Somewhere between growing and trying, there is a man not so frustrated by his gradual success into the world of alternative R&B, down-tempo production vibes. In fact, he’s doing it all with his own mastery of the air waves.
He’s letting you interpret his tracks the way you want, but to him, each one is a snapshot, an after image, of the feeling he is experiencing in that present situation. I had the chance to catch up with this up-and-coming singer/songwriter who is on the path of coloring his own career with his emotions and intertwined with the force of his music.
July 17, 2017. It’s a Monday night. I get out of my Uber and step onto the street that would lead me to the Bardot and to meet this talented individual, where he would be headlining the well-adored School Night music event. I finally get to meet him, wearing sweats, moccasins, and his black “Dream” T-shirt (very fitting for a man who dreams big). We enter the venue together laughing along to jokes we are cracking and take a seat on one of the levels of stadium chairs in the theater. The entire aura of the encounter is extremely casual, yet it also carries an air of sophisticated conversation and banter. We finally settle in and begin our discussion.
“I am R.LUM.R, I’m from Bradenton, Florida, but I call Nashville home now. I’m a songwriter, I play guitar, and I sing, so ya, I’m a big ol’ music fan, know what I’m sayin?” he jests at his final sentence.
Born as Reginald Lamar Williams, called Reggie, and known as the artist R.LUM.R (are-lum-are), the young man was raised by his mother alone in his small town of Florida. His voice is quick, light and airy as he explains to me the story of R.LUM.R’s genesis. The young man went to college with a scholarship to Florida State where he studied classical guitar and then commercial music. He would learn how to use such equipment as studio software and other technical music hardware which he then followed with a minor in business. After a bit of convincing from his manager, he dropped out to pursue his music 100%, moved to Orlando, and the rest is history.
“I think [the classes] helped give me a lot interest and patience with technology, because there’s a lot of cool things you can do. You’ll see with the set, like the vocal manipulations that I use, there’s a lot of programming and getting used to the devices in the backend that take a lot of time, but if you don’t have the patience or the vision for that stuff it can be overwhelming or just sound bad or just be out of your control. But I think it gave me a lot of insight of what I do and don’t want to do.”
His face becomes a more inquisitive look as you can hear the thoughtfulness in his tone. For a man who followed his passion, you can see the curiosity that he developed and groomed during his years of schooling to better his understanding of the field. He remains an enigma to his fans and to himself, but he’s just learning and being bold, and is hungry for more. This guitarist turned producer made me want to ask what influenced the diverse palette of neo-R&B and soul vibes that he writes and produces.
“First, I only grew up with my mother, so she only let us listen to the soul R&B and jazz that she was listening to. So around the house, there was a lot of Anita Baker, she loved Anita Baker, Sade, Erykah Badu, Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, two-steppin’-like older people kind of stuff which is still good. I got to middle school and was introduced to rock and music like that and kind of dove into that progressive stuff. Like Mars Volta and King Crimson were a big thing for me, loved Dream Theater, Rush, lots of core guitar, and I don’t know, it just sort of evolved. I think it’s kind of tough because there’s a lot of good music and there’s a lot of cool stuff you can pull from kind of everywhere.”
He pauses to think for a moment of what he’s exactly trying to tell me and then he continues, “There’s this cool John Legend quote, ‘cause there’s sort of this battle about music theory on whether or not you should learn music theory, some say music theory will quote ‘kill your creativity’, and for me, having studied it in school and everything, I’m not a music theory whiz, but it definitely helps and it gives you options and it helps you figure out what you do and do not like. Like John Legend was saying, the reason he found it important to learn that was because it helps me identify specifically why I don’t like things, so I can then exclude and figure out what I do like and then focus on that, so it becomes like a road map.”
He’s gesticulating here and there now try to relay the message he is offering to me, “So in all of these different things that I’ve been listening to, it has kind of helped me curate my own kind of sound and writing style and what not. In that same sense, you listen to enough stuff and you say ‘ooo that sounds awful, why do I dislike that?’ and you get to a point where you like what you like and you’re making whatever you’re making, and feel comfortable in that.”
