Life By Misadventure
Two weeks into the original recording schedule for Rag’n’Bone Man’s second album, exasperation had set in. “We were at the point of breaking,” the singer-songwriter born Rory Graham tells Apple Music. When Graham, keyboardist Ben Jackson-Cook, and bassist Bill Banwell arrived in Nashville in spring 2020, it was just as the pandemic struck. Forced to quarantine in their rented house for a fortnight, the trio marinated in frustration. “The studio was 20 yards away, locked up,” he says. “It just felt like someone was teasing us.” To make the best of it, they spent their days rehearsing the songs. That experience emboldened Graham’s belief that Life by Misadventure should be recorded in a band setup with a live feel—to distinguish it from the homogeneous, overproduced pop sound he felt he was hearing on the radio.
Graham and Jackson-Cook had previously visited Nashville to collaborate with local songwriters, including Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, plus The Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby. “Everything just feels calm and considered,” Graham says about writing sessions that occurred outside of studios, around kitchen tables with just guitars and pads and pens, “and all about servicing the song, not about trying to fix that radio hit.” The trip helped the three-time BRIT winner realize his vision for a more adventurous Rag’n’Bone Man sound, adding folk, jazz, New Wave, and funk to the blues-and-soul tones of his 2017 debut Human.
Finally allowed into the studio, they nailed 13 well-practiced songs in six days, assisted by players including The Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin and Grammy-winning drummer Daru Jones. Inside these tracks, you’ll find Graham’s candid reflections on the past, present, and future. “I was thinking a lot about my younger self,” he says, “and also about right now—being a father, and responsibility and morality. And then, ‘Oh, shit, I’ve brought a child into this world, and it’s a really scary future.’” Here, Rags guides us through the album, track by track.
“Fireflies” “It’s telling my son not to be frightened, and to be bold. It’s a scary world for kids growing up, especially with the social media age. At Allen Shamblin’s ranch, I saw fireflies at night, and I was like, ‘God, if my son could see this, he would think this is actual magic.’ The first part is me playing guitar outside of Mike’s studio. When it’s early in the morning, you can hear mad crickets and cockerels in the distance. So when I recorded it on the phone, you could pick up all of that. It felt like a great opening song, just the noise of the place without anything else.”
“Breath in Me” “There’s a love that you have for your children that is unlike any other. This is saying, ‘I would actually do anything to keep you safe.’ When I first got in the room with Mike and Allen, they were such warm people, it felt like I’d known them all my life. I had little parts of the lyrics already, and Allen was like, ‘If you had a chance to say what you wanted to say to your son, what would you say?’ Everything just came very naturally.”
“Fall in Love Again” “There was only one session that didn’t go so well in Nashville. We just couldn’t get inspired. [Ben and I] were both a bit flat, so we bought a couple of bottles of wine on the way back, and this is probably the best song I’ve ever written drunk. Ben is sick at coming up with a melody, and he played that exact melody on the acoustic guitar. At that time, I was sort of getting into a relationship, but didn’t feel that it was the right time. This is about: ‘You’d better go home now because otherwise things are going to get too serious.’”
“Talking to Myself” “It’s a really good song, but I didn’t want it on the record. When I listen to it now, I find it kind of pathetic. It was a time when I was feeling really shit. I’d just split up with my missus and was spending all the time by myself and living in my own head, being a bit sorry for myself. It’s a difficult one to play live. I was like, ‘Look, it could be on the record, but, please, we can’t make this a single, because I don’t want to have to go to radio and do promo and be all sad while I’m singing it.’”
“Anywhere Away From Here” “I’d met P!nk when my first record came out, and we played a gig in Paris together. She’s just proper nice and a really down-to-earth person. She watched our live set and obviously really enjoyed it. I met her again at the BRITs a couple years later and planted the seed about working together. I sent her ‘Anywhere Away From Here,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, I love it. I’m going to do it.’ I’m so proud of it because although it feels poppy, it’s still quite understated. It doesn’t feel like a forced power ballad.”
“Alone” “It’s harking back to a conversation I had a few years back with a friend of mine about the pressures women face in starting a family and having children. Women shouldn’t be asked those questions—‘When are you going to have children? When are you getting married?’—because some don’t want to have children, or settle down like that, it’s not the life that they want. But unfortunately it’s this archaic idea that women of a certain age should. And it just seems so unfair.”
