Kobe-born, New York-based artist and producer rei brown has been developing his signature sound in the world of indie pop and lo-fi R&B. With a plethora of influences from different cities around the world, brown is able to deliver an alt-pop sound that has captured the hearts of many in the years since the release of his first EP in 2014, raybaboon. Now, brown is gearing up to make his mark once again with upcoming album Xeno to be released on July 8th, and we’re here for it.
The album’s headlining single is the sci-fi-themed "Could I Be Somebody" which explores young love and the exploration of queer relationships and identity based on brown’s own experience. Slated to release this summer, Xeno is expected to redefine rei brown as an artist through his storytelling by blending dreamy experimental electronic sounds that the world knows and loves him for.
We caught up with the rising alt-pop singer-songwriter to get to know him a little better as he supported fellow artist keshi on the recent 'HELL / HEAVEN' North American tour.
Hi, rei! What colour is your hair today? What has been your favourite so far?
Pink! Despite having tried a bunch of different colours, it’s the one I keep coming back to.
How’s 2022 treating you so far?
2022 has been so busy. It’s a good and a bad thing. It feels like a lot of good things are coming my way but that also means a lot of change and a lot of work needs to be done.
Tell us what it was like growing up as Ray Brown. What made you go, “I want to make music”?
(Laughs) Where to start? My mom’s an artist and my dad really loves music, so I grew up surrounded by art. I distinctly remember being fascinated with the idea that people created music from essentially nothing. One day I was sitting on a playground slide and humming a melody and realised, “Wait a second, I made that!” Around the same time, a relative bought me a tape recorder, and I started writing and recording songs; they’re all really embarrassing to listen back to now though. I also had some sort of art project that was going to be presented, and I really wanted the music to accompany it. I was playing a lot of Age of Empires at the time, and I pointed the tape recorder at the computer speakers and recorded 30 to 60 minutes of the ambient music/SFX. I used that for when I presented the piece, and I guess in some ways, it was an “art installation.” (Laughs)
Who were you listening to when you were younger and how have your musical tastes changed?
I honestly listened to so much music. I think some NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, a little bit of Green Day, some Whitney Houston. I think the first MP3 I had was “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz.
From Kobe to Boston and now in New York – what’s the biggest way your mixed upbringing has influenced your work?
It’s really hard to pinpoint these things. I always say that post-bubble Japan influenced me tremendously, but American influences were always seeping in through pop culture or when I would visit my relatives. One summer break in America, these kids had all these NSYNC tapes and wanted to learn the choreography. But more than anything I was shaped by the internet; it was what gave me access to everything in the world regardless of where I was.
Do you still remember the first song you ever wrote? What’s the biggest way your sound or process has changed since then?
I think a lot of the first songs I was writing were really derivative, and I was using a lot of phrases, not because I meant them, but because I had heard someone else use them. A lot of the words and phrases that have been immortalised in pop culture feel like they come from such a different time, and it doesn’t resonate with me — a lot of subtle misogyny and old gender stereotypes. I’ve been trying to unlearn a lot of that and focusing on creating a language that feels authentic to me.
Tell us a little about your debut album, Xeno. How does it feel to have completed it?
I’m honestly just so proud and happy to have finished the music. Everyone that worked on it is absolutely amazing, and I just can’t wait to share it with the world.
Where did you find inspiration for the album? And is there something you want listeners to take away from it?
It probably sounds cheesy, but I found it in myself. Whether it was unpacking past traumas or learning and accepting new things about myself, Xeno was about embracing myself and how I see the world. I hope the album resonates with people and that they feel like they have a home in the album.
How has the pandemic affected the way you view or create music?
I think there were good and bad things that came about it. I love just to be constantly working on ideas or creating weird sounds. When I would do a video session or get connected with a producer, I would just send them folders of sounds/beats that I had been working on which was really nice. But I think once we’d get a song 80 percent done, it’s really hard to finish that last 20 percent remotely. I needed to fly out to LA to finish a handful of songs that were kind of stuck at that point.
Is there one song that you think best describes you as an artist? Why that one?
You made it hard for me because usually, I would say this album is what best describes me. I think if I had to pick a song, it would be “Xeno.” It’s the most personal song I have ever written. I worked really hard on the writing, but also we worked on the production of it for a while to make sure we got it right.
Do you have a dream project or collaboration that you’d love to be a part of?
I feel like it’s probably changing all the time. To be completely honest, though, the cover art for Xeno was kind of the product of a dream collaboration. I had been a huge fan of this Berlin-based design team called Obby & Jappari, and somehow we were able to work with them for the cover art. I think when you love someone’s art so much, it makes it really easy to work with them as well because you’re really just asking them to just keep doing what they usually do.
If your music were a movie, what would it be and why?
This may be cliche, but The Matrix. I think the movie is about questioning your reality. I think films like that always pushed my subconscious thoughts to the surface. I think Xeno also questions our reality, and I hope people can learn new things about themselves. The Matrix is also a very nu-metal movie, both aesthetically and for the fact that they used nu-metal in the soundtrack. I feel like that era of music was a big influence on the album as well.
What else do you enjoy doing in your free time when you’re not making music?
I feel like I’ve gotten a little disconnected from these things because the album has taken over my life for the past couple of years. I really love fashion and clothing, so I sometimes alter or upcycle clothes. I love movies. I think when I have a lot of free time, I just consume media and art. I could spend hours looking for music on SoundCloud, mood boarding pictures from Tumblr, reading books, or watching movies.
What have you got planned musically and personally for the rest of 2022?
I’m on tour right now, and I have some more live shows lined up and in the works, so hopefully getting to be with fans in the real world and play them the album. I haven’t been home to Japan since Covid, so I’d love to go back sometime soon, too, when I have a chance.
What can you tell us about this playlist you have curated for Sound of Life?
It’s a happy mix of songs I grew up listening to, discovered recently, or danced alone to in my bedroom. (Laughs)
Dance along to these tunes picked by rei brown for Sound of Life.
All Images: bbyclaude
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.