Rajolei Pickens brings soulful sound to 77901 Wine Bar
By BY MELISSA CROWE - MCROWE@VICAD.COM
Feb. 20, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 19, 2013 at 8:20 p.m.
If life's got you stressed, take some "me time" Friday with Rajolei Pickens at the 77901 Wine Bar.
Pickens' songwriting focuses on soulful topics - life, love and the human spirit - and leaves his listeners with a sense of rejuvenation.
While he is influenced by 1970s soul music, he makes the style his own by adding elements of reggae, folk, rock and blues.
He caught up with Get Out this week to talk about his style, inspirations and his musical creed.
WHAT'S YOUR PHILOSOPHY TO SONGWRITING?
To share a message, to get away and to tell a story. The rhythm can start a song for me and the energy you try to project.
I'm still evolving as a songwriter. It boils down to a story, even if it's not necessarily my story. I try to make it universal and inspire people to do what they feel they are meant to be. I think we're all here for a reason; it's harder than we think to find it.
There's no manual to your particular situation, so you have to create it. It's the poetry and poets that have inspired me to - you almost have to get in a different space, one that can help you try to make sense of it.
There's no manual. You have to listen to your own heart, your own soul and do what you've found to be right. When I'm doing my best is when I'm focusing on something other than my own desires.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU SEE YOUR MUSIC HAVING ON THE AREA MUSIC SCENE?
I think it could be good. I'm trying to think regionally. I think there are people who would like to hear different styles of music. It can bring people together who aren't wanting to hear the other stuff all the time.
I have come across some of the younger people who are into the blues style. Hopefully, they can stay more original or true to themselves in writing their own music.
Doing my own thing has been a challenge for me. Every day, one of the hardest things is to be yourself and accept personal freedom, personal spiritual freedom.
It's good to be inspired by others, but you can't be someone else no matter how much you appreciate what they've done artistically.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING TO LATELY?
I've been liking some zydeco, Papa Mali who does New Orleans funk, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield and some Gillian Welch - she's a folk singer.
I listen to a lot of different stuff. Besides my own music, lately I've been trying to get into more zydeco and upbeat, happier stuff. I went through a Jackson Browne kick a few months ago.
What I've been trying to think about is finding a cultural connection. I spend too much time being sad and introspective sometimes. This, you can actually dance to it.
YOU RECENTLY MOVED TO VICTORIA?
I've been in Victoria a little more than a year now from Houston. I went to school in Austin, went to Houston then back to Austin then back to Houston then here. My wife is from here. We wanted to be closer to her family.
It's been pretty good overall. It took a little bit of adjusting. The last place we were living in Houston was really loud - we were on the way to the major freeway and close to the police and fire stations, so there were constant sirens and the kids couldn't really go outside the gate. It was really hectic. It's been nice to be able to see the stars and get across town in 20 minutes.
HOW HAS THE CHANGE OF SCENERY FROM HOUSTON AFFECTED YOUR SONGWRITING?
I've written a little bit since I moved to Victoria. With the adjustment and trying to transition, I wasn't playing a whole lot, but I started teaching lessons, and it got me to thinking about theory and taking care of my equipment a little bit better.
I've written about a song and a half. I feel like I'm in a better space to write.
It's a happier song that started with the whole Mayan Apocalypse thing: that we'd wake up the next day and be here. It's evolved into hopefully an anthem with a little bit of a rock and roll beat. An anthem for me to carry on and go out and live this kind of life of playing and writing. It's called "The Iridescent Blues."
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING AND WRITING?
I've been playing about 23 years off and on. I'm 38 now. I started playing piano at 7, then I started playing guitar and writing at 15. I grew up mostly listening to gospel music. My first performance was at 11 or 12 with the youth choir. As far as being out and gigging, probably more like 19.
Guitar was a challenge in understanding it. I was on spring break; we'd take guitars to the beach and try to figure it out. It was so much different from piano. When I first started getting out and playing, it was more of trying to get in touch with myself and feel how to be OK. It was like therapy to write. You write what's bothering you or what you're confused about.
If I feel like I'm in a better place, a little happier, I want to share some of that and to not be intimidated or afraid of what may happen - just to go out and do it just because it's what I feel like I should be doing. My main goal now is to just be a really good songwriter and work at the craft and try to master it.
WHO HAS INFLUENCED YOUR STYLE?
Jimi Hendrix as far as guitar players.
What I've learned is that you can't always be in the space they were, so you can't do what they were doing. I really like Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan as far as styles.
Someone I got to hang around with in Houston was a guy named Little Joe Washington, a blues artist in his 70s. He's been playing since he was 9 years old. He's been a pretty big influence lately.
YOUR MUSIC SEEMS PERFECT FOR OUTDOOR FESTIVALS. HAVE YOU PLAYED ANY RECENTLY?
I like to practice outside, go to the parks and play.
The main festival I was on was The Bob Marley Festival in 2002 and 2003. It ran into some problems.
I enjoy playing outside, and I plan on doing something with the new amphitheater at the Ethel Lee Tracy Park.