Rachel James is an established Song-writer based in Denver, recently debuting – nay – unleashing the band Rachel and The Kings upon the fine and blessed citizens of the Mile High City. Nanobot was fortunate enough to sit down with Rachel recently…
Nanobot: Would you introduce us to Rachel, and tell us how the Kings came to be, please?
Rachel James: Certainly! I’ve been songwriting for about 3 years, and how I got into that was a bizarre story in and of itself… But I released a solo EP, Landing and began songwriting with different people, and for other people. About a year ago, I played a solo show at The Meadowlark here in Denver, and afterward, a gentleman contacted me about funding an album. Soon enough Joey Barba (former guitarist for Tickle Me Pink) got on board on the writing and production side and helped bring in the guys more as hired guns, but as the project came along, all of them said to me, “If this turns into a band, I’m in…” and that was it… We entered into the “Gimme The Gig” competition and took it, surprising us as much as anyone else, and that was pretty much what sealed it.
Among the first things I noticed from RATK is that there is a very solid foundation of Song-writing. What do you attribute that to?
Honestly, this album started as a solo effort, but it has quickly become a collaborative effort. I write a song, send it to the guys and they put their spin on it. I’m able to work with musicians who are very excited to be a part of this project, and so far the changes and tweaks made have been very pleasing, and I’m super confident in what they are bringing to the table.
Everyone is invested, and it makes the contributions that much more valuable. It’s not just a guitar or bass riff or drum fill, it’s someone pouring into this – into me, and into one another.
I’m fortunate enough to have band-mates who understand me and the intentions of my songs and able to write towards that.
How is the song-writing process different with the band versus as a solo artist?
It’s been interesting because there have been some super personal songs, very close to my heart that have been picked up by other artists and have done very well for them. At the same time, if you’re writing for others, you have to keep them in mind, but the best songs I’ve written have been true and honest and from my core… That’s why I’m always keeping notes, and maybe not worrying about making that super-witty turn of phrase as much as I am making certain the message is one that can be identified with, that the core of this song resonates. I like to catch something moving by me… I always have about ten ideas floating. I’ve got my radar on at all times.
What are your major influences as a singer, musician, and song-writer?
(Editor’s note: At this point, Rachel lit up like a kid in a candy store…. awesome)
As far as song writers go – Kris Kristofferson. Absolutely. I watched him play for two hours and it was amazing… I’ve seen some legends, but he…. well, he was just sharing. It was effortless and pure, you know?
In terms of singers, I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Maria Carey; those kinds of soulful singers… More recently, I love Adele – who doesn’t right? Florence (of Florence and the Machine), I love the way she Emotes…
Oh, and John Mayer. I know this sounds weird, but I love watching his mouth – that dude uses his mouth in every way possible. Ooh- I love watching Joe Cocker sing for the same reason.
As far as musicians go, I’m a big fan of some classic composers – Chopin, Bach, Tchaikovsky, – these guys were able to write music that moved people to tears. So much music and emotion brought forth, I mean, their music made people FEEL something! Some of today’s best songwriters don’t do that with every lyrical resource available, and there’s just something that has to come from a genuine place, it’s hard to be manufactured.
Songs like the beautifully anthemic “Soldier Boy” deal with topics like Vulnerability, Risk, Confidence, and perhaps even Ownership of one’s circumstances… what other themes do you see often in your music?
This album, started with 50 or so songs, but the ones that seemed to resonate with people tend to deal more with reaching down into dark places and finding the hope, finding the inspiration. My faith has always been a huge source of inspiration, and my experiences have kept me rooted to that source.
In your set with the Kings, it seems as though you were able to use your voice as a true instrument… is this an intentional use or simply a happy surprise?
Well…with a live set, it’s been interesting, because I’m just doing what feels right. I do things in practice, and everyone seems to like it. I like the challenge, and if it feels right, I go for it. It’s been fun and I’m fortunate to have musicians who give me honest feedback, not just telling me what I want to hear.
What would be your favorite artists you’ve had the chance to play with?
OH, there’s just SOOO many! I suppose I’d have to say people like Rob Drabkin, In The Whale, Churchill and Anberlin rank right up there…
You get to put together a dream gig – you and three other acts… who plays and what’s the venue?
Wow, that’s tough… Um… Dead Sara, Coldplay, Florence and the Machine… and of course, Rachel and The Kings at Red Rocks.
As a Certified and Official representative of the Denver music scene (dubbed so by Nanobot Rock)– what do you see for the near future for D-Town?
Denver is very eclectic, and there’s so many good bands in many genres, anticipating is just so tough because there’s so much going on. There seems to be a fresh, exciting voice coming out of Denver… it’s going to continue to grow and have a huge impact (song-writing) on the shape of music in the future.
Thank you very much for your time. It has been fun and an honor to sit down with you today.