Folk songstress Rebecca Loebe takes time out of her trip to L.A. to join us at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park, CA to discuss her latest release Give Up Your Ghosts, her experience with being on the first season of NBC‘s The Voice, and being a part of ‘generation hustle.’
So right now, you’re riding the highs of your positively received current release Give up your Ghosts. Wanted to say “Congratulations!”
Rebecca Loebe: Thank you!
For those who have yet to discover its awesomeness, would you like to give us some little sneak peaks as to what we should be looking forward to in terms of the stories, themes, and instrumental elements that you’ve included?
Rebecca: Yeah definitely! Well, it’s a record where a lot of the themes in it are about me processing where I am in my life right now, where the world is right now, and how those two things kind of intersect.
I feel like we don’t really think about that as much as we should.
Rebecca: Yeah exactly, and a lot of that is letting go of what’s holding us back. Specifically for me, it’s those self-limiting beliefs, like, these stories that we tell ourselves about things we can’t do or things we shouldn’t do because it’s off limits for us, that really get to me sometimes. Realizing that that’s all self-imposed and those rules aren’t real is what I wanted to touch base on. We can all do what we want or need to do if we free ourselves up from our own inner critic. So that’s mostly what the songs are all about – being free.
We all need to be free!
Which song would you say was your favorite to write and record?
Rebecca: I think my favorite to write was “Growing Up.” It was hard work writing that song, and it really started and ended in very different places. I started it thinking it would be sort of an upbeat empowerment anthem, but then as the song developed, it came about during a hard time culturally. There was just a lot of bad news in the world. The Me Too Movement was going on at the same time, and I really started thinking about what it means to be a woman in the world right now and what it means to grow up as a girl into womanhood. I thought that kind of theme wasn’t necessarily worthy of an upbeat, shiny, radio jam because it’s actually kind of a bummer being a woman in the day in age sometimes. So I ended up writing the song more in that direction, and I finished it with a friend of mine Megan Burtt, who is a singer-songwriter from Colorado. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to finish it because I kind of knew what I wanted to say, but it was also so big and scary for me to write this kind of song. She kind of came in and gave me permission to make it ‘sad,’ and it just became exactly what I wanted it to be. So that was my favorite to write, and then I think “Popular,” which closes off the record, was the most fun to record. I always like to end a record with a complicated slow jam that has an instrumental build. I like to leave people with a feeling of freshness or expression or release…
Just some things for them to think about.
Rebecca: Exactly! Send ’em out thinking and feeling! *laughs*
Cool! And you had your hands in audio engineering as well. What inspired the transition into singer-songwriter?
Rebecca: When I was a teenager, I was already writing songs and singing in hopes of being in music. Then I went to college to be an audio engineer so that I knew the behind-the-scenes and to also have a fall back career that would be useful to me as a singer-songwriter. Along the way in school, I just got really engrossed in the major, and I kind of convinced myself that, that’s what I wanted to do. I just loved it! I loved it to the extent that when I got out of school, I got a job as a recording studio engineer. But pretty shortly after, I realized that what I really wanted to do was make music, but luckily, I had complete access to a recording studio since I was working at one! So I was able to sneak in and start recording my first demos, and those recordings became my first album. I think part of the reason that I got distracted from that goal was because when I was in school I was a really young college student. I graduated high school a year early, so I started when I was barely seventeen, and I was pretty underdeveloped as an artist. There were all of these mature students at Berklee [College Of Music] at the time I was there, and it seemed like they all knew so much about music that I was just scared to work on my own music. I ended up being more comfortable playing a more supportive role in the ecosystem of the school with recording other students and honing those skills than I was putting myself out there as a musician.
At least it didn’t all go to waste. You have that recording and performing skill set that a lot of people actually don’t have, and it’s a valuable asset.
