Raleigh Ritchie on 'You're a Man Now, Boy,' David Bowie & Gene Kelly Moments
"Game of Thrones" actor Jacob Anderson releases his debut album this week.
Raleigh Ritchie can feel a Gene Kelly moment coming on. If you know him as Grey Worm on the HBO smash series Game of Thrones, actor Jacob Anderson has a George R.R. Martin-level plot twist: His debut album drops Friday under his Ritchie stage name.
You’re a Man Now, Boy is a testament to Raleigh Ritchie’s equal parts playful and aggressive sound and the personality it stems from. Just as the onset of adulthood cannot be defined by one moment, Ritchie’s anthemic vocals and determined delivery evade the genre box. Billboard spoke to this Next Big Sound chart-topper about the Kanye West album that keeps him inspired, David Bowie and constantly evolving as opposed to growing up.
Why “Raleigh Ritchie”? Does that stem from Lionel Richie?
Unfortunately, it didn’t have anything to do with Lionel Richie. I do love Lionel Richie! I’ve actually got Lionel Richie’s face on the back of my front door. It’s like a mask. Not his actual face. That would be very strange. [Laughs] It’s actually from the film The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s Bill Murray’s character and Luke Wilson’s character, and I kind of just put them together to make one name.
With such a nice acting resume, when did you decide you wanted to pursue music at a serious level?
I started learning how to produce when I was about 11. I’ve been writing music since I was about 13, 14. I kind of started to listen to music in a different way then. I started to discover things. I used to basically write notes from my day or how I was feeling. I’d write them on my exercise books at school. And I started to notice all these artists I really responded to. They had a very confessional nature to how they wrote a song and so it made me think maybe I could try it. Why not? Why not just try and write some songs? It seemed like a good outlet. And it turned out that it was. It was the best outlet for me to get things off my chest, out of my head. I started writing songs, not really intending to sing them myself. I wanted to encourage other people to sing them because I didn’t have the confidence to sing things myself. It just never really felt right. I felt like nobody ever sang it with the same meaning that I envisioned for what I’d written. So yeah, I just kind of taught myself how to sing by listening to my favorite singers.
Who are some of those?
Well, my favorite singer is Donny Hathaway. He just has that ability to let you know how he’s feeling with his voice in a really powerful, clear way. He’d write a song, and you’d hear his heart in that music. I’ve been writing songs since then. I really use it as an outlet for my head.
When did that start spiraling into this first album?
I started putting the album together properly about two years ago. But the oldest song on the album, “Never Better,” is about four years old. I’ve written hundreds of songs, and I was still writing new stuff when I was putting the album together. It was just a matter of deciding how to construct it as something that made sense of how I was feeling.
How do you come up with the concepts for your music videos? They’re compelling but also a bit playful.
My personality and the way that I think comes across in my songs sometimes -- I can be very dark, and I can be quite contemplative. But I’m also quite silly and childish. My philosophy on video is that they are just as important as the drums in a song or the keys in a song. It’s an extension of the music. I’ve never understood why you can have a great song and then the video kind of seems lazy. And I’m a big fan of movies. I kind of wanted to merge that into music. I wanted the visual side of my music to be representative of the audio side of it. I’d say I pitch at least one video idea for every song that I’ve released. I end up speaking to directors that I like or people that have got really good ideas or made things that I liked before. And then we just sort of bounce ideas off each other. And sometimes a director will come in with an idea and I’ll be like “I really like the basis of that idea. But maybe we could do this instead of that.” And then it kind of carries on like that until we find something that feels right for the song. Even when they’re dark, I like there to be a bit of a sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously. [Laughs]
Did you enjoy making a particular music video?
“Never Better” was a lot of fun. I got to go to Atlanta. I’d never been to that side of America before, so that was really cool. The “Stronger Than Ever” video was a lot of fun cause I got to fly on wires and stuff. I think we used the wires that they used on one of the Superman movies! It was cool. It really hurts your ribs. They don’t tell you that. [Laughs]
What genre would you use to classify your music?
