It’s certainly unfair to reduce an artist to the likeness of another, but when your croon bears the same soulful, haunted properties as James Blake, it’s really meant to be a compliment. And when your breaking track bears similarities in arrangement to that same artist (see “Life Round Here”) and happens to be the first and currently only release of your upcoming project, your identity suffers momentarily. Thankfully, all four tracks of Underwaterfall are now available for listening, and we can see that Bearcubs has its own character because it can assume so many identities completely.
From the early 2010s post-dubstep vibe of “Burning Up” and alt-R&B textures of “Underwaterfall” to the pop-friendly dance amalgam “False Mirrors” and the African-tinged house of “SL001,” Ritchie manages to weave a logical arc that steadily builds through its four components. As Ritchie explains, an EP might have been looked at as a non-germane collection of songs in years prior, but today they model miniature albums, and so he approached Underwaterfall with this objective in mind.
Speaking with Ritchie over the phone, the rising producer detailed the intentions and influences of each track off his new EP, as well as commenting on the meaning behind several of his lyrics.
Jack Ritchie: I wrote [this track] after “Underwaterfall,” so I already had the sound palette—whatever you’d call it—I wanted for the EP. “Underwaterfall” is quite intense, so I wanted to write a track that was a little bit more of a rolling … I mean, it does build, but it’s quite chill, and I think it’s a good EP opener. The main thing to say about this song is that I wanted to work with some more twisted vocals. There’s a lot of pitching in the vocals, and it all kind of makes it a little bit disjointed. It took me quite awhile to get the chords right for this song because they are a bit weird, but it does create a slightly abstract and strange mood that I quite like.
LYRIC: “I’ve been standing in your shadow”
JR: In some songs I make the lyrics intentionally vague because I’m just trying to create a mood or use them as an instrument. It’s quite hard to describe—there’s a few different meanings to the song—but it’s about the feeling of not being good enough for someone. Whether it’s a friend or someone you go out with, you don’t stand out next to them.
(In an earlier conversation with The Fader, Ritchie stated, “‘Underwaterfall’ started out as the idea of plunging underwater, way down deep like a free diver. And the feelings of tranquility, freedom, and fear that you get from that.”)
JR: I just thought it was a bit more of an interesting route to go down in terms of a concept for a song because usually you might write about something that’s happened to you in your life, some kind of feeling you’re having, but everyone knows about plunging into water and you can apply that feeling to different things in life. It matched the feeling of the track. It’s got a bit of a mysterious feeling to it; I don’t know how you’d describe it.
Culture Trip: It does remind me of movie or TV scenes where someone is slowly descending in water with an arm outreached.
JR: I think I did have that kind of visually in my mind as I was beginning to write it. It does happen quite often that I visualize what the video would be like first; the music kind of comes easier.
LYRIC: “My feet are falling from the ground, had my head up in the clouds for so long”
JR: It’s just trying to reinforce that feeling of going from a state where you feel comfortable and you feel normal to suddenly being plunged into something where you don’t feel yourself.
CT: It does give this impression of being weightless and feeling physically disoriented.
JR: It’s kind of like reversing up and down. You can bring that back to the water; sometimes you don’t know which way is up.
JR: It’s a little different in pace than the first two tracks. I wanted to make something that was a little bit more dance-inspired. I’d been listening to artists like Moderat. It could be a dance track or a song, really, because it’s got lyrics, and a verse and a chorus. I tried to give space in-between the vocals so that it would balance between the music and the lyrics.
LYRIC: “The flaws you keep inside are lost in time, in mirrors”
JR: It’s about hiding your flaws, and I felt like the word mirror is quite a powerful image because it’s about looking at your actions and critiquing them. The verses are about struggling with those emotions and not being sure what you’re doing or where you’re at, and maybe judging yourself, maybe negatively. Then I tried to make the chorus in a more positive light, so you’re freeing yourself or finding yourself with the help of someone else.
JR: [The sample is] a rapper called MC Solaar, who’s an amazing French rapper I used to listen to a bit. I had the album Jazzmatazz [Vol. 1] by Guru, who was in Gang Starr, and there was a track on it with MC Solaar called “Le Bien, Le Mal,” so I’ve always been a fan of his music even though I can’t really understand it. I found an interview of him that I thought was really cool because he starts by saying all the answers normally, but he goes into this rap and so all of his answers turn into a rap. I do have a fondness for house and techno music, and I usually don’t make that style of music, so I tried to make something that fit in with my style while also being more in that vein of a proper dance track.
(With the aid of a French friend, it appears MC Solaar’s interview name checks Madame Soleil, a famous French astrologer, and contains chopped lyrics from the rapper’s track “Onzième Commandment.”)
Catch Ritchie live later this month when he embarks on a brief UK/European tour, marking the first time he will be performing any of the tracks off “Underwaterfall” for an audience. You can purchase the EP here.