Interview: Scarlett Rabe
U.S artist Scarlett Rabe has recently released a tasty self-titled EP of new pennings that are successfully transforming the star from classical piano prodigy to soulful singer/songwriter. Propelled by the new single Battle Cry, the EP is a collection close to the heart of the musician who is steadily taking on the world of mainstream pop these days.
With a full year ahead following the release of the EP and new single, Scarlett had a chat with us about creative inspiration, musical influences and growing up in a strict family. Here is what she had to tell us…
Brendon Veevers: How are you Scarlett? Where does our interview find you today?
Scarlett Rabe: I’m in a Santa Monica dreamy fog today…everything is hazy and floaty. It’s perfect songwriting weather.
SR: Battle Cry means so much to me because it’s a cry for freedom. It’s the first time I could say the things I felt in that way- I’m not sorry that this is what I am. I used to be. My upbringing was really intense, my path was decided for me, and it was a very narrow definition of what was acceptable. As a result, life was full of fear and pressure and shame and I would have given anything to be something else. And the path to freedom from that is terrifying and heartbreaking. I think a lot of people feel that way. Battle Cry is our anthem: I’m not afraid, I’m not ashamed, and I’m not sorry!
BV: The track has been lifted from your current EP, Scarlett. What has the reaction been like so far for the collection?
SR: It’s been really awesome to experience the songs through my fans. They make everything so dimensional for me, the songs take on different meanings to each of them, and when I get to connect with them and feel that as well, it’s really incredible!
BV: You are being described as “classical piano prodigy turned soulful singer/songwriter”. Why the shift from classical to this more mainstream area of the music industry?
SR: Well, I was always a songwriter, since before I can even remember. It was pretty automatic for me, actually…I wrote music in my head constantly and I processed my world by writing songs. But growing up, my parents heavily emphasized a focus on classical training, even to the extent of forbidding all other “distracting” activities, and that’s kinda a whole other story…
BV: Has the transition been an easy one for you or has it been challenging?
SR: So challenging! Heartbreaking and scary, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But so freeing as well…I think all the best changes we make in life are probably also the challenging ones.
BV: What artists did you grow up listening to?
SR: Well…not many. My parents were really focused on classical music, and they were also intensely religious. They had strict requirements, and things like television, movies, “worldly” music, etc. simply weren’t allowed. My piano coach gave me a record player so I could listen to recordings of the great pianists, and on that record player there was a radio tuner. I’d sneak-listen to the radio at night, but I didn’t know who the singers were, and I didn’t really even comprehend that a song was sung by the same person every time.
BV: Who inspired you the most to pursue a career as a recording and touring artist?
SR: As a child, and growing up, I was electrified by performing, even though the classical stage is a completely different scene, obviously… And then when I was about 16, I had opportunities to start touring the world…and it really scared my parents. Like I said, they’re intensely religious, and, well, a world tour is pretty “worldly”. They just couldn’t allow it. I understand why they felt that way, and I’m not angry about it or anything, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get rid of that part of me. Trust me, I tried. But these songs that I can’t stop writing and this world stage that I can’t stop needing just collided. And so here I am.
BV: Social media platforms play a vital role in artists being able to connect with and interact with their fans. Are you a big user of social media platforms like these?
SR: I am, and I really value that interaction. Nothing can replace the in-person connection that you get when it’s “live” and you’re experiencing it all together in the same place, but social media only magnifies the ability to reach people, and that’s just another facet of the relationship that’s so awesome.
BV: Your parents were quite strict when it came to the music you were listening to growing up. How do they feel now that you are a pop/rock recording artist?
SR: My dad is one of my biggest fans now. He really loves music, and deep down he’s always been a dreamer, like me, even though he didn’t allow himself to be. My mom? I don’t think it’s really her thing…I asked her if she knows any of my songs, and she said she doesn’t…so…uhhh. But then I asked her if she knew any of The Beatles songs and she said she might have heard of them before…or maybe not… So there’s that. But ultimately, she gave me music. She sacrificed so much to so I could have the training I have, and I’m constantly grateful for her.
BV: You also grew up without a TV. In this day and age, that must have been agonizing. What did you and your brothers and sisters do growing up while all the other kids were inside watching TV?
SR: We worked a lot. My parents made sure there wasn’t time to wish we had a TV. I’m the oldest of eight children, and my mom taught piano six days a week to pay the bills, so I was like the second mom. We woke up at 5 am every morning (every single morning of my life ever) and practiced piano for two hours, then went to school, came home from school and practiced two more hours on the piano, and an hour on the violin. And then homework. I often joke, although it’s not at all a joke because it’s ridiculously true, that by the time I was age ten, I had four hours of piano to practice, five children to take care of, seven loads of laundry to do and dinner to get on the table before dad got home. Not much room for anything else.
BV: Do you think that being brought up in such a strict and routine-driven environment made you crave the limelight even more and become a recording artist or was it something that you realised in later years?
SR: No, I always craved it. It might be a different stage I perform on now, but I’ve always loved it.
BV: When it comes to writing songs, where would you say you draw the most inspiration from?
SR: I write my life, really. Anything I feel becomes a song, or a lyric in a song at least. I love words, and I also love to read, I’m such a bookworm, so I guess some of that seeps in as well.
BV: Is it important for you as an artist to oversee the whole of the recording and creation process of your work or are you comfortable to leave certain roles in the hands of others?
SR: I’m a pretty comprehensive girl, so I love being involved in every step. That said, I am endlessly inspired by working with other people, because it can bring such a unique energy and perspective…and some of that collaboration just makes magic. The creative process is always different.
BV: If you were able to collaborate with any 3 artists, alive or dead, who would they be and what type of collaboration would you most like to see with each artist?
SR: This one is so hard!
Freddie Mercury- I think that just being in a room with him would have been a transformative experience!
Kanye West- I can’t even imagine what that collaboration would yield, but he’s hugely inspiring to me. I always love how he combines the high with the low, the street with the refined, he makes old things fresh, and I think with my deep classical roots, there would be something crazy in that combo.
Miike Snow- Again, I just think it would be a really rad juxtaposition of two very different artists. I’m always fascinated by watching that type of creation happen…such a wild card, such a rush.
BV: Are there any plans to take Battle Cry and the new EP out on the road and if so, what can you tell us about potential or confirmed tour plans?
SR: Yes. Yes, yes! I’ll start a little West Coast tour the end of April, and I’ll be doing a radio tour as well. And hopefully me and my band will be hopping onto a tour to open for someone around the end of summer as well. I’m so looking forward to taking this all on the road and seeing the fans face to face…it’s gonna be magic, I can feel it already.
BV: Are there any plans to record a full length album that you can tell us about?
SR: Yeah, but I’m taking my time with it. I have a lot more songs written, and I could just finish the full length album now, and probably two more, but I really just want to live with this EP for a while, and see how it feels after we’ve done it live over and over a zillion times. I think that will make me grow a lot…and I’d lie to get there before I wrap it all up into an album experience.
BV: If you could perform in any venue around the world, where would that be?
SR: I don’t know enough of the world yet to say any venue in the world…I will say that Madison Square Garden appears in my dreams all the time. All the time…and I wake up in tears, it’s just so beautiful.
BV: What else in on the 2014 calendar for Scarlett Rabe that we can look forward to?
SR: Performing and more performing, I guess. And I really can’t wait…
May 9th: Lestat’s West – San Diego, CA
May 13th: Hotel Utah Saloon – San Francisco, CA
May 20th: Hemmingway’s – Los Angeles, CA
June 5th: Room 5 Lounge – Los Angeles, CA