Ravi: ‘I Felt Like I Was Standing At The Edge of A Cliff By Myself’
The rapper, songwriter, producer and VIXX member details his latest LP ‘Love and Fight,’ the process of concept-creation, and finding his identity as an artist
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Ravi joins us for this interview on Valentine’s Day, 2022. Incidentally, it’s the perfect date to match the theme of his brand new LP, Love and Fight – a supremely powerful record that blends fury, passion, heartbreak and indifference to present all the emotions that surround being in a relationship. It dropped a few days prior, on February 8th, and is the VIXX member’s strongest solo release yet.
It’s towards the end of Ravi’s schedule when he logs onto the Zoom call, but he still manages to look impeccable in a crisp white shirt and black suit. He sips an iced coffee and smiles at my enthusiasm as he answers every question in detail, bowing his head in thanks every time I praise his work. He’s soft-spoken and gentle (a huge contrast from the exuberant, bold rapper we see onstage) but remains intimidating because of his elegance and attention to detail. The conversation is deep and just as powerful as the album – he’s extremely forthcoming about all of his thoughts and feelings, and it’s a privilege to see this side of him.
A few days before our conversation, Ravi had sent me the notes he’d made for each track on Love and Fight that outlined his thoughts during the songwriting process. “A key word other than ‘love’ and ‘fight’ from this album would be ‘hate’ as well,” he explains when I bring up the note for my favorite B-side, “Cannonball,” which also features singer-songwriter Paul Blanco. His note had stated about the track, “The lyrics I wrote at the time, I often thought the world wanted me dead,” and the frankness of it had shocked me. “When I was writing these lyrics, I was thinking about when I was having a hard time. I felt like people hated me. I felt very vulnerable, like almost standing at the edge of a cliff by myself. So, I think the lyrics just came out very easily, very naturally. I just really tried to focus on that feeling of loneliness.”
The themes go beautifully with the sound he’s built the entire record around – rock. There’s probably no other genre that conveys raw angst better, and Ravi shares that he’s always loved it and this was the right time to bring the sound into an album. I tell him I was reminded of Simple Plan and Sum 41 at certain points and he agrees, adding that he listened to a lot of Oasis, Guns ‘N’ Roses and 5 Seconds of Summer while recording Love and Fight. He’s dipped into rock before with 2020s “Rockstar” from his first LP El Dorado and more recently with “Ani,” a 2021 single with (G)I-DLE’s Jeon Soyeon, but Love and Fight expands on his love for the genre. He explores more branches as he delivers pop-punk, (“Warrior”), alternative rock (“Virus” with JUSTHIS and “Winner” with Ash Island), rock ballads (“Cannonball” with Paul Blanco) and more, adding his own special twists with R&B, trap and piano blends (“Let Me Down Slowly” with Cold Bay and “1,2,3” with Xydo). It’s complex and seems to switch between tones like anger, grief, acceptance and vindication. “So far, I’ve been trying different genres, different styles and sounds,” he explains. “But for this album, I wanted to make a sound that is very Ravi-specific. So whenever people hear the sound, they can think of me.”
In this exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, the rapper, producer and songwriter opens up about concept creation, album design, balancing his duties as an artist and CEO of two labels (Groovl1n and The L1ve), and finding his identity through Love and Fight.
Congratulations on the release of Love and Fight, Ravi, it’s a beautiful album. How long did it take to prepare this record and how are you feeling now that it’s out?
Thank you. This is my second album, so it actually took a very long time to make. It took me about one and a half years to complete. I really wanted to make an album that’s very satisfactory to me and to all the hard-working staff that worked on this album as well. So I’m just very thankful and very happy that the album is out and now I’m just getting ready for the concert.
What was your starting point in terms of the theme? I know the album looks at different kinds of love and different aspects of it, so what was the vision that you had when you started working on this record?
I think that for this album, my main focus was to be musically specific,and have my specific color as a musician. So far, I’ve been trying different genres, different styles and sounds. But for this album, I wanted to make a sound that is very Ravi-specific. So whenever people hear the sound, they can think of me. So I really wanted to focus on the funky, rock-band sound to go into this album.
It was really amazing to see you dive into rock because I think it’s a great match. It was very nostalgic because I was reminded of bands like Sum 41, Simple Plan, and artists from the late Nineties and 2000s. What inspired you to dive into rock? Is it something that you grew up with?
