Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Maree Hamilton. Featured photo by Erina Uemura.
If you need to find Raury, you should probably look outside. The Georgia-born, Atlanta-based musician, whose soulful voice and cross-genre sounds have been captivating listeners since he released his first mixtape in 2014, has a new project (and album) that’s all about getting people to go out and come together. Now, after having collaborated with artists like Lorde and Jaden Smith, and with songs from his debut album featured everywhere from TV to superhero movies, Raury is ready for real life.
You’ve started a new project, The Woods. Tell us more about that.
What I’ve started here in Georgia with The Woods is a community or a circle, a community of artists, you know? Ever since I’ve left [my] music label, I’ve just reclaimed the path of independence. I’ve been creating this movement, community whatever you call it and what we’ve been about is just what’s real. Connecting kids to nature, connecting kids to to an experience that is real, to music that is real, to photos that are real.
I don’t get digital, I don’t know why people choose to rock with digital. And I think people choose digital for the same reason that people choose to record music digitally. The same reason businesses put their cars on conveyor belts and make them out of plastic. I feel like it’s a quality versus quantity thing, that I have made a choice for quality.
How did you come to that choice?
I guess I’m 21 now, and I was really young for my experiences within the [music] industry. But one thing I did learn is that a lot of people are just dressing things up, just you know, creating a persona, creating photos. They aren’t capturing the real, they’re just capturing something that they make up.
So much superficiality in the industry is what led me to let it go. I’ve had to be a rogue artist. I don’t have a manager, like any support or anything. I’m just doing shows in the woods and recording my album, and getting better and growing and getting ready to hit the world with something beautiful. Because what was going on with me and my career earlier was having some leeway to allow my videos to be shot digitally. A lot of things like that happened in a certain way, in the name of profit, in the name of not putting in as much work as you really need to put in. I’ve decided that I can’t be that. I’m so thorough about it, thorough down to the photos I shoot with Polaroid film. I shoot with something that captures that pure essence, and when I’m shooting there’s no setup stage-like situation I’m dragging everybody into like, “Stand over here, you random girl that I don’t know, kiss me on the cheek so I can look cool.” We’re just trying to capture real moments. What I gotta do is be real and move with people that are real. That is why [photographer] Josiah is here, Josiah has been my best friend since I was fifteen.
How old were you when you first started writing music?
I was eight. Four, actually. I was four when I made a song called A Little Fishy.
And when I was eight I was very into rap, like very violent, illicit very wild raps. When I got into middle school I started to develop some, like, more depth like as far as, like people aren’t themselves. Some people are pretending, to be accepted. Well, one thing I realized is that the same thing is going on everywhere. People pretending to be accepted and that’s when I started writing differently. I started writing about how I don’t care about being accepted about how I am me and I will always be me. Because what this world does is, it drains us all of our love, all of our life force passion, of all of our jest, you know with the need for survival, with the need to fit in, the need to listen to what everybody’s telling us to do. I played Coachella last year on April 21st. That would be the day I changed for the rest of my life.
What happened that day?
That was the day I realized that I had to take my career by the wheel. I’m a man now and I’m not a child anymore and I need to be real and realize realize that there are people in my camp on my team that don’t have my same goals.
I would listen to what any person in the industry [was saying], “Put on this gold chain and do this, look at what other other people are doing and copy what they’re doing.” What’s going on in the music industry is no different than what’s going on in a high school or in any industry for that matter. You know what I’m saying?
People tend to assume that the artist is creative and needs to be creative and does not know how to steer the whole ship. I just want to speak to any audience listening like, yo, you can’t do anything but try. Protect your magic. Protect your magic. If you don’t use your magic, your own direction the way that you want to somebody else is going to take it and use it for what they want to use it for. I would inspire any creators to use their magic for wha’s real not for what’s cosmetic not for what’s surface because that’s bad magic.
How do you feel now, being more focused, and putting aside these other influences that didn’t have a good effect on you? How has that opened you up and changed the art that you make?
