Q&A: An interview with Ratherbright

Ratherbright is the project of San Francisco based DIY musician James W. who made our radar with 'I Need You In My Life',  the first instalment in his weekly series "6 tracks, 6 weeks" (all available for free download via his Soundcloud).  Peaking our interest, we couldn't help but send some questions over to learn more about the man and the ideas behind the music.

1. Why have you chosen to go by the moniker of  Ratherbright?
It's ambiguous. It's cautiously optimistic. I like not using my name because it gives a buffer between James the person and Ratherbright the artist. I get to say and feel things as Ratherbright that James doesn't necessarily get to.

2. You describe your sound as 'emo r&b' on Facebook. Name 5 bands or artists that you take influence from.
"Emo R&B" is only a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Growing up, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco taught me how to sing. Last summer I discovered The Front Bottoms, and that put me on a path to sort of revisiting emo as a genre. I can be a very dramatic person, and I love the melodrama and theatre of emo music. But I'm also a huge fan of modern R&B and hip-hop. Kanye West is my favorite human being. When job interviewers ask me where I see myself in 5 years, I tell them I want to be Drake. So that's where the trap hi-hats come from.

3. You're currently doing a weekly series of releasing 6 tracks across 6 weeks. Why did you decide to do this?
I actually got the idea from another artist out of UC Berkeley, Jhameel. He's done a few different series of songs, and I liked how those gave his fans something to look forward to, while holding him accountable to actually releasing music. It also gives people several chances to become a fan, since most people will listen to one track on an album and give up if they aren't feeling it.

4. Could you give us a track by track breakdown of the singles (talk us through the ideas behind each track)?
The project is called "Me & Your Girl" which is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the influences I have in hip-hop and R&B, since it's always *your* girl they're talking about. But since that has its own weird misogynistic lens, it's kind of in reverse. These songs are about seeing a someone you loved happier with someone else.

'I Need You In My Life' - The particular sinking feeling in your stomach when you learn your latest fling has moved on, and you realize that you might care more than you let on. It's a humbling feeling, hence the blunt and vulnerable chorus.

'Centerfold' - I was going for something more subtle and nuanced. This is about calling someone up at 2AM.

'The Worst Thing' - Hoping that the one who left you is just as miserable as you are, but not to the extent that you wouldn't take them back.

'Fucked With You' - Frustration that the energy you've committed to a relationship feels wasted. Like, really frustrated.
'Casually Cruel' - Liking someone so much they kind of catch you off guard, but not enough that you lose your cool. Forever aloof.

'Left Behind' - Convincing yourself that you're fine & everything's fine & totally okay

5. Let’s play a game, imagine you are hosting a dinner party. You can invite five famous people of any professions, dead or living. Who would be sitting at your dinner table?
Kanye West, Wes Anderson, St. Vincent, Rebecca Sugar (creator of Steven Universe, songs for Adventure Time), and Noam Chomsky (intellectual badass, mostly because I'm convinced he and Kanye would hit it off)
But I get the feeling Wes would be awkward about the whole thing.

6. Name one song you wish you could take credit for writing and tell us why?
Oh man. All of Panic! At The Disco's discography. They make the music I want to make before I know I want to make it. Like I said before, I love drama and theatre in music. Crazy=Genius off their latest record is a lot of fun, and the one that stings the most at the moment.

7. Tell us something that makes you unique as an artist.
I think being at UC Berkeley puts me in a really interesting place. A big component of the songs I've been writing is being in college and learning how to deal with the shitty, ambiguous relationships and emotions related to "hookup culture," which I don't think has really been explored in much in music, at least. The Weeknd started his career in the niche of the darker side of sex, drugs, and emotion, which seemed to resonate really strongly with some people. So I'd like to think I'm exploring my own valuable niche.

8. If you could perform at any festival or venue in the world, what would you pick and why?
Despite being native to the San Francisco Bay Area, I made it out to the Fillmore in SF for the first time last week to see Best Coast and Wavves. It's an awesome old jazz club with a really cool energy. The first thought I had walking in was that it'd be a dream to play. It's big enough that if you filled it, you'd know that you're doing something right.

9. You've got a bit of an interesting thing going on with your single artwork (the animated gifs with women's faces replaced with certain imagery) Talk us through the ideas behind that?
I borrowed the idea from a good friend and fellow-music-maker, WULFZHANG, who does the masking and picks out the textures (and a lot of the finishing drum work on the tracks). The photos themselves are all shot by our friend Janel Kajisa, who is an insanely talen
ted and amazing human. I liked the idea because in hip-hop and R&B, the term "your girl" is thrown around so casually and indiscriminately that it doesn't really mean anything. The songs I'm writing aren't about anyone in particular, but rather, every relationship I've been upset over. I hope that what I'm feeling is universal enough that people can project their own experiences onto it, so removing the face removes the specifics.

10. And lastly, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Look out for at least some covers and maybe even a new series by the end of the year. Once I'm not scrambling to finish these songs between midterms I hope to work on a live set for some shows over the summer.

Interview by Karla Harris