“I would love to look back and see the growth.” Rickell says with a sharp look in his eye. Meeting up with one of the four members of London based boy band Sons of Soul (aka SOS), turned out to be a more enlightening experience than originally contemplated. There was no way to be prepared for a young black man, who single handily goes against any statistic that claims that this small proportion of society is continually failing. “I do an all rounder: I study, I model, I dance, I sing.” He has no intention whatsoever to be put under any governmental category, or any other for that matter. No one can deny that this boy has a vision. And an almost fool proof plan when it comes to conquering the arts world. “I’m not being negative. But I think you should get your hands into everything. Just in case, something goes wrong.” You almost wish you could hear every single black boy utter those words. He wants it all. And he will stop at nothing to get it.
As he welcomes me into his small room in a hostel in south east London, you have to do a double take to really absorb the change that has just occurred. Outside the pasty streets of the south east, the sense of austerity in the atmosphere is enough to give anyone a cold ripple down the spine. And this isn’t even the worst part of London. As you go into his personal space, you can feel a strong spiritual presence in the room. It is immaculately organised. A shelf on the right hand side displays rows and rows of caps. I swear there are even colours you never knew existed in his collection. Near the door the wall has a large poster of Vivienne Westwood Spring/Summer 2009 collection. Both the women’s catwalk show and the men’s. On his desk a small Mac notebook sits next to a cup full of burnt out incense sticks. It looks nothing like a typical boy’s bedroom. Then again Rickell isn’t just any boy.
“I’m doing musical theatre at Urdang Academy” he sings. “But I thought they were trying to change me”. His anxiety was present because he thought he wasn’t staying true to his RnB and Soul roots. “But now I have a better understanding of what it all is about. And it’s really good”
As he sits on his bed prepared to take the cannon ball of questions, his nose piercing glistens and his tattoos peek out the sleeve of his American Apparel tracksuit. It isn’t until you mention SOS and the music that his face lights up like Times Square at night. “I saw the audition flyer on my friends’ MySpace page and i asked him about it. He said it was for singers. He asked me “do you sing?”, I said yes. So I auditioned for the band and was one of the first to get in.”
SOS has been together for a year, and have come over leaps and bounds in terms of finding what their unique sound is. “We like to call our sound futuristic soul”. He claims the bands inspirations to be “a wide range of music from indie to neo-soul”. Their newly released single “Candy girl” may have a clichéd title, but it is has a catchy pop/soul riff you can’t help but bob your head to it. Imagine what the musical love child of Blackstreet and La roux would sound like.
Music isn’t a new concept in Rickell’s life. He comes from a musical background, going back to his grandparents. His father is a reggae artist who is still around the music scene, his mother was a choir singer who would take her son to church. Music was always around him. He is especially motivated by his Godmother’s state side success as a singer. She goes by the name of Phoenix aka Marissa Anglin. “She paved the way” he whispers passionately. You know he means she paved his way by the way he drifts off into his own thoughts, as if alone, when he talks about her.
Singing with the band isn’t Rickell’s only contribution; “I have been involved in the styling of the band for a year”. He claims fashions best show off Lady Gaga a source of inspiration when it comes to going all out with the bands overall look. “Why not be in a boy band and take on all of those different [fashion] influences? I’ve never seen a boy group go crazy with their style”. In their new video we see all the guys wearing mix and match pieces from Jeremy Scott’s Addidas clothing line. Rickell feels this encapsulates exactly what he envisions is the band’s individual look. “I like weird things, like glass on trainers”. When you hear this you suddenly get the Vivienne Westwood poster and complete care of his accessories. This boy’s got style. He is quick to defend the band’s look, claiming they are not the same as JLS, the U.Ks biggest pop boy band. “They are topshop-ish. They’re neat. It is what it is. We just don’t care”.
His attitude to other people’s opinion was expressed by his collection of body art. “I have about eleven tattoos” he reveals. “At one point in my life I just wanted to stop being the ‘cute’ Rickell. That’s what people called me.” It may have seemed a mild way to rebel against the pretty boy image he had attracted, but it was another way for him to articulate his creativity. He is aware of the importance of aesthetics in today’s modern society, agreeing it is a marketable look, but remains separated from the clichéd London ‘thug boy’ look. Attitude and all. He is polite and well spoken, and if it wasn’t for the slight dribble of slang he drops in every so often, you’d swear he was from a different part of town.
“I have a vine going all the way down my back, it represents growth.” This is a mammoth theme within Rickell’s life. Growth. Whether it is musical or mental. When asked if he is religious he simply says “yes”, then takes a short silence as if to think more carefully of an acceptable answer. “I do believe in God. But I don’t like to put myself into a category. If I did say I was Christian then people would be like ‘why are you singing songs about girls?’ I don’t like to say I’m a Christian, because I know that will be used against me”. It’s understandable.
He goes on to talk about more of his tattoos. One which says “I shall not prosper without faith” is on his forearm. On The back of his neck, in calligraphy it says “God’s own”. “I just feel you need faith to move on and be strong. I do believe we are all Gods’ children.” Whether or not the fact that he is religious affects his image as a pop star, he is remaining private about his own methods of worship. But you cannot help admire his deep sense of understanding of spirituality and commitment to his faith. It is a rare sight.
He has his insecurities too. Like any other flawed human being. “Since being in SOS I have lost lots of friends. I get dodgy people who seem to want to be my friend just because I’m in a band.” Then again he hasn’t given himself much time to socialise. “This is all I’ve been doing for the last 2 years and I don’t really like the London rave scene”. The hard work is paying off but it has taken its toll on some of his personal relationships. He seems stronger for it though. “People just don’t want to see you prosper and grow.”
He seems to identify most with the American music scene and the lifestyle of New York where he often goes for inspiration. “I love the essence of America. The first time I went to Manhattan by myself I just felt free. I love to be free”. He lived there when he was younger with his mother, and you can’t help but wonder if that is why he is so comfortable there. No attachments to his current world. An escape.
Despite his futuristic soul sound with SOS, and his upfront fashion sense, Rickell is ultimately and old soul. He lives with the past as if it he knows it better than the present. For someone who refers to his band as a “backbone” it is likely we haven’t seen him reach his full potential quiet yet. This caterpillar has only just formed his cocoon.