Rock is definitely a genre that I frequently listen to. So, for this album, I mainly listened to a lot of 5 Seconds of Summer, Oasis and Guns ‘N’ Roses.
What are some of the themes that you wanted to explore and can you tell me a little bit about the meaning of the title? What do you hope fans take away from Love and Fight?
So, speaking specifically about the title song “Winner,” I think it was my favorite track sound-wise. For the rest of the record, I want the listeners to just enjoy the general sound and flow and story behind this whole album. I want them to think about the differences and similarities between the two key words, ‘love’ versus ‘fight.’ I want them to really focus especially on the lyrics, because they can have different translations and different interpretations. I think that’s one of the fun things that you can enjoy about the album.
You are a brilliant songwriter. Since you began your solo career, and since you have been releasing your albums, I personally connect to your songwriting very much. It’s very honest, very raw. When you write, what are your points of inspiration? What do you have in mind when you write a song?
I’ve been getting this question a lot, about my inspiration and where I get them, when I get them as well. I would say that I’m not living a very dynamic life as some people might imagine. I live a rather simple life – it’s just work, you know, eat and sleep and work again. So I usually draw inspiration from very small things. It can be from a book or movie or conversation with friends, or even from other artists, and I kind of put my interpretation and imagination onto it and I write my own story on top of those very small daily inspirations.
In your notes about the album, you talked about how you think you have a better idea of who you are now, after making this album. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey of finding your own identity? How did you know that you had found yourself with Love and Fight?
I think the reason why I used that specific term in that note is that I truly learned how to express myself as Ravi, the musician, with this album, like, where to go, what kind of sounds I should be making. And you know, just what colors I should paint for me as an artist. I thought having a very vivid color and vivid style as an artist was very important while making this album, and that’s something I got to really learn and really discover during the process.
I’ve always wanted to ask you this because you also produce and write music for many other musicians. How does the process differ when you’re writing for yourself versus when you’re writing for another artist? What are the differences in how you approach a song or create a song?
I guess the approach is totally different from the get-go. So, when I’m making a song or producing a song for other artists, I try to separate myself from my standards. I really try to go into those artists and into their shoes and think about their style and their fans, etc. I have to consider the artist’s taste and preference as well, and not just mine. So, I think just working together and fitting each other is the most important thing. And as for me, when I’m making my own music, I just do whatever I want because it’s mine [laughs]! But I do consider how each song is fitting for each album. So for example, even though I have a good melody, it might not be fit for this album, I might have to save it for another album. Or it might just not be for me and I just can’t do that song. You know, it’s very different, so I’ve just got to think about that. But for my music I just do whatever I want. That’s the main difference.
So that brings me to my next query: How do you choose which song goes into an album? What is your deciding factor? Like, how do you know that this is right for Love and Fight, versus something you might release in the future?
I guess the first thing is, I always have a very general plan first. I just think about the sounds, what kind of sounds and style and genre would fit in this album. So, for this Love and Fight album, I’ve had 18 to 19 songs ready to go into it, but I just had to choose from them. So I would just line them up straight and think about the general flow of the album, and start listening from start to end and think about whether this sound might be fitting for this number, or would the song not be fitting for this album. In that process, the producers, the whole staff and I shared a lot of opinions; we discussed a lot and then we decided which track goes on top of which and that’s how we picked out 11 songs to fit into this album.
Well, your computer must be like one treasure trove of unheard music for fans.
[Laughs] That’s why I always have a passcode to my room!
Tell me a little bit about your collaborators because so many of the artists on Love and Fight are prominent names in the scene – Ash Island, Paul Blanco, Xydo, Nafla, JUSTHIS and more. How do you choose which artists you want to work with and how do you know which artist fits a particular song?
For this album, I actually met each of the collaborators in person, and I shared the songs with them. We listened together in my studio and we talked about them very casually. Then someone would just show interest in one track and they’d say, “Oh, I really want to be part of this song,” or I would suggest it first and then we would talk about it. So, I guess the whole process was very natural for this album.
With each of the artists, their style is very clear on the track, but you don’t lose who you are and I think that’s brilliant.
Thank you so much!
