and he was talking to me about his daughter and how his ex wouldn't let him see her. The conversation got deep and I came away instantly knowing I had to write a song about it." Its narration of a broken family scene is one portrayed a lot in music, but so rarely from the father's perspective.
Owing to that moment when his blues and beats worlds collided, the sound of Rag N Bone perfects an artistic dualism of old and new. The nine tracks of ‘Wolves’ pack an eruptive mixture of hip hop and electronic thunder, with a golden coating of soul. He may have honed his trade underground, but this release marks the Rag 'N' Bone Man stepping out of the shadows.
RIGHT. WHAT YOU IN THE MOOD FOR?
SOMETHING TO TEAR YOUR HEART OUT AND LEAVE YOUR FACE WET: BITTER END, LIVE
BLOODY HELL, DRAMATIC & SPINE-TINGLY: HELL YEAH
'OH SWEET JESUS, FALL TO THE FLOOR WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED' TYPE VIBE: PERFUME
HAPPY FESTIVAL SMOOTHNESS: PUT THAT SOUL ON ME
CRAZY GOOD TV DEBUT: LIVE AT GLASTO
And get the latest news straight to your inbox