NYC-based singer/songwriter Rachel Lynn delivers the best of both worlds with her music: passionate, pop R&B melodies and classically trained vocals. Although she took a brief hiatus from releasing new music to take a step back and regroup, she’s back and better than ever with her new single “Didn’t I.” I got the chance to talk with Rachel about how she got involved in music at a young age, what she learned about herself both personally and as an artist in the time since she last released music, the story behind “Didn’t I” and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I come from a very musical family. My mom was a music teacher, my grandfather played in the military band, I have an uncle who’s a professional guitarist, and another uncle who’s a [music] theory professor in Utah; everyone values music and had a hand in that realm already. So I definitely grew up around the support of the arts and that really fostered [my love for music], like as soon as I could get into band – I did, and as soon as I could get into chorus – I did. That’s really where it all started.[Although it was] around high school was when I really started to think, “Oh I could pursue this as my life.” That’s where my preparation for college study started and I really took music to that level of education. I went to Maryland for that. About 6 months after I graduated, I moved out here to New York and have been here for 7 years, just gigging and releasing music.
Going back to high school real quick, was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally or was it something that just gradually occurred to you over time?
I always wanted to be a singer and I sort of just assumed that’s what everyone else wanted too. It was second grade chorus and I’m being called a mic hog and I’m like, “What? Aren’t we all trying to have a moment in the sun?” [laughs] I also think my mom was a big inspiration in terms of seeing something in me, whether I was good at it or just really liked it. I still remember her landing me an audition with the Peabody Children’s Chorus. I think it’s those things when you’re young and there’s a collective group of people who really value the thing and take it sort of out of a recreational level and into a “hey! We’re all really passionate about this” level. That level up was addictive to me. We are musicians, we are taking this for real and not negatively in a serious way, but like, “Wow. We’re allowed to find this really important.”
Right. And you said you studied music at Maryland?
Yeah, I was studying vocal performance. As musicians, we all talk about our previous instructors and our education experience, and I’m just incredibly lucky to have had the [voice] teacher I did, who was just an incredibly understanding person who just valued the journey of me finding my own voice and having that level of individualism. When you hear some stories about musicians going through their education, it’s very “here’s the mold and here’s how we’re going to fit you in it.” So I’m so grateful for that because I definitely think it sort of perpetuated a sense of individualism as I went out and tried to be a truly independent artist in every sense of the word.
Going off of that idea of being an individual and finding your own voice, I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So if you had to describe your sound without using genre names, how would you describe it?
Oh lord. I just remember the sense of emotion that would wash over me as a very young person hearing a song for the first time, or falling in love with a song and then hearing it on the radio and being like, “I’m not getting out of the car till it’s over.” The essence of that connection between the music and the listener is what I want for my music. To reach someone in that way is definitely the goal. I guess without [using] genre names that’s sort of how I would love to be able to describe it. But it’s soulful pop music, so I want people to feel connected and really [have them] enjoy the music itself.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I love the old soul artists, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and everyone who was really getting into, and developing, what it meant to be soulful. As a singer, for me so much of that is in the vocals. You hear Otis Redding and he is giving everything to what he is doing. So the fact that it is captured in recording is surprising almost. You’re like, “Wow. Look at what he’s doing.” And then any contemporary artist that is pulling from those influences as well. I love Allen Stone. I think he has this unbelievable agility in his voice; I mean he has some of the slowest vibrato and he’s so in charge of his product and what he delivers and its amazing. There is also an artist, Donna Missal, who is currently blowing up. She was a big inspiration on this single, “Didn’t I”, because she is this powerhouse vocalist who is incredibly versatile. She’ll give you vulnerability, she’ll give you angry anthem Janis Joplin moments; she’s got tons of distortion in the guitars and also in the vocal and I think just what a cool way to convey emotion. So she was definitely an inspiration on this specific track as well.
Speaking of this new single, I know it’s been a couple of years since you’ve released new music. What made now the right time to release new material? What did you learn about yourself, both personally and as an artist, in that time?
I definitely would say being an independent artist, unfortunately, tends to dictate a lot of things that go on. The pattern in the past has sort of been that I kill myself trying to get out a project. It’s [just] you, you are the team and you are by yourself trying to navigate all of the outsourced services that you can. Once my last project came out, it was like, “Oh my goodness. I am drained in every sense of the word.” It’s really unfortunate, because to feel like you are sitting on your creativity, you are sitting on new material and to not the means to put that out into the world properly is really devastating. I think it’s part of the hardships for independent artists. It’s not that we can’t go outsource the services. It’s that getting to that point can be very difficult. So that was one of the reasons why there was such a pause, cause I really needed to gather myself and my artistry and say “what are we going for here?” Not to mention that this music is a next step for me in terms of creativity and writing and it’s what I would like to think is definitely a step forward in showing my ability and showing what kind of singer/songwriter I am. So I really wanted to release it in the proper way, which again took more time.
