Moments before dancing to his recently released Reciprocate at his London gig, we chat all things Brexit, trans fans and struggling to fit in as a Zimbabwean child in London with our sound of 2017: Rationale.
Tinashe Fazakerley (aka Rationale) is the kind of person who is instantly recognisable. As he offers us a JD and Coke backstage ahead of the final night of his January UK tour, the way he speaks about support act Dominic McAllister prove that this pop-star, with a forever growing fanbase of every creed, is just a really, really nice chap.
Rationale is not only the most exciting sound being produced in the UK at the moment, but the perpetual sound of HISKIND HQ. He is, in every sense of the term, instantly likeable, both as a musician and person. The Warner wonder-boy has released a flurry of bops and ballads in the run-up to his debut album coming out later this year and now takes a break away from the studio to perform to adoring fans.
This is the 5th and last date of the tour, how has it been?
Oh, so much fun! We’ve found a really great place with my music now where we can create a song in the studio and make it sound great on stage. It’s been a really fun tour, it’s been so, so good.
You have such an incredible production value to your music. Do you find it hard to translate that onto a stage?
Of course! The great thing about making music these days is that anyone can pick it up. There are lots of cool sounds and presets in different softwares which you can just go in and use, but then that doesn’t make you a great live performer. You can survive as a musician online but if you want to put food on the table, you need to play live, and if people can’t hear what they listen to live, they wont come back to listen to you more. The first few months I found it so hard to work. People didn’t know who I was or why I woke up each day to make this song or this song, but they now know and I’ve got a great bunch coming to listen to me.
What’s important to you as a musician?
It’s important for me to always be truthful and never sell myself out to something that I don’t believe in. I’ll never write music that doesn’t have a basis or is not going to be something people emotionally invest in. We’re oversaturated with artists at the moment – there are new people every single week, which is great, but it’s hard to keep a tab on. Signing the deal for Warner was a big deal for me because it meant I would never have to compromise what is important to me. I get to keep that artistic vision and integrity, that doesn’t always rack up the pound signs but people can see through that.
You’ve managed to find an impressively-sized fanbase through supporting Bastille…
I was sitting on like 3,000 followers and in the past couple of months it’s doubled – it’s crazy. It’s the exposure. Every artist just needs the chance to do what they do on stage. Someone like Dominic [McAllister], I chose him to support over other bands because he’s a great kid and will just get on stage, with an acoustic guitar and backing and it sounds great and that’s how he’ll pick up fans. I mean, come on, for me, I got to play the O2 Arena twice!
How was that?
I shat my pants! I had such a bad cold on the first day and I was substituting notes here and there to make it work, and it did. The second day, right at the end of the set, it was going so well and I stamped my foot down too hard and the microphone flew off the clip but I managed to style it out. It’s the experience of being on a stage that size that helps you. I watched Dan [from Bastille] do his stuff and learning how he worked the crowd was invaluable experience.
I continuously learn from him. I share a studio next door to him and every now and then he’ll pop over and ask me to do annoying vocals on a track. There’s a track called Fake It we did together. Rag’n’Bone Man is based near too and I’ve done stuff with him. It really works well. I’m so lucky to be in that position. All musicians want to do is continue making something new.
Obviously Bastille have worked up a huge LGBT fanbase. Have you seen that transcend onto you at all?
Do you know, not particularly. One of my friends said to me the other day, “the majority of the people who come to your gigs are white” and I was like, “oh yeah”, I didn’t realise that. I don’t walk around with these goggles on identifying certain types of people. But I think it’s important to know where your fans are from. So what I’ve started doing now is going outside after gigs to talk to people as much as I can.
“I did meet one chap yesterday who was 15 and going through their gender transition from female to male. They were shaking and telling me that my words have been so important to him and it just made me remember that I do matters, what we do as musicians matter. We help people through things that are hard for them and that’s touching, man, it really made me feel good.”
I’m all for acceptance. I come from Stoke Newington where I grew up surrounded by different people but when I go to different parts of the country I don’t necessarily see that and it really grinds me. I get so angry when I see friends and members of my band made to feel attacked or uncomfortable for their life choices or who they are. I think people should stand up for that if they’re in a position to.
You moved here from Zimbabwe when you were 8. How did you find making that transition in life?
It was hard. I came here super fresh off the boat with a thick African accent. I watched Eastenders for a couple of years just to sound different. I was super African, not like that’s a bad thing, but it didn’t go down well at school at the time. I wasn’t the popular kid. Even now, I don’t look like your typical pop star. I don’t think I’ll ever tick a box, so I just have to make it work for me. I mean, I’m 32 and look like I’m 16. That sort of stuff reminds me I’m a little different, but that’s good.
Do you find elements of Zimbabwean culture and your upbringing in the country influencing your music?
When I first started making music it definitely did. I’d make serious Afro-pop with the types of beats you’d find in Southern Africa but I’ve kind of dropped that now and explored the types of music I’d hear in my house growing up. My mum would listen to people like Joy Division and odd stuff like Meatloaf and that’s what I’m concentrating on, which is a bit odd to what you’d expect. Musicians should forage for new inspiring things and those influences are from growing up here in London, rather than Zimbabwe. I mean, I was super emo when I was growing up with the chemically induced dark straight hair. I used to walk around all “meh” listening to Bloc Party and Interpol.
Oh god, are we about to see a My Chemical Romance tribute album?
What do you want to see more of in 2017?
More acceptance, man. I think people should be allowed to make what they want and be successful for it. The great thing about music now is you put out your music and people like it, it’ll just get its streams and they have to give it a chance. Things like Spotify, although there’s the whole argument with pay, those platforms are what people use to discover new music and it gives the artist the power to chose, not labels. More of people like Ray BLK on the BBC Sound Poll who might not go off to do fantastically commercially but have them be championed. I enjoy diversity.
A little birdy told me that you were working on a song about Brexit?
Yes! It’s a song called The Great In Britain – it’s quite funny. I haven’t played that to the label yet. It’s a tough one and definitely strategic when it comes to releasing music. I want to write things that people can relate to. Fuel to the Fire has got loads about political unrest – songs like that really get people thinking and talking.
Do you think it’s important for artists to be political?
I think it’s important for me to see it happening and seeing people explore it. People shouldn’t be forced to do it. Love songs are also great and touch people’s lives too but it’s important to have people who are not afraid to do that because it starts the conversation. It might make people think.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Ah man, it’s so bad but myself while I perfect this album. The last person I was really into was Childish Gambino. His new work was crazy, he went from one thing to another and it was amazing.