Rachel Chinouriri: From heartbreak to pop gold
As part of our Soho Rising series, in partnership with Bowers & Wilkins, we chat to the British singer-songwriter about the inspiration behind her music and the most surreal moment in her career so far
Wednesday 18 May 2022 Choreography by Waddah Sinada Creative Direction by Olivier Geraghty Grooming by Shamara Roper Interview by Jason Okundaye Makeup by Georgia Hope Photography by Filmawai Efrem Styling by Leah Abbott
Rachel Chinouriri turns lemons into lemonade, heartbreak into harmonies, mourning into magic. ‘I feel like I could never make a happy song, because when I’m happy I can’t write,’ the 23-year-old singer-songwriter explains. ‘For me, music is kind of like therapy. And I’ve always said that even if I didn’t do music as a career, I’d still write because I need to do it to heal.’
To the uninitiated, Rachel Chinouriri is the indie pop sensation from Croydon in the UK, who draws from misery to create some of the most dulcet, atmospheric and spacey music you’ll ever hear. Indeed, a week before we speak, she has previewed her new track ‘Happy Ending’ via her Twitter account where she uses that same alchemy to transform an experience of romantic failure into a glittering indie pop track on which she sings: ‘I never got my happy ending/ Remember us back when.’
These introspective, remorseful lyrics are inspired by recent events in her own life. ‘It’s about my heartbreak,’ the singer says. ‘I was in a five-year relationship and we broke up six months ago. We had promised we’d stay together, but the way he was treating me? I couldn’t stay. He kind of forced me to that decision, so I’m like “I never got my happy ending”, but I also robbed him of one as well.’
The track is a purgative release, regretful at the breakdown of a relationship, but seemingly peaceful with a lack of closure. And, in what Chinouriri describes as a rare feat for her songwriting, completed in one studio session. This speed is testament to how the artist has found her groove in the blues of anguish.
‘Happy Ending’ is the second track from Chinouriri’s third upcoming EP, Better Off Without, which is to be released through Parlophone Records on 20 May. The first track, ‘All I Ever Asked’, came out on 8 March this year and is as much inspired by a friend’s break-up as by her own difficulties, which is something Chinouriri says is true for much of her songwriting. ‘A lot of my stories are personal things or things that happened to my friends,’ she explains. ‘I’m very empathetic towards them, and I think all their stories are a part of me.’
This latest EP also marks a transition for Chinouriri’s sound – for her, it’s the firmest departure from the early, more acoustic music she first began uploading onto SoundCloud in 2018. She describes her soft spot for ‘catchy’ pop music, and how she intends to mix elements of electronic sounds and guitars, drawing inspiration from the likes of Coldplay, Sampha, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. ‘My early stuff was more acoustic, probably because I was a bad producer and I didn’t know how to make any of the guitar sounds I wanted,’ she laughs. ‘It’ll always have a place in my heart, but as an artist I want to have more poppy songs that I can dance to on stage, sing, have a vibe.’
The sound Chinouriri is pursuing for her new EP is supported by an arsenal of collaborators and producers in both the UK and LA, where she’s had recording sessions. ‘I worked with Josh Grant and Emma DD on “Happy Ending” and made two songs with a writer called Josh Scarbrow [who’s worked with Arlo Parks, among others]. My friend Daniel Hylton-Nuamah, HYLNU, always does everything I do, so the sound will still be me because he adds that sparkle.’
Chinouriri’s early musical days, when she was a ‘bedroom pop’ musician, were strongly supported by her family. When she broke the news that she wanted to pursue music instead of going to university, her mum embraced this direction and ‘allowed me to do what I want’. ‘I used to steal her work laptop and record songs on GarageBand. Then, I’d put them on SoundCloud. It was pretty rough back in the day.’
Earrings, Saad Collection; choker, MI MANERA
‘When I’m happy I can’t write. For me music is kind of like therapy.’
But those homemade melodies have paid off, with Chinouriri on a clear path towards success. Having secured supporting act slots with Sam Fender, Lianne La Havas and Celeste, she’s been touted as a rising star, appearing at Soho Farmhouse in mid-April as part of our Soho Rising series. She’s already had her fair share of pinch-me moments, with an impressive track record for an artist who’s creating such fresh sounds and remains untempted by conformity. When her track with Subculture, ‘The River Bend’, was synched for Michaela Coel’s critically acclaimed series, I May Destroy You, Chinouriri was stunned. ‘I was like “woah”, because when I was at The BRIT School I used to use her scripts for my acting work. And when we watched the show, it’s used at such a pivotal moment in the episode.’
Another landmark moment was Chinouriri’s double nomination for the 2021 Ivor Novello Prize, for Rising Star and Best Contemporary Song. ‘I didn’t win, but to be nominated made me feel like a bit of an imposter. To get recognised twice, go to an awards show and see your face on a big screen is a very surreal moment,’ she says.
‘I think a foundation of who I am is a lot of love – platonic, romantic, for a thing, for a person; I just have a lot of love that I feel deeply.’
Earrings, Saad Collection
In May, Chinouriri begins her first ever UK national tour, performing in Bristol, Brighton, Manchester, Leeds, and London. And while she’s adamant that she’ll never write a happy song, there is much to smile about what lies ahead for this promising young talent. Indeed, with such delicate and bright sounds, Chinouriri herself is like spring turning into summer.
Presented in collaboration with Bowers & Wilkins, Soho Rising is our platform for championing the best emerging talent around, giving you the chance to see the stars of tomorrow first. Previous guests have included Arlo Parks, Griff, Holly Humberstone, serpentwithfeet, and Moses Boyd.