Earlier this summer UNTUCKED sat down with songstress Rachel Ann Weiss at Mohawk Bend Restaurant in Echo Park, CA. After spending an hour and a half chatting about everything and anything and exchanging various recommendations for books, movies, and music, it was decided that maybe we should all buckle down, turn on the recorder, and talk shop. The official interview, like our casual conversation beforehand, was easy and fun and much different than any we’d ever done before. In fact, our server was quite taken aback when she realized that we had just met Rachel and that this was indeed a work lunch and not just a social one. Rachel’s ease and charm allow her to quickly form bonds and bridge potentially awkward gaps with a smile and a Doctor Who reference.
Rachel’s soulful approach to life is apparent in the way she performs. She’s this glorious East Village version of Adele or Amy Winehouse with just enough New Yorker thrown in to really send it home. She’s very good at connecting with her audience, and with such personal yet relatable songs she draws the crowd in and keeps them mesmerized for the duration of her set. Most of her songs are based on people in her life, and that authenticity paired with her vocal talent and stage presence is key to her approachability. As she told us during our interview, “I genuinely really write from the heart. I tend to write about personal experiences. Whoever enters into any kind of relationship with me should expect to be written about. But I think that really brings people in, because we all have times where we are completely drowning in emotions, whatever they may be, good or bad or ridiculous. That tends to be what I write about, what my songs come out of.”
Out of the dozens of songs Rachel has written over the years her personal favorite is off of her first album, Dear Love. “The Ballad of Joshua David Paul” came out of a time where Rachel was shoved “into what felt like a pit of emotional despair.” She doesn't remember actually writing the song, but rather walking into a rehearsal room at Hampshire College and turning off the lights to sit at a piano (an instrument she never actually learned how to play). “It came out of such a viciously dark time that there are so few things that can redeem those few months of my life. But that song in a nutshell is basically why I consider myself to be a musician and a songwriter. I wrote something I’m so proud of in a time that I so hate to think about that it actually makes all of that pain and struggle worthwhile because I created something and so to me that’s why I do this, that’s why I write. I can take something that I feel too immensely or I’m uncomfortable with and put it into a context where I create something that I consider beautiful and it validates even the worst moments of struggle in my life.” Rachel is an artist that is clearly very connected with the work she does and how it relates to her world. She does this work with such intentionality and grace that it’s really quite inspiring.
Rachel was lovely and welcoming as soon as we met her. However, her extroverted persona is something she’s cultivated over the years out of necessity, although there are limitations to that gregarious demeanor. She’s terrified of falling in love yet desperately wants it, perhaps explaining her penchant for falling for band members she can’t really have. Also, because she’s so terrified of being vulnerable in that way, she’ll write a song expressing her feelings rather than directly discussing them (which she doesn’t recommend, by the way). Take “Dear Love”, the title track off of her first record, as an example, “I wrote it because I was trying to write a letter to the man I’d been in love with and to say, because I dropped out of Hampshire after third year, ‘I’m leaving and I don’t know how to tell you that I love you but I’ve got to get out of here.’ So I ended up writing “Dear Love” at the top of a notebook page. Part of why I do what I do is because I write these songs when I’m in desparate need to say something to somebody that I can’t bring myself to say in person and hope that other people out there have similar experiences and can relate to it. It’s really nice not to feel so alone, especially when you’re on the crazy train. When you're pining away for someone and can’t seem to stop or see through it, you just gotta ride it out and hope that somebody else doesn't think you're as crazy.”
At least twenty songs in Rachel’s repertoire were written about a specific guy from her past and, surprisingly to us, he knows it. They've stayed close and because of this, the songs have a great scope. They show the entire life of a relationship. From first pings of a crush to the headstrong swoony flares of a new relationship through to the break up and finally a place where the relationship can be looked back on fondly. Two of her newest tracks, one from her new EP Always and one from her upcoming EP Never are about him. When she discusses writing songs about him she says, “It’s funny. I’m a firm believer in that if you really ever truly love someone you never stop loving them, the way you love them just changes. The way that I love him is not that obsessed whole hearted madness that I did years ago. It’s just that I do truly love him as an individual. And that’s a great thing to write songs about.” Rachel says “Dark is Coming Soon", a song about both him and one of her favorite musicians, Jeff Buckley, “was written about that night sitting next to him and remembering how it was…sitting there being so comfortable…that’s a sweet song about remembering how things were.” The other song about this man that will be released soon is “There’s Always Something to Be Loved” which Rachel explained by saying, “I clung to the idea that I was in love with him long after I actually stopped being in love with him. Because it’s safer to feel like your heart is tied up in someone that you can’t have than it is to risk being vulnerable again. And so until you make the decision to stop putting things in between yourself and the rest of the world, you’ll always find a reason not to find someone to be in love with. If you decide that’s what you want. So I wrote “Always Too Something to Be Loved”. You’ll find as many reasons as you want to and you’re always too something, it doesn't matter what something. That was my song of like, get over it bitch. Move on…you can make any excuse you want, but it doesn't make it valid.”
Rachel’s emotional connection to her work is so obvious when she performs live and on her records. She has this magical ability to really make you feel while not completely overwhelming you. As Rachel explained to us, “I’m going to break my heart against you.” With her meaningful lyrics, beautiful melodies and rich voice, we very much believe her. Needless to say, we at UNTUCKED have formed quite a musician crush on our new friend Rachel and can’t wait to see her in action again. We expect that this is just the beginning of a long and beautiful career for this exquisite soul.