INTERVIEW: Boulevards’ Jamil Rashad on New Album, Working With Nikki Lane + More
"This feels like my debut record."
Jamil Rashad, also known as Boulevards, is excited for the release of his new record, Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud. By most counts, this marks his fourth full-length, but as he describes to The Boot, he's holding onto it as his debut.
"It really is my first studio record," he explains over the phone. "It's my first time to work with a producer, the first time I had a creative process with a record label like New West and Normaltown. It feels more like a debut than anything else. Making all of the other music I've done in the past, I had to make those albums to get to this point. That's my journey. So yeah, this is my debut record, that's what it feels like."
Regardless of how Electric Cowboy will be perceived in Rashad's discography, there's no question that it stands out as an incredible piece of art. From Benjamin Marra's unforgettable cover artwork to the pristine musicianship of the wide cast of characters assembled, there is something special — almost divine — about this record. While Rashad sings about heavy topics, the listener is never left to dwell on life's circumstances alone; he leads them through the pain, sorrow and frustration toward glimpses of hope.
"It's all artistic expression, you know," Rashad explains. "My favorite bands — Sly Stone, Prince, Rick James, Funkadelic — they were able to talk about serious things, things they see in the community around them. Hardships, struggles, whatever, but then they'd put it in funky blues and with fresh hooks. The songs are melodic. It's creative songwriting at its best. Listening to that stuff growing up, that's really my inspiration."
Whether it's R&B, soul, funk or blues, Rashad has always felt drawn to confronting the realities of his life and the lives around him by putting his words in between funky and fun grooves, just like his favorite artists.
"On Electric Cowboy, I did want to dig deeper as a songwriter," he admits. "I wanted to put more of my own hardships in the songs, but also talk about the things I see around me. I wanted to be straightforward but not too preachy — kind of like how gospel used to be. I wanted to talk about addictions, temptations, evils."
While this is clear throughout the album, Rashad's intentions manifest most beautifully on "Together," a seemingly near-autobiographical tune that finds him admitting he "made a fuss" as soon as he was born, and that he had to learn how to hold himself together.
With a laugh, he thinks about that track. "That's definitely about me holding my s--- together," he says, "But not just me. It's also about the collective community, all of us, holding our s--- together. I'm not the perfect human being, I still have flaws, and I'm still trying to get my s--- together, and all of us, as a world, as a community, we're still trying, too. The pandemic, the shootings, the presidency ... We're all trying to get our s--- together."
As Electric Cowboy took shape — Rashad says he's been working on it for about two years — he knew early on that he wanted to work with Blake Rhein of Durand Jones and the Indications and Colin Croom of Twin Peaks. Croom and Rhein co-produced the album and helped Rashad reach his vision for Electric Cowboy.
"I'm a persistent dude," Rashad says. "And I was kind of just taking shots in the dark, you know? Colin and Blake, they're the co-captains of this, and they're nerds just like me. I slid into Blake's DMs on Instagram and said I wanted to work together. Colin, he's actually been a supporter of Boulevards and has been following me for awhile, so the timing was right for this to happen."
Rashad is grateful for the different talents the two producers brought into the studio. With Croom, his Twin Peaks background lent an indie rock feel to Electric Cowboy that Rashad believes tied everything together. Rhein, like Rashad, is a big fan of funk and rock and roll, and so he was all about the sound of Boulevards and this new LP.
"I needed somebody who was going to take Boulevards to the next level," Rashad says, "And that's what they did. They listened to everything I did before and they made it bigger and better while still staying true to the sound and attitude of Boulevards."
In addition to Croom and Rhein, Rashad had a lot of assistance in the studio. Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas plays guitar on "Modern Man"; Macie Stewart of OHMME lent strings to "Together" and "Better Off Dead"; Ashley Wilcoxson and Leisa Hans, both of whom have worked with Dan Auerbach, Tony Joe White and Yola, are all over Electric Cowboy as background vocalists; and Nikki Lane is featured prominently on "Better Off Dead."
"Nikki has a lot of soulness to her," Rashad says with obvious admiration. "She's an Americana and outlaw artist, but when I heard her sing with Lana Del Rey, I knew I had to see if we could get her on this record. She has a dope style about her and a really great attitude."
A great attitude was shared by all those involved in the making of Electric Cowboy thanks to the passion and vision of Rashad. Ultimately, because he treated this album with the intentionality and care of it being his debut, the end result is a one-of-a-kind listening experience that will bring the audience face-to-face with the darkness — and the light — of the world around them.
"I've never said this never crushes me, but I hope people will be able to confront the heaviness in their own life and in what's going on around them. I hope listeners can do that. Let's bring this stuff to the light."
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