R.Lum.R (pronounced “Ar-Lamar”) is a little uncomfortable when I compliment his tremendous falsetto voice. He immediately tells me a story from before he became a buzzed-about alt-R&B artist. A friend was playing some of his recordings at work, when a stranger walked in and said, “Who is this girl? She sounds amazing!”
These days he still gets comments that rub him the wrong way.
“I get a lot of double-edged compliments,” he says. “It’s the equivalent of ‘wow, you’re pretty for somebody who’s short,’” he explains.
I’m not the only one that’s obsessed with his falsetto singing voice. In 2017, NPR referred to him as a “fast-rising, pop-friendly R&B singer whose falsetto is no joke.” It’s no wonder. His runaway 2016 Spotify hit “Frustrated”—30 million streams as of this writing—shows off his falsetto spectacularly in its hypnotic chorus.
But if you really want to see R.Lum.R’s pipes in action, check out his acoustic cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ ’Bout You,” where he gives the legendary Ocean a run for his money vocal-performance-wise.
The rendition also captures R.Lum.R’s innate ability to be fully vulnerable while singing, something he developed at a young age. One of his first shows was at his high school talent show. He’d been dealing with a close friend falling prey to addiction, so he wrote a song for her called “Stay.” (“I need you to stay even though you’re pushing me away.”)
He was “up there on stage crying, pouring my heart out” he told Vibe in 2017. The audience furiously applauded his performance.
When I tell him what a beautiful story this is, he tells me that he learned to access his feelings in art from his music teacher.
“The way to fight stage fright is when you’re on stage, think about why you’re there, think about why you’re singing the song, and if you’re reliving the reason that you wrote that song, then you’re giving out that emotion, and it’s there for people to receive,” R.Lum.R says.
It’s not hard to see this level of emotionality in the music he’s released as R.Lum.R; low-key, perfectly produced, surreal soul songs. But when he started playing music, he didn’t jump right to that. His early years as a musician were, as he describes it, him doing his “best John Mayer impression.”
As a teen he fell in love with bands like Coheed and Cambria, which inspired him to play the guitar, as well as nu-metal, pop-punk and emo. He wouldn’t really explore his soul/R&B side until he started getting interested in production software Ableton. He started producing tracks on his own, and became the go-to hook guy for local rappers where he lived in Florida.
But soul was always a major influence for him. It’s the first music he ever heard. His mother listened to it all the time when he was younger.
“I think at my core R&B music is in my heart. I don’t think I could fake that even if I wanted to,” R.Lum.R says. “My mother wouldn’t let us listen to anything else. I didn’t know that there were other types of music until I got to Middle School and my friend showed me Linkin Park.”
Originally he was playing music under the name Reggie Williams, but stumbled into a career as R.Lum.R serendipitously. He’d built some connections with folks in the music industry who asked him to demo some soul songs for other, more established artists. When they heard his demos, they wanted him to be the singer.
“I don’t know that I ever had the vision that I’m going to be a rock star or whatever. I thought that John Mayer and all these people were just blessed, and were Olympians. I didn’t know you could create a music career for yourself.,” he says. “So that said to me, ‘OK, there’s something that’s naturally interesting about this. I feel like I should pursue that and see what that is.’”
When he started to take his career as R.Lum.R seriously, he opted to relocate to Nashville. He considered other cities like Chicago or L.A., but every other major town he could think of had their own R&B and hip-hop sound. Not Nashville, a town not in any way known for R&B.
“They don’t have a tradition for the type of sound or the person like me, so I can go down there, and I can create my own lane, I can totally do my own thing, and completely fail and blow it, and just start over,” R.Lum.R says. “The first six months it wasn’t working out, but I started getting shows, and I realized that it was a developing thing.”
R.Lum.R plays at 9 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $13/adv, $15/door. 429-4135.