Singer/Songwriter Rachel Kerr has been making waves in the music industry for over a decade but had now finally released her first full-length album – Masterpeace. While preparing for her upcoming tour, Rachel found time in her busy schedule to chat with us – discussing her Midland roots, early beginnings, faith and being unapologetically authentic.
When did your passion for music begin?
My passion for music began when I was quite young. I was raised in like a really churchy, Pentecostal environment where my dad was a choir leader. All my aunties sang – to be honest anybody who had the surname “Kerr”, they were a singer so because of that you couldn’t escape music growing up. But the specific day I remember being at home – I think I was probably single digits and I was singing ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ and I sang it and for the first time I heard vibrato – which basically a vocal technique and I was quite impressed with myself. So I went to church, told my best friend to come into the toilet with me and just kind of said to her, “Listen to what I can do!” and by her reaction I realized “Ah, I’m onto something here”.
From then I did a lot of school plays, joined the choir and I just realized that whenever I sang there was a different reaction and when you see that, of course your confidence grows and you become more passionate about that thing. But in actual fact it wasn’t so much singing that just caught my heart, it was more songwriting. I loved the idea of writing and creating from scratch. So to this day I’m still surprised I’m a singer – I always thought I’d be a songwriter but I think that’s probably when the interest in music started.
Growing up within the church, were you allowed to listen to a variety of different musical genres or was it quite strict?
Thank God my parents, I wanna say were quite rebels, in the sense that we could go out, we could go to parties. They were quite strict on me understanding my faith for myself and not following a rule book of strict rules. I think they went through that and it didn’t work for them but they were still able to have a love for God – so they were like, “Rachel, we just want you have a good relationship with God, be good to people and how you express your faith is completely up to you”. So, I was really ready for that because I felt like it just gave me the freedom to do whatever I want but still maintain my integrity.
I think sometimes when rules and regulations are shoved down your throat, it’s so difficult to fall in love with something but for me I was able to express my faith in a way I wanted to but at the same time, just really be me and experience all of what life had to offer. But as I said, I’m grateful because I could listen to everything from Spice Girls to Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child – I listened to pretty much everything and the great thing is, my parents heard something that was just a bop, they’d be totally on board with it. So, I’m grateful for that – they weren’t strict at all.
At what age did you decide that you wanted to break into the industry?
Well, I think, again for me, I never really had ambitions to break in, I just thought let me just do what I can. In actual fact, my main thing was to be a lawyer. From day one I was told that I was good at debating, with negotiations – so my thing was I was gonna be a lawyer and that’s what my sights were set on at the time. I think was around the time for 14/15 I was cast as a contestant on Stars in Their Eyes – which was a musical talent show. When I did that, again, you have a lot of the people, the crew saying, “Have you thought of doing this professionally?” and in my mind, again, all my teachers said “Your gonna be a lawyer” and my family said “You’re gonna be a lawyer” – so I’m like that’s what I’m gonna do. I think it was a year later, I was signed with the Ministry of Sound and I did a lot of writing for them. That was really my first insight into the industry from a song-writing perspective. I’d write songs on a lot of Garage stuff – I was on the same CDs as artists like Craig David.
I think when I finished uni and decided that – again, I was in London to be corporate lawyer, I started singing at open mic nights and before I knew it, I was nominated for a MOBO Award and hadn’t released any music. So, I kind of felt like music found me. I didn’t actually have a plan to break in but it kind of just said “You know what, I’m choosing you”. So, I kind of just went with it, rolled with whatever came and just kind of built from there really. So, I’d be lying if I said I had a timeline of when I was gonna break in. It kind of evolved quite naturally.
And because of that, you’ve received an invitation to Downing Street and an invitation to from a former US President. Did you think that your talent would be called upon by such major figures?
No but I am reminded of something that my mum and my dad and my grandma used to speak over me. It’s a scripture that says: “Gifts will make room for you and they’ll bring you before great men”. They always used to say that whenever they’d pray over or speak to be about my gift, my singing or my talent. Again, being young, I had no idea what that meant, I just listened to them like “yeah ok, cool”. But of course, when it starts to manifest, you realise the importance of the spoken word.
And you’re an entrepreneur as well, having opened your own performing arts school and vocal training academy. What made you decide to do that?