What I’m moving towards is a complete phoenix rising out of the ashes. That kind of sums it up. And with multiple other phoenixes, I feel like. The Woods and this whole project is getting more towards that.
Sonically, what I’m making is truest to the essence of my soul because I’ve been producing and crafting everything. I really look up to Prince, and how he did his recording. He’d go into his studio, and tell the engineer to leave. And that’s what I can do now, because I’ve elaborated my skills, so I’m a more skilled craftsman of music just in general. I’m really just now tapping into exactly who I am, [and] I’m so happy I didn’t let myself get taken and turned into something else before I matured. So I feel like business-wise, I’m scoping things out, to like move like Jay-Z, but artistically, like Prince. Like I’m creating my own Paisley Park. I’m on a mission to accrue a new realm within this world. That is beautiful. I’m on a path to make music, to put out magnetism and do things to actually help people subconsciously and consciously. And help make life feel beautiful. Because I’ve experienced a lot of pain, I’ve been hurt, and I made this album to share myself and and grow myself, to strengthen my foundation, to empower my community. Josiah is a direct example, of someone in my community that I empower. This community that I am creating and nurturing and growing, you know, there are artists, there are models. there are musicians and musicians and musicians to create with me. I guess I’m heading in the path that blazes a new trail for sure, with a lot more knowledge, and I’m learning more from some very special people.
Who are some of the other artists and people that you’re working with that you’re excited about?
In the near future you guys will be seeing work from an artist, Jaix, an amazing vocalist and producer. She’s family to me, she’s gonna [rule] the world. And I’m doing shows in the woods with a guy named Tor [Bakari Shabazz], an amazing artist who plays the ukulele. Pretty much those are two people I’ve been jammin’ with and together with in Atlanta.
You’ve talked about how you really like shooting with film, and that you really like working with Josiah. How does it work at The Woods shows?
Well when [we’re doing] shows in the woods we like to give things. We like to to make sure people can go away from that show, feeling changed and feeling as if they are part of something and now not the same anymore. Something to help them remember. We were taking these photos and just handing them to people, just take it, like you were here you were here in the woods. Hold on to this as a keepsake. There have been many moments, just like the best moments, it’s the best pictures in sentimental moments. And to capture this and hand it over, I think that’s the best thing about it. That I can take a picture and I can give it to someone. When it comes particularly to the Polaroid film, it’s is a special time when Josiah uses that camera. It’s usually a time, a genuine moment.
You know, [it’s] better than any iPhone picture. It makes the experience tangible, it makes the experience more dimensional. Not just two-dimensional, but three-dimensional, where you’re not just sliding through it on your phone and looking at it.
The media loves to refer to you as a millennial artist. Do you identify with that?
I mean, I was born in 1996. When 2000 rolled around, I was four years old, so I guess I’m a millennial. If the world needs that, I’m a millennial, I guess, that’s what it is. Whether I identify with it? Do I go around calling myself a millennial? Not anymore. I don’t think it’s really cool to me [to be] labelled as any word. I’m here now, you know, and I was born in the millennial era, I guess. Yeah, I’m a millennial artist! Whatever. What matters is that I’m here and I haven’t gone anywhere. I just almost ask why people would describe me as a millennial artist, [not] an indigo child from the land of the warriors. I’m a charlatan. I don’t know. What am I really? It’s all relative.
You mentioned Prince, but what other kind of music did you grow up with, or that you feel really influences your work?
Michael Jackson. Tupac. Lauryn. Sade. Corinne Bailey Rae. Andre 3000. [And Prince] really one of my biggest inspirations. At the core level, I wouldn’t be the artist I am now.
If there’s one message that you want people to take away, what would it be?
Drop what you’re doing. Come to The Woods.
We pick random locations. We might be in the woods in New York, we might be in the woods in California. Right now we’re in the woods in Georgia. And we’ll be in the woods worldwide soon. But it will be best to just go ahead and get ready and come to the woods. Come to what’s real.