Rachel Kerr debuts new debut album and sits down with GQ for candid interview
GQ: How did you get started in music and what gave you the motivation to take it up professionally? RK: I really feel like music chose me. I was working in the legal sphere and whilst I loved music, coming from a musical background and having many musicians in my family, I was very aware of the struggles and challenges with pursuing it professionally.
But the more I tried to ignore it and focus on a more ‘sensible’ and ‘realistic’ career path the more discontent I grew. The final straw however was when I went to a job interview and the interviewer had done a google search on me. Of course, he saw some of the strides I was making in music and very honestly told me ‘You’re my favourite for this position, and had I not gone to your YouTube page I may have hired you. But I would be doing you a disservice. You look happy when you’re singing in those videos I saw, that’s more you, go be that person’. I remember leaving the interview and bursting into tears realising that no matter how I tried to avoid music, it wasn’t going to let me go in peace. It was going to follow me throughout my life until I made it my professional focus.
My main motivation is always a passion to do the best I can with every gift I have being given and to be truly proud of myself.
GQ: Do you have any other professional interests aside from music? And how do you juggle the two? RK: I have run my own business for ten years, which is an international performing arts school. We’ve been blessed enough to coach some of the world’s best talent from Tiwa Savage to P-square, Waje and many more emerging and established talents. I’ve always known I wanted to start a training academy or open a school of some sorts.
Uplifting, empowering and educating has always been what comes naturally to me, and with my love of singing and performance it has been a really natural fit to join these in a professional setting. I know that one of my purposes is to empower the voices of people everywhere through my music but also through my business. Being an entrepreneur and starting so young has been the most challenging yet rewarding pursuits of my life. The sacrifices you make and risks you take on a daily basis really is not for the faint of heart and of course juggling everything is still something I’m learning to perfect. But over the years I’ve seen the importance of delegation, having a competent and trustworthy team around you and being organised.
I am sometimes guilty of being a bit last minute but juggling business, music and life will teach you real quick that there’s no room for disorganisation and it’s not every day that we can simply rely on grace hahaha. It’s been tough but I’m grateful that it continues to force me to be a better version of me.
GQ: Tell us more about your Performing Arts Academy. Why did you see the need to create it?
RK: I’ve made mistakes in my music journey, I’m not afraid to acknowledge that. I think many artists do since there is really no manual on how to be a successful singer. But one thing that I became painfully aware of is just how many critics there are in the music industry, but very few teachers. To this day I have never had someone reach out to me and say “Rachel, I think you could have done this better, come, let me teach you how to do it better for next time”. So essentially, I started my Performing arts Academy because I wanted to be for other performers what I desperately wished I had starting out in music.
Over the past 10 years I’ve been so fortunate to build a team of coaches and staff who share the same relentless passion as me to see people become the best version of themselves on and off the stage. Through our training programs not only have I seen unbelievable vocal transformations in our clients, but life transformations. Literally, one young girl joined the school as a trainee nurse, then through our artist training program launched her EP, achieved nominations for a MOBO Award and Urban Music Award, and is still making music to this day.
This is one of many stories of our clients. It’s amazing to witness the fulfillment and confidence a human being gains when they start investing in their God-given gifts and talents. It is literally life changing. I would know, I was my very first student.
GQ: How did you get to provide vocal training to some of Africa’s finest artistes? RK: I think it’s two things really. Firstly, I’ve worked really hard over the years to master my stage performance and vocal delivery. I think it was Malcolm Gladwell that said you need to invest 10 000 hours to master a thing.
I definitely have clocked my time. I’ve been humbled that this has been recognised by some of the world’s finest talents who have then entrusted me to help them do the same. Secondly, I’m really grateful for the reputation of my vocal coaching success over the last 10 years. It’s true that many can sing but it takes a very special skill set to teach. I’m really passionate about things being excellent- not perfect, but excellent. Because I’ve really made this the core element of my coaching programs, we’ve been fortunate enough that positive word of mouth and referrals have landed in the ears of some of Africa’s finest artistes.
I have done some great work with some amazing names and look forward to working with many more performers of all experience levels in the future.
GQ: Walk us through the creative process of your debut Album. How long did it take you to create this ‘Masterpeace’? RK: Honestly it took about 4 years to create this album. Granted the pandemic stole 2 years from us but about 4 years. My main goal for this album was to be fearless.
Fearlessly authentic, fearlessly vulnerable, fearlessly creative and fearlessly honest. There’s been a lot of fear associated with creating in the past, driven by a desire to please. In the past I’ve been focused on creating music that would be played on radio, that sounded commercially viable, that would be loved by a certain demographic of people and when I listen back, I can hear just how my unique sound didn’t shine through as much as I would have liked. But this time with my debut album I spent a lot of time alone, in my studio listening to no-one but me.