If you were to hear R.LUM.R’s music, you would realize that there are hints and elements of a multitude of genres. You would hear the coarse rock, the eclectic alternative R&B, the dreamy and electric soul, and the rhythmic Hip hop. They all come together in this perfectly blended concoction of sound that goes down the throat softly but kicks at the end to give that final factor to create an addictive flavor in your mouth, making you beg for more. His music is exotic and riveting yet so familiar to the mind and heart that it makes it almost difficult to define what genre it fits within.
“That’s a hard question, I hate answering it. I still think of it as singer-songwriter music to be honest, because I go through that same process, either it’s just me and the guitar or one friend and me, but other people have told me it’s R&B and alternative and what not and so we call it alternative R&B”.
The composer of rhythms and designer of beats looks around the dim theater. The room is getting darker as it becomes night. He looks up and then looks back at me, takes a swig from the water bottle in his hand, and prepares himself for my next question.
So, what aspect of music, as a singer/songwriter, do you then find maybe the most important element of producing a good song?
“Having something to say. A teacher in high school once told me, like a performance note thing, shout out to my old piano teacher, he was like, ‘if you’re on stage and you’re thinking about the story and why you’re singing the thing you’re singing, then the story is going to translate or at least that’s you trying to do your absolute best to be honest with the story. Whenever I’m singing, for instance, in “Frustrated”, there’s that line ‘I’m screaming underwater” and for me that’s very visual. I see the same image every time I sing that if I’m like thinking about that. Sometimes, I’m like someone did something in the crowd and it distracts you for a second, but whenever I’m like ok to get back to that performance center those images you keep attached to those lyrics, for me at least, my personal interaction with the song, that kind of stuff keeps me going… I think lyric is pretty important.”
With all of these influences, it can become overwhelming where he has to place his best sound, but by re-centering himself and really redefining where his music transcends to, he is able to determine what he tries to get across to his devoted listeners. As a talented producer, the artist has been able to fabricate incredible instrumentals for himself that stick in the mind and enrapture your body. The music is like hypnotic, motivational, sexy, sad electronic soul music, to be honest.
If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
“Yo there’s too many. This is hard. Dead or alive? Sorry. I got two alive, big Kimbre fan. Big, huge fan. And Sampha I think writes beautiful and delicate work.” He snow searching in his mind for someone dead that he would love to collaborate with, but struggles to do so. “I mean I feel like a bunch of guitar players, but I feel like if I were to say Jimi Hendrix or something like that I feel like I would just sit there and watch him play guitar and be like ‘do your thing I’m just a scrub’!”
He throws his hands in the air for emphasis of the magnitude of his guitarist idol, Hendrix, just to prove the point that he is nowhere close to his legendary name. However, what he feels he lacks, R.LUM.R certainly makes up for with the incredibly catchy, fresh new sounds that he constructs which anyone would be happy to listen to. Smooth and profound in every strum and every tone, the falsettos become the waves as the rest of the song are the vibes. His songs are power ballads that send chills up your spine and electricity through your veins, consuming your will, moving your hips, and calming your mind.
R.LUM.R has had some incredible opportunities on this endeavor of music. He played at SXSW, was noted and recognized by NPR and Rolling Stone and VEVO Dscvr Artist, and will be playing at the Austin City Limits festival this fall! His single “Frustrated” has received over 20 million streams on Spotify, and that is well deserved! So many achievements in such little time, that it only seems reasonable to see that this artist is on his way to innumerable successes.
Now, I could hear “Frustrated” circling around my head, literally exposing our inner confusions with ourselves and this music industry. We then dive into a conversation of values and desires that R.LUM.R has perhaps obtained from his experiences on this music journey.
“I think I’m really trying to spend some intentional time learning about empathy.” His voice becomes more solemn, somber, and self-reflective. “And thinking about other people’s experiences and something like that. Because this whole experience has been….. Wild.” His eyes grow larger to the word as he elongates the “i” in wild. “Like people pulling up Rolling Stone articles, my hospital tweeted about me, and we’re doing Kimmel soon, and I grew up watching that stuff like I used to watch Conan O’Brien every night, like for real. And discovering new bands and being on the flip side of that is really interesting because I have those bands and musicians that for me their songs really meant a lot for me and I have these connections with these people like deeply and really personally but I will never get to tell them. Like I will never get to tell Cedric from Mars Volta what those songs mean to me and it’s interesting to be the same person that feels that but to be on the other side of it. Like I met a young man in Phoenix, Arizona who said he was in the army in Africa and he said that “Frustrated” was the only thing, like the beat in “Frustrated”, was the only thing that kept him focused from losing his mind, like from being on his stomach in the jungle.”
