A priest reads a passage from Jeremiah Chapter 5, “Their jaws are a grave, wide open to devour your sons and daughters,” before introducing brothers Loral and Ronnel to the stage where the London sibling duo – known as Sons of Raphael – proceed to splutter and stagger their way through a blistering rendition of their debut track, Eating People, to a room of choirboys during morning service at Ronnel’s boarding school. At the end, the pair stroll out, guitar cases in hand like a rock ‘n’ roll variation of Dog Day Afternoon’s Sonny and Sal, having truly warped the pious form.
That track appeared in the duo’s 2018 EP, A Nation of Bloodsuckers, first written around eight years ago by Ronnel for a school talent show (which he won) but released only last year. Temporarily relocating to Los Angeles last December – arriving back into London on Christmas Day – the band set to work recording their full-length debut. Partially funded by Ronnel’s NBA betting and back-room arm wrestling competitions, it’s a wildly ambitious project that includes a choir, a 30-piece orchestra (originally 50-piece) and a body of work the pair are convinced they were born to make.
For this interview, Loral and Ronnel have chosen to meet in their go-to Hampstead Japanese restaurant, Jinkichi, where they’ve been going for most days, most years. They each order their usual – soba noodle soup.
Alex James Taylor: How long have you been coming to Jinkichi?
Loral Raphael: I live next door, so I’ve maybe come every day for the past three years.
Ronnel Raphael: We love this place, we know the people.
Loral: After a good day of work we’ll come here.
Ronnel: But we’ll never order more than one soup unless we’re celebrating. We don’t celebrate that often, but when we do it’s a real ball.
Alex: You enjoy that routine.
RR: Absolutely. We wake up at 5am, go for a walk on the Heath.
LR: We’re neighbours now, which is great.
RR: He’s going to move into my building two weeks from now and we’ll be on the same floor. It’s a nice building, it doesn’t feel like London. It feels more like LA.
LR: We wanted to move into a motel. The idea was very nice but we looked into motels in England and it was disgusting. So we found a building here instead.
RR: It’s a rip-off actually, we pay a lot of money.
LR: But the building is nice, you feel like you’re in Miami. When we were kids we went on a cruise to Miami and we liked the feel of it, we have nice memories.
RR: You have nice memories from Miami? I just remember the throwing up. There was a fancy dinner and they brought a big platter with steak on and I just threw up on it.
LR: Right inside, which was great.
RR: Right inside.
LR: I think it was the chef himself who was carrying it too.
RR: That’s when I realised I have a gift to perform – I realised, “Ah! I can do this.”
AJT: It all began with sick on the steak.
RR: That’s exactly it.
LR: Another place I often go, there’s a house a few blocks away, I don’t know who lives there but at night someone plays the piano and it’s very beautiful.
RR: It’s very romantic.
LR: Sometimes I’ll buy ice cream and just go sit and listen at midnight. Well, at 11:15 because the ice cream shop closes at half past.
AJT: What’s your relationship with London like, do you tend to leave Hampstead?
LR: I haven’t left Hampstead for six weeks now. It’s not always like that, but I like this neighbourhood.
AJT: How did you find being in LA during the recording period for your new record?
LR: We felt good about it, we felt comfortable there.
RR: We loved it, we had takeouts in the studio.
LR: Even though we don’t drive…
RR: I’m scared of driving so I don’t have a driving license. It’s why I take a cab everywhere, even here in Hampstead.
LR: Last week I got a cab and told the guy to just drive around Piccadilly because there are lots of lights, I listened to music and it was a great thing. He was confused because I didn’t get out and just told him to go back to Hampstead. But we had a driver in LA who was very nice. He was there every day from 9am to go to the studio until 9pm when we’d go back.
RR: At the end, when we celebrated and got a big takeout.
LR: We were staying in Laurel Canyon, which is up in the hills so there’s nothing really to do unless you drive and everything was closed, so we just got a huge takeout – we got everything we could.
“There was a fancy dinner and they brought a big platter with steak on and I just threw up on it.”
AJT: And you were holding arm wrestling competitions while you were there.
LR: Well we had to fund the orchestra somehow, but it didn’t prove very successful.
AJT: Which one of you is the arm wrestler?
RR: I’m the main guy, so if you’re ever in town… I’ve got to tell you, I felt a little bad with Mina, the waitress here, I met her with her kid once and didn’t want to embarrass her, but what can I say, I’m good.
LR: Financially, it wasn’t a great success, not many people came.
RR: We’ve been very successful with our betting recently. We bet on NBA games.
AJT: Are you clued up on NBA?
