Words by Jasmine Bourgeois
Photo by June Canedo
L’Rain is Taja Cheek, a Brooklyn native who makes music that’s experimental and refreshingly intimate. She inhabits a sonic landscape that’s unlike any other — she blends an electronic ambience with a jazz-like clamor and couples it with her lyrical poeticism, creating a genuinely intimate listening experience. Cheek’s openly talked about her mother becoming ill while producing her album, and how deeply her death affected her. Everything about her work drips with vulnerability, and gives a nuanced glimpse into how she balances personal grieving with artistic expression. Tom Tom talked with Cheek about her process.
TTM: Could you tell me about your music-making process? Your work blends so many different sounds and styles — is it a lot of experimenting, or do you sit down with something intentional in mind? A mix of both?
It’s a mix of both. A few years ago I went through a period where I would force myself to come up with different musical ideas every day; uploading them to a public Soundcloud account. I still keep them there and refer to them. I mix and match parts of those demos to create new songs, but sometimes I come up with material in my sleep and groggily wake up and record them in their entirety.
TTM: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard you before?
L’Rain is still a fairly new project, so it’s more helpful for me to learn about what listeners hear than it is for me to find extra-musical ways of communicating my concepts and ideas. I guess I’m more interested in a Barthes, Death of the Author, approach to genre. I would hope that people would find elements of gospel, 90s r&b, and different genres of “experimental music” (for lack of a better term) in my music, but I generally try to remain as illegible as possible. There is power in remaining indiscernible. I like to exist in a liminal space.
TTM: You’ve talked openly about your mother becoming ill while working on the album, and how grief manifests in different ways throughout it. How do you incorporate vulnerability into your music? Your everyday life?
Vulnerability is something I think about a lot. To be honest, I find it increasingly difficult to figure out the boundaries of my personal and private life. Even more so when my art is so tied to my lived experience. I haven’t figured it out; I assume it will be a process, not a fixed state at which I’ll ever arrive.
There is a part of me that feels equal parts guilty and thankful for being able to share a glimpse of my grieving process with strangers. I love building opportunities into my life for me to think about my mom. It’s overwhelming but it also brings me so much joy. That dichotomy is something I’m super interested in: grief and joy, emotional uncertainty. Anyone who has dealt with adversity in their life understands this as a normal part of life. It is a survival mechanism for those of us that live in societies that systematically exclude and abuse us. We learn to find joy when it’s almost certain that there is none. We’re light scavengers. All of this said, my record documents many tumultuous elements of my life, and I’m only prepared to talk about some of them.
TTM: What atmospheres do you try to foster in your shows, and through your music more broadly?
Right now, I mostly play in bars and clubs, but I’m disinterested in the vibe that these venues nurture. I like the idea of turning these spaces upside down: making them quiet, vulnerable, and reflective, instead of loud and irreverent. Or, maybe I’m illuminating the ways in which these two modes of being are more related than separate. It’s an interesting production dilemma for me to think through ways of disorienting a bar space with limited time, resources and money. Instead of production pyrotechnics, I have to search within myself for small sincere gestures. It’s a valuable exercise in exploring the limits of performance if nothing else. How do you create a lot with a little?
Keep Up With L’Rain
We featured L’Rain in issue 34. You can buy the issue and read the full feature on our shop.