Rachel Marie came into my musical radar well over a year ago. I saw and heard her compete in a songwriting competition and I was impressed by what I saw and heard but I suspected that she could and would improve. The next time I saw her several months later, it was obvious that her musical growth and perhaps her confidence had grown exponentially. Hailing from the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, Rachel’s now making Boston her home and she’s a welcome addition to the singer-songwriter scene here.
To learn more about Rachel Marie, visit her website.
Here’s a video of Rachel Marie singing her song “Let Me Bee.”
Rachel Marie will be opening for Cheryl Wheeler at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, April 27, 2018.
Your road to folk music involved you earning a master’s degree in early music from Longy School of Music. What led to your interest in early music?
My interest in early music took hold in college. As a freshman at Drew University, I auditioned for every vocal group I could, and I fell head over heels in love with the madrigal singers – with unaccompanied polyphonic madrigals in particular. Something about four or five voices weaving and cascading, creating a rich soundscape with nothing but our bodies, relying on each other to lean into the music in just the right way to keep it afloat… It’s some of the most intensely collaborative music I’ve ever made, and it made me realize that making music was what I needed to keep doing.
Was folk music a part of your early years? You’re from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania— home of the venerable Godfrey Daniels coffeehouse. I know you’ve played there but did you experience any shows there before you joined the league of working singer-songwriters?
I can’t recall exactly when the annual Indigo Girls concert with my mom and her besties started, but I was young enough that I was only allowed to say “the f-word” while singing along with “Shame On You” at the concert. That and the two family dogs were named for Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. So becoming a folkie wasn’t a stretch. As for Godfrey Daniels, I think I first attended the open mic when I was 16, and I went with my dad, who played music at home all the time but who hadn’t played an open mic at Godfrey’s in over 20 years. My family pretty immediately got involved in volunteering, and my dad is still an open mic regular. I do believe the first time I experienced Antje Duvekot live was at Godfrey’s in 2007, so having the opportunity to open a show for her at the Burren this past January was surreal.
What inspires you to sit down and write a song?
Most of the time, I write a song because I need to work through some emotional conflict. A change, or a loss, or anger about some injustice. Fiona Apple did an interview with Craig Ferguson in 2006 that has stuck with me, and she said, “I only write when I’m angry or sad or something because that’s when I just have to write… if I’m having a good time and I’m happy, and things are going really well, why would I want to stop what I’m doing to go and write at the piano?” I’ve been practicing writing about things that actually feel good, though. “Let Me Bee” is the song on my upcoming album that is the best example of that.
Tell us about your brand-new CD, False Foundations. It sounds like there’s a story behind the premise of the album.
The track that leads off the album is called “Not Okay” – it’s a story about me being a fixer-upper that I don’t have the tools to fix on my own, and the idea that I can do it on my own is a false foundation in itself. We put stock in so many things that can just hold us back, and I’ve realized that a lot of my songs are snippets of me working through just that. I write a lot about attempting to get past the conceptions I have about my own life that are holding me down. The most beautiful part is the other side of it, knowing what is good for us. For me, it’s all about community. I can’t do it all on my own, and I know now that I don’t have to.
Do you like recording? Do you like the sound of your own voice and listening back to how you play? Is it hard to decide on the final take?
Everything after getting my vocal and guitar down is so much fun but getting there is quite the struggle. I have gotten to the point that I like the sound of my own voice (which took years of deliberately listening to myself), but I’m still a perfectionist. Deciding on the final take is often a matter of necessity, of realizing I’ve done something twenty times and that I just have to choose.
I love the description of you as a “cunning wordsmith.” Do you have any heroes or sheroes who use words in a cunning manner? Did you learn from any of these lyrical masters?
Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) is my lifelong lyrical hero. Her propensity for metaphor has always inspired me, as has her vulnerability. As I got older, I discovered Patty Griffin, and later, Raina Rose. If you ask for my favorite songwriter, I’ll be pressed to give you a straight answer, but those are my top 3 for sure.
Your stage presence is very genuine and real. When you first started to perform before strangers, did it take time to reveal your personality or did you try on other personas and realize that Real is Best?
It’s all stubbornness. I have always believed on some fundamental level that true art demands vulnerability. My stage presence is that belief enacted. For years, my big brother would tell me that I was awkward and weird on stage while quieter voices would thank me for my honesty and let me know that it helped them somehow. Trying to help folks has always been my default goal, even if the cost was losing a gig where someone would prefer I come off more polished. So far, it has landed me in exactly the circle of empathetic human beings I’ve always wanted to be a part of.