I’ve got a great manager and introduced the conversation. He’s a businessman at heart so he noticed that whenever I started touring or travelling, other people would get in contact and say “I love what Rachel does on stage. Could she teach me or help me?”. A lot of singers would get in contact and I remember at the time feeling like I really wanna help these people because I love teaching, I love giving people advice. Even with my backing vocalists, a lot of the people who are touring with me now, they were quite young. Seeing how they sing now, I found it exciting. You kind of use them as a project and just build them up, pour into them and just allow us all to grow and be the best version of ourselves eventually. So, it was a nice idea to think of doing for other people but there was no official route to do that.
So, when my manager said to me, “Listen I’m getting loads of emails and DMs from aspiring singers asking for help. What do you wanna do with this?”, at the time I was like I just don’t have the time to doing anything official but overtime it grew. We decided to launch online courses, launched an online school and before you know it, we’re teaching in nearly every continent. It’s one of those ones where it’s grown to be a great success. We’ve had some amazing celebrities like Tiwa Savage and P-Square. It was just really from a desire to just help those who were where I was when I first started music and I always say this, it’s always my desire to do for other singers what I wish desperately I had when I started out in music. A mentor, a coach but somebody who can help someone to be the best version of themselves.
Growing up in the Midlands how easy or how difficult was it for you actually go to those outlets to share your art?
I’m really grateful for my roots in the Midlands. I don’t think I’d do well if I was raised in a big city. I feel like with the Midlands, it gives you the chance to focus because there weren’t as many distractions growing up as there were with my friends who were raised in London or a bigger city. Many of attractions which I’m grateful for because if you had a love or a hobby, you could really knuckle down and focus on it and keep out of trouble. Yes, of course we do not have as many outlets to express – well actually, I went to a lot of dance schools and performing arts things but what was unfortunate was that we didn’t always have the roots to major record labels like say London with the Brits School or Sylvia Young or things that have different links with the industry.
We had a lot of endeavors; we had a lot of youth clubs and different things growing up where I could express my talent but it never was an avenue for it now to be a professional endeavor. So, that was the only limitation and I think I did know pretty soon that what I wanted to do in Law, in songwriting, where it could be read and nurtured in the Midlands, it probably wouldn’t have the avenues to blossom. So, yeah, I’m grateful for it – probably wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not had the chance to focus and built my craft in a safe environment but yeah, like with anything you know the time’s come to move on and take it to a different place. So that time came when I was around 18, when I left the Midlands.
I said to my management team that the ultimate desire is to open a performing arts school in Birmingham. One that has a direct link with the industry – not just one that allows people to sing on a Saturday but actually prepares them to be ready to be artists within the industry. So that’s definitely one of my long-term goals that I’m working on.
You’ve released four EPs since you debut and now you’ve finally released your first full-length album – Masterpeace. What made you decide that now was the time to do that?
One thing I always say to aspiring artists or people that I mentor, is you can’t underestimate the importance of the process. I think everyone who has a gift think that tomorrow they can sing and release an album and to be honest, I was that person. What I didn’t realize was, I needed time to find sound, needed time to refine my sound, needed time to understand what I wanted to sing about, what my message was, to develop my brand. Unfortunately, that comes from trial and error and although it feels a bit harsh saying these Eps were trial and error, it was really me just experimenting with my gift – trying different genres, trying different subject matters in terms of my songwriting.
After four, realizing OK, now I know what kinda artist I wanna be, now I know what I wanna stand for, what I wanna sound like, what I want my subject matter to be. It took me a while to really be unapologetic in my sound and what kind of artist I wanted to be and I adamant that I’m not going to put out a debut album, until I know who I am as an artist. Thankfully, again it took four tries, but I’m grateful for my Eps. Now I’ve got my album out, I can 100% say if someone listens to it ten years from now, I can 100% say that was me unapologetically putting out the best of myself as an artist. I’m really proud of it, really, really proud of it.
You said the process is pretty much trial and error, do you think that artist development is lacking within the industry today?
Absolutely. It’s the reason by the grace of God my business has been so successful. We focus on artist development and I don’t feel like we really would have a chance to if record labels were doing what they once did. They want people to be the final versions of themselves or based on popularity on social media, they’ll sign and thrust people into the industry. What I feel like record labels are missing is some amazing talent that just needs a little time to develop.
Once they have that development, with professionals, with coaches, with companies like myself, I think you’ll have way more Adeles, way more Sades, way more people who are global runners in the UK music industry. It’s a shame they don’t have that as much as they once did or the budgets not there. Thankfully, companies like my own understand that missing link and we do relentless artist development in vocal training, performance, technique, coaching – even just understanding the business. Where to register your music to make a profit from it – that’s what we do.
You previously stated, “You only get one debut album – it has to be right”. Who were some of the artists you consider to have perfect debuts? Did you use those albums as inspiration?
