Bonnie Raitt

Quick Q and A with Rigby Summer

Listening to Rigby Summer’s new CD, Geography, got me thinking about geography in a couple of different ways—places we’ve been and what they look and feel like when we’re actually experiencing them and also about our feelings about those sane places before and after the fact. The feelings cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. I just did the Google thing and discovered that there’s an actual linguistic term called “emotional geography.”  Rigby Summer has nailed it. She has stitched together a sonic landscape describing her sensations surrounding people, places, and things that covers a broad scope of deep emotions. Listening to her album allows you to take a deep dive into her life through her songs.

Rigby responded to my questions with a sincere nod to her past and the openness toward new horizons. She casually mentions her identity as “the weird kid” in school and how the world of singer-songwriters was opened up to with the kind gift of someone who sensed that the words and music of Mary Chapin Carpenter might make a difference in that weird kid’s life. And it did and here we are!

Take a saunter over to Rigby’s website here.

Here’s a video of Rigby singing her song “Kentucky” at the iconic Blue Door in Oklahoma City.

Your sound and vibe are very much organic and homegrown and it’s more than apt to realize that you are originally from the Mid-West and call Oklahoma home now. How much does your “home” influence your music?

Gosh, to be honest, I think the influence itself is organic and subconscious. I’d say if anything, it’s a matter of a strong attachment I have to places I have lived and visited.  I feel like I really absorb places and spaces and so it stands to reason that they would come out in my music. 

Your new CD is called Geography and many of the songs are named for various locations in the United States such as Kentucky, Delaware, California, New York, Los Angeles, and Michigan.  Were you striving to capture the essence of these locations in your songs? Or perhaps the emotions that those places evoke for you?

All of those songs were riffs on my own vibe or experience with them–except for “NY or LA,” which was a co-write.  That song is more of a relational metaphor for the waiting game when you and your spouse, partner, best friend, sister, whomever are in such different spaces emotionally that you may as well be on opposite sides of the country.  

The rest were born from very personal experiences related to those places.   “Kentucky” is the oldest song I’ve written that I kept.  I wrote it a VERY long time ago when I was living in Nashville and I was miserable. I think folks miss it, but you can hear that in the line “this city ain’t my scene…” So I wrote a fantasy song about falling in love and running away.  

When I first tried to make a go at singer-songwriter life, I moved to Los Angeles, and it was the best thing I ever did.  L.A. gets a bad rap, but I found the truest group of friends there and a creative community that felt very collaborative and open. I started busking on the Promenade in Santa Monica and it felt like opportunity was literally on every corner. I paid too much to share rent with four other people in an apartment 2.5 miles from Venice Pier. I was living paycheck to paycheck but I was madly happy.  Even when I wasn’t, I had joy. It was maybe the first place in my life where I really felt like I belonged. And then I moved away to pursue the relationship that eventually took me to Oklahoma. It seemed like the right thing at the time, but I missed L.A. terribly. I missed my friends and oceanside drives up the Pacific Coast Highway to Zuma and sunset jogs to Venice Pier. So one winter during February Album Writing Month, which has a crazy number of participants in Delaware, I had this line knocking around my brain: “You can go, I don’t care, all the way to Delaware…” and thus, the song was born.  My love song to West L.A.

Those are just a couple of examples–I don’t know that any one person can capture the essence of a location because we all have different experiences, but by focusing on the emotions that the places have evoked in my experience, I’m able to connect with audiences who have shared something similar there. People who hate L.A. might like the song or enjoy the relational message of “Delaware, CA,” but they aren’t going to resonate with it in the same way as people who share my love for southern California. In the same way, I’ve had folks who were born in Kentucky but who hadn’t lived there for decades come up to me almost in tears and say “How did you know that about my home??”  

Tell us about your early influences and how they evolved as you began playing out more often.

I went through this phase as a tween where I only listened to the oldies station. All my peers were learning dances to pop music at recess but I was going home to sing along with the Shirelles and the Rolling Stones.  I was a weird kid! My mom’s best friend Mary tuned into that and started feeding me music pretty early on.  She taped all her Mary Chapin Carpenter CDs for me and I absorbed every note.  I studied those songs and wanted to be her. In high school I loved Bonnie Raitt and also Kathy Mattea and Trisha Yearwood–because of those latter two, I later realized that I was also a huge fan of Gillian Welch and Gretchen Peters. My favorite Kathy Mattea song was “455 Rocket,” which was written by Gillian and so many of Trisha’s hits were Gretchen Peters’ writes.  My brother also loved music and we went to a lot of great concerts together growing up. Because of him, my first real concert was Paul McCartney at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Between the two of us, we knew almost every lyric to every song on the 70s rock station. 

