The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with budding country music star Rachel Rhodes

This week’s interviewee was suggested to me by the lovely miss Rachel over at Existation. I’m so glad Rachel introduced me to Rachel. (That’s a lot of Rachels.) You’ll see why—read on to hear her story.

Rachel Rhodes

Rachel Rhodes does nothing halfway when it comes to pursuing her dreams. While the country music artist may seem like a Nashville native—what with a hot off the press Music Row-inspired EP under her belt and all—she’s actually a Midwestern small town girl. Growing up in northwest Iowa, Rachel trained as a classical singer, performing in operas both nationally and internationally. While she loved the art of operatic singing, it was country music that her heart gravitated toward most. So, wasting no time, Rachel packed up and moved to Nashville with her dog Dolly in tow. Within just a year of relocating, the 24-year-old wrote and recorded her debut EP alongside a notable producer and several talented musicians. Her labor of love, Heartland, was released just last month.

Aside from her passions for singing and songwriting, Rachel also plays the piano (and, as she modestly puts it, “a really terrible attempt” at guitar). She loves reading, bargain shopping, and exploring her new town. You can find Rachel and her music here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Rachel!

Where and when was your first public performance? Describe what that was like.

My first public performance was as a kindergartener, playing Gretl (the smallest girl) in The Sound of Music. I started out performing in musicals and choirs, because that was what was available. But I remember begging my parents to let me go to a music camp when I was a high school freshman, and they were shocked I had any interest. They actually kind of tried to persuade me out of it! And when I finally got to go, I was hooked on singing. It became pretty much my only interest.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue music as a career? Was your family supportive?

Honestly, I decided right away. I had never felt so passionate about something, and I’d never had something that made me stand out as talented. I was hooked immediately, and because I knew the music business was a one-in-a-million kind of dream career, I started as soon as possible to try and make it happen for me.

You started out as a classically trained operatic singer. What made you decide to go back to country music, and how did that classical experience prepare you for becoming a country singer and performer?

Sometimes people will ask me if I regret pursuing opera, now that I’m loving life in country music. The reality is that classical training teaches the building blocks of vocal production–exactly what is happening inside your body to make certain sounds. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to learn those lessons, because hopefully it will help me keep my voice healthy for the long run.

I chose to go back toward country because it felt like home. I’d stayed away from it for so long because I wanted to be different, and opera was about as different from my hometown roots as I could possibly get. And of course, once I did it, I really did love it. But when you’re an opera singer, you’re always going to be singing music that was written by someone else, and once I started writing my own music, I just couldn’t imagine going back.

album cover

What has living in Nashville been like since you moved? Has any part of the transition been difficult or unexpected?

I moved to Nashville with no furniture—just my dog and an air mattress. So the first month was pretty bare bones, but eventually the furniture came! Even though I was basically sleeping on the floor, I knew immediately that Nashville was where I was supposed to be. I LOVE this city! The thing about Nashville is that it’s a big city with so much to offer, but it also has a very small town feel to it. You’re constantly running into people you know, and everyone is so friendly! I’d actually never been to Nashville in my life before the day I showed up here, but it couldn’t be a more perfect fit. Guess I got lucky!

I’d imagine recording your first EP would be surreal. Can you explain what that process was like—both in terms of recording logistics and just the overall emotional, learning process?

It definitely was an interesting experience and process. At the beginning, it was terrifying to hand over any control to my producer, because when I’d written these songs, they sounded a certain way in my head, and I was SO scared they would end up nothing like that. My amazing producer, Eric Arjes, lovingly referred to me as a total control freak, but I was so blessed to work with a producer who understood exactly what my vision was for the album and then made it a reality. We had a blast in the studio and are so happy with the final product. Our goal was to make something that could compete (or at least not sound out of place) next to artists who spend millions recording a record. Our budget was TINY, but with a little bit of luck, we had A-list players agreeing to contribute to the album just because they believed in the music, and because of that, the album sounds like we spent WAY more than we did. I told you I love bargain shopping!

As a relative newcomer to the scene, what’s your take on the state of the music industry? Do you worry about potentially being taken advantage of as an artist?

You can only be taken advantage of if you allow it to happen. I think trust is something earned and built, and I also think it’s so important to educate yourself. Have trusted lawyers look over documents before you sign anything, and always go with your gut! Intuition is a very valuable tool, especially in this industry.

It’s hard even for established musicians to make a living off their art. How do you get by? Like so many others, do you also have a “day job”?

I definitely, definitely have a day job. Especially during the “making the album” phase (which was the busiest, most stressful time), I was always balancing my day job and my music. That being said, when I first moved here, I was offered a position that could have quickly grown into a full-time career with benefits and stability, and I didn’t think twice about turning it down. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew it would have taken away from what I came here to do, which was to make music and build a career doing what I love! And because of the opportunities and relationships that grew from my current (much less prestigious) day job, I was able to record an album that I’m so proud of. I can almost positively say that I would be nowhere near an album release if I had accepted that first job.

single

There’s no questioning your talent. But do you ever doubt pursuing a musical path? Will you always be a songwriter, even if for nothing other than the pure joy of it?

Nope! Honestly, there have been times that I WISHED I doubted pursuing a musical path, but it’s been tunnel vision all the way. I find it so extremely difficult to focus on things I’m not passionate about, and music has always been #1. I don’t think I could live a fully happy life pursuing any other career path.

What are some of your all-time favorite albums? Favorite books?

Well, I’ve always been a book worm. I will read almost anything, but my favorites are either Jane Austen novels, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (childhood memories) or… Harry Potter. I’m a huuuuge Harry Potter nerd.

Musically, my taste is really eclectic. I listen to a lot of country music, and my favorite classical composer is Richard Strauss, but usually I’m listening to Lightning 100 Radio—lots of indie musicians. I also love Coldplay and always jam to Kanye West in the shower.

Has luck or persistence brought you to where you are now? Which do you think plays a bigger role in success?

Absolutely persistence! I can say without a doubt that I’ve never worked harder for anything than I have for this album. And there are so many behind-the-scenes type of things that went into it, which were things I’d never even thought about before. For example: Designing a website, designing album art, hiring studio musicians, choosing people to produce, mix and master the album, handling financial and legal aspects of creating a record, marketing, advertising, etc. It has been crazy! I’ve been so lucky to discover that I love the business and marketing aspects of being a musician as much as I enjoy the actual music-making.

I think we always get upset when things we plan for ourselves don’t work out. So when the original plans I’d carefully laid out for my life weren’t making me happy anymore, I was so frustrated and confused, but I knew there had to be a reason why. And when I got to Nashville, and it felt like home, and the album came together in less than six months due to the generosity and kindness of complete strangers and their belief in my music, that was a huge sign that changing the course of my entire life had absolutely been the right decision. I am so happy to have the opportunity to pursue my one-in-a-million dream, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!