Newly crowned by Annie Mac as Radio 1’s hottest record of the week, Rationale’s new single Something For Nothing shows the mainstream a booming soul voice rarely heard since the ‘60s.
Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake are fans already, after Pharrell played the Londoner’s previous single Fuel To The Fire on Beats 1 and declared “This person has found beauty in their voice.” Elton John promptly played Rationale on his own radio show within days.
As if his music wasn’t special enough, Rationale’s life story is remarkable too. Born in Zimbabwe, he came to England when he was nine and has lived in East London ever since. Real name Tinashe Fazarkeley, he was a songwriter before being persuaded by his friend Dan Smith – singer with Pompeii hitmakers Bastille – to become a singer.
“I didn’t speak a huge amount of English, so I sat myself in front of EastEnders for three weeks solid”
But it’s best to let Rationale explain his own rationale, as Loaded talked to him about learning English from EastEnders and how hard it is to swear in songs.
Loaded: How does it feel to have Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake among your fanclub already?
Rationale: It’s just ridiculous. I got a call from a producer at Beats 1 saying he was going to play my song on a show he was producing. I was “Great, thanks!” and then I dug deeper to discover he was producing Pharrell’s show. Pharrell is an all-time hero, dating back to his Neptunes days. I tried to mimic his beats when I was a teenager and I know every song of his inside out. To hear him talking about me on the radio was a massive, humbling 60 seconds. That led to Justin Timberlake saying “Great guy, I love this song.” If the people I love and aspire to be as good as like me, I must be onto the right thing.
L: You were born in Zimbabwe. What was it like coming to London when you were nine?
R: It was a culture shock. I didn’t speak a huge amount of English, so I sat myself in front of EastEnders for three weeks solid. I really liked old Arthur Fowler, maybe I speak like him! In Zimbabwe, everybody looked like me. There are people from other countries there, but you’d rarely socialise with them. Coming to London was such a great benefit, to see so many different types of people.
L: How has your view of Africa changed since you lived in London?
R: Well, the biggest culture shock when I first came to London was how quickly everyone speaks and how fast life happens here too. I went back to Zimbabwe four years ago and visited Malawi and Kenya on the trip. I ordered a sandwich in a bar in Malawi, which arrived two hours later. I felt so insulted, going “This is ridiculous!” My friend had to tell me: “Chill out, you know things take a long time here.”
L: How did you first get into music?
R: My mum always played music in the house, real musicians’ musicians like Pat Metheny and Donny Hathaway. We also had our African music, like Thomas Mapfumo, who Vampire Weekend sound a lot like. Aged 10, I sat in front of the record player, writing down the lyrics to try to copy the voices I was hearing. Then I became a massive Morrissey fan and pop with a message like Michael Jackson.
L: How are your Michael Jackson dance moves?
R: Not bad! I love how his old shows and Madonna concerts have multiple costume changes. I’m a real performer – a dancer as well as a singer – and I’m trying to incorporate that into my concerts. I want them to feel like an actual show, not risk people being bored by the fourth song, which happens to me at a lot of gigs I go to. I love how Michael Jackson and Madonna concerts had multiple costume changes. It’d be great if I could become as big as U2, so I could afford some sort of mechanical machine on stage like their massive claw. Crowd participation is important for me too. So, no machines on stage yet, but I’ll get there!
L: Why are you releasing music as Rationale, rather than your real name Tinashe Fazakerley?
R: I felt like my music doesn’t need a specific linear story like “This guy is called Tinashe, he’s from East London…” The word “rationale” has a fantastical feel, it’s from an odd world that you want to plug into.
L: Why choose the word “rationale” in particular?
R: I had a job in a charity call centre and the boss told us: “Today we’re going to be selling stuff, make sure you get an extra £1 out of people as it’s for charity. Give them an introduction and a hard sell then, once you’ve got their attention, give them the rationale.” That word stuck with me.
L: How good a seller were you at the call centre?
R: I quit two days later! I couldn’t deal with annoying people by phoning them up.
L: Is it true you wrote songs for other people before becoming Rationale?
R: Yes. I really enjoyed writing songs and wanted to get as many out there as possible. I worked with Sacha Skarbeck, who co-wrote Wrecking Ball for Miley Cyrus. I thought I was better off as a songwriter – it’s a more natural career than being a pop star, because you don’t get the hassle of record companies telling you what to do all the time.
“My songs always go through various stages of lunacy”
L: How did Bastille’s singer Dan Smith convince you to quit writing and become a singer?
R: Dan was another songwriter I knew. When I played him some demos of songs I was writing, he said: “You should do something with these yourself.” That gave me a real hunger.
L: Your songs seem very personal. Do you ever censor yourself and think “I can’t reveal that about myself”?
R: Never. I never say a specific name, but people I know will end up in a song one day! The only way I censor myself is that I’ve never sworn in a song. It’s never felt right, it always feels too easy.
L: Why do you produce your own music rather than get an outside producer in?
R: Pure stubbornness. I fell into production, essentially from being a control freak, especially when it comes to my voice. I can tell if my voice sounds strained. My songs always go through various stages of lunacy. It’s 12-hour days of tuning hi-hats and telling myself I sound awful before realising “Oh, that’s not so bad.”
Rationale’s single Something For Nothing is out on March 11. He plays Radio 1’s Future Festival on Tuesday and headlines London Village Underground on April 7.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn