The video features the native Floridian in an azure room, surrounded by nothing but a microphone and an intimate orchestra. His buttery vocals seize the lyrics—which deal with taking another chance at love—in a heart-wrenching, yet captivated way.
ALTERIMAGE features alternate versions of the songs featured on his debut EP AFTERIMAGE, which was released in Summer 2017 to critical-acclaim. Since then, he’s performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and has drawn accolades from various outlets such as Rolling Stone, NPR and The New York Times.
A Nashville transplant, the classically-trained guitarist has been steadily racking up listens on streaming platforms for his intoxicatingly smooth tracks, such as “Tell Me,” “Bleed Into The Water,” and the hit track “Frustrated,” which has over 30 million listens. Due to his undeniable appeal, he was featured on “The Newness” playlist on Spotify, and was the streaming platform’s face of their “Alt R&B” playlist for six months.
There seems to be no stopping R.LUM.R, who just ended a short nationwide tour of his own. This spring, you can catch him at SXSW (March 9-18), Bonnaroo (June 7-10) and Hangout (May 18-20) festivals, and we’re sure more performance surprises will abound along the way.
VIBE caught up with the talented singer to discuss the greater meaning behind the visuals to “Learn,” as well as the nerve-wracking feelings behind recording a one-take, live musical project.
VIBE: You’re from Florida, and moved to Nashville. Nashville is the home of the country music scene. So, coming to Nashville, was it a little difficult, at first, to get ears to your type of music?
R.LUM.R: I mean, it was, but I think that was to be expected. I was there to try and do something different. Going to L.A. or Chicago or New York or Atlanta, there’s already, kind of, a lane built in. So, I wanted to go to Nashville for two reasons: one, [Nashville] houses the tradition of the lyric and the song, and I think that’s really important. Two, there is nobody there like me, so, what better of a place to go to try and really create your own lane?
That’s a smart way to get in the door.
Yeah, and actually get real responses from people.
How would you say the video for “Learn (altered)” stands out from the rest of the videos you made for this new EP?
“Learn” is the song that’s really, really tender, on the EP [AFTERIMAGE] and on this version. That was the song that kind of inspired this whole process, this whole ALTERIMAGE. That one is really special to me. I knew there was more I could do with it, I knew I could do it in more of an intimate, sensitive way, especially because people were asking for it on Facebook and Twitter and whatnot. ‘We’d love to hear these in a very stripped, personal-to-you kind of way. I thought about doing it with just me and a piano, and then I thought, ‘I can make this something rapturous.’ So, we started there and sort of built up.
Were the concepts or moods for each video meant to be cohesive, or are they generally distinct from one another?
Absolutely made to be cohesive. AFTERIMAGE was made in line with the CMYK color series, and each of those different colors. Once you combine them all in the CMYK series, add up C, M, and Y, you get K, which is black. I am a black individual. So all of these colors make up me and who we are, at least who I am. You’ll see that each of the songs on ALTERIMAGE are corresponding colors, a different version of those colors, from AFTERIMAGE. That’s why they’re altered, because everybody has sides and colors, but even within those. You can be neutral-positive, neutral-negative, those kind of things.
Very well-thought out. What do you think the viewers can gain from seeing the videos?
I think it’s the different sides of the music. One of my favorite things is…coming up in music, I used to do tons of covers in bars, that’s, like, how I got my start, really. One of my favorite things, like I said about the tradition of song, is to take a lyric and just do it a different way and turn it into something really different.
For instance, listening to Ray LaMontagne do [Gnarls Barkley’s] “Crazy,” with his painful, road-worn voice, really makes the content…he’s not changing the lyrics, he’s just changing the delivery. So, he’s trying something completely different. That’s just one example, I’ll mention that over and over and over. I think it was cool to just take my own material and be like, ‘how can I make you feel something different?’
I think the live instrumentation definitely gave a new feeling to the actual music. It was really cool.
I’m glad you felt that! [Laughs]
And, being that you’re a classically-trained guitarist, how important was the instrumentation to this particular project?
I can see where that connection would be immediately made, but I wouldn’t wanna seem like I think strings and things “classed it up” or something, like the music on its own wasn’t elegant in its own way. That’s part of my background and that’s where I come from, so it wasn’t a stretch to be like, ‘I can totally hear these melodies in a violin.’
The piano melodies weren’t a stretch for me to see them in a different way, so I don’t think it was, like, “I’m smart, I’m good at music.” I wasn’t trying to prove anything, you know? It was just a very cool and different way of doing this, which was in my realm of experience. I just thought it was cool! And plus, the fans were asking for it. The fans were asking for it, I can do it, let’s do it.
And it worked. So, the album was recorded live in one take. Did that add any extra pressure to you and the other musicians involved?
Pressure, but more excitement. It’s the same sort of excitement… it’s right in between the excitement of recording and just doing it for a live show. I think live is where most of my experience is, so that’s where I tend to shine if I have to choose anywhere. It sat right in the middle of that- I could control the environment, and give everything a theme and give everybody direction and whatnot. But, it was also like ‘okay, we gotta nail this.’ It’s cool! It’s the reason I really love this stuff.
In terms of the response to the initial studio EP, how did it feel to have such favorable feedback?
[Laughs] It’s awesome! I mean, from all the way back to VIBE‘s showcase back at South By to now, things are very different. I don’t know, it’s really cool that these are thoughts that are often privately held, and held for a long time because you don’t think people are gonna give a sh*t, or people aren’t gonna relate to them, or maybe they’re invalid or something.
You’re told your whole life that when you look like me, that what you say doesn’t matter. Just to go across the country and sell out shows in places I’ve never been to, a year ago, that would be like, ‘okay, quit it, because that’s not true.’ But it’s true, and it’s real. I think I’m a person who will definitely be quick to deny or self-deprecate, but I mean, when you see numbers, you can’t argue with those. When you see physical people in a room singing the lyrics back to you, you can’t deny that. That experience becomes bigger than you.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but your last night of your tour is tonight (Feb. 22)?
And then you’re also performing at Bonnaroo, and Hangout Fest and South By?
Yes! We are out here!
So what’s your favorite thing about being able to do what you do?
Oh man, you’re asking me to pick one good piece of candy in the whole candy store! [Laughs] I just think it’s cool, like, I know when I would go to shows when I was young, it meant a lot to me and also kind of felt otherworldly to see the music, and especially the vocals, come out of a person, and come out of a person you’ve seen on television and YouTube.
I remember the first time I went to a Bright Eyes concert—my first concert ever was Coheed & Cambria and Russian Circles in St. Petersburg [Florida] at Jannus Landing. Just seeing the words come out of Claudio [Sanchez of Coheed & Cambria]’s mouth, and they’re playing the guitar, it’s just like ‘I’ve listened to this music so much for so long…’ and it feels so familiar to me, it’s just this wild, hard to describe feeling. You see them rip the solo and you hear them actually ‘do the thing,’ you know what I mean? [Laughs] The thing you spend so much time with that seems so personal to you, and all these people here are enjoying it with you. It’s cool.
That’s been a very cherished experience for me, going to shows and stuff, especially because you know, we were thinking I would never do that stuff and never go to these shows. But now, I’m on the stage, and now we’re creating moments for people who might very well feel the same way I did.