And that’s why, with this EP, I dove into the realm of crowdfunding. So this project has really been possible because of that campaign. It was so scary, but I’m really proud and grateful of what came out of it. We had over 75 backers, which is great because sometimes you’re seeing a few big hitters trying to help you out and I had a few people who were incredibly generous. But the fact that that many people felt like [they wanted to do] anything they could to bring the project to life is huge.
I know you’ve got your first single from the project, “Didn’t I”, coming out very soon. What inspired that song?
An asshole [laughs]. This is definitely a song where for me it feels like this hopeless, angry, heart-broken anthem of sorts. Definitely as a singer, I wanted to write something that I feel I could really wail on on stage and give everything to. When you’re wailing emotionally, it only makes sense that the subject matter of the song would be something that’s devastating. So pulling from my own experience, which is normally how I’m writing, this is definitely a sort of a level of devastation and feeling like didn’t I do everything right? Or didn’t I do everything I was supposed to? Sort of this thing that we can’t really expect in relationships, but we think one plus one equals two, I do this, you do that and everything works out great. Sometimes you don’t have explanations for things and it results in a super hopeless and frustrating feeling. That’s what really came out in this song.
I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering, what was your songwriting process like for “Didn’t I”?
I definitely write just me and my piano, so every song starts that way. With this song, there was definitely a sweeping feel of the six-eight in the song and this sort of walking moment in front of the chords, where that sort of kicks things off and the melody sort of came from that. But the writing process for me has always been a pretty straightforward one. I’m always sitting at the piano, just sort of plunking things out and seeing what comes to me. A lot of the times, I know writers will use placeholder lyrics, like they’re not the real thing yet but you’re really developing your melody. So that happens a lot and then you get to go through and think about what you really want to say here.
So are you someone who always has to write by yourself or do you like collaborating with other artist and songwriters for co-writes?
Typically, it’s always by myself. But then it’s usually after a seed gets planted where other artists will get involved. I had a wonderful producer for this project, Ali Culotta, who has a band of her own and is a musician in her own right, but she really elevated this project. So even once these songs had come to fruition, she came in as an additional voice to them. I think that level of collaboration and being open to that is super important. In my experience, it really comes when there is an idea already in the works and then it’s built upon.
Kind of going off of that, were there any major changes made to “Didn’t I” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Ali, the producer, is primarily a pianist and she works on her own music that is a completely different genre than mine. So it was so cool to have her come in and say things like “this weird stinky, synth sound would sound amazing in the bridge.” To hear that is so cool because, like I said, I’m sitting down at a piano, super organically, and writing these songs. One thing that really gets fleshed out in the studio as well is background vocals. I’m a singer and I think background vocals add so much to a song. So when we went into the studio and put all those layers in, that elevated things right there.
You mentioned that you crowdfunded this EP and that “Didn’t I” is going to be the first single off of it. Do you have a specific release date for it yet or are you still trying to figure that out?
There’s not a specific date yet. But what happens in my dreams is “Didn’t I” comes out. In March, I’m playing 5 shows in different cities, so [I] roll that out, talk about it, get things moving on that front, get people excited about what’s coming. Then, what I would love to do is wrap things up for the rest of the project in the following months and then plan properly for a roll out and a release possibly in May-June. I would love to have this be the next thing.
Gotcha. Now that you’re looking towards the future a bit, what are some music industry-related goals that you’re aiming to reach with your career in the next couple of years?
I would say in terms of industry-related, I’ve dipped my toe in the pool of sink opportunities and radio and those are things that I would love to continue moving forward. I want a lovely Spotify presence; I would love for people to find me there as everything will be streaming there. Once the EP is out, this year is definitely going to be filled with lots more shows. I’m going to be going back to all of these cities, DC, Baltimore, Boston, Philly, and all of that. I would say in one word: growth. I think that’s all of our goals.
Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
I just finished Ozark last night. I don’t know how other people feel about Jason Bateman, but I find him to be great. This show messed me up a little, but in a good way. So currently nerding out and digesting the last episode of that that I watched last night.