The R&B singer talks new EP “Maybe I’m Just a Little Bit Broken”, toxic masculinity and his ever-changing sound.
If there is one thing for sure, it’s that UK R&B is on the come up for 2021. With the likes of ENNY and Ray BLK pioneering the genre last year, the door has been left wide open for more artist to burst through, and making his entrance is singer Richard Fairlie with his new single and EP “Maybe I’m Just a Little Bit Broken”. Drawing on his love for Don Toliver and Dominic Fike, the singer’s honeyed vocals glide over the piano-led production as he details his most intimate thoughts and anxieties. Building up barriers and unsure how to break them down, Fairlie’s creates a haunting R&B soundscape that leaves you in your feels.
“I saw everyone else talk about their problems to each other and to me but I physically couldn’t return the favour,” Richard explains, “The track to me is almost like me saying, sorry I can’t let you into my brain but I’m trying really hard.”
With his debut EP taking us through his trials and tribulations from the past year, we revisit previous genre-bending singles “Fonda on the Roof” and “The Edge” while being introduced to unreleased track “Talk (XXXtended)”. With an album hopefully in the works, we caught up with Fairlie talking his big dreams for the future, working with creatives in the US and how he ran into David Doberik by the Hollywood sign…
Check out the interview below…
Hey Richard Fairlie! How has lockdown been for you as an artist? What have you learned in the last year?
First off, lockdown’s been beyond tough for so many people and major credit to anyone who’s had their normality majorly flipped and damaged. So, I don’t want my positivity towards what I’ve done and learnt in lockdown to sound ill-considered cause these times are crazy, but for me and so many other creatives, while we can’t do live shows, we can still write so we’re lucky we can still keep going. I’ve been in loads of zoom sessions with amazing creatives from the USA: Lunice (Kanye West) Phil Sully (Diplo.) and David David (Frank Ocean.). I’ve also been in contact with big-time UK genius Mr Hudson. Obviously, on a lyrical front, it’s harder to create really deeply authentic and engaging lyrics when you’re not out in the world living life but, in another way, it forces you to dig deeper into yourself and there is almost a beauty to it. Sometimes you pull out concepts or discover things about yourself that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
For those who haven’t heard your music yet, how would you describe your sound?
I’d have to define my sound as hip-pop the EP leans towards an XXXTENTACION kind of landscape too but has those pop and R&B infections intertwined. X goes from doing intimate sparsely produced tracks like “Changes” to more exciting beat-driven tracks like “Moonlight”. My version of “Changes” is “Maybe I’m Just a Little Bit Broken” and my version of “Moonlight” is “Fonda On The Rood”. But unlike XXXTENTACION, I feel like I also inject a bit of new school pop information. What I listen to is a big mash – I’ll genuinely go from bumping The Kid Laroi, Travis Scott, Dominic Fike to then entering a different sonic soundscape and listening to Kacey Musgraves, James Blake, FKA Twigs even The 1975, and honestly, I think that’s normal. So what I create is a direct response to what I consume.
Before you signed with Columbia, you played a lot of pop-influenced acoustic guitar tracks. How and why did you make the transition to the world of R&B and hip-hop?
There were a couple of more acoustic tracks, as with the new stuff – it was literally me just being me. I’ve always listened to a lot of Kanye, Travis Scott, etc and as your confidence grows and you start spending more time in studios and with new producers, your sound just naturally starts to evolve.
How did flying out to the States help shape your sound, or inspire you creatively?
I think I just met more people with my taste and my vision – real fans of Juice WRLD, XXXTENTACION or the new Brockhampton stuff. They just knew, and it was second nature to them to help create it. I don’t mean they’d heard of the music – I mean the music, the culture, the movement. It meant something to them deep down. They all had seen the ‘where’s my lavender’ Dominic Fike interview and they all knew he wrote music in his prison cell, and it was all in the key of C Major cause that’s the note his sink rang out when he hit it. But the States also made me really embrace my pop side. In the back of my head, I always feel pop isn’t cool. But it is cool, it’s part of me and being yourself is cool. In LA, I was in a session with Wes Period and the Vermin Gang, a bunch of up and coming really sick rappers, and I’m a better singer than a rapper and they were all gassed by these weird kinda pop melodies I was firing at them. LA really made me become myself and embrace myself.