One person is Lauryn Hill. I think to this day The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is her only album. So today I feel like it’s still legendary and I absolutely leaned on her. I mean, I toured with her – we did an African tour in 2017 I believe. I met her and she was such a beautiful person and she really pulled into me and was like, “Rachel, you know you’re next right?” We had some great times together, especially in Africa, especially in Lagos. With her, she just did it right. It was unapologetically her; it was something authentic, it was soulful but still commercially viable. It was right. I definitely leaned on Lauryn Hill for my inspiration for this.
Even some of the soundbites on one of her songs there’s like a classroom because of course, the “miseducation” so she’s focusing on education. I remember hearing, I mean many few people pick up on it, but in my song, ‘I Do’ – My lead single from the album, I used a similar sound. I wanted it to have a playful element. I said, “Give me kids in a playground and let’s put that as a soundbite underneath the mix for ‘I Do’” and again that was absolutely inspired by her. So yeah, that’s one artist I can say unapologetically that she got it right and was definitely an inspiration for my creative process.
It took around four years for the album to be completed. How was the creative process especially during COVID?
The creative process was obviously long; a lot of ups and downs especially being an independent artist, everything relies on you. I always say I don’t think it’s really far Rachel Kerr gets applauded for this album because behind the name Rachel Kerr are some incredible men and women who made it possible. If it wasn’t for my manager, there’d be no album – as simple as that. He pushed relentlessly to make sure that the world heard this music.
My producer, my band, even my creative director – there were so many people who were dedicated and took it seriously. Whereas I, can sometimes be a bit flimsy being an artist but as much as I’m passionate, there are times when you too as an artist can get tired of the process but when you have a team behind you, who sometimes believe in you more than you believe in yourself, I always say that Rachel Kerr’s the name, but there are so many amazing minds behind this thing.
It was a long process – it was one that I think now as a team we’re closer than ever because we all had to encourage each other through the long studio nights, through hitting deadlines and stuff like that. One thing that I’m grateful for was every time I felt like giving up, or every time I felt like “I’m over it”, God, the universe or whatever you believe in would give me signs to keep going until it was completed. Now it’s completed, it’s definitely a triumph. Whatever it goes on to do – obviously we’re all hopeful but the fact we were able to complete a full body of work that we’re so proud of and we know has been completed to such a high standard of excellence – we kinda already feel like we’ve won.
The album’s called Masterpeace – is there a hidden meaning behind that?
Yeah – as you can see, we spelt “Masterpeace” as master and peace – the opposite of war. Firstly, it is our masterpiece. Everything we put into this from live instrumentation, the composition of the orchestra, the brass section, my BVs, the songwriting, the production – everything was really crafted to a point of excellence. We really spent time to make sure we’re not just putting out music just for radio fodder but music that could outlive us. So, it was our masterpiece, definitely. On the other side of things as you say the whole spelling being slightly different, it was specifically a request from the universe, to God I guess, when I release this music, of course you want the work of your hands to be profitable and successful but the main thing I want is peace.
I’ve seen this industry and I’ve been in it for a while and I’m grateful for all its afforded me but I’ve also seen a lot of people who have lost their peace in the process. It’s not easy, it’s a lot of hurdles you sometimes have to overcome, a lot of comparisons, a lot of competition but one thing I’ve always been unrelentless in is the pursuit of my peace. Thankfully I’m not just an artist – of course I have a business, I’m a mother, I’m a wife – I have a full life outside of music which I’m really grateful for. I guess it was kinda a request that wherever this music takes me, all I ask for in return is peace.
So if it comes with success then fantastic but that success is in the absence of my peace, quite frankly I don’t want it. Yes, we all want success, we all want money but thankfully I’m in a comfortable place with or without music but I just want this music to give peace to listeners and give me peace in return – that’s the biggest request.
Throughout the album there are references to God and your faith. How important is it for you do incorporate your gospel roots into your music?
To be honest I don’t put an importance on it in terms of every song has to mention my faith because I do think there are things for example if I’m talking about going out with my girls, I may not put my faith in it because quite frankly it doesn’t fit and songs for my significant other, I’m not gonna just put my faith in it because it may not match. My thing is, with everything I write I must admit it’s not well though out. I pretty much write from my heart. If something has a faith element then great – if it doesn’t, cool, great. I don’t make a point that everything I write has to talk about my faith, my belief system – I just want something’s that sincere and is honest to whatever moment I write it in. I’m gonna be honest and say it’s not of great importance but everything I write is absolutely an honest portrayal of whatever I’m going through at the time.
