L'Rain's Latest Album 'Fatigue' Explores The Power Of Change

Jun 27, 2021
Originally published on June 28, 2021 2:39 pm

Updated June 28, 2021 at 4:36 PM ET

What have you done to change? That's the question that musician L'Rain, also known as Taja Cheek, poses on the opening track of her new album fatigue, which was released June 25.

The album's title is a note on the difficult nature of transformation: "I think change is hard, and healing is hard. And it can be a tiresome process. And the title is somewhat pessimistic, I guess, but I wanted to open up a space where people could be OK with not being OK," L'Rain says.

The artist's 2017 self-titled debut album centered on her grief, following the death of her mother.

"I think grief now is just embedded into the project, where my mother is always present and always a part of how I think about music and how I think about my art," L'Rain says. "But I know that grief is a process and that my relationship to it is always shifting and changing."

She insists that even though there's pain, there's joy, too: L'Rain is able to "inhabit a lot of different truths at the same time" and remember happy moments from the past while living in an uncertain present. She says many marginalized people have this experience "where [they] can be grieving and also dancing and remembering and singing and crying."

"That's just kind of the reality of life – and especially life for me, I think, as a Black woman," she says. "The joy is always there. And my mom, I think, also really exemplified that in a lot of ways where, you know, she had a lot of hardships in her life, but she was never without gratitude. And that's something I really am trying to incorporate into my own life."

Family — and sense of place — are constants in her life and work. She was born and raised in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where her grandfather owned a jazz club on Nostrand Avenue in the 1950s. L'Rain's music is about remembering her family's collective history as well as her own personal history: She says her music is an attempt to hold onto those special, little moments that so often slip our minds.

"Throughout the whole album, there are lots of audio recordings that I take periodically throughout my life just to remember what happened and to have an opportunity to relive it," she says. Mid-way through the album, one of the tracks, "Love Her," is just a recording of her and one of her best friends, a former roommate. "She would always sing in the apartment when we were together, and we would make up these silly songs. And that's one of the songs that she made up."

At first, neither of them had really remembered that day, but when she played the recording for the first time, L'Rain says, "I was immediately transported back to that day and how happy I felt with her at that moment."

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

What have you done to change? That's the question musician L'Rain poses on the opening track of her new album, "Fatigue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY, DIE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What have you done to change?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And after this past year forced us all to adapt, L'Rain offers her music as a space to explore the power and consequences of making change. And L'Rain, whose real name is Taja Cheek, joins me now. Hello.

L'RAIN: Hi. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm well. Your first album was about grief, which you experienced after losing your mother. How did going through that process of grief led you to this album?

L'RAIN: I think grief now is just embedded into the project where my mother is always present and always a part of how I think about music and how I think about my art. But I know that grief is a process and that my relationship to it is always shifting and changing. And that led me here, to just thinking through the nature of change itself as I'm sort of changing in relationship to grief.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, how does "Fatigue," the title, fall into that theme of sort of change and adaptability?

L'RAIN: I think change is hard, and healing is hard. And it can be a tiresome process. And the title is somewhat pessimistic, I guess, but I wanted to open up a space where people could be OK with not being OK, with being tired, with, you know, trying to wrap their minds around whatever they're going through in their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLAME ME")

L'RAIN: (Singing) Maybe ‘cause you love me. Thinking about it lately. Future poison-blooded little babies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it hard to find joy now, those little pieces that keep you sort of grounded in your life and what makes it worth living?

L'RAIN: It's not (laughter). And it's not because I'm able to remember. And I think that's something that a lot of marginalized people live with, where we're forced to inhabit a lot of different truths at the same time, where we can be grieving and also dancing and remembering and singing and crying. That's just kind of the reality of life and especially life for me, I think, as a Black woman. The joy is always there. And my mom, I think, also really exemplified that in a lot of ways where, you know, she had a lot of hardships in her life, but she was never without gratitude. And that's something I really am trying to incorporate into my own life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, let's talk about your family. You were born and raised in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, N.Y., where you are now. And I understand your family has a musical legacy in that neighborhood that you've been trying to retrace and find.

L'RAIN: Yes, it's true. My dad's dad had a jazz club on Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights in the '50s. And it's been great to talk about it because I feel like (laughter) anyone that hears about it has been trying to find little bits of information, and we're all kind of collectively piecing it together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, what has the search for your grandfather's jazz club taught you about change and its legacy? I mean, how does this fit into making this album?

L'RAIN: I think a lot about my place in Brooklyn, I think New Yorkers are very proud. And I feel like New Yorkers incorporate their New York-ness (ph) into everything they do. And I don't think I'm much of an exception. And I feel the spirit of my family and my legacy when I walk around, which maybe sounds kind of woo-woo (ph), but it's true. I do. And it's amazing to have roots in a place like this and to think that the things that I'm doing are related to things that my ancestors were also doing and thinking about. That's really powerful to me. And in moments where I feel doubt creeping in or feeling nervous or hesitant, I really try to come back to that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there a song that you want us to play out that sort of shows how you've changed or learned about change, something that resonates to the, you know, music that you created?

L'RAIN: Maybe a segment from "Find It" that has some voice recordings from moments of my life. And throughout the whole album, there are lots of audio recordings that I take periodically throughout my life just to remember what happened and to have an opportunity to relive it. I have a horrible memory. So first and foremost, I do it so I can just go back to things that have happened in my life. And one of those recordings is in the middle of this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'RAIN SONG, "FIND IT")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And when you go back, I mean, do you sort of relive those moments? Do you recognize the person you were then? Do you think about how much you've changed or not changed?

L'RAIN: Oh, sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. There's a track in particular, "Love Her," that is a recording of one of my best friends and my old roommate. And she would always sing in the apartment when we were together, and we would make up these silly songs. And that's one of the songs that she made up. And I played it for her after the fact, and she really hadn't remembered it. And I honestly hadn't really remembered it until I played it, and then I was immediately transported back to that day and how happy I felt with her at that moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE HER")

L'RAIN: Sing the rest (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) I want to dance in a crowded room. But all the sounds I hear is boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Boom, boom, boom, boom.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you know what's striking hearing you talk about this? How much we forget. Like, every bit of our lives is passing by, and we forget so much of it, those little moments.

L'RAIN: Yeah. I think those are the special moments, and those are the ones I want to try to hold on to if I can. And so I guess my music is an attempt.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'RAIN SONG, "TWO FACE")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: L'Rain, also known as Taja Cheek's new album is called "Fatigue."

Thank you very much.

L'RAIN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'RAIN SONG, "TWO FACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.