He chuckles for a moment and then pulls back with comic exasperation, “He says ‘I don’t wanna talk about what we were doing there’, but I’m like ‘I’m not asking, you do you’, his tone changes as he speaks the voices of a past moment and then returns to us again sitting here, “but just having people come up to you and tell these stories and share that, to be the recipient of that, is like a very weird being of both sides of that, being that fan, but also being that thing that is the subject of that fandom, and I think that’s a responsibility in a sense, but I think you have to really try to understand where the other person is coming from, that’s just one instance that lets me understand and prioritize that empathy is pretty important. And also being a brown person in America is pretty not fun right now for like, oh, 40 years. Ha! But just on a topical level, I think empathy is super important.”
If you had one word to describe yourself by, what would be that one word?
Searching in his mind, I see a hint of recognition as to what that word might be, “Uhhh, ‘growing.’ The first word that popped in my mind was trying. I’m not sure if that’s more like honesty. My head said ‘trying’ but my mouth said ‘growing’, so somewhere in between those two.”
In the theme of growing, I wanted to follow up this character’s last answer with a question of challenge, where there has been most difficulty as an emerging artist and as someone with a lot to say via his music.
“Perspective, I think, particularly during some of the shows, like three days ago we played in Sacramento and we played for an audience of like 6,500 people and these people were like they think you’re like this thing. Again I remember like being on the other side, I went to Bonnaroo last year and we saw Haim, I was a wrap, I was a school girl”, he starts singing in falsetto to “If I Can Change Your Mind”, and then continues to say in fast-paced excitement, reminiscing on that day, “it was a wrap, but then again being on the other side of that was wild, but the next day we played for like 40 people. So just like scaling and perspective and shifting and really trying to be able to serve that audience, you really got to play a different way for them. I think that’s just one aspect of the perspective thing. Like you get in big articles and people from home thing you’re like a massive celebrity but in my day-to-day life, I’m sitting in front of my computer all day, but yeah perspective has been different…”
For this creation of your project AFTERIMAGE, what was the inspiration behind a lot of it, like the message you were talking about earlier, what is the message?
“It’s still that empathy, it’s still trying to understand yourself and trying to understand yourself in context of other people.”
Like a self reflection?
“Sort of, and that’s a good read definitely, and if that’s what it means to you, then that’s totally valid. But I see it as every album, every body of work in that way, is a portrait is a snapshot of whoever you are at that time. And each of these songs were written a certain amount of time ago, so they were definitely after images of who I am as a person going through this process, that’s why each piece of it is the color of the CMYK series. CMY, when you put them together, they become black, that’s why the front [of the EP] is black. Because these are all things that make up me, this black person. These are all pieces that make me, so I think it was just me trying to talk through these pieces and try not to shy away from the anger in “Suddenly”, or the *ha ha* frustration in “Frustrated”, or that kinda confusion in “Love Less” when you think you’re saving the other person but you’re not.”
The artist will be preparing himself for his great headlining tour on June 23rd, which he could not be more happy to say. With a glowing smile on his face, the shine from the corner of his glasses only seems to get brighter. I ask what he does pre-show in terms of rituals or traditions in preparation of performing and getting in the zone.
“I like to hang, I just like to hang out and kick it and just be chill. I try to watch the other bands. Again, I just like going to shows and I like music and stuff and like there’s nothing that inspires me more than watching people play music. Recently, I’ve had to definitely be quiet. And be still for a bit, because there is a lot of motion and again talking about perspective there’s not better way to contain and refocus, then to just slow down for a bit and be like ok what is happening to me inside of me around me, and a good way to do that and has been healthy for me is that I found this like steam inhaler and like it’s really good for vocal health and relaxing. It’s like a sauna for your throat, beautiful, it’s like a hot shower thing, but just for your throat and it takes like 20 minutes, so it’s like you have to sit stationary at the thing for like 20 mins. So that’s become a part of the ritual that has been a god sent.”