Rebecca: The recording stuff has been really helpful in the studio. Like, when I am working with a producer, we can hop in the studio, lay something down, and then record it easily with a very fluid relationship. But I’m also pretty comfortable in the studio environment where I understand what’s going on, and can communicate with the players and all of the engineering team. It’s almost like second nature to me, and I forget that’s not the same experience that everyone has when they go into the studio.
And how would you say that the songwriting and recording process for this album has been similar or different than that of your past work? Apart from getting the perks of working for a recording studio.
Rebecca: Well with this record, it all came together very quickly. Something about 2017 and 2018 was just a prolific writing time for me. I was coming off of my last record, Blink, in which I had spent two or three years writing, polishing, and honing those songs. With Give Up Your Ghosts, I think I wrote all of those songs in like six months, which for me was very quick, and kind of resulted in an album that feels very much of this current moment culturally and just for me as a human being. It’s just more defined in one moment in time.
A lot of crazy stuff has happened in the past few years that’s for sure.
Rebecca: It’s been a futile time in history for sure.
But we’ve been getting some very great music because of it! Lots of inspiration!
Rebecca: Oh yeah definitely. I’ve felt very inspired.
If you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Rebecca: I would love to go on tour with Randy Newman, Patty Griffin, and Raina Rose, who’s a singer-songwriter from Texas and one of my best friends and favorite people to tour with. For the tour name, hmm, I think I’ll have to get back to you on the name. *laughs*
The ‘I’ll Get Back To You’ Tour 2020! *laughs*
Rebecca: Exactly! Perfect! *laughs*
So you took part in the first season of The Voice.
Rebecca: True story.
How did the opportunity come about and what was your experience like on the show?
Rebecca: The opportunity came about in such a weird way. I got an email on my website from somebody inviting me to come to a private audition in Austin. It was the first season, so nobody had heard of it, and I certainly wasn’t scouring message boards looking for TV show audition opportunities so I had no idea what was happening. It was a really magical experience, but I was also it was so convinced that it was this weird glitch to be invited. I was like, ‘Don’t you know that I’m a touring folk singer, not the kind of person to put on a reality show?’ *laughs* I went of course, but I was so relaxed about it because I didn’t think I’d have a real shot at getting it. I didn’t think I had anything to lose. I went in, told stories from the road, sang a few songs, they invited me back, and they kept inviting me back. I still just didn’t believe that this was all happening right up until the minute that I ended up on the show. I found out much later, that the reason the woman emailed me in the first place was because she dated a guy I went to middle school with. It was just nuts, because I hadn’t even seen him since middle school, so like fifteen years! I had bumped into his little sister in Atlanta when she was working in an art store out there, and she came into one of my gigs, bought a couple of CDs, and then gave them to this woman who was her brother’s girlfriend at the time. So this girl I knew from school gave her brother’s girlfriend my CD, and then two or three years go by, that the couple had broken up, but she ended up as a casting director for this TV show. I guess she had always liked my CD and was the reason why she ended up emailing me to put me on the show.
That’s so cool! Such a small world that we live in!
Rebecca: Isn’t that crazy?!? You just never know who’s out there!
And do you think that reality singing competitions, or any reality talent competitions, can kind of help to jump start someone’s career in a way?
Rebecca: I think that there are pros and cons. At this point, there are so many people who have done those shows that I think that maybe it’s a little less powerful than it once was. There are literally thousands of singers who have appeared between thirty seconds and many hours on these TV shows, so I just don’t know if it has the same impact that it once did. But I mean, I still got quite a bit of exposure from it, and I didn’t even make it that far on the show. Eight years later, I still get people who come out to gigs because they saw me on The Voice, not like hundreds of people a night, not even dozens of people a night. More like every few months somebody will come up to me at the merch table after a show, I’ll ask them how they heard about me and the concert that night, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve been watching you since I saw you on The Voice!’ So I definitely don’t turn my nose down on it because it was a good experience for me, but I also don’t think by any means that it’s a silver bullet.
Definitely understandable. So social media has become the most prominent form of marketing right now, whether we like it or not. *both laugh* Do you think it’s made it easier or harder for independent artists to break out and make a name for themselves?
