36 questions to fall in love with Rachel Chinouriri

The indie-pop artist on the importance of brutal honesty, why she’s impossible to embarrass, and doing it for the plot

Hero image in post
photo: Emerick Mukenge
Hero image in post
photo: Emerick Mukenge

The indie-pop artist on the importance of brutal honesty, why she’s impossible to embarrass, and doing it for the plot

By Team Woo20 May 2024
22 mins read time
22 mins read time

In 1997, psychology professor Arthur Aron led a study that set out to find whether intimacy between two strangers could be accelerated if they asked each other a series of 36 specific, personal questions. The idea was that if two people are vulnerable and share their unguarded, candid thoughts with each other, it’d bring them closer together. Two participants of the study actually tied the knot just six months after. So, considering that there’s something special about this set of questions, we put every single one (well, actually, not all – a few were a tad too personal) to Rachel Chinouriri.

The England flag: the red stripes on white is a symbol that has certain connotations to Brits. Yet Rachel Chinouriri chose to decorate the cover of her debut album, What A Devastating Turn of Events, with a string of St. Georges outside a local authority estate. It was a creative decision that reflected her upbringing in Croydon, she told the BBC. “Black and POC people have contributed to the culture so much,” Chinouriri said. “It's difficult because we're celebrated when we do well in things like football, the Olympics, or sports. But then on another day, when that's not happening, those flags represent a very different thing.”

Like its artwork, the tracks make for an unflinching and honest work of music. Across 14 songs, the indie-pop artist faces up to dark themes in her lyrics, including loneliness, abuse and heartache, while catching the beauty in life that surrounds all those things too. Dipping between scuzzy rock and dreamy, soft acoustics, she speaks chattily to her listeners while also delivering earworm melodies that don't shy away from tough themes.

You may have caught Florence Pugh starring in her video for ‘Never Need Me’ – a serendipitous cameo that happened after Pugh developed an obsession with her music and reached out to let her know. “I just said ‘Thank you for making my day today’ and then [Rachel] replied and was also a fan and then this idea came that I was in her music video!” Pugh said.

woo spent a morning in Rachel’s company at her label offices, going through the full 36 questions that she answered openly, honestly and with many a joke and a lol. Want to catch her playing her incredible debut live? She’s playing a UK headline tour in November, which you can cop tickets to here.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Chinouriri: My grandma. She was apparently very good with nature and medicines and all that stuff. All the stories I hear about her I'm like, she sounds pretty cool. Or I’d go for dinner with Nina Simone. I've seen her documentary [What Happened, Miss Simone?], she’s very interesting, very intellectual. It would be inspiring to hear about the journey she’d gone through as a Black woman in the music industry.

Would you like to be mega mega famous? In what way?

Chinouriri: Absolutely not. Probably shouldn’t say that, I'm in my major label [era]! No, I'd love to be famous, yes, please, thank you very much. But I remember seeing like Taylor Swift went to a wedding, people found out she was there and it was just completely swarmed. I think she probably appreciates the love but on a safety level, I would actually be terrified. I salute people who are mega famous and can deal with that level of anxiety because that would scare me quite a lot. So yes, I’m into manifesting mega fame if it means my career does well, but to want to be famous for the sake of just being famous, I don't think I'd be able to handle it. You have to be built very tough for that.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Chinouriri: No. Freestyle, straight in. Boom.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Chinouriri: Oh fuck off, don't tempt me with a good time! Okay, I would be in the countryside. Can I choose the weather? Preferably a hot day, but not too hot that it's sticky... hot with a slight breeze every now and then. But no clouds. Either I would find a fat house with a pool and my friends and some wine, or... something in nature. My friend has a barn that he lives in and we make music there, and that is a perfect day for me. Something like that – very calm, very relaxing, music playing, cooking.

When did you last sing to yourself?

