After having amassed a rather respectable following with her sister Amy as a part of the folk duo The Beck Sisters, not to mention high-profile performances at Stan Rogers Folk Festival and supporting the likes of Tom Cochrane among others, Prince Edward Island’s Rachel Beck arrived at a creative crossroads almost two years ago.
Following her sibling’s desire to stay close to home for familial reasons, Rachel decided to chart a new path forward, a journey that has produced her wonderful self-titled solo debut, which was released approximately two weeks ago.
With just a couple of dates remaining on her tour of the Maritimes (listed below), Rachel chatted with us about writing this new chapter of her life and how the songs on her new record came together.
How long had you and your sister Amy been performing as The Beck Sisters before putting the brakes on?
Amy and I have been making music together our whole lives, but we started recording and touring as The Beck Sisters in 2013, shortly after tossing our hats in the ring for the inaugural CBC Searchlight Competition.
Was it a difficult decision in some respects given the momentum that the two of you had built?
It was a difficult decision, but absolutely the right one. I firmly believe that there is no “right” way to be a musician or one “right” way to be a mother. Amy and I have equally valid, but vastly different, dreams for both. I certainly miss Amy as a creative partner (there are no harmonies like sister harmonies!), but I fully respect her decision to spend more time at home.
Was it a little exciting for you to have approached the making of your new album as a solo artist as opposed to being a part of a duo with your sister?
It was equal parts thrilling and terrifying! Lucky for me, Amy’s beautiful harmonies are all over this record — and she plays drums on six of the seven tracks. Even though we’re not touring regularly anymore, we’ll never stop making music together.
Was it freeing in a sense to chart the musical path you felt you wanted to follow with this new album? Or did you feel as though those who might have come to know you through The Beck Sisters might expect a certain sound or type of song from your solo work?
It was freeing to explore new creative territory and to discover my voice as a solo songwriter. With The Beck Sisters, we did most of our writing on guitar. When Amy got pregnant, she started spending more and more time at home. I found myself without a writing partner and without an instrument! I had taken piano lessons for a couple of years in elementary school, so I just sat down and started playing again. I’m an unconventional (ie. untrained) player for sure, but I think piano lends itself well to the hook-driven pop songs I most love to write.
Tell me a bit about how you approached writing the songs for your album. Did you undertake co-writing with others or write primarily on your own?
Most of the album was written at the piano in my kitchen, just me and an almond milk latte. I wrote “This Little Light” with Amy and “Hearts On Fire” with a young writer from Toronto named Jordan Alexander. It was created during the songwriting equivalent of a blind date arranged by Music PEI. They have a program called the Canadian Songwriting Challenge which pairs PEI writers with writers from other provinces. Each pair of writers has two days to write and demo two tracks which are then pitched to industry reps. On day one of the challenge, Jordan and I shook hands, introduced ourselves, and started writing “Hearts On Fire” five minutes later. We both knew right away that it was a keeper.
My intention with this record was to combine the heart and honesty of folk with the hooks and sparkle of pop. For years, I had compared myself to folk songwriters, with their beautiful narratives and 3-4 verse structures, thinking, “Why can’t I write songs like these?” This time around, I just owned the fact that I like writing short, catchy songs. Interestingly, when I embraced my pop intuition, my songs took on a new emotional depth. “When You Left” helped me cope with a year of loss and “Nothing In Between” is truly a self-portrait in song.
What did Daniel Ledwell bring to the making of this record? What swayed you toward working with him for the album?
Well, first and foremost, Dan is an incredible human. By the end of the first day of pre-production, he felt like the big brother I never had. He listened carefully to get a sense of my vision for the project and then provided a fun and supportive space where I felt comfortable taking creative risks. It was a wonderful partnership, and I have the greatest respect for Dan’s musicianship, attention to detail, and exceptional ears. He is a sonic genius, which is what drew me to working with him in the first place. I don’t think he’s made an album that I don’t love.
Catch Rachel Beck live at the following shows:
March 16 — Berwick, NS — The Union Street
March 18 — Halifax, NS — The Carleton