Influence is a tricky concept. To ride the line between homage and imitation is an art-form in itself, but when an influence is celebrated with transparency, one that comes from a confidence in one’s own originality, it can engender art that is as innovative as it is reminiscent.
“Nobody Else” is the first single from Raquel Rodriguez’s anticipated sophomore album Sweet Side. The result of a serendipitous collaboration with a band member of one of Raquel’s most notable influences, Jamiroquai. After announcing as much from stage, band member and producer Nate Williams, who happened to be in attendance that night, contacted her to set up a session. They were able to make it happen that same week before she departed home to Los Angeles, and what came of it was a clear cut direction of where Rodriguez’s sound would land for the album. With nostalgic flourishes in the synth tones, drum samples, and bass tones of 80’s Prince with a marbleized production that pulls it into a modern realm, “Nobody Else” is so sonically seductive, it takes a careful ear to catch its premise of self-reliance.
A message of encouragement and discipline bespoke in slow-jam goodness? Yes, please. Read below the interview we did with Raquel and bask in the purity and enthusiasm of this talented singer.
The session for this song started from a gig you had in London… How did playing overseas compare to playing back home in LA? Do you sense a difference in audience reception or overall vibe?
To be honest, the vibe overseas and the vibe at a home town show in LA felt very similar. Which is actually way more of a surprise than I thought. Playing in LA is awesome because I have a great fan base and really dope fans. They dance and sing along and really just immerse themselves in the show. The same thing happened when we opened for PJ Morton the night that we met Nate. The reason it was a surprise is because those fans didn’t know me. They didn’t even know I would be there that night! But from the very start of the show, they were dancing and screaming and really enjoying the show. Both settings are definitely something I wish I could get back to, especially during quarantine!
Nate Williams produced this song after seeing you at that show… Were you at all intimidated going into the studio with a musician that was from a band that has been a strong influence? Or were you feeling like it was a sign, perhaps a vote of confidence that he was at the show to begin with?
We were definitely intimidated! Before we left on our Europe tour, Sam actually reached out to Matt Johnson (also from Jamiroquai) on a whim and basically just said “you’ll probably never see this email but just in case, we really wanna work with you, here’s our music.” Matt actually responded and said he loved the music and that he’s open to do a session toward the end of our London trip (this song will also be on the Sweet Side album!). So when we opened for PJ, I mentioned to the crowd that our last song of the night was inspired by one of our favorite bands, Jamiroquai. When Nate heard that, he immediately pulled out his phone and threw up a clip of us on his IG and tagged me. Once we got off stage, I was going through all my mentions and ran across Nate’s page. I saw that he posted about us and we immediately started chatting over IG. I mentioned to him that we have a session scheduled with his bandmate and would love to work with him as well, and he said yes! A week later we were in his studio and pumped out this song in a matter of hours. I don’t know if I would call it a sign, but I do know that working with someone like Nate really shows me how far I’ve come on this musical journey.
The 80’s and 90’s R&B sounds on this track are tasteful and so well executed. Was there one album of that era that always stuck out to you as the pinnacle of that style of production? That inspired you to incorporate that into your sound?
Thank you! I wish I could take the credit for sound choice, but that was all Nate and Sam. As far as one album of that era, I’m stumped. There are so many and we listened to a ton of reference tracks to get the sounds we were looking for. Anything from Badu and Chaka to Keith Sweat and Prince.
I love the lyric “You gotta learn to deal with the valleys, the hills will take care of themselves”. What are some of the ways you deal with the valleys? Especially in this uncertain time… I think plenty of people are yearning for new ways to cope.
Thank you, I love that lyric too. I actually just created a shirt with this lyric on it! One of the things that I do a lot is cry. I’m a huge crybaby. I’m very sensitive and I used to be ashamed of it, but now that I’m older, I recognize how important it is to cry and literally release negative energy from your body. I’m also fortunate enough to have a great support team that lifts me up when I’m down. A lot of people don’t have that though, which is why I’ve decided to give a portion of proceeds from my new merch line to the LA County Department of Mental Health. I think it’s really important for people to be heard and seen and to have opportunities to seek help or advice when they need it.
The sentiment of this song is that you and only you will be there for yourself. Couldn’t agree more but also, do you find a line where it is healthy to turn to others for help? If so, how do you find that balance?
Absolutely. This song isn’t necessarily about how you have to do everything for yourself, because that’s not realistic. We all need other people in order to succeed. I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of my incredible team that I ask for favors from all the time. I know that I can make a ton of excuses for myself when I’m deep in the valleys of my life. I blame other people for why things are not working out for me. I criticize other people. I start to compare. It’s just a downward spiral. The thing that always pulls me out is hard work. I don’t ask Sam, my parents, nobody. I just sit down and I do some work. Whether it’s emailing my fans, planning a new show, creating more artwork, filming a video, whatever it may be, I just make myself work. It reminds me that I’m smart, I’m capable and no one will ever care as much about my “business” than me.
There is also a strong sense of discipline in the message of “Nobody Else”. Oddly enough, a trait that is often unexpected, if not overlooked in musician/artist types. When was the turning point when you realized as a musician that you would have to hold yourself accountable in a real way if you wanted to make things happen?
I think after The 310, Pt. 2 came out, I realized that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted more fans to hear my music. I wanted to play bigger shows. I just wanted more. What I realized is that I was holding myself back by not holding myself accountable. There’s always going to be more that I can do. Even still, I’m probably not operating at a full 100%, but at least I know that I’m doing everything in my capacity, especially during quarantine, to get to those places that I want to be.
Has there been one song or album that has kept you going through this quarantine? And if you happened to be confined to a space with that artist, what would you ask them?
I recently rewatched the movie “Cadillac Records” and went down an Etta James path. I’ve always loved Etta and I haven’t visited or sung her repetoire in quite awhile. I love all the classics for sure, but some of her more recent albums are also really powerful. Go listen to the album “Love’s Been Rough on Me” (1997) if you want something to cry to. If I was quarantined with Etta, I would basically just ask her to sit down and have a gin and tonic with me <3
CONNECT WITH RAQUEL RODRIGUEZ
photos / courtesy of artist
story / Chris Hess