RHODES’ beautiful new album Friends Like Theseis a distillation of everything he has been through, good and bad, during a transformative period of his life. Though he and producer Rich Cooper (Josef Salvat, Lucy Rose) recorded its 10 songs during lockdown, they were chosen from around 100 that RHODESwrote as he processed major personal and professional changes in the years that came before. Some, like becoming a father, were completely joyful. ‘Others, like deciding to leave his record label and trying to navigate his way out of toxic working relationships, provoked a complex array of competing emotions.Hertfordshire-raised, London-based RHODES says he picked the songs that “best represented my journey over the past few years” and tried not to overthink what his second album “should” be. The title is derived from the old saying “with friends like, who needs enemies?”, but flips it into something positive. “My close friends are all over this record and if it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t exist,” RHODES says. “It took me a moment to get here, but in such a chaotic and noisy world, I’ve always found that true beauty and clarity comes in the pauses.”Although he released an deeply personal EP calledI’m Not OKin 2020, Friends Like Theseis RHODES’ first full-length album since his acclaimed 2015 debut Wishes, which charted inside the UK Top 25. Wishesyielded the hit single ‘Let It At All Go’, a duet with Birdy that has now amassed 175 million Spotify streams, and sent RHODES’ trajectory skywards. He hit the road for his own headline shows, opened for SamSmith and London Grammar, and toured Europe with Hozier, an experience he describes as “absolutely amazing”. During this period, RHODES also thrilled crowds at an array of festivals including Glastonbury, Citadel, Secret Garden Party, Sweden’s Way Out West and Norway’s Øyafestivalen.Once RHODES had completed his touring commitments for Wishes, he was told by his label to strike while the iron’s hot and “get the next album out quick”. Sadly, this mounting pressure did little to nurture his creativity. “I was sent off to America for songwriting sessions and just ended not really knowing what I was doing,” he says candidly. “I felt like I was shuttling back and forth between different writing sessions every day with no proper focus,” he says. “And I was out of my depth, I think, because trying to make something really quickly like that just isn’t the way I do things. At the time I really had no idea what my purpose was as an artist.”This crisis of confidence was exacerbated when his record label told him the first album he presented “wasn’t commercial enough”. Keen to make the situation work, he went away and made another album’s worth of songs, but was told it was “still not quite the right thing”. At this point RHODES decided to step back from the broken creative loop he was stuck in. He needed to figure out what he, and not someone from the A&R or marketing team, actually wanted to do next. “Because of my nature, if someone plants the seed of doubt in my mind, I’m kind of like: ‘Yeah, you’re right. I’ll just start again,'” he says. “I did that for ages and ages until I finally realised it wasn’t working.” But giving himself a period of reflection led RHODES to a breakthrough. He realised that he needed to make an album that he loved and could feel proud of, instead of trying to second guess what anyone else wanted. So, after buying back the rights to everything he had written, he was free to find a new home for his music.
“I was talking to a few different labels, but then I met with the guys at Nettwerk,”he recalls. “I knew they were big fans of my first album and had been to loads of my gigs, so I just thought: ‘Hang on, it’s probably a good idea to work with people who actually like what I’m doing.’ It was quite a strange revelation!” RHODES is clearly re-energised by his new working relationships, but stresses that he remains “very grateful” to his former label. “Thanks to them I was able to do things that fulfilled my childhood dreams,” he says. “I just think ultimately, for the sake of my longevity asan artist, I need to be a bit more in control of what I am doing.”Having unlocked his creativity again, RHODES is now on such a roll that he’s already demoing songs for album number three. In the meantime, he can’t wait to share Friends Like These, a breathtakingly intimate and emotive record that digs deeper than he ever has before. There are songs exploring depression and detachment (‘Suffering’, ‘Satellite’), using alcohol as a crutch (‘Drink to This’) and the need for personal growth (‘Good to You’).It’s a cathartic album, but also an optimistic one. RHODES says the life-affirming ballad ‘Even When It Hurts’ is intended to “reassure someone that even in the darkest, worst times, you’ll still want them and love them”.He calls the album as a whole “arealisation that the things you need are all around you”, and hopes it will provide comfort to others the way albums by Damien Rice, Rufus Wainwright and Antony and the Johnsons have comforted him. “I sing a lot about mental health and struggle, but I think my message is always that there’s a way through it,” he says. “That’s what this album stands for: it’s about moving beyond the feelings you can’t face alone with help from others, which is why it’s called Friends Like These. It’s kind of that simple.”In a way, everything is starting to look pretty simple for RHODES, too. “For a long time I was stuck, but I know I’m moving forward now,” he says. “And I’m definitely not drawing on the negatives. I feel like all the things I went through have led me to where I am now, you know what I mean? I’m in a really good place spiritually and I’m excited for the next phase of my career. This really feels like my time.”