Rebecca: What’s interesting to me about social media is that everyone is marketing themselves, not just musicians or small businesses, but just individuals in general. We all believe that our popularity is quantifiable now, and that makes me sad. Everybody is sort of trying to present their best selves and trying to beat the algorithm to get in touch with their own friends, and I think that’s insane! As far as how it helps my career, I mean, it’s undoubtedly a useful tool. I think that the biggest problem with it for me is that it creates this false sense of being in touch. People think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to sign up for your email list,’ or ‘I don’t need to check your website because we’re friends on Facebook, so I’ll just see you when you’re coming to town.’ But the problem with social media is that they want people to pay for access for their own followers. Even though everyone feels like they’re being bombarded with information all the time, I still can’t even get information through to the people who want to know if I’m coming to their town unless I pay for it, and even then the ads aren’t always effective. It drives me nuts that invariably after every tour I have an issue with the algorithms. Like, I’ll do a tour of the Midwest, and then a week later somebody will ask when I’m coming to Chicago. I’ll be like, ‘I just played there four days ago. I posted about it everyday for weeks. I spent fifty bucks on ads for it, and you, who wanted to see me play when I came to Chicago, still didn’t know that I was just in Chicago.’ It really sucks! But then again, maybe that person feels like they’re constantly bombarded with information about what’s going on in their town. So that’s a little bit of an issue that I hope can get smoothed out as time goes on. I mean, we’re definitely in the infancy of this form of communication, you know? So to answer your question, ‘yes,’ I think it’s made it easier and harder. *laughs*
And staying on the topic of social media, do you feel that it puts a pressure on artists, or just normal people to showcase different parts, or specific parts of themselves to their audience?
Rebecca: Yeah, I think that all people are under this pressure to post the highlights reel of their life…
Even when our lives are boring…
Rebecca: Even when our lives are boring!
And even when we don’t go anywhere…
Rebecca: Even when do we don’t go anywhere. It’s really become such a cliché at this point. Like, somebody will be at a boring party, but then they’ll take a picture of themselves from a great angle sticking their tongue out being like, ‘Sick party! I’m having so much fun!’ and then post on Instagram so all their friends think that they’re at some wonderful party having a great time when in reality they’re lonely and not having fun at all. But on the flip side of that, it’s frowned upon to air your dirty laundry in public. We’re discouraged from doing that. So I just think that we’re in this cultural moment where we’re, like I said, in the infancy of this communication moment method where so many people compare their insides to so many people’s outsides. You compare your squishy-hearted emotional reality to somebody’s prettiest picture, and I think that could lead to some sadness and some isolation issues that need to be worked on. I don’t know what to do about it, because I’m trying to sell myself in a different sort of way. I’m trying to sell concerts and music, and trying to get people to come out to those concerts to listen to that music. I’m not gonna do that by just posting pictures of myself doing laundry in sweatpants saying, ‘This is what I look like, raw and unfiltered. I try to post about the interesting things that I do while I’m on tour, but I look at it as just another channel of content that I’m creating. I know why I’m doing it, it’s because I have a business to run, but I’m also aware that I’m not the only one doing it. Everyone does it! I also definitely think in terms of personal aesthetics and the way that people dress now, it’s not a coincidence that people wear more makeup on a regular basis. I mean, I wear a full face of makeup every night for every show I play because everyone has a camera in their pocket. We’re living in this time where YouTube tutorials, phone cameras, and the prevalence of Sephora-s in every mall in the country have all coalesced at the same time, and it’s not a coincidence because it’s kind of where we’re at in this cultural moment. I remember when we were growing up, people would wear makeup for special occasions, some people wore it every day, but it wasn’t what it is now. I think it’s because at any moment, any brunch you go through with a friend, anything you can possibly do, can become immortalized forever on the internet. I think we’re all a little bit more on guard for that.