Then on the heels of Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan and Jewel–all of those great 90s songwriter women, there was a surge in performing songwriters.  I was an O.G. Brandi Carlile fan and I was so inspired in my 20s by independent singer songwriters like Katie Herzig, Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor….they really made me want to do this. 

Upon your move to Oklahoma, you created a music scene by creating a pop-up concert series called “Monday@Modella.”  What did you discover about yourself through this venture and what did you find out about your new hometown of Stillwater?

Actually, the pop-up series was not immediate.  I lived in Oklahoma for nearly seven years before that opportunity came my way. I hadn’t played out regularly in years and it was providence, kismet, divine intervention–whatever you’d like to call it–because on paper, I had no business doing what I got to do at that time. But as I’ve gotten down the road, I’ve seen how so many of my experiences leading up to that really uniquely prepared me for what I am doing now.  

I don’t know if you know Noah Derksen, but his song “Tennessee Lines” has been on repeat in my mind lately as I’ve been reflecting on all these things….the chorus sings 

“they say hard living makes you stronger 

but I wonder could they be wrong 

they say how you get to where you’re going 

is just by going, so I keep going on 

until the hard living is gone…”

That resonates with me so much because what I now see is that my music had been there all along–I had some really sad and dark times in the years that I wasn’t performing. It shows in some of my writing from that time. I had jobs that I was really happy in, but the entire time I was always wondering what could’ve been with my music.  I just kept going and moving through the work that was in front of me at the time until it led here. And unbeknownst to me at the time, all of those experiences were preparing me. Not sure if that answers your question, but what I have learned about myself through that experience was just to keep going. It’s so cliche, I know, but most of the time when we feel things are darkest or we feel our backs are most against the wall, that is when the trap door is going to drop us into a whole new life beyond what we can imagine for ourselves! 

We’d like to know about the development and creation of Geography. What did you and producer Kyle Reid bring to the studio in terms of producing an Americana album. Don’t you both share a jazz background?

When we started this album, Kyle hadn’t done much production for other people yet, so we both were in a time of discovery and got to learn a lot from the process. His own solo work really runs the gambit. And really, just like Americana, the idea of “jazz” casts a very wide net so much of what we consider to be jazz also influenced country and rockabilly and the like.  If you listen to Kyle’s first two albums, there are songs that seem to blend all those ideas. It transcends labels.  For example, there are two tracks on Love and Trust—”Last Time” and “Call Me” that are back to back and they sound like they could be solid alt-country tunes on an M. Ward record.  But they are sandwiched between “Dancing Alone,” which has a very Django Reinhardt Nuages feel to it, and “Hard Going,” which could almost be 30s era Delta Blues.

All that to say, I knew my songs didn’t really fit into one common mold so it was great to work with someone who shares this idea of service to the song.  We didn’t ask ourselves “what would other people want to hear?” or “how can we make this into a country, Americana or whatever genre record?” We took each song and said “what does this song want to be?” and built from there. 

The beginning song on the album “The Weight (Unrequited)” impresses me every time I listen to it.  What prompted that song? The intro grabs me and resonates so deeply before the guitar and vocals kick in. Kudos!

Haha…thanks.  I knew for a long time that I wanted that song to be the opening track for an album. I think I told Kyle that I wanted it to sound like we were coming out of the stars and down to earth to join the story in progress–he nailed it. What he created with his pedal steel on that intro was pretty much exactly what was in my head.  

There’s a theme of “leaving” throughout this album. It got me thinking about emotional geography–distancing oneself from situations or people or places in order to achieve peace of mind.  Am I reading too much into the essence of the album or am I onto something?

You are onto it for sure–but I like that you have your own variation on this theme, which is how it should be! The album is anchored by songs that mention actual geographical places, but even the ones that don’t have very special meaning to me. Almost every song on this record came from a very specific, pivotal moment in my life.  I’ve described these songs as musical cairns, little pillars I’ve raised musically to remember my way. 

How did COVID affect you? Did it give you time to reflect and create? Was the isolation welcome?

The rest was welcome, but it was not a super productive time for me, creatively speaking. Instead of trying to learn a whole new skill set like livestreaming or home recording, I knew this was only going to be temporary so the best thing I could do to prepare for after was to rest and to get my house and my business  in order.  I invested in some business coaching and learned about sync licensing–things that would be very relevant to my business plan long term. And I built a beautiful garden in my backyard. I was way overdue for rest and I knew that when things opened again there would be things I would miss about that time, so I tried to enjoy it and make the most of it, even if it was a time of so much uncertainty.

What are your plans now that Geography is out in the world? Are you open to touring more?  

Haha…I’m already on the road again. I am in the middle of another run to Wyoming now and am looking to spend most of next year on the road. I want to get out in front of as many new ears as possible and get this album heard. I also have already planned the next album so I’m looking to plan production for that and follow up as soon as possible!