Chinouriri: About 30 minutes ago! Yeah, literally about 30 minutes ago, to be honest. The room was empty and I was [hums]: “But I keep sippin' on this dumb bitch juice”. Which is my own song [‘Dumb Bitch Juice’]. So, yeah, damn. I'm self absorbed!

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Chinouriri: Body, because as a 90-year-old, unless I'm super fit, my body won't be able to do much. So if I had a 30-year-old body, but an older mind, it means that whatever I want to do, I'd just be able to physically do it. But I probably just wouldn't give much of a fuck at that point. But I think if I had the mind of a 30-year-old and a body of a 90-year-old, depending on how I was, then it would maybe feel a bit more difficult. So as long as I'm able to do a bunch of stuff by myself, that's alright, but let’s manifest good health. 90 is a bit far though, fucking hell.

Do you have any phobias?

Chinouriri: Moths and butterflies. I can't, I just can't. People are like, 'Why don't you like butterflies?' And I'm like, well, they're basically moths in nice clothing. The whole concept of them flying anywhere near me terrifies me. When I was a kid, I would sleep in the corridor if there was a moth in my room, even if it was small. I just can’t get down with them. I'm trying to get there, but I can't.

Name some things you and your best friends have in common.

Chinouriri: No sense when we're together. Or generally, to be honest. Everything is for the plot. If something happens, and we're like, we shouldn't be doing that, we'll be like, ‘Imagine what the story could be tomorrow’, so it's like, well we're gonna have to do it now. We’re all extremely sarcastic and dry humoured, to a point where sometimes I'm like, ‘Are we joking?!’ Another thing we all have in common is hard work, actually. My friends that surround me, as much as we've been silly in our younger days, at 21, 22, 23, we all work super hard and have a really good understanding of each other. Everyone is able to communicate, no one's overly offended if people don't wanna hang out. If people are upset we're really brutally honest. I love that dynamic with my friends.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Chinouriri: My parents. As difficult as the relationship has been at points, to be able to have had two parents who are immigrants and raised me in the UK, I know how important it was for them to give me the best opportunities, and seeing what having a British passport has done for me in comparison to other relatives who don't, it’s a major thing. My mum really fought for that. What they’ve taught me about being tough and strong and dealing with anything has been great. Having very grounded parents is something I feel very lucky for.

What was the last show you binge-watched?

Chinouriri: I haven't watched anything in some time because I’ve been busy. The last thing I can remember binge watching is Red Rose, it’s a bit like Black Mirror, but early Black Mirror. But apart from that I just watch crime documentaries. I wanted to be a criminal psychologist so I find them interesting.

Photography: Emerick Mukenge
Photography: Emerick Mukenge

If you weren’t a musician, what career would you pursue?

Chinouriri: I’d be a criminal psychologist. Perfect segue! Criminal psychologist or detective. It's important to allow everyone to feel understood, and understanding why people do certain things and why they’ve ended up in certain situations – which I think has a lot to do with society, politics and government, community, race, class... if those things can't change for someone, [it’s important to know] how to give them the best opportunity to have a fair chance in life.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Chinouriri: To stress less. I would also say to earn unlimited money in a fair way, I think that would be a pretty good quality to have. Because that means you're just sharing money all the time. Wouldn't be hoarding it for myself, if I could find a way to give it to everyone, that would be great. But besides that, I think it would be to stress less – I think I'm a massive overthinker. So to learn to overthink less would be a good one.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

Chinouriri: I wouldn't want to know about the future. ‘Cos if it's not good, I’m gonna be stressed out. And that's why I need to learn to not overthink, so that I can do this crystal ball, because I'm a very safe person. But if I had to pick, it would be about myself.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Chinouriri: Not really, to be honest. I'm a very play-it-safe person. I don't like to venture too far into things. I barely like to be in the sea. I don't like aeroplanes, don't like being in one place. And I remember speaking to my mum, and she's actually exactly the same – makes sense. But I think a future thing is if I could have a farm or a bunch of land, I’d do something with either rewilding or having farms and something to do with the planet in some way, shape, or form.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Chinouriri: Being born..? Seems like tough work. When you see those birthing videos, I'm like, damn, I did that! I mean, we all did, it's a lot of work. What else? Doing my first album, I think. A lot of musicians walk this path and they don't even get to the first album, and especially your first, which has had the financial investment in like the artwork, videos, the creative, it's so hard to get any sponsoring or money for it. So when people get signed and dropped, I'm like, even the fact that I've made it to a first album and it's the quality that I really want it to be, no matter what happens after, the fact I've achieved that is the greatest achievement of my life so far.

