Jacob Anderson is known for his stoic demeanor as Game of Thrones character Grey Worm, leader of the fearless Unsullied army and right-hand man of Daenerys Targaryen. But as Raleigh Ritchie, the pseudonym Anderson goes by to pursue his primary passion as a music artist, he has plenty to say. And where Grey Worm plays his cards close to his chest, the soulful Anderson isn’t afraid to discuss emotions, as on his thoughtful new track “Time in a Tree,” premiering here on TIME and kicking off the rollout of his second album.
“I’m generally a fairly shy, withheld person,” Anderson says. “But when I get onstage, I get a bit mad.”
Bristol, England-born Anderson, a self-described music nerd, started off as a kid making beats on basic software and spending his lunch periods crafting songs instead of playing video games. When he was 17, Anderson began pursuing music full-time in London, while auditioning for TV roles. By the time he snagged the gig on the hit HBO show, he was well into his work as the soul-pop-R&B hybrid artist Raleigh Ritchie. His first full album, 2016’s You’re a Man Now, Boy, garnered warm reviews — before he jumped back into filming the final season of Thrones.
While on a visit to New York, Anderson sat down with TIME to talk about his development as an artist, the meaning behind the meditative, singsong new song “Time in a Tree,” his love for the Spice Girls and David Bowie — and the one Thrones costar he’d want to feature on an album.
Listen to the Raleigh Ritchie song “Time in a Tree” below.
TIME: Growing up, were you a theater kid, or was it all about the music for you?
More than anything, acting was more like a confidence thing. I love words, I love English, but I don’t have a hugely academic brain, so I enjoyed it because it was a bit of a respite. I don’t think I really had a sense I would actually be a musician or an actor; I just wanted to be around that. I wanted to make stuff.
Do you remember your first CD?
This is not going to be a cool answer. I think it was probably the Spice Girls. [Laughs.]
What changed that helped you made the jump to actually becoming a musician?
I think it was when I learned I was a control freak. I would write songs and say [to my friend], ‘Sing it like this!’ and she wouldn’t. I’d get really frustrated, really controlling about it. So at one point she just said, ‘Do it yourself.’ No one ever told me I had a good voice or anything; no one ever told me I could sing. They just let me get on with it.
Then you moved to London when you were 17. Did you have a plan?
Not really, no! I just knew I wanted to be involved in making things, whether it was for other people or myself. I met my manager by then and we’d drive up to London a couple times a week and go do sessions. At the same time, I auditioned for a TV show in Bristol and didn’t get the part, but the casting director said, ‘Why don’t I get you an agent?’ I wanted to write or direct more than I wanted to be in front of the camera. I still occasionally feel completely uncomfortable being looked at.
When did you adopt the stage name of Raleigh Ritchie?
Basically, my old artist name was really rubbish. Raleigh Ritchie, I have pretty shallow reasons for it. I’m a massive Bill Murray fan, and a massive film nerd. So I wanted to marry those things together. Raleigh Ritchie is literally just Bill Murray’s character’s first name and Luke Wilson’s character’s first name from The Royal Tenenbaums. I liked the way it sounded, and I liked those characters; I related to them.
Is there a certain persona that goes along with the stage name?
No [laughs]. In the beginning, I was thinking about, how am I going to present myself? What kind of tea does Raleigh Ritchie like? But it didn’t make any sense because I was writing really personal, confessional songs. And then I thought playing a character would be weird; there would be a disconnect.
Talk to me about this song, “Time in a Tree.”
I’m an over-thinker. I don’t relax very much, even when something’s going well for me, even when I’m excited about something — I can always think of a reason why it’s not going to work out. “Time in a Tree” is about needing just a bit of peace. It doesn’t have to be that you’re literally sitting in a tree [laughs]. It’s just about finding some inner peace.
Has it been difficult to balance the music and acting sides of your career?
It’s easier to put me in a box, saying ‘Oh you do this thing, you do that thing, and something has to take priority.’ But I’ve never found it difficult; I just want to do the things I love.
And now you’ve wrapped the final season of Thrones.
And now I’ve got all the time in the world! It does feel weird. I think I’d managed to tell myself for a few years that I love doing that show, it’s great, but ultimately I’ve got lots of stuff to do. And then it ended and I was like, ‘I’m going to miss you all so much!’ I got really swept up.
If you had to choose any of your costars as a featured artist, who would you tap?
I feel like I would like to get a skit from Rory McCann, who plays The Hound. I’d get a skit of just Rory swearing. [Laughs.]
Did everyone on set know about your music?
I’m definitely not the kind of person who would play stuff out loud; I didn’t walk around singing or anything, so I didn’t have a sense of whether or not people were listening. But David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], who are the showrunners, came to my show in L.A. last year, which was really nice. They didn’t tell me they were coming! I ran around the crowd high-fiving and I saw them, and was like, ‘What?!’ I think maybe because it’s the last year, more people have come up to me and been like, ‘By the way, I like what you’re doing.’
If you were to write an album for the final season of Thrones, how would you approach it and what would the mood be?
That’s a clever question [laughs]. It would be basically a really secret album, where there was no details about anything to do with it [laughs].
You tend to have a more soulful sound; do you see yourself as a foil to hip-hop artists?
Yeah, but I feel like I owe just as much to pop — to the Spice Girls [laughs] — as I do to hip hop.
What’s been your most memorable experience in music so far?
This may be a gross way to talk about it, but when you write a song it feels like you’re purging all the bad bits in your soul. And then going and doing a show and having people sing that really personal thing back at you, and you know they feel that way too, that’s a unique thing. So really any of my own shows where I can feel that is when I feel I’m at my peak.