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L’Rain concert review and Interview: The wonderful world of Taja Cheek.

Nestled deep in Detroit, the Red Door Gallery, a concert and artistic venue hosted the soulful sounds of Taja Cheek, a.k.a. L’Rain and her opening act — a Detroit local — Kesswa. 

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Bossert

Kesswa’s set consisted of bass heavy, dancier electronic tracks, her vocals soared within the acoustics of the gallery. The brick walls and high ceilings should not have worked with the sonics of Kesswa’s set but they somehow did. It also helped that Kesswa worked with minimal equipment. 

Overall, Kesswa’s time on stage was a good pre-game for L’Rain’s highly anticipated 10 song set, which included a good deal of support from additional musicians. The band consisted of: a lightning fast drummer, a “Judge Judy'' apparel-wearing guitarist, Cheek on soundboard, pedals and her own guitar, a lively bassist/back-up vocalist, and finally another multi-instrumentalist who worked with gorgeous falsetto backup vocals, synthesizers and saxophone. 

“If you’ve never been to a L’Rain show, there are some rules,” Cheek warned the audience. “You’re allowed to howl with the dogs…” 

The gallery was then filled with incessant, full-moon-crazy howling and the band started the set. 

Cheek and her band opened up with the title track to her third album, “I Killed Your Dog,” a soulful descent into madness. Cheek masterfully incorporated her vocals with the live instrumentation, rapid drum beaks, arpeggiated synths, and a sweet sax solo. 

“5 to 8 Hours a Day (WWwaG)” was the next song that played. It was another fantastic show of strengths for the band. The guitar work in particular by Cheek and the other guitarist was really fantastic. 

Photo courtesy of L'Rain Bandcamp

Songs like “Find It,” “Knead Bee” and “Clumsy” weave between the more heavy, technical tracks with a more ambient-psychedelic atmosphere. The meat of the set occurred near the end where the band played “Pet Rock,” “Uncertainty Principle” and “New Year’s UnResolution” off of “I Killed Your Dog.”

“New Year’s UnResolution” in particular played well for this particular audience, made up of artsy-looking older-gen z/younger millennial listeners — who in recent years have flocked to Detroit in particular for its art scene. The crowd ate this creative electronic ballad up and gave a standing ovation for the band.

The atmosphere in general was incredible, this concert was a blast and I highly recommend the next time L’Rain comes to Detroit or in Michigan in general: go to it. 

The Red Door Gallery itself was a show, a lowkey partner to L’Rain’s manic set. Any events that happen there in the future will be well worth the price of admission. 

I got to talk with Cheek before the show on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024 — in the back of her van in the freezing cold. The interview covered her musical and creative history, as well as how important it is for artists to collaborate and highlight each other's strengths. Here are some highlights. 

CB: How did you link up with your opener for the Detroit show.

Cheek: Kesswa and I have met many times before, through mutual friends, and I love the music so much and the venue recommended Kesswa and I was so excited… I also did this class called School of Song where people can learn songwriting from different artists and Kess ended up taking the class and it was a nice full circle moment because we've been spending so much time together in digital space and now we can be in the same room.

CB: Can you speak on the importance of highlighting relatively unknown artists to a bigger artistic and musical community?

Cheek: That’s really what it’s all about to me, for someone like you, as a music lover and a person who is passionate about music, I mean it's always really exciting to hear something you never heard before, or learn about an artist you’ve never heard before. That’s how I really started making music, [it] was through discovering artists I’ve never heard and falling in love with it. Yeah, it is super important. 

CB: When you were in this position in the mid-late 2010s, would you have wanted bigger artists to highlight your strengths through collaboration?

Cheek: I didn’t even know that it was possible. I didn’t think I was going to be able to meet my heroes. All artists, pretty much at all levels, can be headliners in one sense, they can also be a support act… It really means a lot when people reach out and they care and they help you out and give you advice or even just saying hello — I never thought it would be possible for me. 

CB: Back in 2017, your self-titled record, “L’Rain,” is an experiential trip into the psychedelic and the absurd. What was the recording and the creative process in making this debut record? 

Cheek: It was me and my collaborator Andrew Lappin, we were in a very tiny studio in Manhattan… We would just have fun and love, we would just record stuff and just have fun. I had a job during the day soI would go at night and stay until the early hours of the morning and then would go to work. We did that every day for a while and it was really awesome. 

CB: Now moving on to your 2021 record, “Fatigue.” It’s a look into the beauty of the world but also its more eerie parts. We’re there any experiences in the world that influenced the recording of this album? 

Cheek: Ooh, I mean it happened to coincide with the beginning of the pandemic which makes a lot of sense and a lot of the framing of the record kind of came from that… I would say that's the big thing, the pandemic didn't come out of nowhere, all of these forces in the world and things that were happening all converged in one moment. So I think a lot of things I was thinking about before the pandemic really converged. 

CB: Do you think that artists and the world around them have sort of a symbiotic relationship to them? Does the world influence art or does art influence the world? Does the distinction even matter? 

Cheek: I feel like it's a just cycle that keeps continuing on and on and on. And they all influence each other at the same time over and over again… I have to keep reminding myself that art really matters. But it does! Sometimes I think it's the only thing that matters really. 

CB: Did that mindset take you into creating your latest, third studio album, “I Killed Your Dog,” an album that tackles heartbreak at its core?

Cheek: I was thinking less about the human condition and more about myself.. If I dig deep into what I’m thinking and feeling, it will resonate with other people and that it will connect with other things that are happening in the world. I generally try to use that philosophy. I’m an authority on myself but I'm not an authority on the world or anybody else. So I just try to focus on myself and hope that it resonates.  

CB: In your personal opinion, do you think that heartbreak is the undeniable, ultimate factor in artistic output? 

Cheek: I struggle with this a lot. I don’t know, I don't want that to be true. But I think it's true for me right now. I would also love to think that it is possible to make music from a place of joy too. I don’t know if I always get to that point. 

CB: Wrapping up, what’s next for L’Rain?

Cheek: We’re going to continue on tour and we’re going to Europe next month. Just keep going with shows and I’m writing new music. 

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