What do you value most in a friendship?

Chinouriri: Brutal honesty. And I say brutal because if it's honesty where you're gonna sit me down and be like, ‘So, I think this, and I think...' I'm like, ‘No, you've done that. You need to not do that, because it's hurt my feelings’, or ‘You've done this to someone else.’ If it's good, intentional, brutal honesty, I'm always down for it.

What is your most treasured memory?

Chinouriri: Becoming an auntie for the first time. I became an auntie when I was ten, because one of my sisters is 40, I've got a lot of older siblings and I'm the youngest by quite a bit, so I became an auntie very young. And I remember that happening, I was like, 'Whoa, times are changing!' I've been an auntie more of my life than I've not been one, it's pretty cool.

What is your most terrible memory?

Chinouriri: Getting meningitis after [Notting Hill] carnival in 2019. Fucking rough, I literally almost died. It was a fun time, but my immune system was really low. I was standing next to the speaker and I remember my ears, the whole way home, ringing. And then that headache never ended. You can lose your limbs from [meningitis] – it can kill. I had to get a lumbar puncture. I went to one of my biggest music videos at the time, which was with Preditah. It was very upsetting, but I got to the set and collapsed. My mum was like, I'm flying back from Zimbabwe. She didn't, in the end, but it was not fun! I realised I should probably listen to my instincts when I feel ill, because I was feeling terrible. Or having food poisoning when I came [for a meeting at] this label. That wasn't fun, either. And I was meeting the heads of the label for the first time and I was just sat in there like, I'm about to like, literally shit myself on your sofa. This is not fun. But they still don't know... 'til now!

If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

Chinouriri: No, I already live with the mentality that I could die tomorrow. Or I could die on the way home. I've seen people who've gone through having a best friend being like, 'OK bye!' and then they just die. You never know. Don't know what sickness is gonna come about. I think people assume you're gonna live 'til you're like 70, 80, and it's like, 'When I have grandkids…' like, cool, you might hit 40 and get a sickness and die. People think once you get through your 20s it's easy breezy. It's like, no, even if you're the healthiest person ever, it can quite literally happen to anyone. I feel lucky that I'm in a position where I can confidently say, I wanted to be a musician when I was younger, I've always wanted to be a musician, and I am a paid musician. I've learned to live for now because luckily my younger self has become my future self. But I already live with the whole, if I died today, it's fine, at least I tried my best in doing what I wanted to do. No matter what happens, whether it fails or succeeds, I completely put my all into it.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Chinouriri: Oh god, I haven't ever done karaoke, if you want me to be honest. Which is mad. I've done karaoke in my house and I used to always do... what's that song by Rihanna? "What goes around comes back around...?" No, that's not Rihanna, fuck's sake! That's Beyonce! That was my song in my house. And then the Rihanna song I'd always do was the one with the piano ['Stay']... Those were my two songs, Rihanna and Beyonce, and I'd karaoke those in my bedroom on YouTube. But also a random one, Usher 'Moving Mountains', for some reason I know every single lyric to that song, so that would be my song.

Who is your celebrity idol?

Chinouriri: It's weird 'cos I think my mentality on celebrities is quite different because I went to The BRIT School. Celebrities were always coming in and out of the school, and it taught me – not don't idolise, but I’m like, I want to look at people who are huge musicians as peers, who could give me advice. And they have, I've met quite a few people. But who would I say is my idol? Lots. I'd say Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African acapella group. I think they're legendary. And I think what they achieved for South African singers, and music, was legendary. Doja Cat had The Joy opening for Coachella, which was a South African acapella group, which was incredible. So as people who speak in their native tongue and the harmonies and making it appreciated in the Western world, I think they would be my idols.

