April 7: Rebecca Loebe
w/ Heather Mae
In 2011, after three years of non-stop touring, indie folk singer Rebecca Loebe was working on new songs and preparing for her first tour in Europe when she received an invitation to audition for a new network reality show called The Voice. ”It didn’t really sound like my kind of thing,” she says, “but then again I happened to be home that weekend so I didn’t have a good excuse not to at least go to the audition.”
As a contestant on the show, Loebe sang a stirring re-interpretation of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” that inspired both Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera to offer her mentorship. It also showed audiences worldwide the unique voice, effervescent personality and sharp wit that folk fans and festival-goers across the country had known about for years. This Georgia-bred, Austin-based singer and songwriter is both candid and self-deprecating, attributes that that shine through in conversation as well as in the writing of her Fall 2012, full length folk/pop release Circus Heart.
Loebe got her start as a teenage hopeful at the famed Eddie’s Attic open mic, where she began sharpening her lyrics and strengthening her naturally arresting voice. Eddie’s Attic is known for launching the careers of The Indigo Girls, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and John Mayer (who, incidentally, worked the door there when Loebe was in high school). Encouraged by the songwriters she met there, Loebe graduated high school at 16 and headed to Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“I admit it, I was a bit of a reverse-chauvinist as a child,” she muses. “I mean, there was a phase when I was 5 or 6 that I listened to so much 60’s girl group music, like the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, that I was convinced that the music industry was populated and dominated exclusively by women. Then, a few years later, I found myself as a recording engineering student in a department with a 20:1 male to female ratio and realized I had maybe miscalculated a bit.”
After she received a degree in audio engineering from Berklee, she landed work engineering at a recording studio where she would sneak in at night to record the early demos that made up her first record, “Hey it’s a Lonely World.” Loebe soon hit the road and began honing the confessional story songs that would make up her acclaimed 2010 release “Mystery Prize”. She returned to Atlanta to record that album, a pre-Kickstarter, fan funded, full-length indie/folk/roots release that spent 9 week on the Americana Top 40 Chart in the US and Europe and was named as one of the Top 100 Albums of the Year by the Americana Music Association.
“With Mystery Prize, I wanted the album to be as big sounding as possible while using only acoustic instruments. There’s only one song on that album that uses electric guitar. It was mostly acoustic bass and guitar, pedal steel, percussion and other roots-oriented acoustic instruments. With my new record Circus Heart, the only rule was there were no rules.”
Now living in Austin, she quips, “Believe it our not, I was living in Atlanta when I recorded the roots/Americana album and in Austin when I recorded the more indie/rock influenced album! Seems like a musical contradiction. But not so for a songwriter whose influences started with 60’s girl groups and soon gave way to a diverse group of songwriters that includes Gillian Welch, Ben Folds, Regina Spektor, Patty Griffin, Mary Gauthier and alltime favorite Randy Newman (I love his songwriter style, I love the way he puts himself into his characters and writes so authentically from so many different voices”).
“When I moved to Austin I put a band together and spontaneously decided to replace upright bass with electric and pedal steel with electric guitar, just for the sake of trying something different. I’ve really enjoyed that set up and think it inspired me to go places with my writing that I was not going before. “
Circus Heart was recorded in Austin but Rebecca wrote the songs that would become the album before, during and after her tenure on The Voice. During downtime in the hotel between tapings she was productive. One song in particular, “Swallowed by the Sea” was written throughout the experience. Rebecca candidly recalls, “When I went to the first Voice audition in Austin, I remember standing in front of the casting directors and describing my lifestyle to them; they were so shocked to hear that I make a living performing songs I write at gigs that I book, drive myself to and perform on my own. I was equally shocked that those professionals seemed unaware that there are thousands of people making a living this way! I went home and started to write a song for them, a little fable about who I am and what I do. The first line: ‘I have traveled many fathoms, lived inside a covered wagon, sold my secrets wholesale every night’, came directly from that experience.”
“Later, while in LA filming, I pulled my guitar out and started working on the song again. Parts of it became about the overwhelming magnitude of the entertainment industry I felt I was peering into.”
While “Swallowed by the Sea” is the only song on the album that directly addresses her time on The Voice, many of the songs deal with themes of love, travel and finding strength in scary situations. On her decision to name the record after the second track, “Circus Heart”, Rebecca says, “It seemed like the natural name for the body of work because a line of that song, more than any other passage on the record, deals directly with how I view myself relative to the rest of the world”.
“All the women I’m afraid of are counting grays, like seconds ‘til the New Year of their glory days, carefully concealing their busted parts, trying to keep their eyes off of my circus heart.”
“I don’t want to be afraid to be who I am in this world. I want to take it on head first.”
Opening for Rebecca will be Northern Virginia's own Heather Mae. While most attendees at an industry conference in New York were wistfully sighing over their coffees and gazing at the room’s blank white walls, Heather Mae was staring them down with the colors of fierce creativity--and she hasn’t stopped.
Hidden beyond the maze of dull chairs and heavy bricks of PowerPoint text was the speaker’s pipedream suggestion. While most of the uninspired audience dismissed the idea of writing a song every day for a year, Heather Mae became relentlessly committed to the challenge. Sparking a 365 day journey, she trekked through over 30 states, making footprints of over 7,000 lyrics and 100+ artist collaborations. Her music is supported by an ever-changing cast of complementary musicians known as “The Make Believe,” some of whom she met during this project. Taking step one on October 1, 2010, Heather Mae is reaching another landmark 2 years later, releasing her LP “One Year of Songs.”
The Pop-Folk LP is her first full length project, a follow-up to her debut EP “Gonna Be Alright.” The growth is undeniable, as the album swirls with inspiration from her yearlong project, showcasing 10 songs from her 365-piece collection.
At the heart of each arrangement are stirring ukulele melodies, which are either supplemented by equally as optimistic lyrics or balanced by contemplative ones. Be assured that both sides of this story-telling coin are inspired and cathartic.
Though Heather Mae channels the influence of traditional singer/songwriters like Ingrid Michelson, Anna Nalick, and Nora Jones, she (unsurprisingly) is willing to step out of this comfort zone, layering haunting but comfortable harmonies a la the Fleet Foxes or Barenaked Ladies. Rounded out by strategic guitar turns, her sound emits the same clarity that’s reflected in her lyrics.
Heather Mae’s music could show up on your local radio station or the next Garden State-esque soundtrack. It’s the seasoning of her yearlong commitment that gives birth to this rare flexibility, having opened her musical identity to each experience of the project.
"Something happens to your art when you challenge yourself with a massive amount of work and a set deadline” said Heather Mae. “I used to wait for creativity to hit me, but after ‘One Year of Songs,’ I can brew creativity on the spot."