It drives me nuts that I see these thirteen year old girls walking around looking like they’re twenty-five. It’s like, they don’t even go through the evidential awkward tween or teen phase and just skipping ahead to looking glam.
Rebecca: Right!?! And they’ve got the contouring down too!
I know! And I’m over here barely knowing how to do my eyebrows. *both laugh*
Rebecca: I learned that eyebrows were a thing when I was on The Voice. I didn’t know much about makeup going into that experience, but the makeup artist for the show got out an eyebrow pencil and started filling in my eyebrows. I was like, ‘Oh no, no, no. I have thick, brown eyebrows. I don’t need an eyebrow pencil.’ And they were just like, ‘Oh, but you do.’ *both laugh*
I kind of feel like nowadays we’re almost embarrassed when we don’t look good.
Rebecca: Yeah. We feel like we all have to look ‘finished’ when they leave the house.
“My face isn’t on!” *both laugh*
Rebecca: It totally creeps up on you too! I used to never wear makeup, even when I was on stage. I mean, I was still pretty young when I started touring, so it just didn’t really occur to me until I got older. I was in my early twenties just rolling out of the car in jeans and a messy ponytail most of the time, and maybe I would put on a nicer shirt to go on stage, which is by the way, is still what the male performers do! *laughs* But then one night, a friend did my makeup and I noticed how much better the pictures looked. When people tagged me in pictures online the next day, I was like, ‘Dang, ok!’ *both laugh* I got myself some mascara and then someone taught me how to put on eye shadow and the rest is history.
As a female musician, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful? Whether it’s on a physical aspect or the way they sound?
Rebecca: I definitely think that vocally, there’s a little bit less latitude given for women to have voices that are rougher around the edges. If you think about it, in the rock and roots genres, most of the women I know that do well in those genres have these gorgeous voices that are polished and pristine, not necessarily too careful or artificial sounding, but very ‘pretty’ in the grand scheme. Whereas, I feel that male artists can often get away with a less developed vocal range, or a slightly more jagged tambor to their voice. I’m not saying that there aren’t any exceptions, because there are women with super righteous rock n roll voices, but generally there just seems to be less of them.
And it’s unfortunate, because everybody should be able to voice, well, their voice in its natural state.
Rebecca: Absolutely! And I hope that it will change as the music industry changes.
I hope so too. And how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Rebecca: Poorly. *laughs*
Me too, you’re not alone. *laughs*
Rebecca: I’m constantly trying to figure it out. It’s been a ten-year long quest of trying to figure out what the balance is between time at home and time on the road. Actually, a friend of mine joked that you can tell what I wanted six months ago by looking at my calendar right now. Pretty much if I’m really busy right now, that means six months ago I had some down time and I wanted to relax and reconnect with home. I planned to have time off in my calendar, and then when I go back to look at it and see that it’s empty I start to freak out. I feel like, ‘Oh no! I need to be busy, I need to be working, I need to be performing! That’s what I love!’ So then I end up spending all of my down time pressuring my agent to book me more shows, working with my manager on my strategy, and then suddenly the next six to twelve months are so incredibly busy that I get super burned out. Then I’ll say, ‘Ah! I need some down time! I need to clear some time in the calendar,’ and that right there takes another six months to achieve. And then when I finally get a big chunk of time cleared in the calendar, after a couple of days of rattling around the house I end up getting bored and antsy, and from there I book myself up again. So I’ve been in that cycle for the past ten years or so. *laughs*
The workaholic’s mentality! *laughs* There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m totally the same way.
Rebecca: Generation hustle for sure!
Right?!? Oh my gosh, I love that! Thinking of new slogans right here at Crooners In Coffeeshops! *both laugh* So if you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far in the music industry or in your personal life, what kind of advice would you give her?
