Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist L’Rain grapples with grief and change through her kaleidoscopic approach to sound. She chats with Notion to discuss her record 'Fatigue', the importance of creating something new with her music, and what's next.

Taja Cheek wasn’t expecting much when she released her debut back in 2017. Under the moniker L’Rain (a tribute to her late mother Lorraine fused with her childhood alter ego of L’), Cheek embarked on the solo venture to ensure material from her other projects didn’t get lost in the ether. Two records later, her vulnerability and non-linear approach to creating music has landed her leading spots on album-of-the-year roundups as well as support from listeners across the world.


In June 2021, L’Rain released ‘Fatigue’, an enthralling constellation of soundbites and memories, stitched together with, at times, off-kilter instrumentals that lend a hazy, otherworldly feel to the record. ‘Fatigue’ traverses genre: Cheek alchemises everything from gospel and neo-soul to R&B and jazz. Despite its name – “I was really tired” Cheek explains – ‘Fatigue’ is not all about exasperation. The record is imbued with glimpses of joy (recordings of singing friends), clips of the mundane (Taja practising the piano in her family home, plates clanging in the background), and of course, the darker moments. One such instance is particularly moving at the end of the second track “Find It”, where the song melts into a recording Taja took at a family friend’s funeral. It is these moments of intimacy that makes ‘Fatigue’ feel so captivating.  

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Change is intrinsic to the album. The record opens with the question ‘what have you done to change?’ setting the groundwork for a project that aims to navigate this notion of change both in the world and on a personal level. While ‘Fatigue’ builds on themes of grief chronicled by L’Rain’s debut following the loss of her mother, it also addresses change within Cheek herself. 


Through all its twists and diversions, ‘Fatigue’ mimics the unpredictable ebb and flow of lived human experience, creating a listening event that is wholly unique to L’Rain as an artist. With her masterful layering and collaging of sound, Cheek goes some way in redefining the boundaries of what a song is.


With an exciting year ahead, starting with a tour with Animal Collective in the Spring, Notion catches up with L’Rain to discuss her favourite sonic moments from ‘Fatigue’, how she finds strength in the face of obstacles, and what legacy she would like to leave behind. 

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I know you played instruments growing up and I heard that your grandfather owned a jazz club near to where you live now. Could you talk me through your musical journey?

Yeah! I grew up playing piano, classical piano, and cello. And then I started playing bass so that I could play in bands. And, you know, I just watched YouTube videos to try and teach myself and went from there. I ended up learning more about effects and vocal effects and sampling.

Were you in any bands growing up playing bass?

I was in a band, at least one band with a friend of mine in high school. I also played in a band in high school that played a lot of Iron Maiden covers. Kind of all over the place, but yeah, a little bit.

Can you talk to me about the genesis of L’Rain as a musical project. How did it come about? The name?

I was playing in a band at the time, and it was coming to a close. I had all this material. My friend Andrew asked me “Have you ever thought about doing a solo project?” And I hadn’t really, and I wasn’t interested in it, but I was like, “Okay, why not? I have all this stuff, what am I going to do with it?” And so, we started working on this project but there wasn’t really a name for it yet. At this point, a label had already signed on and there was music. So, I ended up taking this long walk across the bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge. I was like, by the time I get to the end of this walk I have to have a name. And so, I was thinking about this alter ego I have called L Apostrophe just L’, that’s kind of a joke. And my mom who just passed away, so I was like, maybe there’s a way to combine these things, because I didn’t want to just be Lorraine. And then, I tattooed it on my body, so I couldn’t change it.

And that’s the cover of your debut, isn’t it? The tattoo?


Your self-titled debut L’Rain grappled with notions of grief and loss. Can you talk to us about Fatigue? Is it an extension of that exploration? Or is it covering new frontiers?

I’d say it’s definitely a continuation. I think of it kind of like a layering process where I feel like, oh, I don’t know what the next record is going to be like, but every time I make something it’s still there and part of the project and I’m just adding layers to what the project is. I’m making it up in real time because I didn’t know that people would listen to me. Which is great.


I’m still thinking about grief and thinking about emotion in general and the nuances of it. How you can feel one thing, but act in a different way, or have two conflicting emotions at once. What that feels like and trying to explore that with sound. Also, just thinking about myself, and ways that I want to change myself, or ways that I want to evolve and heal and all of that. That’s the focus of Fatigue.

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It’s such a multifaceted listen and touches on so many different things, not only genres, but emotions. So, I’m interested in how you settled on the name Fatigue? I understand you were going to call it something else to begin with.

I had a whole lot of really bad names that I was going through. *laughs* In general, I settled on Fatigue, because it’s just how I felt. I was really tired. We’d been in the pandemic for a while and I was really tired and frustrated. Changing, trying to change yourself or trying to heal, that’s a very arduous process. And also, I thought it was kind of funny, you know, L’Rain has a vague French thing going on and Fatigue…

Focusing again on names and titles, I saw that every track on the record had been renamed. What is the significance of these shadow titles, or the new titles?