What would you want fans to takeaway from listening to the album?
Wow – that’s a great question. It’s so interesting because I look at my DMs and emails and thank God, people have really connected to this album on an emotional and deep level. I’ve had people literally send me soundbites on Instagram crying with the music in the background like, “You have no idea what this has done for” – with songs like ‘I Am’, that just affirms people’s self-worth. Vulnerable songs like ‘Some More’, ‘Center’ – everyone takes something different from it. It’s so difficult to put into a sentence what I want to take.
My thing is, I would love people to take this album and understand that, when you commit yourself to something, you can achieve things far greater than your expectations. I would love people to take real hope from this album – real hope and understanding that it’s important that in everything you do to be excellent as much as you can. No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes but I feel like because dedicate such excellence to the crafting of this album, I want people to know that you can be an unsigned artist, you can be a UK artist – you don’t have to be a #1 charting artist to still produce work of excellence.
I just want people to have hope to know, “You know what, I can do and I create something on this Earth that is excellent”. That my children’s children can look back on and I can still have it a staple of pride – especially in an industry, in a world where everything’s so microwavable. So quick – quickly bang this out, release it and hope for the best. I want people to really listen to album and realize, “Wow, it’s important to be excellent and to relentlessly be yourself”, in a world where we’re required to be some many different things to fit in. To be honest it’s not just one thing – I’ve mentioned hope, excellence and a few things, but yeah, naturally you want people to walk away and just connect with this on a deeper level. Thankfully, I think people have.
You’ll have the chance to connect with your fans as you have your upcoming tour in June. Will this be your first tour since the pandemic?
Yeah – it will be actually. We did an online concert, like an hour-long few concert – which still available to few on the website. That was really giving people an insight – a whole hour of live concert with me and my band in the studio just giving people a precursor to what to expect on tour. I wanted to give people an insight to what’s to come because we couldn’t travel so we had to put it online but there’s nothing like the real thing. We’ve really been crafting and making sure this tour is explosive. It’s gonna be a good one – we’re really looking forward to it. The band, the team – we’re really looking forward to this one. It’s the first one since the pandemic and we’re excited.
It will be your first tour since you’ve had your baby too?
Absolutely. When we did the online concert, I was actually five months pregnant so people a lot of stylists in the fashion industry were like, “Rachel, we love the oversized suit. It was amazing!” – not realizing it was me tryna hit my belly. So, it will be the first one since she’s been born and it’s gonna be interesting actually. She’s been on a few shows with me already. I always say children really humble you. She’s my first child – she’s really humbled me because quite frankly she doesn’t care – she’s not impressed. As long as she’s getting her food or attention when she wants it; for her she couldn’t care less – which again, is quite nice, quite humbling.
You’ve previously toured: America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. Are there any places you’re dying to go to next?
I’d love to go to Brazil. I’ve got a really big fanbase in Brazil which is so interesting. We were looking at the metrics and statistics recently from Spotify playlists and stuff. I’d see a lot of comments under Instagram posts that are Brazilian or people from Brazil. We then realized how much of a foothold the music has gained in Brazil and South America. So, I’d love to go there. We got a little fanbase in Australia – that’d be a nice place to go to. For me right now, I would love to go to Brazil. We need a find a way to make that happen because they really connect with the music there.
Finally, after your tour, what is next for you?
That’s a great question. To be honest, I know this sounds really bad but I’m not somebody who plans so far ahead. Reason being is, I’ve been an entrepreneur now for nearly 12 years and I’ve learnt that some people who have long plans, they don’t really come to fruition. When you have an idea of what to do day by day and take it a week at a time, it gives you the focus you need to just keep taking steps closer to the goal post. So now, I tend not to have long sighted plans because if you asked me 10 years ago where I’d be, I would definitely not say here.
To be completely honest, I know many people have 10 steps to success or 10-year goals, 20-year goals, 5-year goals – I don’t really live my life like that. My main thing is with the time I’ve been given today, in this moment, in this minute, in this hour, is to do the very best I can. The times when I fall short, let me forgive myself and jump back on the horse the next day. When I do that, I have so much less anxiety, so much less stress on myself. All I can do is the best I can in the time I’ve been given.
Of course, I would love the album to go on to do amazing things across the world and open doors internationally as previous things have done. I would love for the online school and my performing arts academy to continue to grow. I’d love to open a physical school in Birmingham as I mentioned. There are things I would love to do but I’m just committed to doing the best I can with the day I’ve been given, moment by moment. So hopefully as I continue to do that, it will lead to more unexpected and beautiful futures.