Premiere: Levi James - Same Wave
Racka Chachi frontman steps out in solo mode with a powerful debut single of diverse, tempo shifting sounds
For over half a decade now, Boorloo/Perth-based hip hop/funk collective Racka Chachi have been making a name for themselves with both their energetic, party-starting live shows (that have seen them share stages with the likes of Spacey Jane, Death By Denim and Adrian Dzvuke), as well as a consistent stream of singles including WAM Song of the Year nominated Mother God.
Now the time is right for Racka Chachi founder, frontman and producer Levi James to unveil his solo project with debut single Same Wave, out August 11 but premiering on Pilerats today. Growing up on hardore punk, underground hip hop and radio pop, Levi James channels these disparate yet overlapping styles into a driving, diverse and bouncy sound, with these influences proving to be greater than the sum of their parts as heard on his first single.
A track of two parts (in just four minutes!), Same Wave opens with sampled guitar strums setting the scene before giving way to hypnotic drum breaks and a big, bold bassline, while guest vocalist QB (Racka Chachi) lays down a soulful vocal hook, a perfect compliment to James’ rapid fire raps that soon kick things up a notch and pushes things forward.
Keeping us on our toes, Same Wave progresses into a delightfully unexpected beat switch, slowing things right down into a late night, head nod inducing funk journey, channeling Thundercat vibes.
While Same Wave may be his debut solo single, James’ passion for collaboration shines through as the track not only features the vocals from QB but also co-production and mixing from Ezekial Padmanabham (Grace Sanders, Gazey) Diyla (Racka Chachi) on additional vocal recording, Pilerats alumni and visual wiz Austy on artwork and visuals, and veteran, award winning engineer James Newhouse (San Cisco, John Butler) on mastering duties.
To celebrate the release of Same Wave, we got to know Levi James and his new solo project & single - take a listen a day ahead of release and get to know:
Congratulations on your debut single! How long has this single and solo project been cooking for?
I've always wanted to release solo music, I think the last 10 years playing in different bands and groups helped me try new things, refine my taste and sound to the point where I felt like I had a grasp of what I am all about as an artist and what my voice was.
I wrote 'Same Wave' about a year ago, shortly after moving out of my childhood house. After packing my whole life up and setting myself up in my own space it was super liberating to create in an environment that had no creative or emotional baggage. 'Same Wave' was the first thing I wrote after moving and I think you can feel that freedom in the track. Since then it has been a team effort to refine, polish and get the track to a point where it was ready to be heard by the world!
How would you describe your sound?
I have a very broad musical taste and find a lot of excitement in contradictions. My initial catch ups with track collaborator and co-producer Ezekial Padmanabham were hilarious as we established shorthand for what I was trying to achieve with my music. A couple of those gems were 'The Jeff Rosenstock of Rap' and 'if Jay Kay from Jamiroquai grew up listening to The Mars Volta'.
I grew up on punk and hardcore music, but have always felt that hip-hop gives me the greatest scope vocally and lyrically to push myself. So it's really about embracing chaotic elements of punk and combining it with a hip-hop / pop-rap framework. I still want shit to be catchy even if it's noisy or a bit messy.
I think N.E.R.D perfected that world where they could easily jump between punk, hip-hop, funk and pop while still retaining that authenticity.
Tell us about your creative process?
I typically work in 3 phases: creation, collaboration & refinement.
I can really only create when I am alone. Especially when trying to establish a solo voice, and the fact that my last 2 bands both had 8+ members haha. I usually start with guitar and will have different chord progressions recorded randomly in my voice memos. I have had the chords for this track since 2018, but could never really do anything with them. Once I went back to these chords and found the right drum groove, the song kind of wrote itself from there. At this point I had written the drums, guitar, bass and vocal hook.
In collaboration, I look both within my circle and outside of my circle. My first port of call is always QB (Bianca Nayar). She is my partner of 14 years and we have been playing in bands together since we were 14 years old. I always write vocal lines knowing that she will be able to work off my idea and infinitely improve it. I also really respect and look up to two of my best mates and collaborators Good Deeds (Andre Georges) and Diyla (Murray Williamson). I have played in bands with those legends for 10 years so I always get feedback and advice from them while I am demoing tracks.
I then step outside of my circle and work with people I feel like I could learn a lot from in the collaboration and refinement phases. In this case it was Ezekial Padmanabham. Zeke is one of the most talented musicians and producers in Perth; and more importantly; he is one of the most genuine, patient and down to earth people I have met in this industry. He had played bass for Racka Chachi in the early days and I have long admired his work with Grace Sanders and Gazey. It was so valuable to see his process and learn from him and I think he killed it on the track!
Tell us about Same Wave?
The inspirations for 'Same Wave' were a bit out there haha. Like I mentioned above, I had the chords for ages but just didn't know what to do with them. That was until I heard a track on my throwback punk playlist while on a morning walk. I heard the track 'This Could Be Anywhere in the World' by Alexisonfire for the first time since I was like 16. I heard that drum groove and it was a big lightbulb moment. That energy and bounce was what I was looking for. I literally ran home from my walk and made the whole track that day.
Another key influence was Diana Ross. I really wanted a big iconic drum intro like in 'I'm Coming Out'. I initially had a drum break that I had chopped into a bit of a fill but there ain't nothing like live drums, so Zeke got behind the kit and smashed out a killer drum intro that I think will translate into a really fun live set.
It feels equally absurd and appropriate that my first solo track is influenced by Alexisonfire and Diana Ross.
How does your solo project differ from your work with Racka Chachi?
I always joked that I had the easiest job in Racka Chachi. With 5 other vocalists I could write 8 or 16 bars, drop it on a track and dip knowing that an amazing vocalist was going to pick up from where I left off. With my solo work, it has challenged me to get deeper, hold attention and explore lyrical ideas a little more thoroughly. This is always a challenge for me as my writing style is usually quite vignette-y or cryptic.
I make art to challenge myself and grow. Racka Chachi challenged me to put myself out there and use my voice. My solo project is very much the next logical step - what happens when I rip away all other support mechanisms? It's just me - alone on the track or on stage.
In short, the difference is that the high-pitched nasally dude has 3 minutes on a track instead of 30 seconds - for better or worse! haha
What's coming up for the rest of the year?
It's a really exciting time. Racka Chachi is very much coming to an end of its lifespan - at least in its current form. So far I have been blown away by all the members who have begun dropping solo music and working on other musical projects. We plan to honour what RC did for all of us with a bit of a 5 year celebration / wind down show later this year.
After that, it's going to be very interesting - I have a bunch of music I have made with Good Deeds and QB as well as Diyla too. We don't really know what's going to happen but we are all really excited about what the next phase of our creative careers looks like.
Outside of that I will be travelling a lot, parenting my cat and working on my sleep schedule!
How can fans best support your music?
At this point, I am really excited for people to hear my stuff so you can obviously find it on streaming platforms, bandcamp, soundcloud etc!
You can also stay up to date and have a chat with me over on Instagram.
Send me tunes.
What have you been listening to lately?
This year I have gone back and started listening to some older punk stuff I was super into as a teen like Gorilla Biscuits, Hostage Calm, Set Your Goals & Refused.
In terms of new music, I have been super excited by the new KNOWER record and SCARING THE HOOOOOES.
Oi and a bunch of singles dropped by underscores, Zack Villere, Teezo Touchdown & Jean Dawson have been maaassively inspirational for me.
2023 is anything but a 'mid' year in my books, popular music is heading in a very interesting direction!
Levi James' debut single Same Wave is out August 11