L’Rain’s Taja Cheek keeps everything she records: a voice note she made a couple days ago, a demo she recorded back in high school, it doesn’t matter. It could be mediocre, mortifying, or just kind of good; regardless, it’s saved somewhere — because one day, it might be brilliant. “I try to operate under the philosophy that there actually aren’t any bad ideas,” Cheek tells Rolling Stone, “just bad executions.”
Cheek regularly returns to these old recordings and ideas, and stitches and molds them into the wonderfully weird (in a good way), immersive, and emotionally potent compositions that have made L’Rain one of the most exciting artists working. Her new song, “r(EMOTE)” — from her upcoming third album, I Killed Your Dog, out Oct. 13— is a prime example of how this process produces remarkable results, even if took a whole lot of work to get there.
Cheek says “r(EMOTE)” is “pretty old in a lot of ways,” and combines “a couple of things” from a “secret Soundcloud” filed with music she made under another name. While working on I Killed Your Dog, Cheek started seeing musical and thematic ties with these old demos and decided it was time to resurrect them. Doing so, however, was not easy. She remembers one session producing multiple versions of “r(EMOTE),” one even sub-titled “r(EMOTE) – it is what it is” because neither she nor her close collaborators, Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, were sure they could make the song work.
“It was really because we were trying to figure out how to balance the sounds on the [old] demo with new sounds, and we somehow cracked the code,” she says. “It feels very triumphant to have it on the record, because we almost scrapped it many times.”
Fittingly, Cheek unstuck the song and bridged the gap between past and present by going back to basics and embracing a long-favorite trick: looping her vocals. On “r(EMOTE),” her voice floats through a dense fog of synths that eventually cut through with a wicked skitter of drums. She repeats only a couple of phrases, but they capture the way heartache lingers, and never really seems to dissipate. “Maybe one day, maybe one day, maybe one day… I will dust myself off, forget you came, wallow in loneliness ’til I feel nothing.”
Throughout I Killed Your Dog, Cheek explores the ways “we hurt people that we’re close to in romantic relationships, in friendships, in whatever kind of relationship.” That can be a heavy task, and “r(EMOTE)” immerses itself in the despair and uncertainty that accompanies the dissolution of any relationship. But Cheek was also keen on conducting these explorations in more pointed, wicked ways. See the last L’Rain single single, “Pet Rock,” or just look at the album title, I Killed Your Dog.
“I love dogs, and that’s probably the worst thing I can think of doing to someone, short of hurting them,” Cheek says. “And I wanted the title to feel visceral, to show a diabolical side of the project that I feel like comes out in the live show.”
For the record, though, Cheek notes she finally just got a dog of her own after thinking about it for years. “I didn’t think about the timing and how absurd that is,” she says with a laugh. “His name is Icon, he’s a Havanese-poodle mix. We thought he was an introspective, chill dog, but it turned out that he was deathly ill. And so we had to take him to the ER. It was really sad. They had to keep him there overnight, and we’ve been restoring him back to health, so now he’s a normal puppy.” (Alas, Icon is not the dog featured in the “r(EMOTE)” visualizer.)
I Killed Your Dog marks L’Rain’s third album and follows her acclaimed 2021 LP Fatigue. She has a bunch of fall tour dates in support of the LP lined up, starting Oct. 20 at Pioneer Works in New York City, followed by stops in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. She’ll also play several West Coast dates in late November and early December.
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