Well, part of it is practical. When I’m working on things, I usually name them in the most immediate way possible. That doesn’t always work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t really reflect the song. So, there’s that going on. But also, I just wanted to think through what song titles can do. I was really interested in rhythm in that way. So, all of them have two syllables and also mimic ‘name two’. I kind of think of it as a poem altogether. Just trying to extend what I felt like an album could do.

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You talk about wanting to create something new with your music. How do you approach creating music in a way that feels new and innovative every time? And why is that important?

That’s a good question. When I’m actually writing, I try to – I’m not an improviser by any stretch of the imagination – but when I’m writing music, I do try to hold on to my most immediate thoughts. A lot of melodies that I end up using are the first thing that I thought of and just kind of mumbled through, and then I put words on it later. I feel like it’s a way of accessing something pure, in a way. It sounds kind of silly, but it is kind of pure. I think a lot and I overthink things. So, this is a moment where I can just be free for a minute and not have doubts about myself or worries that I’m not good enough a musician. I can just make what I want to make in that moment.


I listened to a lot of music that I was making when I was in high school and early college days, and I was just so fearless in a way that I am always trying to chase and that I really admire about myself. I was like “Wow, why did I think this would be a good way of writing a song?” I think there’s something really special about that and I think especially when weird left of centre ideas are able to filter into the mainstream, there’s a lot of potential there. And if you extrapolate that outwards there’s political implications of that too. I think it’s important for the weirdos and non-traditional things to be given space and to be seen and valued. So, I think that’s where it comes from.

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One of my favourite tracks was “Find It”. I loved the refrain ‘make a way out of no way.’ I read it has this dual meaning for you. In one sense, it’s about how you can create music out of nothing, but it also alludes to the strength you find in yourself. What obstacles have you had to overcome where you recognise that strength in yourself?

I feel like a lot of the challenges I face are just in my head. I kind of live there. It’s not always a great place to be because you’re rethinking things and turning things over and obsessing over details. Or worrying that I’m not good enough and sabotaging myself.


I use music as a way to work through a lot of things that I’m trying to work through with my general life. Kind of like, therapy out loud, I guess.*laughs* And so, yeah, I feel like that’s also something I was doing. I procrastinate a lot. So, I feel like in that instance when I was writing that song, too I was like, “Oh, no, I’m not enough. I can’t write the song… how am I going do this?” It’s kind of like a melding of process in my life in a weird way.

What are some of your personal favourite sonic moments from the record if you could whittle it down? And why?

Ooh, there are two moments that come to mind. There’s this kind of gross – I don’t even know how to try and explain it – this gross percussion sound on “Kill Self” that is just a piece of plastic that I’m rubbing on my leg, and it’s just compressed to all hell. And I love that sound, because it feels like it’s a real representation of my process, which is just like, “What do we have at our fingertips? Let’s just use it and do something with it immediately.” And it turned out pretty cool.


Then, on the middle of “Find It” where it kind of sounds like it goes through a cave or something. I had this idea to just record all of the parts of the track that we had at that point in a room and then just record the sound of the room. And then slowly make it more hi-fi. It was just a weird idea I had in the moment that ended up working. Weird ideas don’t always work!

What other kind of methods did you use to create sounds?

Some of the vocals are just like iPhone microphones, because I think they sound really good. And so, I would always record on those. I didn’t have a proper microphone at the time.  

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Fatigue has been out since June. How has the response been for you so far?

It’s honestly crazy to me that people like it and are listening to it. I think I mentioned before like I really just kind of made my first record because I didn’t know what else to do, because I wanted to make music and I was sad about my other project ending. I didn’t expect anything. So, it feels like a real gift.


I feel like people are really understanding the work and aren’t scared of the weird moments or the complicated moments. That also feels really good because I feel like I’m actually connecting with people on a real level through music, which sounds corny to say, but no it feels really good.

You’re touring with Animal Collective in the Spring. How do you feel about that? And what can we expect from a L’Rain show?

Yeah, we’re going on tour in March with Animal Collective, which is still a very crazy sentence to say out loud. I’m a massive fan. They’ve been super supportive and really lovely people to talk to.


From a L’Rain show? What can you expect? Expect to be on your toes. *laughs* I try to make the show a kind of experience. So yeah, expect to be on your toes a little bit.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind? Particularly with your music.

Good question. I just hope that I can be remembered for having a genuine and unique voice, artistic voice. That I contributed something that felt like it came from me and couldn’t have come from anyone else.

And finally, what’s next for you? Is there anything else on the horizon that we can look forward to?

More touring. Writing some music and some collaborative projects that are coming out soon. Ish.

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Listen to 'Fatigue' below: