Interview by Kyle Cochrun
Kyle Cochrun: Is there a particular record you could nerd-out about that helped inspire your sound or the way you approach making music?
Rachel Roberts: When I made my first profile/bio online I listed every influence I felt contributed to my sound, from Mozart to Led Zeppelin to Ella Fitzgerald to Jamiroquai. Later, an agent told me I needed to “wrap myself up in a box and tie it with a bow.” Essentially, he said I needed to pick a genre and brand myself. This was incredibly difficult to do. Not only had I been writing folk and indie music (“Ripe n’ Juicy” and “Lightning Loves the Kite”), I also was writing music for my then-funk rock band Rachel’s Secret Stache (“The Brown Bag” and “Alive in the Dungeon”). I didn’t like the idea of choosing, so I continued to write what I knew how to write – that stuff that came from my heart and soul.
As a singer-songwriter, I’ve been more obsessed with particular songs than necessarily one album. For instance, “Glory Bound” by Martin Sexton. If you’ve never heard this song, stop reading this and listen to it (especially if you are a songwriter)! I’ve had many songs I consider my lovers, like “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley or “Gracias a la Vida” sung by Mercedes Sosa. If I need to get going for the day, I play “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson or “25 Miles” by Edwin Starr. I think I’ve got songs for every mood I’m in. But, if I had to name a couple of my favorite albums that influenced me, they would be:
“Chocolate and Cheese” by Ween – This album made me feel like I could be off the wall, I could have multiple genres on one album and that lyrics can involve things like a “wrinkled raisin.”
“This is Henry Mancini” by (obviously) Henry Mancini – This has the perfect mixture of melodies and quirkiness. Mancini is the master of genre-bending. It’s a combination of classical psychedelia, jazz, bossa nova and cheesiness. I love it.
“Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos – I had a babysitter, Trina, who I went to see perform in a school talent show. She played piano and sang the song “Winter” off this album and I was hooked. I was only 11, but that performance made me want to write music. I wasn’t able to get a copy of the album until high school, but I wrote several songs on the piano because I wanted to recreate how that song made me feel. I love how Tori uses her voice on that album and it gave me several ideas about the way I wanted my voice to lilt.
Also, shout out to local poet Ace Boogie whose album “A New Definition of Love” still rotates in my player. Ace’s lyrics are poignant and remind me that poetry is alive and well and that love isn’t defined by pop culture.
I suppose if I had to say what really inspires me in music, it’s honesty, playfulness, and passion for the craft. I could go on about different instrumentation, harmonies, lyrics, and time signature changes but I’d rather just listen to it, dissect it in my own mind and think about how I can use the energy it gives me in my own music.
KC: Your website also states that you’re working on two new records. Are these records going to be grounded by specific concepts? (I’m thinking of the story behind your “Lightning Loves the Kite” record, which I find a fascinating way to go about constructing an LP.) And when can we expect them to drop?
RR: I am working on two records, one is a yet-to-be-titled album by my rock band The Queen Cobra (I’m rooting for “Oh the Horror of it All”). The other is a solo album called “Love is the Color.” The Queen Cobra album will be rocking fun, with song titles like “Moondust,” “Tidal Wave” and “Sweet Ride.” We are hoping to have it ready by Halloween, though albums take time, so I’m not making any promises, though that’s the goal. The solo “Love is the Color” album is definitely a concept album. It will have songs about different kinds of love, or the feelings that love can bring you or leave with you. A parent’s love of their children, a love of God and nature, the bleeding and heartbroken, the tales of young and old. The songs will loosely relate to colors as well. I’m not sure when that will drop. I’ve been writing and singing some of these songs for a while, but haven’t conjured the funds yet to record the kind of project I have in mind.
KC: What excites you most about getting to play Lock 4?
RR: I love Akron. It’s my favorite place to be. I grew up in Highland Square and love Historic downtown Akron. Lock 4 is a beautiful space where we can see the canals – the reason Akron came to be! When Akron was founded they would take supplies (like lumber) up and down the canals. Lock 4 reminds me of an Akron long ago, when they used these waterways to start our city. I also think that though many people live in Akron, they don’t know a canal runs underneath it, and you can see it in its glory at Lock 4. Another reason I’m excited to play at Lock 4 is that it’s underneath the Akron Civic corridor, and I love the Civic. It holds many fond memories for me, like listening to my mother singing opera there, and playing and singing with Chrissy Hynde. It’s also super close to my favorite Akron institution, The Peanut Shoppe. I’ll probably grab some spicy peanuts there before I play. Also, I’ll be playing a loungy set with Dan Kshywonis, and it’s a great way to relax and enjoy a summer evening.
(All photos courtesy of Rachel Roberts)