BEIRUT: Charlie Rayne is a name that trips off the tongue and seems to make complete sense as the moniker of a folky singer-songwriter. It’s a little more confusing, perhaps, when Charlie Rayne is a young Lebanese man from Jounieh.
“I like having this kind of persona from which I can write my songs,” Rayne says. “There’s no real reason [behind the choice of name]. I play American folk and I wanted a name that kind of fitted that kind of music.”
The name change seems consistent with a desire on Rayne’s part for a little reinvention, to leave behind the student gigs in Gemmayzeh bars and local weddings of his past to launch into a musical career.
He declines to say what he majored in while studying at the American University of Beirut, saying it’s “irrelevant,” now that he is committed to playing music full time, a decision he made as he approached graduation last year.
“I was playing music more than I went to university,” he says. “I crawled my way to graduation, and now that I’m finally done I can dedicate myself to music.”
It was on a study abroad trip to Madrid in late 2011 that he realized he wanted to try and make something of his own music. Before then he had been playing with bands, mostly covers, but when he arrived in Spain “I had to find a way to do it alone. And it was kind of a relief.”
“I played in the streets and it was a lot of fun,” he says. “Every once in a while I would go and busk. And I had friends that would come over, musicians, and we’d busk together in the streets.”
His sets still include plenty of covers and he said his musical influences include Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Johnny Cash. But it was in Spain that he began writing his own music, culminating in the five-track EP Thirty Sunsets, released last month.
The record was recorded on four-track cassette and produced by Fadi Tabbal of the Incompetents after Rayne struck up a friendship with the musician and sound engineer.
Rayne’s cover of one of the band’s songs, Disposable Valentine, has done the rounds of the Internet after he played it on Radio Liban in January.
“I really like it and it’s kind of a tribute,” he says of the cover. “[I met them] through their music, going to their gigs. It’s a pretty small scene. They showed interest in helping me out, and when the moment came to do this album I just went to them.”
Although Rayne is by now fairly well-established on Beirut’s small local musical scene, his music looks to elsewhere. He’s obviously been inspired by the wealth of indie folk that has come out of the United States and the U.K. over the past decade and led to the rise – some would say lamentably – of ballad-driven bands like Mumford & Sons.
Given his outlook it’s perhaps not surprising that he’s looking further afield. “The real challenge is to reach out to new people, and to go abroad actually,” he says. Nonetheless, “I’m not in a rush. There are a lot of things happening here. I don’t want to leave yet.”