The song melodies, vocal harmonies and lyric melodies would literally come to me in a dream or at home and then I’d hit record or take the idea to my amazing producers to help bring the concept to life. Nine times out of ten I’ll hear the song’s bass line first. I don’t know what it is about the bass, it’s like my spirit instrument. I always hear that first, then the lyric melody will follow. My lyrics are honest, hopeful and sincere. I’m not afraid to be real, vulnerable and show my humanity. I think that this can in fact be empowering, letting my listeners know that it’s ok to be vulnerable and, in your vulnerability, you can find strength.
I wanted this album to be full of head-bopping, bass driven anthems and I’m so proud that this piece of music is the best of me. The only problem I have is picking my favourite songs, they’re all my dope little babies and my listeners can get something potentially life-changing from each song.
GQ: I noticed you dabble in a lot of different genres, all of which you excel in. How would you describe your style of music?
RK: I think the thing that brings all the styles I dabble with together; is the R&B/soulful element each song has. Whether you hear my Caribbean or African roots you will also get a touch of soulful R&B to bring it all together. But in terms of my message, it’s always hopeful.
GQ: What is the most difficult thing you have had to endure in your music career? RK: Brilliant question. I’ve had to develop thick skin and develop some much more mental strength. The fickleness of the nature of what I do can have very serious psychological impacts if you don’t have a strong understanding and appreciation of who you are outside of the music.
I always say this, I’m so grateful that I am not solely a performer, I’m a businesswoman, a family woman and a friend to many. I find great contentment in who I am off the stage. That’s so important for me. The days when my identity and self-worth were connected to my music career made situations that weren’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of life, more difficult than they needed to be. People will love you one day, hate you the next, then love you the week following, we all do it, it’s the name of the game and a flaw of humanity, so having a good sense of self-worth outside of what I do is so important for me.
Secondly, the most difficult thing is the ongoing task of staying positive, motivated and creative. This is where the people around me play an important role. My manager has been such a light in my life and the team he has created for me have definitely held me up and kept me focused and positive at weaker times in my life.
GQ: Who do you consider your biggest musical inspirations?
RK: I honestly have too many. I do know listening to my Dad growing up has hugely inspired my writing style. I love real instruments, complex vocal harmonies and soulful compositions very similar to those used by my father. But outside of that I don’t think I would even want to be a singer had I not observed the likes of Aaliyah, Brandy and Destiny’s Child growing up. Nowadays I find myself listening to a lot of Emily King. She really inspires my harmonic melodies.
GQ: If you can have your fans remember one thing about you, what would it be?
RK: I’m always so flattered when people compliment my music and aesthetics but I’m always moved on a deeper level when my character is commended. Now I’m far from perfect but I really do work hard on being a polite, compassionate and a sincere person. When people notice and are inspired by this, it feels like far more of an achievement to me. Talent is given but character is earned. It would be cool to be remembered as a successful artist and entrepreneur but one with outstanding character.
GQ: What would make you want to collaborate with another artist? What are your dream collaborations?
RK: Another amazing question. The answer is wide ranging because I do dabble in so many artistic genres. But my preference would be to collaborate with an artist who would unlock a new phase to my creativity, an artist who would force me to switch up my natural creative methods to reveal a whole new vibe. Whilst I admire the artistry of a lot of people in the industry, it’s hard to know exactly which artists that would be until we get in the studio and see what magic we could create.
GQ: Finally, what are the career goals for Rachel Kerr over the next 5 years? RK: Growth is the main aim. Naturally I’ve worked so hard and for so long on my debut album that my goal is for it to do exceedingly and abundantly above all I could ask or think and the same for my performing arts academy, but I also really want to step into more of the television space. Speaking, presenting and teaching are things I love equally as much as singing. I’ve been a TV talent show judge for BET for 2 years and I have a chat show. The joy I get from these roles is next level. I think women in particular are too quickly put into one definitive box. I’ve always fought against that creatively, hence why I called my previous mixtape ‘Unboxed’.
Over the next 5 years I really want to prove to myself first and then my fans that we really are limitless, unboxed and multi-faceted beings. We are able to achieve phenomenal success in multiple fields, using all of our gifts and talents with excellence, character and integrity.
Credit - GQ
Rachel weighed in on the new record below:
After 2 EPs and 1 mixtape, I can confidently say that this debut album is the best of me to date. It took me 3 years to craft. The sound is so unique, infectious and the subject matters so hair-raisingly powerful.
A fusion of RnB, soul, rap, reggae and inspirational music. I've never heard a sound or created a project like this before and I'm so excited to take it to the world. Expect anthems, goosebumps, and some of the most powerful music you would have heard yet"