Rebecca: I would give her the advice of listening more to the people around her. Not necessarily for advice, but it’s only been in the past few years where I made an intentional shift to trying to listen as much as I talk. A few years ago, I had admitted this to myself and decided to make it my New Year’s resolution. Rather than me telling the same story over and over again in various conversations, I would be choosing to not say it. Once I made that choice to bite my tongue and not share whatever story that they reminded me of, I was able to see what happens next in the conversation organically, and it really feels like an amazing gift that I’ve been given. If I had followed my natural instinct to open up my mouth and talk a little while more, I wouldn’t have heard the next thing or learned from the next thing that gets brought up in conversation.
That’s such an interesting concept to think about. Like, how much do we actually talk? Now I’m going to be self conscious about it. *laughs*
Rebecca: Oh no, no, no! That was totally not my intention!
*laughs* No worries! It’s something that we all need to be aware of.
Rebecca: It’s true though. I started to think of times when I’m overly talking as times that I’m missing out on an opportunity to learn from the person I’m talking with. I still talk a ton, but I’ve definitely cut back after making that conscious decision, and it’s been really liberating and fun and exciting!
And what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Rebecca: My goal with my music is to give my audience a chance to feel their feelings. I feel like in this culture, we spend so much time keeping ourselves super busy and occupied that we get super distracted, which in reality is kind of just us trying to run away from those feelings. I want my albums and my shows to give people a chance to kind of relax and contemplate what’s going on in their lives. I want them to celebrate joy and get a release of excitement. Maybe they just want to sit and ponder their troubles or process grief. I want them to allow themselves to tap into feelings that they might be avoiding.
Having feelings is in our basic human nature, and it’s amazing how music can really bring that out for us.
Rebecca: It really is. Music is so powerful, and all I want is to be able to contribute a positive experience for my listeners.
I think you’re doing it already with the fact that fans that started following you when you were on The Voice still come and see you to this day.
Rebecca: Yeah! It’s awesome and I’m so incredibly grateful!
Yeah! And to end us off, as you’re continuing to ride the highs of your latest release, what other big and exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Rebecca: So in the middle of this solo album project, which I’m very excited about, I’ve also founded a new band with two other songwriters from Austin, Betty Soo and Grace Pettis, called Nobody’s Girl. Last September we released our first EP as a trio. It’s called Waterline, and we’re currently working on our first full-length record together. That will be coming out, not quite sure when, but at some point it will be released. We’re going to be writing a lot this year, and as soon as we’ve got all the songs together we will start recording.
Rebecca: Yeah! I’ll also be touring around with this solo record for quite a while, and will be releasing new music and videos on my Patreon site. That site has given me a chance to have a real connection to a big chunk of my audience because it allows me to bring them into my process of writing and recording, which has been really fun and I can’t wait to do more!
About Stories Books & Cafe:
If you’ve lived in L.A. for awhile, or at least visit frequently, then you probably know that Echo Park has slowly come into its own at the happenin’ place to be. From semi-trendy bars to a fun variation of restaurants to a growing music scene complete with wonderful venues and the birth of Echo Park Rising, this little pocket of hipsterville has got a lot going for it for those who love the arts. Speaking of Echo Park Rising, I was happy to discover Stories Books & Cafe while on an all-day music adventure, and from the moment I stepped into the shop I just knew that I needed to interview an artist here.
Stories is located in a highly popular area, so it’s no surprise that it would receive some love from the locals and visitors in the area. The inside of the shop is very much bookstore in the front/cafe in the back (which includes a variety of seating choices inside and outside on the patio), and is the epitome of cozy and compact. Light indie background music gives you a chance to enjoy the shopping aspect, the productive goals aspect, or in my case, the interviewing aspect without being too overpowered by sound. The star of the show is without a doubt their delectable menu of food and drink options. I’m a sucker for pesto sauce, and I will go on the record to say that their turkey pesto sandwich was absolutely glorious and a total must-have! I was also impressed by how balanced their turmeric latte as that tends to be the drink that gets a little tough to find a harmonious combo of spices and milk. All in all, if you decide to pay a visit to Stories you certainly will not be disappointed.