Craziest memory from your time there?
I have so many amazing memories from LA – I felt so at home in studios there but, simultaneously, not so at home at parties. I had a day off from recording so we said fuck it – lets go hiking and see the city from high up. The plan was to get up high and see the Hollywood sign, and get away from the chaos. Literally 15 seconds into the hike we walked past David Doberik and half of the 2020 Vlog squad. Where else would that happen?
Congratulations on your new track – “Maybe I’m Just a Little Bit Broken”. You really lay it all out on the table for this one – what inspired you to write the song and what do you hope people will take away from it?
We’re all fallible and a bit fucked up in one way or another and that’s okay… Maybe I’m just a little bit broken. To summarise it, it’s about a failed and broken down relationships – romantic and platonic. Full-on toxic masculinity shit. I saw everyone else talk about their problems to each other and to me, but I physically couldn’t respond in the same way. Humans bond over our flaws. Now, I’m not trying to say the only way to bond is to be miserable and tell your partner how shit your life is, but when you’re offered a shoulder to cry on you’re meant to take it, and I couldn’t, over and over again. I really struggled to open up about my fears and my flaws. I wanted to be perfect and seem successful, cause that’s what men ‘should do’. The track to me is saying, sorry I can’t let you into my brain, but I’m trying really fucking hard. But I’m getting there now. That’s what the track’s about – We are all broken in one way or another and that is normal. Let’s just acknowledge it, learn and move on whether we act on it.
What’s your favourite lyric and why?
My favourite line in the song is probably the “I can’t cry I mean my tears take time” Just because it’s my truth. I decompartmentalise most of my issues and insecurities just so I can get on with life and go about my day-to-day, which results in me not crying much because I’m storing all my problems up. But it hits a point where it can’t be stored anymore, and that’s when it comes out for me big time. I’m still learning to manage my mental health but that’s my truth that people have related to. I like being specific with my lyrics, because that makes it more authentic. I want to tell my truth. And as a man, crying is such a weird topic. Toxic masculinity is slowly thinning out of culture and Gen Z. I don’t think we have it as bad, but we’re kinda brought up as guys to keep that shit on lockdown. Crying isn’t a form of weakness and I’m learning that.
And the accompanying visuals are beautifully solitary and kind of spinny – talk me through the visual choices behind the video and tell me how it all came together.
All of the previous tracks have had a colour theme – Green for “Fonda”, gold for “The Edge”, etc. and I decided early on that I wanted “Maybe” to be blue. So that set the colour palette. In regards to the other stuff, in my mind I wanted to show some scale, so that was why we did the outdoor roof-top sequences. I think it was also a reaction to all the internal, tight cropped lockdown videos that had been circulating – suddenly we were allowed out – so I felt it was important to reference a little of that freedom. The rest came from the director – an amazing film-maker Darnel Depardine – he’d made a few short films that I really loved – Dear Male Ego Parts 1 & 2 – and I really wanted to work with him.
The song is taken from your debut EP – what does it symbolise/ what are its key themes as a body of work?
The EP symbolises the beauty and fragility of being yourself, and that its normal to have struggles, to have things you need to work on. Its okay to take a while to find yourself. The EP is really just diary entries of personal events that have shaped me over the past year.
What’s next for you? What are the big dreams for the future?
What’s next for me is a few more tracks, then hopefully an album. Most likely I’ll switch up the genre again and get some electric guitars out. I’m listening to a lot of Dominic Fike and Machine Gun Kelly right now and my first instrument was the drums, so I might but the trap high hats down for a couple of weeks and get back on the drum kit.