A GUIDE TO AUDIO AIRBENDING WITH RAURY
Raury is a true avatar of artistry – an Airbender extraordinaire with a flare for merging humble harmonics with hauntingly elegant melodies to create his own brand of folk/funk fusion. The young phenom is a resident of Atlanta, but you’re more likely to find him along the path less trodden, playing beneath the forest canopy somewhere between Georgia and New Hampshire armed with his acoustic guitar, his jeep and his husky. Raury and his fellow “wizards of the woods”, i.e. the wayfarers and wanderers that joined his jam sessions along the way, have begun a collective movement that seeks to break away from the trap-centric understanding of musicality in Atlanta.
Crucially, Raury has something to say and uses every tool, tempo and technique in his arsenal to hone into a sound or “orb of colour” as he describes it, allowing him to flow between the heavier more grounded sounds of his “earthbending style” and the funkier free sounds of his ‘waterbending style” to deliver his message. Ultimately, Raury has evolved with every passing project since he first captured the world’s attention with ‘God’s Whisper’, developing a community content within the cosy confines of the Appalachian folk sound he has spearheaded, all whilst stockpiling music like a doomsday prepper for the next audio adventure.
Now, after five years, Raury has returned with a tantalisingly trippy project titled Strawberry Moon. This time we wander with Raury as he purges and sheds the surroundings and sound of his last album, setting sail for new land with new inspirations at its core. We sat down with Raury on the eve of its release to learn a little about the album’s evolution, breaking down the beats, bars and basslines that form the bedrock of what is sure to be a seminal album in his career.
Your latest album Strawberry Moon is finally out in the world, how do you feel? It seems like you’re headed into a more funk and soulful world this time round rather than the folk one you explored on Fervent. How did this one come together?
I feel grateful man! This is my first properly organised release since 2017 having just released my last two projects on Tune Core but now here comes Strawberry Moon and I feel like all this stuff is really about to explode. For a while, I’ve been knuckle and bone in my pursuit of creating, living and working with whatever is in front of my face. It’s funny because before the pandemic I was initially working on another album and I planned to go to LA and lock in with Jack Knife who produced Devil’s Whisper, then covid happened and I was grounded here in Atlanta.
I didn’t want to push anything back so I decided to still make something dope with the tools around me and dedicate it to Atlanta – using all the herbs and spices of my front yard to brew something beautiful. With most projects I like to work with more experienced producers, I already had a few tracks in the tuck hidden away, I just hadn’t written any lyrics to anything yet. I had a son on the way which I only found out about as the pandemic was starting! So I locked away intending to make something dank and got creative. That’s actually why the title is Strawberry Moon, besides the fact it sounds awesome, because the Strawberry Moon is a type of moon that occurs in June a couple of days after my birthday and often people burn the paper with statements on them of things they wish to let go of. I feel like that’s what this album is to me. Letting go of things to move forward in my life as a more complete and lighter person.
‘Feel Good’ is a coffee on a lazy Sunday morning kinda track, and I get the sense that the whole album is gonna have a feel-good kinda vibe. What did you draw on for inspiration for the silky smooth, warming soundscape we’ve heard on ‘2020 Vision ‘and ‘Feel Good’? Are you picking from a different shelf of music you had in the house growing up or is this a new sound for you to be exploring altogether?
I view myself as kind of a musical avatar/last Airbender. I see it like right now I’m learning to bend air whereas a track like God’s Whisper is more like I’m earthbending. This whole album has definitely been in me before, tracks like ‘Amore’ or ‘Cigarette Sound’ from past albums have similar elements in it, so you can kind of see the development of this sound in past singles. As I’ve been maturing as an artist I’ve been figuring out how to zone in on sounds, putting each sound out as an album and giving it its time to shine.
All my albums will have diversity in their composition but they will be much more focused on specific elements and zones. I also tend to reflect on my environment while I’m writing. Where I was living during this tape was extremely floral, psychedelic and trippy so I saw the sound I wanted to make as this glowing red and burnt orange aura orb. I always think I’ve had these sounds in me but I see it almost like I’ve gone to the grocery store and only selected a certain set of spices rather than using the whole cabinet. With each album, I become a better marksman at hitting my target sound.
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You once said in an interview that you never really know what you’re going to make next, was that the case with Strawberry Moon? I was wondering how that reflects in your approach to writing. Are you continually writing and stitching together old ideas or are you more of a short spurts of creativity kind of person?
When it comes to saving music I’m like a doomsday prepper, I am stockpiling sounds and lyrics just in case haha. My brain feels like an electrical wire, a source flows through and whatever comes out at the moment is what comes out. To get 10 tracks that sound something like the direction I’m aiming for takes a ridiculously long time with lots of failed attempts in between. Those attempts will always get stored for another day if they don’t fit in the project of the moment. I don’t pretentiously try to box each attempt into a specific group, I just know if whatever is flowing through me is blue lighting, red lighting or green lighting, does that make sense?
‘Gods Whisper’ was an unbelievable track, the layered vocals and the deep drums are so artistically mature for a second single. Do you think that track launched you into the career you have now? Was it weird having such a big track under your belt so early into your career?
I believe so because I had released ‘Bloom’ on Soundcloud before but God’s Whisper was definitely my first proper single. I feel like that record really stamped me in that movement of artists that are here to talk about something and not just entertain. That track and the video opened a lot of doors for me at the beginning of my career and it still gets crazy numbers today. It’s that earthbending man haha! I didn’t see it coming because frankly a lot of the team didn’t see much in the track at the time, so when it got placed in a movie and the music video came out it blew up. I’m based in Atlanta where the sound is dominated by trap so I had no idea how people would react to the music I was making, I believed to my core that I’m one of the greatest artists to set foot on soil and believed I could convince others that too once they had heard my music. I hope to continue to live up to that but that track certainly started a lot of this for me.
Fervent was such an incredible album, it was like the soundtrack of old English fairy tales. The opening interlude with that crazy church choir on ‘Malus Domesticus’ and the watery reverb guitar on ‘Hickory’ was such a beautiful homage to real folk. When you look back on that album a few years on, what is it you remember most about recording it? How much fun has it been to play it live?
It’s crazy man because I feel like so many people don’t even know about Fervent! I might re-record it. That album was a perfect reflection of where I was in my career at the time. I had just travelled through the woods from Atlanta all the way up to New Hampshire over three months. I was travelling in my jeep with my husky loaded up with a speaker and an acoustic guitar. I’d send out a tweet saying I’d be in a certain part of the forest and people would just turn up to come jam with me and make music. I felt like I was on a real-life Elden Ring quest! Afterwards, I stayed on a farm for a while when I got back to Georgia and winter came. I was living in a 10×10 shed with a tiny kitchenette in it and no toilet, just me, my guitar and my husky. Like always I used what was in front of me which was just my brain, my acoustic guitar, a banjo and bass. I engineered that whole tape myself which was always a massive goal for me, I needed to step away and grow as a creator by developing those skills independently. That time was very special and pure to me so I bottled up a lot of music during that time and stored it away for another day.
Lastly man, you have such an extensive catalogue of tracks, is it a nightmare putting together a setlist for a show? How do you approach it?
I definitely base it on where I am performing. If I’m doing an old red room-style club with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a rock n’ roll kind of vibe I’ll have a totally different setlist than if I’m at a festival. If it’s a stadium sort of vibe then I’m bringing out the heavy hitters to meet that anthemic setting. It is definitely a challenge. Even deciding what to wear can be a test haha.