In the spirit of performance, I wanted to get the point of view of an emerging artist and their endeavors at bigger festivals.
You performed at SXSW, correct?
How was that experience?
“It was wild, because it was a crazy come up. Because the first two years, me and Chris [my manager] were volunteering because nobody gave a shit about my shit at that point and the next year I came back as a performer which was last year and just did one show and this year I did 10 shows, 9 of my own and 1 feature with Sweater Beats. So it was wild, you know what it’s like, bang bang bang boom boom boom.” He gestures everywhere to emphasize the chaotic fiasco that is the festival. “It was one of those things where I just said it, I’ve rehearsed, I know these songs, I feel good, I’m taking care of my health, let’s just do it, just put your head down and just do it.”
Was there anyone cool there that you met there that kind of shook your world?
“Uh ya, in the beginning of it, we did a songwriting camp and this was the first time I had ever done that and the dude who produced Zara Larsson’s “Never Forget You”, I’m a big Zara Larsson fan, and like I sat and talked to him and it was awesome. It was really cool, really relaxed, and also I saw Kučka, the young woman from Australia who was on “Smoke and Retribution” on the Flume record.” He starts singing the chorus in the high pitched octave and in the perfect wavery flare that the song goes like then continues, “that girl, she was there she was around and I was like ‘yoo, this is tight as fuck’. It’s just cool to be rubbing shoulders with those people, to be asked to be in those rooms is cool.”
What do you want fans to know that they don’t know about you right now?
“That’s interesting; I don’t think I really think about that. I don’t have a problem answering just about any question, but you have to ask the questions I think, I can’t implant them in people. There’s probably things I want to talk about but I think I do that in writing and in music, right now I don’t think there’s anything that I feel really frustrated about *haha- hayoooo, score 1 for dad*, but I don’t think there’s anything that I feel hyper-frustrated about that I’m like ‘YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS ABOUT ME ehhhh’. Nothing like that really keeps me up at night. I think I’m just trying to learn who they are and they’re trying to learn who I am.” (He’s too funny.)
With this allusion to self-identification through the eyes of his fans and through his own understandings of himself, R.LUM.R exposed to me the fact that everything is left out there for his fans. Nothing is hidden nor unseen, and there’s nothing to hide from his fans. For example, each song is an aspect of him, and so every lyric is written as a poetic justice to his existence and emotions. When asking what his identity lyric would be among all of the words he has written, he replied,
“I’m having trouble pulling one because I feel like they’re all different facets of yourself, “Learn” is playing in my head right now, “Tell Me” is playing in my head right now. The first actual lyric that came to my mind was “somehow every wall inside this place, finds a way to look just like your face” from “Tell Me”, but I don’t know. I guess that’s kind of hard, “Frustrated” took a couple months actually to get to where I was pretty happy with it. “Learn” took two sessions, but like “Tell Me” literally was like I took a walk that night and wrote all those lyrics and went and recorded them next day. So sometimes, it’s like that it’s a total two hour snapshot of where I was like “Tell Me” and then “Frustrated” was this long gestation period. So, I don’t know, I’m sorry”. His voice was light, slow, and relaxed, as if he had no care in the world, that nothing would phase him, and as if he was not just about to be performing in front of a large crowd.
I wanted to turn the conversation to a topic less traveled by to get his mindset on an idea that I would be using for a final project, but would also pertain to him. It is about the genre of production music and how it is an ever-evolving “anti-genre” that only today became so commonly known, like artist including KAYTRANADA, Cashmere Cat, Mura Masa, Lido, and more. I asked how he perceived that type of music, as a producer himself, and where it stands in the grand scheme of the music scene today.
“I think it’s thriving, I think it’s always been thriving. Like if you go back to the beginning of hip hop it wasn’t about the rappers, it was about this. It was about the people who were cutting the tracks together, and once they figured out you could cross fade and all that shit, like DJ Kool Herc and all those cats, figuring out that you could like ‘oh shit, we could get these like break dancers poppin’ … it’s a DJ [who does that], not a rapper. It is interesting that those guys were the stars for like a minute. I haven’t done my history deep enough to know when that switched, but it probably was around like when NWA, Ice Cube, and all these things were like causing this crazy ruckus and all that stuff so you got to focus on the person.”