LR: Not too much, that’s the thing. We just enjoy the excitement of being up all night watching the game. Usually games start at about midnight or two, and they’re very long because they have so many adverts. It’s very fun and it worked out great. It’s a big album and it costs money, you know? It’s not very common for a band to ask for a 50-piece orchestra. So we compromised and instead of 50 we said we’d have 30. But still…
RR: Also we’re doing everything on tape.
LR: But two days after we came back, the Mavericks played the Celtics and the Celtics won. When you put a third of the budget on that… which again was a very stupid move, but it worked out.
RR: Our dad always said you gotta take risks, so we did and it paid off.
LR: The next day I took half of it and I lost, so it happens.
RR: But we came here to celebrate that win.
AJT: What’s your arm wrestling secret, Ronnel – toprolling?
RR: I look into the eyes. It’s less about the physical aspect and more a mental breakdown. Plus, I work out.
AJT: I’m excited about your record because I can’t double guess it, I feel like it could be anything.
RR: I like that.
LR: You will be surprised, I think. It has nothing really to do with the EP because, you have to remember, he wrote that in boarding school eight years ago.
RR: Yeah, it’s been a long time. Also we started writing this album five years ago, and I’d like to think that it took up all of our time during those years.
AJT: When you started writing the EP Ronnel, did you know that you’d form this group with Loral or was it more of a personal thing?
LR: I was in London and he was in Bristol.
RR: So I’d write and we’d share some things. But this album, it’s a nightmare. It’s hell. For me, the way to describe it is like Jesus in the desert, it’s the temptation story. It’s like a test, suffering is a test sent to catalyse your potential and take you to places where you pay a price for something special. There’s been seven bad years and now they’ll be seven good years.
LR: But the second album cannot be the same process otherwise we’ll die. Your doctor said that if you keep going like that you’ll have a heart attack. Ronnel: [laughs] Yeah, and I’m very young.
AJT: You wrote the orchestral scores?
LR: So we have no musical education, we can’t actually read music.
RR: We went back to my boarding school and used some of the orchestra there for the demos. Just to get an idea of what we wanted.
LR: And to see how well we could deal with arrangements. So I wrote some stuff on piano and we went to his boarding school and played it to the children, then they wrote it down for us. So now we’re doing the same thing but in a more organised way. We have two more songs to do, and then we have to arrange the choir…
AJT: Have you thought about how you’re going to perform this live [laughs]?
LR: Well, if our mother would just get pregnant… [all laugh].
RR: Everyone said, “Oh you need to get a drummer” or “Oh you need more people”, but we won’t take them. Even if they’re related like a second cousin, not good enough. Brother or nothing. Did she perhaps forget the soup? [checks on his soup]
AJT: Your EP is relatively simple so it’s quite the departure.
RR: Very simple.
LR: It was just four-track recording on a cassette tape.
RR: I wrote A Nation of Bloodsuckers for a talent show at school one night.
AJT: Did you win?
RR: I did. After we made the video for Eating People, my teachers kept telling me I was going to hell.
LR: The EP is like Eddie Gaedel and the album is more like Shaquille O’Neal.
RR: That’s right, that’s a great way of describing it.
LR: They’re both great, but just different sizes, different moves. Also, we’re speaking about the album and we’re making all these promises almost like it’s a Ponzi scheme or something. We’re telling you, “Hey guys, there’s a rumour in town that Sons of Raphael are making a big album,” but nobody has actually heard it except us.
AJT: Ronnel, you were named after L. Ron Hubbard [founder of the Church of Scientology]?
RR: Well our parents used to investigate Scientology when they were younger.
LR: Although they weren’t part of it.
RR: They were fascinated enough by the guy to name me after him. They were curious about it, exactly like I’m curious about religion but I’m not religious.
AJT: I love the fact Hubbard started out writing science-fiction novels which he sort of adapted into the Scientology doctrine.
RR: Yeah, absolutely. He knew how to make good money as well. Jesus made good money too, well at least his family did.
LR: They get good royalties.
AJT: The Bible isn’t so far removed from a pulp fiction, sci-fi novel itself.
RR: Of course. And if people feel more like that maybe they’d read it more, without any religious significance. It’s poetry, it’s a novel.
AJT: Throughout your lyrics there’s a recurring theme of temptation and redemption. Did that interest stem from boarding school?
RR: Yeah, it started in boarding school and then I studied a theology degree for three years. For me, theology is like poetry constructed by humans for humans. It’s fascinating. A lot of people ask us if we’re religious and we’re not, but I think that spirituality always precedes doctrine.
“The EP is like Eddie Gaedel and the album is more like Shaquille O’Neal.”
