As Rag’N’Bone Man returns with his new album Life By Misadventure, Columbia’s senior A&R director Julian Palmer has revealed the extent of the work that went into making the follow-up to Human.
It’s worth repeating the numbers behind the record that made Rory Graham the fastest-selling male solo artist of the decade in 2017, before BRIT and Ivor Novello awards helped turn him into a household name. According to the Official Charts Company, the Human album has sold 1,268,996 copies to date, while its chart-topping title track has 2,239,475 sales to its name. Skin, also from his debut album, has 1,126,276 sales to date.
As Graham and his team told Music Week in our first cover story of the year, following a breakthrough success such as his was always going to be tough. Supported by Palmer, Graham sought to do exactly as he pleased, pursuing new wave, folk, rock and country influences and moving away from the blues sound that made him famous to work with a group of co-writers including Natalie Hemby (Kacey Musgraves) and legendary pairing Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. A product of Nashville, the album was recorded live in producer Mike Elizondo’s studio.
“When I went to Columbia and met Alison Donald, who was there at the time, Julian and Stacey Tang, they said to me, ‘It doesn’t really matter what genre you do, because the thing that stands out about you is your voice,’ and that stuck with me,” Graham told Music Week. “I feel I can do what I want, as long as the songs are good, it doesn’t matter.”
With current focus track Anywhere Away From Here (feat. Pink) in the UK airplay Top 10 and lead single All You Ever Wanted now on 121,501 sales, Life By Misadventure is out now.
Here, Julian Palmer talks Music Week through how it was made, in a brand new, unseen extract from our interview.
How did you approach making Life By Misadventure?
“It feels like a traditional approach to making an album, they’re the records that I always cherished growing up. As times and the industry change, there are multi-producer records and myriad songwriters dragged in to write bits and pieces, Rory’s approach was very much rebelling against all of that. He hates those sterile set ups and I was totally with him on that. We recorded in one place, at one time with one producer and a very small, select group of musicians all playing live. Outside of Wendy Melvoin’s parts, because of the issues with travel and Covid, everything was recorded live in the same room. It’s very exciting from that perspective, it’s a proper body of work. He got really raw and it’s quite personal. I think some of it was quite tough for him. Some of the songs he wrote I think he was perhaps not overly keen on putting out to the world, but they’re the things that people need to hear. Certainly his fanbase really appreciates that kind of honesty.”
What kind of A&R involvement works for Rory?
“His desire was to be left alone to do things his way, which initially he was doing in London. With Rory, you just leave him alone to get on with the writing; I wouldn’t nip into the studio halfway through him writing a song because it’s all so personal. Then we had a conversation about how we would finish it. I really wanted him to go to America and he’s always wanted to work in Nashville having toured there so much, it was like a spiritual home for him, he’s got friends there. So we drew up a shortlist of songwriters, both legendary and contemporary. One of the sessions we did on a trip out to Nashville was with Mike Elizondo, and I thought he could set up from his studio. Mike has experience and versatility, he doesn’t come from a traditional Nashville, country, Americana place, he brings a hip-hop aspect to it, not that it’s a hip-hop record, but he’s got a breadth of experience across genres. Rory and Ben [Jackson-Cook] just clicked with him and he ended up producing the whole record. It was all very organic and very natural and Mike gelled it all together. His wonderful studio was where Rory had to quarantine for two weeks before they started, which is where he got so deeply aligned with the songs because he had very little else to do. My involvement from the initial stages was just getting him exploring stylistically where he wanted to go, without any pressure from the label. Then it was about agreeing that Nashville would be the place he would go to finish the record.”
His voice is world class, I don't think you can say that about too many people
Julian Palmer, Columbia
How does it feel trying to follow a record like Human?
“You never know, do you? It’s not traditional pop, but I don’t think Rory’s ever been traditional pop to be honest. Human took a minute before radio really embraced it, that wasn’t out of the blocks. So I’m really happy it’s Columbia, and he’s an artist first and foremost and my responsibility to the company is to make sure the songs are exceptionally good, the very best that he can write. So I do a lot of that prodding in the direction of certain songs, we discuss it at length together and I feel really very proud of the body of work. We can go deeper in terms of singles this time round for sure.”
What do you want people to take away from the record?
“Rory is real, he’s honest, he’s chameleon-like in that he doesn’t want to keep repeating, looking at a formula and playing by the rules. He wants to be challenging. His voice is world class. I don’t think you can say that about too many people, certainly not outside of America, I think he stands up. Hopefully people will view him as somebody who can stand on the stage in America with the very best and be equal if not better. I just think he’s significant as a global artist and the record is weighty. I just don’t want people to view him as the guy who sang Human. It’s difficult, because certain songs just transcend artists in a way. He needs a body of work so next time he tours he’s got a proper set that he can delve into for an hour-and-a-half rather than playing the same songs over and again.”
Subscribers can read our Rag’N’Bone Man cover story in full here.