Rachel Taylor Brown

A Rising Star Feature

by Melissa Minners


            I recently had the opportunity to review World So Sweet, Rachel Taylor Brown’s latest album and I loved what I heard.  The Portland-based singer, songwriter and musician has a fresh sound with intelligently written lyrics that actually make you stop and think after each song.  Although this is not Brown’s first album and she is well established in the Portland, Oregon music scene, I thought it would be nice for our readers to get to know her better through a Rising Star Feature interview.  Here’s what she had to say:

When did you begin to realize that you wanted to have a career in music?

Oh, pretty young, I think.  But with no real focus or awareness of what that meant!  I was always so immersed in it (singing, playing etc.) I just kinda figured, in that hazy way of the young, that that was what I'd do.  And then I got encouraged to pursue it later on, by nice teachers and other supportive folk.  And I have always been employed in music (and other things--that is the way of being employed in music, unfortunately).  But I didn't take my own music seriously until about 13 years ago.

Some folks describe your sound as pith rock. How would you describe your sound?

I think my music's very recognizable as mine but I don't know what to tell you that sounds like!  I guess I don't really care what it sounds like.  I pretty much follow my head and innards and I guess that means I'm fairly mishmashy.  I have very definite ideas but I've always loved a broad range of musics and you are what you eat, so that's what comes out of me--a range of styles.  But I think it all sounds like me.  I could extend the whole "you are what you eat" analogy here to very gross effect.  I actually started to and disgusted even myself and so I reconsidered. :)  Anyway--It's like parenting, in a way.  I'm not a parent (and am happy that way, thanks very much) but I'd hope I'd let the little hominid be what it wants, without forcing, just as I try to do with songs.  Some seem to want to be big and bordering on glam/arena rock.  Some seem to come out little and sparse and quiet.  And stuff in between.  Sometimes I'm not always that pleased about where a song seems to want to go.  But giving them their own head and not imposing is the best philosophy, I've learned.  Any time I've tried to force a song in a different direction, it's wound up shite.

When some people write songs, they already have lyrics in mind and write the music around them.  Some have the music and write the lyrics to fit. What is your song-writing style?

I have no discernible style.  This statement could also apply to me, personally. :)  Writing, for me, happens every which way.  Sometimes I write it all in one fell swoop--music, lyrics, arrangement.  Sometimes I write words, let 'em sit around (or not) and then set them to music later. Sometimes I write some music and then write lyrics, or set some lyrics I previously wrote to it.  Usually, in the case of the latter, the lyrics wind up being changed or modified.  Sometimes they can change considerably and a whole different song than I was expecting comes out.  Better not to expect anything!  That way you're ready for anything.

A number of the songs on World So Sweet get their roots from current events.  Is this how you usually come up with an idea for a song or does this only happen when an item in the news truly disturbs you?  Of all the songs you have recorded, which has the most meaning for you and why?

You are on the right track with your question, definitely.  I'm never looking to write about the news or current events--it's more about reading or seeing or hearing something that resonates on some fundamental level for me, and the event or story is a helpful vehicle to get (I hope) to a deeper truth.  It's a device.  Sister Jean and Mercy in Nebraska, and How To Make a World Class Gymnast are all about--to me--laying bare those qualities in us that we prefer to ignore; about exposing lies we all tell ourselves and skewering institutions we hide behind.  The sanctity of (mythic) Family, in the case of all three, is used to excuse inexcusable behavior; the wounding of children, your own children.  I do know that's a theme that pops up a lot for me, no doubt due to my own history.  I really loathe that human tendency to hide behind institutions, waving your flag while you fuck someone over in the name of God/Family/Country.  Extremely, horrifically destructive in very real terms, that instinct, over the centuries.

What sort of message do you hope to send with your music?

Oh, I just hope it might make you think.  I treasure a good poem or song that opens a door in my head or sheds light on something in such a way that I see it differently.  That startled feeling, you know?  That's a great feeling.  If I ever have made anyone feel that feeling, I'm gratified.  I also really love it when someone enjoys a song for no other reason than that it makes them want to get down with their funky self.

Some of the songs have a religious feel to them, what with the choir backgrounds and some of the lyrics.  Is that intentional, or did the music dictate where those particular songs were going to go?

I think that's just another symptom of the "you are what you eat" theory.  I'm deeply steeped in the many winding and circuitous ways of Christianity (growing up, plus being a classical musician--churches are where the jobs are, mainly).  And I'm fascinated and horrified by the role religions have played and continue to play with humans, made by humans.  So there's that, and yes--the music or lyrics do dictate where the song will go.  A song like Didymus just came out churchy, and that's a good example of a song I wasn't happy about coming out of me, at the time.  I didn't want to write another Jesus song, and dammit, there it was and that's exactly what it wanted to be.  It's a blasphemous Jesus song, but anyway, I just wasn't wanting to write it, particularly.  And that arrangement was a bit of a headache--I still have some trouble playing and singing it and have to concentrate like bloody hell.  But it fits the lyric just right, I think, and I'm glad I stuck with it and let it go.

Is there anything you would like your fans to know about you that hasn't been previously revealed?

Wow.  No.  OK.  I liked Twilight.

Any upcoming recording or touring plans?

I'm always writing (knock on wood) so I'm generally always working toward some recording project.  Have been writing a lot and something's putting itself together as I sit at the piano--I'm not sure what it is yet but I like how it's coming together, sort of in one piece.  I also have a pretty good backlog of songs that I'm interested in enough to want to do something with.  It's all very expensive, though, both in real money and in time/energy/angst and I'm truthfully pretty tapped out of all three at the moment, what with finishing up and putting out World So Sweet.  I'd love to tour but can't afford it. Wah, wah--the musician's lament.  Maybe I'll see you sometime, though.  And Miss Natasia Minners (meow!).

            Now that you’ve learned something about Rachel Taylor Brown, I suggest you check out her music at http://www.racheltaylorbrown.com/, where you can check out videos, listen to her music and buy her albums.  If you’re looking for a musician with a Jagged Little Pill type of punch, Rachel Taylor Brown is just the artist for you!


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