Finishing up with what should be the last Local Waves installment of the summer, I made a bigger decision this week regarding my subject matter. While I have learned a lot about the city of Annapolis, even if it was only from a select few that I am incredibly grateful towards letting me pester them, there are so many more voices to be heard that talk about the big picture. While the idea for the series did start as a kind of “beat reporting” in one small, highly concentrated area of musicians that I sort of knew to begin with, I enjoyed stepping out of the Annapolis sphere and finding out more from others who did not take the path that we heard so much from over the last few months. While I am very grateful for everything I learned from a place I so intimately know, I found myself questioning the popular attitude of this specific music city. A great music town, without a doubt. One of the best small music towns that I have ever been to? Probably, yes. But, a small town nonetheless.
With that in mind, I took a trip up north to the city of Baltimore – a place that I am more familiar with since my work this summer. I was able to meet a subject who could not have been any easier to talk to (even with my own football bias) and learn about her experiences in the city itself. A true native, not just another person looking in.
This week’s Local Waves features Ms. Rachel Anne Warren – a freelance writer and musician. Her story may be one of the more interesting ones we have heard all summer. From her work around the city to her travels across the country, Rachel provides another new look on artistic experiences that do not fit in the usual performer’s mold. Without any further introduction, here is this week’s local wave.
Henry Pazaryna: So this is the latest Local Waves. I have read that you have performance and writing experience. Would you mind talking about them? Whichever one you want to do first, but definitely the other as well?
Rachel Warren: Yeah, no problem. So right now, for the last ten months, I have been a full time writer and musician. I guess we can start with the writing.
HP: Sure. So start from the beginning. LIke where you got your start and everything that happened with that.
RW: So, it was kind of unexpected. I worked for a brewery for nine years when my biological father passed away, and in the week that followed, I decided that I wanted to change my life. I had been trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself for a couple years before, and suddenly it became really clear to me that I have always been a writer. I just never really shared it with anyone before, other than my mentor and a couple of friends. And it just sort of surfaced clearly to me, like “this is what you should be doing.” So, that day, I got on Craigslist, looked for the first job that I saw in writing, applied for it, got it. I stayed there for about a year, learned copywriting, and for the last ten months I have been mostly writing for alt weeklies and other online publications as a contributing writer.
HP: Are you living in the city right now?
RW: Yep. I live in Charles Village, in a mint green carriage house that was built in 1902, and I love it. But I am subletting in Richmond for about six weeks, at least. I’m sort of self-imposing an artist residency (laughs) there. I will be splitting time. I sing with a wedding band. That’s how I make half of my living these days. So, I will be coming back on weekends for that.
HP: So moving towards your music. What started all of your performances? I have definitely seen some pictures of crazy hair colors and a bunch of different styles. What is going on with that?
RW: I have always enjoyed making costumes, and I made extra money in college making costumes for different opera companies, theatre companies, and it has kind of always been in my life. My mom and grandma are great seamstresses. Also, I get really nervous performing, and I don’t know why that won’t ever go away, but what helps me feel a little bit more comfortable is becoming someone else outwardly. I wear wigs, I wear costumes, I wear makeup.
HP: How old were you when you started doing pure performance? Is this a recent endeavor or was this back when you were learning how to sew with your mom?
RW: I first started learning how to sew when I was pretty young, maybe nine or ten years old, so it was probably around the same time. My sisters and brother and I were doing musicals at camp a little before that, but despite discovering that I have a very loud singing voice, I couldn’t sing on pitch. I got better in high school, where I did lots of shows, and I went to college for a couple of years for music and eventually writing. Since then, I have been in bands and writing songs.
HP: If we wanted to look you up now, what group, or is there even a group, or is it just you as a solo artist?
RW: You have come to me at a strange time. In an effort to really focus on my own original material, I made a difficult decision to leave the post-punk band that I have enjoyed playing with for the last three years, PLRLS, and simultaneously, the other band I have been playing with for ten years, Gunwife Gone, has decided to say goodnight. It’s kind of freed up my time, all in line with going to Richmond for a while, just so I can re-think how I want to approach my music. It seems like my gut is telling me that I want to work with just one person. The idea is that it will inevitably be easier to record, if not free, and you can be more agile when it’s just two people. When you have a whole band, you have to deal with conflicting schedules, and people taking off work, and you can’t really get out on the road quite as much. So my hope is that it will be a nice, malleable thing that can get around.
HP: What kind of stuff will this be? Is it going to be more like an acoustic open mic – nighter type style, or is it going to be eclectic…?
RW: I want it to be something like “Soul Noir.” That’s a term I keep using, but the idea is that I love singing soul and I love singing the blues, and I love just letting it all out there emotionally. But I also love the noir style, which is super refined and dark, and kind of spooky, and a kind of trepidation that can be very gentle. At times, mysterious. Joining the two feelings is how I envision it. Some people that I admire a lot are Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Radiohead, Bessie Smith, Amy Winehouse. I feel like each one of them has this incredible way of telling a story that is both approachable and has that soul, and the noir, too. It’s something I aspire to. But I would like to find the right partner. I imagine that would be someone who can change my songs and take them to another level, complicate them. I don’t feel a lot of ownership over the songs as written, so I would like for someone to be able to bring their own arrangement, voice, and their own style. I write pretty simple songs. They are like pop, but with a darkness in the lyrics. I wouldn’t necessarily want it to be a traditional singer – songwriter type thing. At the same time, I have been practicing guitar. I cut all my nails (laughs) on my left hand so I can start playing again. It’s been a minute. I would like to be able to perform in the streets and perform at open mics just while I am writing and figuring out who my next partner will be.
HP: This next question might be a bit much. I asked the last girl that I interviewed about this. As a woman, have you faced any hardships in that respect, in both writing and music? Or has it been relatively easy?
RW: I have only been in bands that have other women in them, and that is a choice that I have always made. It’s a preference. I love supporting my fellow creative women and working with them. So that hasn’t really been an issue with bands so much for me personally. But, I will say that making the choice to be a full time writer and musician – a lot of that came from working in the beer industry, which is pretty much entirely male dominated. And I had plenty of problems and issues, and still, having been out of it for a couple years, I still feel like I have to remind people that I wasn’t just a promo girl. That I held five sales and marketing positions across eight states. That I managed territory, that I did things, that I grew brands. But it’s hard to get people to see beyond “Oh, she did events.” I’m too familiar with that. But I don’t really face it these days, thankfully. Writing is pretty liberal, and pretty open minded. I would say that there should be more diversity in the music scene, and the writing scene locally here. We should be making a more concerted effort to integrate ourselves. So it’s not just all white dudes in bands at certain clubs or on bills. There should be a proper mix of what the city is made of, and that is a very diverse group of people.
HP: Going off of that: were you around when the riots happened? Or, the uprisings, back in, what was that… April or May? Would you mind talking about what you saw, as a writer, and what you commented on, or what you chose not to? Was there anything going on about that?
RW: I didn’t write anything about Freddie Gray, and what he means, for anyone but myself. You know, as a writer, you write anywhere from five to one hundred things for every one thing that’s published sometimes. I will say, it was really incredible to see people come together in a way that I don’t remember ever having seen before. And I hope very much that we will continue to progress and that it’s not just something that happened, that we move on from, and don’t make the necessary changes. I know I’m trying to personally change and be more aware of what I say, what I do, and how I am in the world. I want to keep asking questions and keep figuring out how I can be a good part of society. A more fair person in society.
HP: Closing up. While you are going to be away for a while, what can we expect to hear or see from you in the immediate and not so immediate future. Do you have any long term plans, or are you taking it day by day at this point.
RW: Sure. I have a plan. Or, I am figuring it out – there are definitely some projects that have been in the front of my mind and the back of my plate for the last nine months, but I have a good feeling about where it’s headed. I am actively making that come together. One of my big goals is that I wrote a memoir, a full length memoir, about this time I ran away to join the circus, and I have been struggling to get through the second draft with notes from my mentor. So, my goal for my time away is to get the second draft done. Otherwise, musically, I don’t know what shape it will take. It will be something cool though. I hope.
Serious thanks again to Rachel for being willing to sit down with me and chat. Check out Rachel’s website below to keep up with her writing, as well as her social media to check out her endeavors down South and the next show she plays. And once again, for what appears to be the final time this summer, thank you very much to the readers of this series. These interviews are not finished altogether, but will be on somewhat of a temporary hiatus while I get in gear for my fall semester. While it may be a hot second, it’s still only catch you later. Have fun riding local waves of your own.