Check out this great interview I did with New York singer-songwriter Rachel Brown. We talk about Rachel's music, her live band, and her new EP Building Castles !
How long have you been playing music?
When I first finished high school, I took a year off before I started college. During that time, I bought a guitar and secretly learned how to play. So I’d say about seven years ago.
What kind of guitar was it?
At that time, it was a Fender Acoustic starter pack. To this day, it still is my favorite thing to play (laughs).
When and where was the Building Castles EP written and recorded? How long was the process approximately?
Everything that made it on that record had been written within a year or two of putting out the record. It all started with the song “Bumblebee” (track 1), which was a song that I written before. Everything kind of grew out from that. I went through all of my songs with my producer in New York. We narrowed it down, and at the same time I was recording some new songs. In the end, there were eight songs and six made it on the record, because throughout that process, I had written new stuff that sort of changed our plan.
Who are some of your main musical influences are?
I never know how to answer that (laugh). It’s hard to say because there’s always so many influences. Some of my big influences are amazing songwriters, and people who can come up with great melodies and great ways of saying things. I love Smokey Robinson, Amy Winehouse, Andy Grammar. Bruno Mars is, I think my favorite all around entertainer/performer/writer. I just keep an ear open for interesting things and keep a mental note of them. I listen to a lot of Pandora on shuffle (laughs).
I read that you’re a Harvard graduate. What did you study?
I ended up majoring in Film Making. I went for a General Education at first. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in particular. I was always interested in art. I took some art classes, but I didn’t really like them. I just didn’t understand the “abstract” things and “analysis”. I liked things that were very real and daily life. I ended up taking a film and documentary class, and I fell in love with it. It was the outlet that I had been looking for in visual art. There wasn’t any opportunity to study music in the way that I wanted to in school. But it was great, because it still allowed me to use music as my outlet outside of school and work and all of those things.
How did you find that balance between going to school and working on a music career? What kind of advice would you give to students in the same position?
I was very lucky that I found music at such a later age. It was really just before I went to college when I started, so I didn’t really have to deal with the question that a lot of young musicians or anybody who finds their profession as a child of whether or not I wanted to go to school or pursue it. For me, it wasn’t a question. They both went hand in hand. I don’t know a whole lot of people who love school (laughs). I mean, I love things about like meeting people, and the general things that someone would love about it. But school is tough, and you spend a lot of time doing things that you wish you didn’t have to. But using the thing that you want to do as your outlet, as a way to let your frustrations out about waiting to pursue it, as a way to make whatever outlet you have better is great. It also allows you not to burn out on it if you jump into it too soon. And sometimes you just need the time to develop; it’s not always the best thing to jump in. If you pursue whatever it is that you want and allow yourself to grow without running headfirst before you’ve really figured out what it is you want to say as an artist, I think it [school] can be really helpful.
Where does the title Building Castles come from?
That was actually the name of one of the very first songs that I ever wrote. I was struggling to come up with a title for album. I didn’t want to name it after something on the album because I didn’t want to be like “Hey, this is the most important song on here”. I had thrown out “Building Castles” as an idea. That song meant a lot to me. It was all about growing up and looking back and being nostalgic. When I started out doing music, I came out of nowhere. It was a dream I had for a long time, but it took me steps to make it a reality. The fact that I was in a place where I was putting out a record, where I had been doing it for a few years. It actually was my life. I decided to go back and name it after that very first song I wrote secretly in my bedroom.
What are some of your favorite topics and ideas to write about?
I like to write about a lot of things. I think the most common song in general in the world of songs somehow links back to relationships and love. There’s certainly a lot of that. I think that any experience that I can relate to or others can relate to I try to find a way to say it in a new way, and put it into a song. Anything from life I try to draw inspiration from.
In your opinion, what would you say separates you from any other singer-songwriter out there?
Well, I have this crazy band that I play with that haven’t seen replicated (laughs). There’s nine of us at the moment. When I did the album, we were about half that size, so a lot has changed and grown. There’s the typical instruments, but they’re played atypically by my amazingly talented bandmates (drums, guitar, and bass). I have West African instruments like the Kora, which is a 21-string harp-like instrument. Hand percussion, congas, horns, there’s a lot of different elements that aren’t usually put together and then set to the music that I write.
What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
When we perform, we just go all in and have a party onstage. There’s so many emotions that can happen in the course of the set. We as humans can be really sad about something that we think is only happening to us, but really everybody can share that experience. So dance, get away, have an amazing time, and celebrate with everybody around you. I try and take everybody on that experience, and try and get them to bring whatever it is that happened to them to what I’ve written about. I’d like to connect people, just have a good time, and realize that we all share a lot.
What are your future plans right now?
Our next big show is at Ginny’s Supper Club on July 24 in New York City. We’re really looking forward to that! Otherwise, I start my college tour again, where I’ll be traveling around the country to different campuses. Otherwise, I’ll be working on the new material and putting out new music which I’m really looking forward to! I think it will be fun to show what’s happened since the band doubled.
You can keep up-to-date on all of the latest music and news from Rachel Brown by liking her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rachelbrownmusic) and following her on Twitter (@rachelbrownnyc). "Building Castles" EP is available now.