AJT: And people can build an ideology about the smallest, most insignificant thing as well. Have you heard of the Church of God with Signs Following? They’re also known as Snake Handlers and they take a passage of Mark as a pretext for believing snakes are a manifestation of demons. They pick them up, raise them into the air and let them slither all over their bodies. If a handler is bitten, it’s interpreted as a lack of faith or failure to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
RR: Wow, I like that.
LR: Me and Ronnel do that every Friday in my flat.
RR: I guess we do similar things.
AJT: Betting on NBA, that sure bites you.
RR: Very true. You know I have a tadpole? It’s called Shirley.
LR: He takes her to swim in the ponds of Hampstead Heath.
AJT: Isn’t she lonely?
RR: Yeah, so am I. That’s life.
LR: We aren’t very lucky with pets.
RR: We had a dog that ate a turtle.
LR: We had a turtle first, then we had a dog, which ate the turtle…
AJT: With the shell?
LR: Yeah… I was never sure how.
RR: It was a violent dog. The turtle was called Turtleberg – a traditional name for a turtle.
LR: The dog was deaf as well. Then we got a goldfish, that wasn’t very exciting but…
RR: In all honesty, the fish committed suicide.
LR: It jumped out of the bowl and I stepped on him. I woke up and there was something slippery on the floor.
AJT: When even your fish are committing suicide…
RR: I know.
LR: We took great care of him though, we decorated the room, we had special food. The food is disgusting actually.
RR: Loral, why don’t you ever eat the prawns first?
LR: I like to soak them.
RR: But then they lose their crispiness.
LR: Sometimes I’ll take one and eat it on arrival, but then leave the second one until after.
LR: I wonder if one day we’ll hate this soup.
AJT: How many times do you think you’ve had it now?
RR: Too many times.
LR: Sometimes we’ll have it seven days a week, but then we have to take a break.
AJT: When did the tape machine come into your life [the band always perform live with a tape machine]?
RR: It was always there, I used to carry it around boarding school and record. It’s actually the same one we still use live.
LR: We found it at his boarding school.
RR: I got it for like £10. Basically, in boarding school I had a little studio set-up in my room, it was a moving studio because you wanted to hide it from the housemaster.
LR: It had a tape machine, a microphone and a drum machine. The EP – besides A Nation of Bloodsuckers, which was recorded in London later on – was just recorded on this cassette machine.
AJT: How many students were at the school?
RR: There was a lot of people, there was one that was a thief. He stole money.
LR: Did they find him?
RR: No, they never did. It could’ve been anyone. There were 50 kids in my house and there were lots of different houses. Mine was nice, some weren’t.
LR: I’m very upset today because I wanted to buy Ronnel a very nice working desk from 1978, beautiful rosewood and chrome, like Gordon Russell. It was a great price so I shook the woman’s hand and had a good deal. Then someone offered her £25 more and she went with that without telling me.
AJT: Having already shook hands on the deal?
RR: We struggle with that.
LR: Spineless creatures with fake handshakes, it’s not right. Especially estate agents, you know? One day I’ll buy all the estate agents in Hampstead and turn them into brothels. This is where they belong.
RR: They’re dishonest.
“One day I’ll buy all the estate agents in Hampstead and turn them into brothels.”
AJT: I listened to your NTS guest radio show the other day.
RR: “We’re here to deliver the good news of rock ‘n’ roll.” At the end I say, “God bless you”, did you hear that? It took a lot of takes, “God bless you”, “God bless you”.
LR: Next time we do one of those it’ll just be us speaking and no music.
RR: It’ll be like a Howard Stern type of show. I don’t care about what bands think politically or about life, it’s more about their music and film tastes.
LR: We like going to the cinema.
AJT: Where do you sit?
LR: At the back…
RR: We try not to sit next to each other, which is something we do often in order to maintain a good relationship. On the train, I make sure I don’t sit next to him.
LR: He’ll come visit, give me peanuts, but we won’t sit together.
RR: It’s too much. I make so many friends on flights because I always think the plane is going to crash, so I want people to help me. Before we go on a flight, I’ll always give him a back-up of everything I did, just in case. In all honesty, I hardly care about anything – except family and friends, of course – but the music I care about incredibly. I’m here to serve that purpose.
AJT: Do you know when the album will be finished?
LR: 2025 [laughs].
RR: The deadline was last September.
LR: The deadline is irrelevant to us. We explained to our management the other day, we can’t put a finger on how long it’ll take.
RR: We have a set of principles that we work with, like I’ll try to avoid certain things because of the way that people edit, they all use the same software.
LR: But the main thing is songwriting, which nobody has anymore.
RR: And also they don’t have any sex appeal – that’s why we’re here.
Sons of Raphael play at Islington Assembly Hall on Wednesday 22nd May, supporting Mini Mansions.
Follow the band on Instagram.