If you’ve been following along you know that I’ve been keeping tabs on New York based vocalist, Rachel Brotman. A silky blend of soul and jazz, her music draws from classic influences with an added oomph. As she and her band gear up for 2013-an EP release, shows in different cities, and multiple new opportunities-I decided to sit down for a Q&A to amp up for the release of the EP, “Anecdote”.
Though I am bummed that I will be in and out of New York City without leaving time to see her perform, I am looking forward to seeing if she will be playing in Boston.
Having looked at her site and watched her Youtube videos, many questions entered my mind. Well, she has the answers-see below!
FJF: This may be a trite question, but I like to ask…how did you decide upon your principal instrument?
Rachel Brotman: That’s interesting for me to think about, actually.In terms of performance, I now really consider myself a vocalist, but piano was my first instrument and is definitely the key component of my ‘voice’ as a songwriter. The piano always seemed [to] hold the keys to the kingdom for me; studying theory through piano really opened up my ears and the vocabulary I draw from in my songs. But my voice is the instrument I can really manipulate and command in performance.
FJF: Was there a song or moment that made you feel that you should pursue music professionally?
RB: I think the experience of performing in New Orleans really made me appreciate how one could functionally pursue music as a profession. It didn’t feel like such a bold decision as it sometimes seems like it is in NYC. You play in a bunch of bands, you play through standards at functions for the Med School or at Hotels, you run your own projects that you can stretch out in and express yourself completely through. The experience of performing in New Orleans made pursuing music professionally feel like a real option.
FJF: Is your family musical? How do you feel growing up in Manhattan impacted you as an artist?
RB: I don’t come from a family of musicians but definitely of music lovers. My grandfather loved jazz-he drove a Coca Cola truck in his teens and twenties routed through Harlem and delivered to all of the great clubs. He loved to tell stories about the musicians he met and heard play. And my mom steeped me in Joni Mitchell early in my childhood.
Growing up in Manhattan affected me tremendously as a musician, mostly through the ability to hear live music (and literally any type of music) constantly. When I was fifteen I attended a summer music program and was introduced to the music of Charles Mingus. I became totally obsessed and needed to hear the music performed live. And sure enough I found the Mingus Big Band at their weekly residency at the Fez on Lafayette Street. They played every Thursday and I can’t even count the number of shows I went to. I think experiences like that were really crucial for me.
FJF: What made you decide to live in New Orleans, and how was your time there?
RB: I went to New Orleans for college, but music in New Orleans was the real draw for me. I had been studying jazz piano in high school and I knew I wanted to continue studying music but didn’t feel like I could commit to a conservatory program. On my first day of orientation we were evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. Needless to say, I didn’t start that semester but going back for January was never even a question. I was deeply drawn to the city. Having a small hand in rebuilding while participating in the music culture in New Orleans was an incredible experience. I had great teachers and was encouraged to step outside of the university world and really engage with the city. I can’t imagine where I’d be without my experiences in New Orleans.
FJF: Are there any other cities you would like to visit or perform in for a period of time?
RB: I would love to spend time in Brazil…it would be impossible to pick just one city! I’ve been fascinated by Brazilian music and feel like, similar to New Orleans, it would be an incredible place to learn from and absorb the different local music. As for a place to perform? I’d sing anywhere!
FJF: You are also a music educator, correct? What is your background in that, and how do you feel it impacts you as a performer?
RB: Yes! I’ve been teaching music through a program called Timbalooloo for two and a half years. I didn’t have much of an education background when I started, but have learned so much about development, particularly through early childhood, and its relationship to the arts. It is such an honor to teach, and especially to work with young children. The way they respond to music, marvel at it, wonder at it in this magical way, really reminds me how incredible music is in its most fundamental state. It’s easy to get weighed down with information and technique in music but really at it’s most simple, music is incredibly powerful and our experience of it is deeply visceral.
FJF: I feel that, these days, many people base their fulfillment as a musician based on Youtube hits, Facebook fans, Tweets, etc. What would you mark as feeling fulfilled as a musician?
RB: I’ve been slower to come around to social media and networking and all of it’s tricks. It can be really exciting to connect with people who may not have heard you otherwise. But in no way is my fulfillment contingent on hit numbers. Performing and creating with my band is my greatest source of fulfillment musically.
FJF: On that note, what are the biggest pros and cons to your musical career when facing social media?
RB: I might have more pros to list if I [were] better at it! Like I mentioned before, I think the opportunity to connect with new people, with people all over the globe, is incredible. A con for me is the amount of time it invariably sucks up.
FJF: Now for some lighter questions…if you could perform with anyone…
RB: This is a hard one! I’m a huge Erykah Badu fan, and I’ve always said if she ever needed a backup singer in a pinch I’d be her girl. I probably know every lyric.
FJF: A genre of music you would also like to perform, but haven’t?
RB: I’d say my music is pretty deeply based in acoustic sounds but recently I’ve been really interested in music executed electronically, samples and synths, etc. It’s a totally different way of approaching composition and such a different soundscape. It would take a lot of time to be able to do… but might be something I’d be into trying.
FJF: A song that always lifts your mood?
RB: “Roses” by Georgia Anne Muldrow
FJF: Now, about your EP…how did you come up with the title track for your EP, and what is the story behind it?
RB: For me, making this EP was really about capturing what my band sounds like at this very moment. We’ve worked really hard to develop the music to this point and I know it will continue to change and grow. So for me this record is really a snapshot story of right now and the word “anecdote” seemed to suit that idea perfectly.
FJF: How did you meet the other musicians in your band?
RB: I’ve been incredibly lucky with meeting bandmates. The group was originally just myself, singing and playing piano, and my longtime bandmate from New Orleans, Thomas Eskew, playing bass. Just as I was ready to look for a drummer, a close friend and engineer (who had worked on a demo for me) recommended Anthony Taddeo and he’s been with us ever since. Anthony knew our piano player Yago Vazquez, and when Tommy had to leave the band in pursuit of a new career, Yago brought in our current bass player Zach Lane. It was all so seemless, there was hardly a hiccup. It really amazes me…
FJF: How was Tinderbox? I have heard so much about it and interviewed Alyson from Tinderbox…sounds like quite an experience!
RB: Tinderbox was great! As a New Yorker, playing at Webster Hall was such a wild feeling and being a part of that lineup was an honor. The people behind that festival really worked so tirelessly, I feel really lucky to have met them and their work is really inspiring.
FJF: What are your other plans for 2013? And what was a defining moment for you in 2012?
RB: I am so excited for 2013! We’re kicking off the year with our EP release show at Rockwood Music Hall, and after that we’re opening for an incredible multi-instrumentalist named Diggs Duke at DROM February tenth. We’ve got a lot of shows in the works and we’re hoping to make our way out to Boston and Philly. And in general I think we’re really ready to take advantage of any and all opportunities come our way this year. It’s going to be a good one.
As for 2012, personally I think stepping away from playing piano in my band really changed everything. The music opened up and the level we’re interacting with each other [..] as a band has deepened so much. Everyone thought I was nuts, but it was probably one of the best decisions I made in 2012.
Be sure to check out the video here (I love relaxing to that song on a weekend morning!), and her upcoming shows:
January 22nd 2013- EP release show!
at Rockwood Music Hall (stage 2)
February 10th 2013
at DROM (lower east side)
opening for Diggs Duke