“Crossfire” “It’s where it starts to get a little bit more rock ’n’ roll. I had this mad recurring dream for a while that the world had ended. It was just two people left on the planet, asking what had gone wrong. And the sentiment was that everybody just stood around waiting for somebody else to change stuff, and that was the reason for their demise. It was a weird dream, but it’s come out as a really cool song.”
“All You Ever Wanted” “I wrote the lyrics a while back. I got pissed off when I went back to Brighton one day. I was like, ‘We should go to [the Blind Tiger Club],’ this old rock ’n’ roll venue. And my mate was like, ‘It’s a coffee shop now.’ It just seemed like everything’s being gentrified. It’s becoming sanitized. Really boring. The things that I romanticize about being 17, 18, it’s the first time going out to see live bands in little, sweaty spit-and-sawdust venues. If those places don’t exist anymore, how do bands and artists cut their teeth? Is it all you ever wanted? Just another fucking coffee shop? Instead of these places that are pretty culturally important?”
“Changing of the Guard” “It’s about how I felt just before I was having my son. And the changes that I knew I was going to have to make—not being able to go out partying so much anymore, and being a bit more responsible. It’s also a little bit about the relationship that I had with my dad, which is now really good, but wasn’t always that great. And how I think it’s important to change the way you go about talking to your children, about being open and honest and not being afraid to share your feelings.”
“Somewhere Along the Way” “We had a free day in Tennessee, and I asked if there was anybody else around the area that we could work with. Someone said, ‘Pat McLaughlin’s a really great songwriter, and he used to play [guitar] with John Prine.’ I’m a massive John Prine fan, so I was geeking out. It was just so fun, man. He came up with a riff for ‘Somewhere Along the Way’ and then we had a jokey conversation about male bravado, about the things that our dads did, like, ‘I’m not going to stop and ask for directions. I can figure out where we’re going.’ Or ‘I don’t need the instructions to put that together’—and then two hours later, everything’s smashed to bits. It’s a bit jovial, this song, not too serious.”
“Time Will Only Tell” “This was also with Pat McLaughlin. The first time we met him was like what you think Nashville writing is going to be like: He walked out of this wooden house wearing dungarees, old dirty boots, and an eye patch. The first thing he played was in a really weird chord progression, a really strange riff. Straight away, I was like, ‘I’ve got lyrics for it.’ We wrote the song in two hours. It’s about being unsure of the world. At the time, Trump was in power and it wasn’t exactly that much better in the UK. It felt like a very weird time for the world.”
“Lightyears” “‘Lightyears’ is about giving yourself advice, talking to your younger self. It’s actually from the perspective of my granddad, saying, ‘Don’t waste your life on negativity, just enjoy being in the moment.’ The production on this was pretty massive. It had all strings all over it and the drums were bigger. It felt just too much. Now it’s just Ben playing the piano. I was playing some Fender Rhodes. And then drums.”
“Party’s Over” “I wrote this with [Cherry Ghost frontman] Simon Aldred, a really good friend of mine. It’s about someone trying to stay in a relationship because they think it’s the right thing to do. It was related to someone that was fairly close to me who was staying together because of the kids, or because they thought they had to, but also being really unhappy. It’s no good for the kids if you’re really unhappy. So it was just about, ‘Look, just leave them, be free, and start afresh’—kind of a really positive message, actually.”
“Old Habits” “This came after the album was supposedly done, written a couple of nights after I’d got back from Nashville. It’s about an old couple I remember always seeing in a pub around here, always drunk and always arguing. But they still stayed together. Two people that are clearly quite bad for each other, but they still somehow work. I started to make a demo of it in the studio, but something about it just sounded too clean. So we set one microphone in the barn [next to his home studio] and played the song live. The first cut we did is the one you hear on the record. It’s just a really live, crusty recording.”
“Anywhere Away From Here” “It came from early on, being in rooms with other people in the industry and feeling like, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ When your first album comes out, you almost get paraded around. And it’s a very uncomfortable feeling. And you’re not sure whether you’ve made the right decision. It felt like so many people wanted my attention. I’m quite a quiet person, and it was difficult to navigate those situations.”