Can you share five positive characteristics of your best friend?

Chinouriri: Funny, sarcastic, brutally honest. I also want to say organised chaos – as we've grown up, they've become quite an organised level of chaos, which is quite fun to have. But also very inspirational, my best friends are inspirational with how hard they work and stuff. And motivated, an extra one.

Who was your first crush?

Chinouriri: Louis Theroux and Thierry Henri, those were my first two crushes. They're very different people, but I have very different tastes. Louis Theroux I think 'cos he's intelligent, so my brain was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' And then my brother used to always watch football, and I'd be forced to watch it. I remember seeing Arsenal and I was like, 'Who is this beautiful man?' And my dad was like, that's Thierry Henri, he's in Arsenal. And I was like, I love Arsenal. He was like, ‘You know you can't change the team you support,’ and I was like, ‘I'm gonna support them forever.’ And to this day, I support Arsenal, simply for the fact that I fancied Thierry Henri. I don't even watch football, but every time Arsenal do well, I'm like, 'Yes, there we go.'

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Chinouriri: I go to the gym. I wake up about 6:30, sometimes 5:30 and I go for a class at either six or seven. And then I go for an hour walk, then I journal and cook myself a lovely breakfast, sit on my balcony and I do all of that stuff before nine because after nine, I won't be left alone. For some reason I can survive on four or five hours of sleep – not healthy, but now I just sleep earlier. As a kid I could wake up at five and I would have gone to bed at, like, one. Now I've started going to bed at like 10, 10:30, but even if I have a late one... I've had times where I go to bed at one and my eyes just peel open at 6:30.

I'm going to start a sentence, and you can end it. I am feeling…

Chinouriri: Very happy. Very happy.

Complete this sentence: “Doing interviews is ..."

Chinouriri: ...quite fun, to be fair. Especially if you've got questions like this, this is quite entertaining – you guys are smashing it, to be honest. Thanks, guys!

If you were going to become close friends with someone, please share what would be important for them to know.

Chinouriri: Even if I don't reply to their messages or message them loads, I'm probably talking about them and probably already thinking about ways to hang out. So if I don't reply and just randomly pop up like, 'Let's go and do this!', it's because I am thinking about you. I'm just terrible with my text messages.

Do you do any sport or anything to keep fit?

Chinouriri: I go to the gym, and I used to pole dance. My gym were trying to kill me yesterday, I was doing a two-minute row, two-minute ski, two-minute bike, two-minute jumping on a box, and a minute burpee for 45 minutes with a two-minute rest in between each cycle. And I was like, 'I am going to throw up.' I felt great after though, so. Don't know what I'm training for! But I kind of love being sweaty. And then by seven in the morning, you see sunrise, and you're like, 'Ah, this is great!' And everyone's asleep. Peace.

Share an embarrassing moment in your life.

Chinouriri: I don't want to sound cocky but I'm very hard to embarrass. Embarrassment to me doesn't really exist. I don't have any shame. I've fallen multiple times, I've slipped many a time. I don't find it embarrassing. I'm just like, damn, I fell over. I've spilled things on myself. I think maybe you only get embarrassed if you're not confident in doing something. But most of the things I do I'm quite confident in. And this is why I'm quite a safe person, because I don't tend to do anything too chaotic. But yeah, many a time I forget my lyrics on stage and I'm like, 'Well, fuck! Cool.' Then I just carry on. I'd say that's my most embarrassing thing, forgetting lyrics. Especially if people don't know your songs. But hey ho, it happens to the best of us.