I find myself quite hard to categorize. I’m a hybrid of all of the music that I love. I like to take a little bit of something from everything, and make it my own. I don’t want anybody to be able to pin me down. I want to set a precedent with people that they don’t know what to expect from me. I could never just settle on one thing. I quite like to mix different things in. But I think that’s kind of the way music goes now anyway. I think that’s the way people listen to music now.
Why do you think that is?
Because of the Internet, there’s so much access to everything. We’re not told as much what we can or can’t listen to or should or shouldn’t listen to. We kind of find things ourselves and discover things we didn’t know that we would love. I really like that. I think it’s really cool. I have people come to my show sometimes, and they’re wearing like Megadeth t-shirts. There’s this one guy who came to both of my Scotland shows, and he’s a really nice guy, he’s really cool. He came on his own. He’s got a massive beard, and he’s clearly a metal fan. But he came to my show and he really enjoyed it and he listens to my music! That’s awesome! I love that. And it’s really cool to look out and see such a diverse group of people -- lots of different ages and music tastes. It’s great. I like to thrash about onstage as well. [Laughs] I’m very energetic onstage.
What do you listen to for inspiration?
Kanye West’s The College Dropout. For me, it was such a revelation and stood the test of time. I remember buying that album on CD when it came out and just thinking it was the most amazing thing. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. No two songs are alike.
Why You’re A Man Now, Boy?
I like how sort of passive aggressive it sounded. I like the fact that it was an oxymoron to call someone a man and then undercut it with “boy.” It felt very true to how I felt. How I feel. I still feel like that. I think it’s about people expecting you to be an adult and people expecting you to be grown-up and not quite understanding what that means. I think that’s how quite a lot of people feel. It’s hard to navigate this world when there’s all these things we’re supposed to be by a certain age and things that we’re supposed to do by a certain age when actually, we all kind of still feel like kids. We’re the same people now that we were when we were 15.
In “Keep It Simple,” you say you feel a Gene Kelly moment coming on. When is the last time you felt a Gene Kelly moment coming on?
Oh, I have them all the time. [Laughs] I had a Gene Kelly moment today. Just this morning! I got out of the shower, and I was listening to some music and I spun around in my towel. I have those moments daily. I think it’s important to have those Gene Kelly moments where just for a split second you’re out of reality, and you can just spin around or something.
What were you listening to this morning?
[Laughs] It’s not embarrassing, but it’s just a weird one to spin around to. Do you know LL Cool J’s “Luv U Better”? I just love that song. I listen to that song more than I care to admit. It was making me happy, so I just spun around.
Tell me about “Cowards.”
“Cowards” is a song about the way that people navigate each other when they first meet, like when two people are attracted to each other physically and mentally but neither of them are really willing to admit it. There’s this disconnect because you’re spending your time trying to act cool, trying to save face.
Are you a big David Bowie fan?
Yeah, I am. To me, David Bowie just epitomized bravery and freedom in music and in art and expressing yourself. He’s one of those once in a lifetime musicians. There won’t be many of them. The way that he made music was so free and different from album to album. No record was the same as the last one. He definitely inspired me in that way -- I don’t want to be the same artist for 20 years. I was incredibly sad to hear of his passing, but his music is something that lives forever. I’m glad that a new generation will discover him now if there’s anything good to come out of this. If anything good can come out of that.
You make a Harry Potter reference in“Young and Stupid.”Are you a fan?
I am. More the films than the books, to be honest with you. I recently did a weekend, a two-day marathon where I watched all eight. That was exciting. It’s really fun. It’s a really good way to watch them.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to be doing three performance dates in April. Hopefully at some point this year, I’ll get over to the States to do some shows. I’m very excited to come over. Lots of people keep saying to come and do shows over there. There’s a lot to do. A a lot of shows in the States seem like they’re done in old theatres. I love that. I love the rooms. I love the music halls in America.
I’ve already started to get back into the studio to experiment. It’s actually really nice at this bit of time cause I can just play around and see what happens. There’s no pressure. I’d like to do this one in six months to a year. I’m not gonna take two years to make an album again.