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Emmys 2017
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Music

Breaking Big: Rationale wants to be the next Pharrell Williams — and Katy Perry is already a fan

Fresh off his work with Perry, the British singer will release his self-titled album this October. EW has the exclusive

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Warner Bros Records

Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? Every week, EW introduces the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know Rationale, who co-wrote the best song on Katy Perry’s Witness and just released a new single, “Loving Life,” from his just-announced new album.

Listen If You Like: Gallant, Jack Garratt, Katy Perry’s “Act My Age,” the idea of Bastille making an electro-R&B record

The Backstory: The Zimbabwean-born, British-bred singer caught the music big around the age of 8, when he and his family moved to England. “In the very first few days of school I was inspired by a teacher,” says Rationale (real name: Tinashé Fazakerley). “I remember watching him play this classical guitar. The minute I heard him play a few chords, I wanted to pick the instrument up.” After choosing to enroll in music college at age 15, he spent his late teens and early twenties playing bars and clubs while developing his skills as a songwriter and producer. He had a brief stint with Island Records but says “it wasn’t the time to really put a record out,” so after one album, he parted ways with Island and went back to doing exactly what he did before: “Making music and figuring out what I loved about it and honing the craft.”

During this time, he found a mentor in producer Mark Crew (who’s worked with Bastille) and started collaborating with Rag’n’Bone Man (one of EW’s 10 Artists Who Will Rule 2017). After Fazakerley wrote what would eventually become his debut single, “Fast Lane,” Crew suggested he start putting out music on his own again. But first Fazakerley had to pick a new name — partly because he wanted to put some distance between the new songs and his old material, and partly because the pop star Tinashe was coming into her own at the same time. “I was almost forced to choose new a new moniker [because of her],” he says, “but I love that kind of reinvention. It was a positive thing for me.”

He chose the name Rationale, a throwback to his short-lived stint working in a call center soliciting charitable donations. “I was that annoying guy calling you up: ‘Would you mind donating a pound to help these wonderful kids or help save the whales?’” he says. There was a section on his call script called “the rationale,” and the word spoke to him, even if the job didn’t — he quit after just a few days. “I remember writing it down and thinking I was going to use that in a song one day,” says Fazakerley, now signed to Warner Bros. Records. “I felt like it described it the very basis of who I am and what I’m doing. I will always be making music. It’s the sole purpose of my existence.”

Why He Rules: Rationale makes cavernous, genre-bending slow jams that feel appropriately massive given the sheer force of his deep, spellbinding vocals. “It all starts with my voice,” says 33-year-old, who writes and produces all his material. “A lot of the time people enjoy the production behind my music, but when I sing, I found a place where it feels powerful and every word has a complete and utter message to it.” It’s no wonder his songs often allude to religion, even though he says the tracks themselves — “Deliverance,” “Prodigal Son,” “Palms” — actually have little to do with faith: Epic songs need epic imagery.

Fazakerley’s mix of R&B, electronic pop, and alternative rock influences has already found a fan in Katy Perry, who approached him to work on her new album, Witness, last year. Their initial meeting was shrouded in secrecy: Fazakerley’s team told him an artist wanted to meet with him but didn’t say who it was, though he quickly figured it out. “It’s not every day Orlando Bloom walks into a room and introduces Katy Perry,” he says. “I was completely stunned.” Fazakerley played Perry a few demos he was working on, and she asked to hit the studio with him later that year. Fazakerley showed up with a few ideas, but they ended up starting from scratch; one of the songs they worked on — the buoyant highlight “Act My Age” — was eventually included on the Target edition of Witness. “[The song] felt like all the Katy stuff that I loved,” he says. “She’s amazingly talented, and I don’t think people give her enough credit for her songwriting ability. She’s a diva in the best possible way, a real songstress.”

What’s Next: EW can exclusively announce that Rationale’s self-titled album will arrive Oct. 6. Expect the LP to showcase a side of the singer you haven’t seen in his previous releases. “People think of my music as quite atmospheric and chill, but there are elements that I’ve wanted to put out for a long time that feel powerful — just great pop songs,” he says. “There are definitely some bangers on there for sure.” (You can hear some of that energy on his new single, “Loving Life,” below.)

On top of touring and playing summer music festivals, he’s also continuing to write and produce for other artists. “In my mind I want to be Pharrell Williams by the time I’m 40 and look just as young and just as cool — or at least be able make anything as good [as what he does]!” he says. (Pharrell is already a fan: “This person has discovered beauty in their voice,” he said of Rationale on his Beats 1 show, OTHERtone, in 2015.) “I love singing and creating my music, but I’m enjoying being able to switch between sessions. The future is looking really bright, and I’m looking forward to working a lot more.”