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Chinouriri: This morning! A good cry is always good. Albums are stressful, and sometimes I have wobbly days... I don't know why, but some days I wake up and I'm like, my album's not good enough. Then I'm like, this is one album of maybe like 10 I could have in my career, and actually it is good enough. I just need it to come out, because I'll keep stressing about it. It's been six years since I started music, so I'm just ready for it to be out. But quite literally this morning. I was crying and the Uber driver turned around like, ‘Yeah, so we're about 10 minutes away... Oooh, oh okay.’

How do you self-soothe?

Chinouriri: The gym. It makes me feel I'm doing something exhausting, but it makes me feel like I'm benefiting myself. It's got me in a good headspace. I don't know who said that gym gives you good mental health, but they were really onto something. I was that person who would refuse to walk anywhere over 15 minutes, I was sweating all the time. And then I started going gym and I was like, actually, what they were talking about has finally hit. So I'd say gym, journaling, walks, and listening to vinyl in my living room. And scrapbooking! Scrapbooking is a big thing I do, actually. I do love that.

What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

Chinouriri: There's a lot of criminal activity I wouldn't tend to make a joke about. I think our generation has a tendency to joke a bit too much sometimes – it almost reduces the severity of things, or normalises things. If anyone was to die, I just know I'm going on Twitter and there's going to be memes. I'm like, that's not acceptable, you've taken it too far. But then I'm someone who, when I go through personal trauma, I joke about everything to get over stuff. So maybe it’s other people's way of dealing with things.

What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?

Chinouriri: I had a dream in Paris when I was with my boyfriend, that we were in Euphoria and he was cheating on me. And I woke up really cross at him, and he's just like, 'What the hell have I done?' And I was like, ‘Well, you just cheated on me in my dream. And then I kissed someone else.’ And he was like, 'What? What kind of dream was this?' It was some weird school situation, very bizarre. That happened a couple of days ago. I don't know if he found it funny, but he was definitely like, 'You're ridiculous.' That was a dream, for sure.

Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

Chinouriri: A photo album, or photos to some degree. My parents had a house fire growing up, so there's no pictures of them under the age of 18 or 19. So my mum, growing up with us, had so many pictures of us, albums and albums and albums. It's always really fun to look back at. But we live in a day and age now where so many pictures are digital, but for some reason I’d go and get my physical copies of pictures because I think there's just something about snapping a picture yourself and having it in front of you, which is really, really treasured. Oh and also my guitar, Shelly. My first guitar, she's called Shelly, and I would have to save her as well.

How has love influenced your music?

Chinouriri: It hasn't yet, because I've only just fallen in love. Or actually – I just lied! I was in love with someone for five years. Not healthy love. That inspired my EP Better Off Without, and a whole bunch of other songs and some songs on this album. But I think music's quite therapeutic. Every time I've had a negative experience with a guy, I'll write about it and learn a lot about myself. I'm like, at the end of the day, I allowed myself to be treated like that, because I was either insecure, or had low self esteem, so I need to work on those things, or I'm gonna keep attracting these kinds of guys. And then suddenly, when I was in the best place I've ever been mentally, and was like, I want to be alone, I then met the sweetest guy. He's inspired me to write positive love songs. I've already warned him – don't be my second album. And he's aware of that! [laughs]. So yeah, it's nice to see where this next adventure in my life takes me with my songwriting, to maybe write some positive love songs.

Who do you go to when you want advice and what’s the best advice they’ve ever given you?

Chinouriri: I have a few people. Duncan Ellis, he's been my manager since I was 18. He’s older than me, very wise. The advice he gives me is always like, he's been there, done that. I follow a lot of his advice, even in general life. I know that if I'm stressed about something, I already know he's gonna be like, ‘This is silly. Why do you care?’ And it's like, OK, well, that's fair. Apart from my parents, I'd also say my friends. And Mae Muller, who's a musician and has got a very level head, and is one of the sweetest people I know, always has time for everyone. My best friend Julie and my best friend Janae, and my best friend Jim, those are my... Julie, Janae, Jim, wow. All Js. They know I'm an overthinker, so they keep me very grounded.