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'It's not like a break-up record was on the cards'

As he prepares to release his second album, Rag'n'Bone Man tells Alex Green how his private life bled into a positive set of songs


Roller coaster ride: Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man

Roller coaster ride: Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man

Press Association Images

Life By Misadventure is released on Columbia Records on May 7

Life By Misadventure is released on Columbia Records on May 7

Press Association Images


Roller coaster ride: Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man

The last few years have been a roller coaster for Rory Graham, better known by his stage name Rag'n'Bone Man.

The 36-year-old singer-songwriter, whose baritone voice rocketed him to fame in 2016, became a father, got married, then separated.

But you wouldn't know from his new album, the pointedly titled Life By Misadventure, an audibly optimistic collection that sets a new course for the Brit Award winner.

"I was honestly wincing and closing my eyes while the first single was being put out," he admits over video call from his home in Sussex.

"Either people are going to think this is really cool or they are going to think it is totally rubbish.

"There has been a mixed bag of response to it… but for the most part I think you are commended for being a bit braver in music these days."

Graham had good reason to worry.

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Instead of returning to the hip hop-leaning neo-soul of his debut, he looked to classic singer-songwriters such as Sir Elton John, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell for inspiration, as well as the less fashionable music of '70s staples Electric Light Orchestra.

Graham even scrapped half an album's worth of tracks after deciding he was covering familiar ground.

"I am sure it would have been OK," he explains.

"But I felt like I was concentrating more on wa vibe rather than the actual songs."

Born in Uckfield, East Sussex, Graham started rapping over high tempo drum and bass music while still a teenager.

Only when Graham moved to Brighton did he begin to find his feet musically, forming the rap group Rum Committee, supporting influential US hip hop acts such as Pharoahe Monch and KRS-One.

His switch to pop came in July 2016 when his first hit single, Human, was released on Columbia Records, peaking at number one in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.

Soon he had a clutch of Brit Awards including the coveted Critics' Choice - a reliable indicator that the music industry has backed you for success.

His first attempt at sophomore effort Life By Misadventure came in 2018 after a stint on tour.

"I thought that was going to be the start of that process for this album," he recalls.

"But after writing four or five songs at the time, I quickly realised it was going over old ground and it just felt a bit stale.

"So I thought, 'I'm not going to write any more. I am just going to take some time to think about what I want to do and just feels natural'.

"With this album there is more to be said than either 'I love you' or 'I'm really sad that we broke up'.

"I don't feel like the world needs more break-up songs."

Graham married his partner of 10 years, Beth Rouy, in 2019 but they have since parted ways. They have a son called Reuben and have been co-parenting during lockdown.

"I didn't really write around that time," he admits, referring to their split.

"It's not a horrible situation or anything - we still get on really well - so it's not like a break-up record was even on the cards, to be honest."

The joy of being a father has also fed into his music.

"Part of becoming a father is that you have to let your guard down a little bit and also just be really honest.

"Children are very disarming. You could feel properly s*** one day but if my boy is around I instantly feel pretty happy.

"It brings me a lot of joy so it definitely fed into my music."

Nevertheless, fatherhood is not all fun and games.

Graham has been facing the challenge of promoting an album across multiple time zones while caring for his son.

"Having to say to my record label I can't do Zoom calls at seven o'clock when I am meant to be putting my child to bed.

"I don't have that freedom anymore to do exactly what I want," he chuckles happily in that booming voice.

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