Independent Artist RJ Thompson beats Kings of Leon to spot in the UK top five with new album

2021 has been a major breakthrough year for RJ Thompson. A familiar name on the UK independent music scene having toured extensively with artists such as Jools Holland and Gabrielle Aplin, the physical release of his second album Lifeline has landed Thompson a coveted Number 5 spot in the Official UK Album Charts as of 19th March 2021. Usually reserved for major label artists, Thompson has broken the mould through great songwriting and production, great forward-thinking marketing, and a renewed focus on the romance and experience of owning a physical piece of music. He overtook major artists Kings of Leon and The Weekend to reach the number 5 spot within the Top 10, a position he holds despite a resurgence in sales following the Grammy Awards last weekend. 

Born and raised in the North East of England, Thompson’s indie-pop sensibilities and love of all things analogue have seen his artistry sidestep the more typical modern-day singer-songwriter sound. Dubbed ‘Synth Springsteen’ by the UK media due to his ability to merge great storytelling with his signature nostalgic sound, he is heavily influenced by artists like Beck, Brandon Flowers and Bleachers. Having started his journey in the backstreet pubs and clubs of the North-East, he has gone on to perform all over Europe including at The Royal Albert Hall in London, where he supported Jools Holland. His 2018 debut album, Echo Chamber, was a contemporary take on nostalgic music and wider culture with a distinctly retro production technique. It gained critical acclaim and helped to cement him as an artist to watch. Tracks from his previous releases have been supported by BBC Radio 2, 6 Music and BBC Introducing.

Having taken some time out in early 2019, Thompson felt compelled to go deeper, to be more honest and he started the process of writing and recording some new material. The result is perhaps his most personal body of work to date reflecting on his childhood, relationships and his struggle to navigate today’s digital landscape. New album Lifeline, which was first released in October 2020 is an expertly crafted combination of alt-pop and rock influences, tinged with soul and blended together through his distinctive electronic sound.

He released a number of singles in the lead up to the album. Debut Kids was released in February of last year. It’s a powerful statement of intent that creates a real sense of nostalgia through his epic production style. While Kids is a testament to his relationship with his wife, second single So Right is more of an introspective look at his own insecurities. Forget About The Day, premiered by Wonderland Magazine in June, addresses mental health as it often plays out, quite publicly on social media. Incredibly relevant for the times we live in, the song challenges our digital interactions and questions whether any of us are really connecting with our friends and family. Next in line was Act Of God. This time, he positioned himself as the narrator as he comments on the daily activities of someone living their life online:

“Early on in the process of writing this album, I realised how many of the songs had references to my personal relationships, not just with people that I love, but also my life online. When I sat down to write Act Of God, I really set out to make the verse lyrics as polarising as possible, to echo the tribal nature of social media. The final song basically became a commentary on how it always takes a disaster, or an ‘Act of God’, for people to put aside their differences (at least, sometimes!)”

In March 2021, the limited edition physical release of Lifeline was met with huge demand, beating out major label artists to a spot in the Top 5. According to the Official Charts Company, it also earned the crown of “the UK’s most downloaded album” of release weekend. This is no small feat for any independent artist (RJ is entirely independent, releasing via his own label Codename Records), but particularly so when you consider that his music has not had the same level of media and streaming support that you may expect for an artist selling this many units…not yet anyway! Thompson is defying all odds in an industry where artists are finding it harder and harder to generate sales, proving the importance of building a big grassroots following, honest and heartfelt songwriting and a brilliant physical product.

Music is an integral part of our culture, and RJ recognises the need for artists and labels to diversify to meet the needs of music fans, particularly in the wake of coronavirus. He is calling for his fellow artists to channel their anxiety into creativity, and to develop new ways of connecting with people via music.

Poignant, Lifeline is a socio-political commentary that feels so relevant to the world we live in. Thompson explores themes that are universal yet his perspective is also deeply personal.

THEAUSSIEWORD.COM caught up with RJ Thompson back in 2017 for a special interview.