My favorite song on this album was “Cannonball.” I thought it was beautiful and I looked up the lyrics and it was so emotional. In the album notes you sent me, you said about the song, “The lyrics I wrote at the time I often thought the world wanted me dead.” This is something I could really connect to. What is the story behind this song and the space that you were in when you wrote it?
Yes, I had those thoughts when I was going through a very hard time. So, a key word other than ‘love’ and ‘fight’ from this album would be ‘hate’ as well. When I was writing these lyrics, I was thinking about when I was having a hard time. I felt like people hated me. I felt very vulnerable, almost like I was standing at the edge of a cliff by myself. So I think the lyrics just came out very easily, very naturally,. I just really tried to focus on that feeling of loneliness. I’m just glad to hear that people can really relate to the message and can get some type of healing message from these very hate-filled lyrics. The lonely feeling that I really tried to put on this track, if they can, you know, just relate to it, I’ll be glad. So that’s why I love this track, it is very special to me. I just wanted to tell the story of how hate can be spread. And even though the person who hated you then might not be hating you now, that hate can go to anyone. So, it’s not your fault. It’s just that hate is a very spreadable disease. That’s the story I really wanted to put on this track.
While creating this album, were there any challenges during the production process that we as fans don’t know about?
For this album, every song went through a very thorough edit. So, we had to record the drums or guitars or even my vocals several times. For example, in the track “Virus,” the first verse actually had a totally different melody. When we recorded it, we thought it’s not the best one that we could make, so we just decided to not use the whole original melody and go for a very, very different one. So yeah, overall, we just went through very, very harsh edits for this album.
I also love your attention to detail when it comes to music videos. Where does your visual journey begin and how do you begin planning what the concept is going to be?
I start by imagining what kind of picture I really want to paint for the music video. In “Winner,” the lyrics are about telling a loved one that ‘you’re always a winner and I’m always destined to lose to you because I love you so much.’ I really wanted to tell that story and put it in the music video. So, we came up with the idea of running away, but you can’t win. After all, you always get caught and the other person is always the winner. I will say that overall, the music video is always a collaboration between me, the director and the staff. We always go through many long meetings, and we pay special attention to the details as well. That’s how we can produce a really detailed-oriented music video like this one.
Your album packaging is another unique feature about you. I own R.ookbook and I love the way you made it look like a fashion lookbook by throwing in details from actual look books, like model polaroid shots in each look, clothing labels, entry passes, and different photoshoot concepts for each ensemble. How do you come up with your album concepts and what the final product is going to look like? From start to finish, what is the process?
Since this album is the second album, the second LP, I kind of wanted to make its whole size and packaging somewhat similar to my first LP El Dorado. That was the first thing we decided on. Then we had two key colors: red and black. That’s why we came up with the key item of the rose. We used the red roses and the black roses to kind of combine them together to make a cool design. We actually came up with the logo first; we thought that by making a logo first and then having the design kind of fit together, it would work automatically to complete the whole packaging. So things just happened step by step. Also, the title track of “Winner” gave us the idea of chess, so that came about as well.
Let’s talk about some fun stuff. I love your YouTube channel. You’re so funny, and you make so many different kinds of content. It’s super entertaining when you have guests on the channel and then you also share parts of your life with your vlogs. What was your goal when you started your YouTube channel? Do you feel you’ve met that goal?
I would say rather than having specific goals, I just wanted to make good and funny content that I can share with everybody. Another reason why I started the YouTube channel is because it’s a platform with a lot more freedom of content rather than being in a broadcast system.
How do you balance so many things? You’re the CEO of two incredible labels, you have so many things in your schedule – making your own music, writing for the artists, appearances on shows. What is the key to balancing it all? What would be your advice to someone searching for balance?
I’ll say the key is sleeplessness, you can’t sleep a lot [laughs]. And I basically calculate. I like to calculate everything, for example, from when to when I’m going to be here and from when to when I’m going to be moving somewhere, that kind of stuff. That really helps me keep focused on my schedule. And the mindset behind it would be that I’m responsible for everything I do, and everything I want to do. That really helps me to stay grounded, and just keep moving. For the most part, I can’t do this by myself, so I’m glad to work with a wonderful team of people like the producers, staff, and other artists. So yeah, I’m just glad to have such a good team of people around me all the time to help me keep going.
Stream Ravi’s LP ‘Love and Fight’ below: