Rachel Brown is a singer-songwriter born and raised in New York City, with Ethiopian, Bermudian and Southern roots. With her guitar and ukulele, Brown’s unique voice combines sweetness, sultriness and vulnerability, enchanting the listener. When coupled with her band of talented African and Caribbean musicians, Brown’s music fuses pop, Caribbean, Hawaiian, country, hip-hop and world sounds into a captivating groove.
Peers and established veterans alike quickly recognized Brown’s natural talent. She was the 2010 recipient of the prestigious ASCAP Foundation Robert Allen Award for songwriting as well as a 2011 recipient of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Abe Olman Award for Excellence in Songwriting. She also received a very coveted showcase slot at the National Association for Campus Activities’ national convention, leading to a 40 date college tour.
1) For those who may be unfamiliar with your work, tell us about how you got started making music and the process of creating your debut EP, Building Castles.
I took a year off between graduating high school and starting college, and in that time I purchased a guitar and started teaching myself and writing songs. Over the next few years I worked at it and worked at it until graduation, when I was in a place where I could give it a shot full-time. Since then, I’ve built my band, which includes a blend of influences from Caribbean music to hip hop, as well as West African instruments like the kora and talking drum. Building Castles is a collection of six songs I wrote and recorded in New York and LA.
2) We saw that you not only attended Harvard, but were named one of the “15 Most Interesting Seniors”. Talk about transitioning from what must have been a rigorous academic lifestyle into creating and performing music.
Even though I was busy with schoolwork, I would devote my free time to songwriting. When I graduated and realized that I could now devote all of my time to music, I pretty much hit the ground running. Having to ration my time for music while in school made me that much more eager and driven to immerse myself in it post-college.
3) You perform regularly at The Darby in New York and have a show next Thursday at Rockwood Music Hall. Page Six in the New York Post frequently spots some big name celebrities at your shows. What’s the craziest story from a live show (that you can tell us)?
I think the most surprising was last spring when Wyclef Jean joined me on stage unannounced and performed a full set with me and the band. On top of it all, he wasn’t the only stage crasher I had that night! ELEW jumped on the piano and rocked out with us, too.
4) What artists inspired your music style? Are there any contemporary musicians you’d love to play with?
I always have my ears open to interesting melodies, clever lyrics, instrumentation, et cetera. Some artists I find inspiring include Bob Marley, Smokey Robinson, Jason Mraz, Sam Cooke, Wyclef Jean, Andy Grammer, the list goes on. I would love to work with Bruno Mars!
5) It’s no secret technology is becoming more and more of a necessity for artist development. What are your thoughts on the emerging digitized industry and how do you find time staying up-to-date and connecting with fans?
I think it’s great that there are so many ways for artists to connect with their listeners, and that listeners can communicate directly with an artist. And as an artist, it’s pretty incredible that you can instantaneously send your music out to every corner of the world and it’s suddenly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. But between Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and whatever else comes along next, it can be difficult to both stay up-to-date with online communication and have time to create music and carry on with your daily life. As with anything, it has pros and cons, but I think the benefits of being connected far outweigh having to add one more thing to your plate.
Recently, we caught up with Eric James of Brooklyn-based indie-pop outfit, The Last Royals. The duo consists of singer/songwriter, Eric James, and drummer, Mason Ingram; forming in early 2010 after working together on a charity record with producer, Mike Beck (Owl City, Semi-Precious Weapons).
Gaining national attention with their buzz-worthy hit single, “Crystal Vases,” The Last Royals released their full-length debut LP, Twistification, in January 2013. The album itself has been well-received and it wouldn’t surprise us to see Twistification on many “Best of 2013” album lists.
1.) The word on the street is that you guys met while working on a charity album. Is this indeed true, and if so, does it have any relevance to your band name?
Yeah that’s right. Ah never thought about that. You mean like how really rich/royalty types do a lot of charity events to make up for the guilt they feel? Maybe that was a reason deep down.
2.) Twistification is filled with very catchy, radio-friendly tracks. Can you take us through your typical writing process, obviously without giving away all of your secrets?
It’s different for me every time. Sometimes I have music first and then scat and sing gibberish till things take shape. Other times, I have a phrase or specific hook that defines the whole song. In general, it’s a waiting game and then suddenly a song appears.
3.) NYC’s music scene is an extreme force to be reckoned with, growing and diversifying daily. Can you offer any advice to other local musicians on ways of getting their music heard through all of the noise?
Yeah, it definitely takes a big gulp to jump in at first. It took me a long time to learn that I don’t always deserve to get paid or to have people come out to see a show. Take any opportunity you can to play in front of humans, no matter how humbling. If you have something magical to share, people will start to find you.
4.) It’s no secret that technology is becoming more and more of a necessity in connecting with fans. What are your thoughts on the emerging digitized industry and how do you find time staying up-to-date?
I personally dislike the constant upkeep with social networking, but when it’s working it can be really fun. We all share duties with tweeting and facebook, etc. It’s too much for one person to handle.
5.) Any chance fans will be seeing you guys on the road in support of Twistification, maybe SXSW and CMJ as well?
Yes of course. We’re doing a west coast tour starting March 3rd and going through SXSW. Can’t wait!!!!
For more info on The Last Royals, visit their website at thelastroyals.com
Taken yesterday, prepping for next Heroin Tape shoot with @CULTTASTIC.
ALBUM HIGHLIGHT: The Said