If versatility is the key to modern musical success, then Rachel Chinouriri is already well on her way. Nominated for the Rising Star Award with Apple Music 2021, the singer-songwriter hails from Croydon, is of Zimbabwean heritage and has already seen her emotionally complex anthems find favour with everyone from Michaela Cole to Coldplay’s Chris Martin. The sound that launched a million syncs, Chinouriri’s debut EP, Four Degrees In Winter, already has over 2.5 million streams and showcases a writer with a song for every occasion.
A stand out point of the Four Degrees In Winter is Rachel’s vocal versatility. Demonstrated from the get go with the opening track ‘Give me a Reason’, Chinouriri guides you through a journey of love and loss that ends with the rooted and perceptive, ’If Only’. As an artist who refuses to be pigeon-holed by other’s expectations, Chinouriri combines a myriad of rich, harmonic vocal layers on top of an electronic-infused instrumentation featuring airy guitar lines and haunting synths that together support a deep and personal collection of words and melodies.
Rachel’s song writing on Four degrees in winter is deeply personal and emotive, touching on themes of love and pain in her lyrics, however Tracks like ‘Darker Place’ and ‘I.D.R.N’ shows Rachel’s ability to create songs to nod your head to while embracing her new sound. The ability to mesh these ideas and package them as an EP which flows seamlessly is a testament to Rachel’s artistry. Expect all-round superstardom to follow.
Introduce yourself to those who may not know you?
I’m Rachel Chinouriri, I’m 22 almost 23, I’m a singer/songwriter from London, Croydon and I write indie, alternative music.
What artists have you been listening to recently? Who’s in your daily rotation?
A lot Celeste, Sam Fender, Billie Marten and Etta Marcus, she only has one song out right now but I’m really obsessed with her. Yeah, I’d say those are my top four currently.
Describe your work in your own words? What was your experience writing 4 degrees in Winter like? (deluxe EP out now)
I would say 4 degrees is winter is closest to what I want to sound like as an artist, sonically and lyrically. My first project was a bit more on the happy, chirpy side, which was fun and cute but this project definitely I got the opportunity to sit and perfect the sound that I want to carry on after it. Writing it was kind of weird, I wrote it over the space of a year and we just picked the best songs, so each song has it’s own different journey but they all tend to be around love or heartbreak or pain, something to do with pain and healing.
What made you want to go from the Chirpy sound to where you are now?
I feel like music is therapy for me so whenever I write about something or a situation that’s happened to me or my friend I can then let it go and when I choose to write like that, I realised it’s kind of my best writing. I don’t tend to sing about happy stuff because when I’m happy I feel like I have nothing to speak about. I guess my songs are kind of like complaints and if I have something to complain about then I can write all day long but once it’s out it’s there. So I tend to write about more negative in general and I feel like with music I connect with music where it’s lyrically a bit sadder because it feels more healing than anything and if I want to be happy I can hang out with my friends!
Can you tell us a bit about ‘If Only’, and maybe the meaning behind it?
When I wrote ‘If Only’ I wrote it so many years ago with Jack Sibley and Daniel Hylton Nuamah and I was in Bristol in his house and we were having a very productive 3-days writing loads of different songs and I wanted to write a campfire-ish not nursery rhyme but catchy, simple song because those simple songs really resonate with people longer, I feel like. As much music as we listen to in the world, sometimes it goes back to the basics of a cheery chirpy song and I wanted to make something in that world which people can sing along to pretty easily and I just was like ‘I never see the world in colour, I pray for thing I can’t afford’ and it was originally just a chirpy campfire guitar song and that was the feel I was going for. Then when I was writing it was thinking about grateful I was feeling at that time that I had managed to quit my job and now my job was to be in Bristol making music. Sometimes I forget how privileged and lucky I am to be in that position and when I have money I need to remember that and when I don’t I need to remember that. And the balance of being happy and grateful about stuff, remembering that there’s people who have less or are in less fortunate positions.
In regards to the music industry (but also generally), why do you believe Black History Month is still so relevant? And what does it mean to you?
I feel like black history in general has been so filtered out, so manipulated, so changed, so drowned out in society that it’s important to uplift it. I remember being in primary school I never learnt ANY of this sort of stuff and maybe when I was 15, 16 I started to learn about this stuff and even my siblings who are older only started learning about stuff in there 20s and it’s just completely unacceptable because our history is just as important and whilst it’s unfortunate that many bad things have happened to black people throughout history it needs to be told so that people can understand the layers of why we’re in certain positions in society, why people are treated in ways, why things like in the work places our people couldn’t for a long time couldn’t wear their hair in dreadlocks or afros and why hair is such an important thing to black people. A lot of things would be made clearer if that was literally just taught in school, so for us having just one month of the year, just to teach so many people and allow people to indulge in the history whether good or bad I feel like is vital for the music industry, for people and we need to keep doing it until it becomes embed in society. When it’s just talk about in a general consensus as opposed to just one month of the year.
How has your heritage influenced your work?
Of all of my mums children, I’m the last of 5 kids, my siblings are involved in their heritage because they were all born in Zimbabwe, they’ve all lived in Africa but I’ve only been in the UK, I don’t speak the language but I can understand it…but I can’t speak it for some reason. So my relationship with my culture, Has been a bit like an outsider seeing people live my heritage. Even within my home, it was kind of like watching them through a glass box because they would all speak in their language and then turn to speak to me in English. It was very much an outsiders perspective of my own culture but I still feel it within my spirit and then going into my music, my family would say my music is very ‘English’ but then I’ve never seen it as that. So mixing the two for example south African acapella music and indie music, I’ve kind of naturally indelved both of them in a really weird way so that kind of where my heritage comes in line with my music. I think my melodies and my harmonies 100% is from my south African and Zimbabwean upbringing and the indie side is what I’ve learnt from being just a UK girl.