“But I guess when I’m thinking about the producers, I’m thinking strictly of hip hop to make this conversation more succinct, because if you get into people like George Michael, the Beatles, in terms of producers that’s a whole different thing, like they write the songs are in the band, blah blah blah, but to give you an answer that isn’t a term paper, this is like a dissertation… I think the producer world is really thriving and it’s really tight because there are people, like those guys you named that have put out their own albums, and there is room, and there is a bit of a democratic acceptance of music through like SoundCloud and Spotify and all that stuff. Bro, Odd Future, that was the big one for me, they changed it, and they gave these kids this bravery to just be yourself to do your own thing. Without them Frank, Domo, Tyler, Earl, (Earl is my favorite rapper personally), without them you have no Kevin Abstract, you’d have no Daniel Caesar, I probably wouldn’t be the same person I was if I wasn’t indebted to them. That recognition that they can do it themselves and they encourage you to just do your thing. Create your wave, like you were saying, it [the production genre] is very adaptable.”
“Create your wave don’t ride the wave. It seems like it’s new because it’s so much in you’re face because everything is delocalized, decentralized because of the internet, but I think it’s been around for a long time, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And especially with the internet the way it is, I think the one thing we are seeing a lot more is homogeny, you’re hearing a lot of dudes from Toronto using trap songs from Atlanta. That west coast lead was like a thing, like first coming out of that was snoop Dogg and those guys, that Long Beach sound was just them, and then Nas and all those guys were other coasts and they had their own boom bop thing going on and nobody was crossing. But now you got cats like Lido, who’s basically playing Chicago church chords and he’s like Norwegian or something, he’s Nordic and he kills it, he’s amazing.”
With so many ideas, thoughts, opinions, creations, ambitions, wins, and adventures, R.LUM.R still has many goals on the horizon.
“Definitely want to do more touring, meet more people, meet more family members, but writing the record, writing something I think is really really honest and like I really want to stand by, touring more for sure, I don’t know growing. Hoping that they’re down for the new weird shit that is going to come, ‘cause it’s gonna be different, so different I don’t even know what it is yet. Haha.”
The sonic curator has a lot to look forward to including his debut EP, AFTERIMAGE, which is releasing on August 11th through PRMD, his tour which just kicked off on June 23rd in Utah, and his performance on Jimmy Kimmel on August 2nd!
After our conversation, he gets up, tells me thank you and appreciates the time we have had, and heads outside into the darkness to welcome his friends who have come to watch and support him. I follow him out and into the venue where I will be watching the performances for the night.
Of course he goes later…11 pm, for an event that started at 6:30 PM, but that didn’t ward people away from the long night. In fact, what amazed me was that over the course of the event, I never even noticed how the room slowly became more densely packed in and then the next moment I knew, I wasn’t even able to move for a better camera angle, shoulder to shoulder with the crowd of RLUMRers, eager to here is acoustics.
Barefoot whilst performing, you see the smiles on R.LUM.R ‘s face as he notices fans in the crowd singing along to his music, getting down and dancing their hearts out, and wearing his merch proudly. He hits each note precisely on beat and perfectly on the pitch, and as his voice riffs down perpetual chords and cycles of words and poetry, the crowd gains a new perspective of sonic creation while also growing that night along side R.LUM.R. The fans recognize each one: “Frustrated”, “Tell Me”, “Be Honest”, “Suddenly”, his recent release “Close Enough”. Every single record is stunning in it’s own way. As I took my last snapshot of the night, I was able to capture this particular after image of him, one that would perfectly summarize the emotions of this night. Happiness. Growth. & Empathy.
This cover story was a project I really wanted to devote time and effort to, to an artist, a person, whose music inspires and serenades me on so many levels, and someone I can see gaining so much more attention and love in the coming years.
Thank you, Reggie, for your time, and hope to see you again soon!
Be sure to stay tuned with him on social media and listen to his music!