No one can prepare you for the lurch in your stomach, the ringing in your ears, and the sweeping feeling of that rug being pulled out from under your feet. No one can prepare you for life’s screeching halt. No one can prepare you for cancer.
Rell the Soundbender was visiting his family in his home country of Panama. The plan was to stay for three weeks, but he ended up staying for eight months of chemotherapy. He had to fight the Hodgkin Lymphoma swimming in his blood.
“It changed the way I look at life,” he says. “99 percent of the things we stress about really don’t matter, and you learn that when reality hits. When you’re stuck in that world, especially the virtual world, we worry about things that have no place in relevancy ever. That was an eye opener, and it gave me a lot of patience.”
He found a lot of solace in music while he sat there, his body deteriorating in the hope of building some strength. He had three artists on repeat, Porter Robinson, The Killers, and Sade. Today, he’s proud to be three years cancer free, and he’s comfortable enough to share his triumph in the form of a song.
“Bloom” is softer than his previous works. It’s the most personal melody of his life and one he prays will offer some solace to people out there who know what it’s like to be truly unsure.
“I know I’m not the only one who’s going through that,” he says. “If someone hears it, and it really helps them feel better, then my job is complete.”
The news of his cancer was terrifying, of course. It made him angry, but it also made him take stock of everything in his life. He’d never had the closest relationship with his mother. She’d always hoped for something greater for him than a music career. She didn’t see eye to eye with him on that, but when she heard the news of his illness, she immediately quit her job and joined him in Panama for the duration of his treatment. They’re closer today than ever before, and in that sense, Rell sees the cancer as a blessing in disguise.
“It really did motivate me to have a positive outlook on what was happening, and times ahead that were coming,” he says. “It definitely changes you. I’ve always been hard headed. You can tell me something all day, ‘don’t touch the stove,’ but I’m gonna touch it, and I’m gonna burn. When you’re younger, you feel invincible, but when reality roundhouses you in the face like that, everything stops.”
One thing he was determined to do was live his life to the fullest. He didn’t put his dreams on hold. He ran into them full force. Doctors advised him not to exercise, but he got out there and ran anywhere. Chemotherapy makes one extremely tired. He was always sweating, but he kept making music, and he kept heading out to the clubs. He just brought a towel and extra water wherever he went.
His music was aggressive as ever, but as his treatment continued, he found renewed ease and understanding. Rell began “Bloom” in August of 2014 during what became his final round of chemo. You can hear the defiant hope as it beats through the despondence in the melody’s dancing synths and emotive strings.
“That’s the way I was feeling at the time,” he says, “that feel good feeling, the light at the end of the tunnel – and reflective. It’s art at its purist form. I was not expecting to do anything with it, I was just doing it because it made me feel a certain way.”
He turned the song into his management, at the time a skeleton of strings and keys. They passed it on to vocalist Satica, and though the two artists had never spoken before, her lyrics drew on the exact feelings of persistence and breakthrough that Rell was feeling in his bones.
“The record did what it needed to do,” he says. “It transmitted the same feel to her, and when she gave it back to me, it was like ‘wow.’ She took it from a 5 to a 10, because she is putting my message behind it – and her voice is just ridiculous. It’s perfect. it’s this angelic, humming bird voice. It just went perfect with the vision I had for it.”
His remission and the end of this treatment did not mean the end of Rell’s journey. He was healthy, but he had to set out regaining his life, recapturing the momentum of his career unbridled by this illness, and finally fulfill his dream of moving to Los Angeles.
Similarly, Rell sat on “Bloom” for three years. He reworked it five or six times, wrote more elements, took some away. It’s different from the rest of his catalog. It’s not as bass-driven or aggressive. It’s been a personal journey to this place where he feels confident enough to share this side of himself.
“With the way the world is right now, the climate today, it just makes sense,” he says. “I understand that this is going to come out and not everybody is going to like it, and that’s cool. We didn’t make this for everybody. We didn’t make this song for any other purpose other than the fact that this is what it did emotionally to us. This is for the people that are on that wavelength. I just want this song to be something that maybe one person out there might find some kind of comfort in.”
If cancer taught Rell anything, it’s that being honest and true to oneself is paramount above all else. Likewise, when you bare your purest soul with the world, that’s when the world is likely to take notice. When he takes the stage at Beyond Wonderland in his new home of California in the weekend of March 24 and 25, he knows his truth will resonate with each note and chord of “Bloom,” a tune that very well may be his set’s closing song, but surely marks nothing but new beginnings.
Listen to “Bloom” featuring Satica below, out everywhere on Aftercluv.