Are there any figures from Black Music History in particular that have influenced you?
You know what’s a weird one, do you know Stormzy? It seems really weird but his story is so inspiring. Because I make indie music maybe that’s why I think it weird but because I’m pretty sure he’s from South London and because I love drill music and I see so many Croydon boys doing drill the lifestyle in general. So, to see someone hit success and not just UK success but also to continue to help his community. And now he doesn’t even have social media and he’s still absolutely killing it! I just feel like as a figure of especially what black men go through…I just feel very proud as a black woman to see a young black man turn in to something like that…even though I’m younger than him, it’s just like such a good inspiration and someone who should be elevated for what they’ve done and shows that many other black men in these environments can do exactly the what he’s done. So, yeah, that’s someone more on the random side but someone more in my field is Lianne La Havas, I love her so much and everything about her I adore.
This year you were nominated for TWO Ivors, can you tell us a bit more about what The Ivors means to you?
Umm, I mean, an Ivor, I just never really saw myself being nominated for something. I feel like a lot of musicians feel like that. Like you kind of do your job day to day but you never expect like a nomination or getting invited anywhere. You’re just kind of like, okay I’m making my music then I’m putting it out there and then I’m making the next one and then I’m putting it out. And then, I knew about the Ivors cause my managers were like, oh here’s Ivor Novellos, you should look into it, it’s great. And I spoke to a woman who was in The Ivors Academy, I’ve completely forgotten her name right now, and it just seems that as an institution, the way you guys fight for like songwriters, focus on writing the actual nitty-gritty of the song, rather than maybe versus fame and popularity, I just thought it was an amazing thing to back in general. And then when I got the email saying I got nominated for just the first one alone, I was like there is nooo way this email is real, like I literally sat in the studio and I was like, Dan can you read this cause I don’t, I don’t know if this is right and then I sent it to my managers and I was like, guys I don’t know if this is right and they were all like, ‘whaat?’. And then I got a second one and literally we’re like, what on earth is going on? Uh, yeah, honestly like even the award show, it-, best day of my life. Best day ever. I’m not gonna lie. I was buzzing.
Tareic: yeah, it was um, it was a great day. I still can’t believe I’m allowed in the room at times, but that’s just my imposter syndrome.
Rachel: You deserve to be there!
Tareic: Thank you. Thank you and you deserve to be nominated for two Ivors. That EP you put out is fantastic.
What advice and tips do you have for those creators who are just getting started on their journey?
Only focus on your path because as soon as you start looking at what other people are doing you will start to naturally try and change what you do to try and do what they’re doing to get higher but some people’s journey is like this and they go *broop* *Rachel gestures a flat line followed by a steep up incline with her hand* or some people’s journey is literally like that *Rachel gestures a straight uphill line with her hand* for years and years and years, which is fine. Either way, we’re all gonna see each other at the top, but as long as you stay focussed to what you want, commit to what you want and don’t change your style for other people. It might not make sense now but there’ll be a point where your style, your work, your writing will hit loads of people and its just about having the foundations of those people, not forgetting the people who push you daily, instead of focussing on other people. So yeah, I’d just be like *gestures with both hands each side of her face*, just be a bit like this, take advice from people but be a bit like, you know, focus on your writing. If you don’t write well, you don’t have a career. So, so yeah, the writing and the song is top priority above everything else.
Tareic: Very wise words, Rachel Chinouriri. Very wise words.
What would you like to see included more in the conversation around Black History Month?
I feel like everything gets spoken about, but If I wanted to be picky I guess like to see black alternative people spoken about more because I notice a lot in the black community, not always but you know it’s very like R&B, Soul, Heavy, Jazz, etc, but then it’s like when it comes to indie alternative artists, for example people like Hak Baker, Sam Docher etc, it’s like it’s very hard to get in those conversations without being categorised as well…’Okay, she make’s pop which is similar to this so maybe we can just call it alt R&B’ I just want it to be more a case of, okay maybe the alt artists or alt people get a bit more leverage and not get boxed into what is stereotyped of black people and just know that black people can do everything! We can do pop, we can do rock, we can do everything and we don’t have to get pigeon holed into ‘Okay this is what it sounds like but were going to call it this so it looks better’ So I guess that would probably be the only thing, but I feel like in general we’re getting to that stage in Black History Month.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got one more festival in Wales – Festival of Voice 2021 and then for the rest of the year I’m just going to be writing for a project next year. I’m kind of excited because I’ve been hit by so much inspiration recently which I didn’t have last year. So I feel like I’m kind of catching up on all the songs that I didn’t write and I’m catching up on them now because I mean I’ve been coming back from sessions for like three days with like six songs and they’re all like pretty good songs, they’re actual possible contenders. So as long as I keep going at that pace it means by January or February I’m going to have a massive boulder of loads of songs and I’m very excited to hit February and be like right here’s fifty bazillion songs
Tareic: Don’t you have a tour next year? I’m pretty sure I bought a ticket for that?
Rachel: Oh my gosh, My manager is going to hate me! Yes! I’m going on tour in April, are you gonna come?
Tareic: Yes, I’m coming to the one in Earth, I live down the road so why not
Rachel: Yay! Bring all your friends. I’m not scared but I am a little bit scared because it’s the biggest venue I’ve ever had to sell out and even when they were telling me I was playing there I was like ‘no, please no’ but they were like ‘you can do it’ so yeah I’m very excited for it. But, yeah, it’s in April – everyone should come down!