First Look Friday: NYC's Rachel Brown Unplugs + Reboots Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" [Video Premiere + Interview]
Rachel Brown's story, like many of NYC's aspiring singers, songwriters, musicians--and, really, the artistic community at large--begins in dim-lit dives and on sweat-soaked stages. But a diligent work ethic and a penchant for sweet and silky r&b has helped her transcend those typical beginnings and enter a world of recognition that is anything but typical. Perhaps these sentiments are best understood by watching her take on a cover like Whitney Houston's '87 icono-cut "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," where the New York-bred diva (half-Ethiopian, via Bermuda, apparently. Typical New Yorker, in other words) makes light and airy work of an acoustically-driven version. You may think you know this song but Brown's interpretation strips the chestnut of all nostalgia and '80s dance-pop conceits to get right to its vulnerable emotional core (watch below--via OKP Premiere.)
We recently got to catch up with the burgeoning young songstress, which paints a picture of humble beginnings and a bright future. Opening up about her influences, both contemporary and classic, the continued relevance of a timeless love song and how a chance encounter with Original Fugee Wyclef Jean made for what seems to be a lifelong connection. Brown also has a new and ambitious record out in The Band, which is making waves on both sides of the pond. So settle in and peep the OKP premiere of her video for a lovely acoustic cover of Houston's classic below an read through to find where she's been and where she's still to go. Grab your copy of Rachel Brown's The Band EP (which premiered a few days ago via The New Yorker--listen on page 2) on iTunes today and keep your eyes on us for the latest from this compelling new voice in the r&b spectrum in the months ahead.
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OKP: Who is Rachel Brown? Please introduce yourself to the nice people... Where did you grow up? First pet? What's your favorite ice cream?
RB: Born and raised in NYC. My first pet was Swimmy the fish. My second pet was also Swimmy the fish (different fish, same name). Favorite ice cream tends to be Cookies & Cream. More for the cookies than the cream.
OKP: We understand Wyclef Jean is a fan and occasionally comes by to jam at your live shows--can you tell us in your own words how you guys met and what kind of role he's played in your career?
RB: The first time I met Wyclef was at the Bermuda Music Festival a few years back. We were both performing but on separate nights. That was also the first time I had seen him perform live and I was completely blown away by his dedication to putting on a good show. Over the years we kept on running into each other through various small world coincidences, which eventually evolved into him crashing my shows and me crashing his.
OKP: Who are some of the other musicians, vocalists, artists, writers that are inspiring you today?
RB: He’s not here today, but Sam Cooke as a vocalist and writer is one of my tops. I see a lot of him in Bruno Mars, who I think is also incredible across the board. I’ve gotten really into Sara Bareilles, whose voice and songwriting continue to surprise me by its effortlessness and depth. I go see Allen Stone perform live any chance I get. The list goes on...
OKP: Relationships--falling in and out of love--seem to be integral inspirations for your songs. Do you find the process of writing about these sorts of things cathartic? As a songwriter and recording artist, can you pinpoint what it is about "love songs" that keep us coming back for more, decade after decade?
RB: I think it’s one of the few things that almost everyone in the world can relate to - no matter where you’re from, who you are, or what you’ve been through, it’s a wacky, all-consuming, universal emotion.
OKP: There’s an extremely intimate quality to The Band. Is this something that developed in your time performing in NYC or did you bring that with you?
RB: Songs are like little musical diary entries. When you sing from that place, I guess it can’t help but be intimate.
OKP: We understand that you recorded this album in one day in one room. What were the advantages and disadvantages of that process? Would you it that way again?
RB: Since we’ve all been performing together live for a long time, it was a pretty natural transition. After we recorded that day we went back and added something things like organ and background vocals. I would absolutely do it again, though not necessarily for the next record. My goal this time around was to capture my songs and band the way we perform live and translate that for a recording.
OKP: You've already got some interesting, "off the beaten path" instrumentations going on in your music. Are there other instruments you don't yet have in your songs that you hope to one day incorporate? Will we bearing hearing the sousaphone or concertina on the next Rachel Brown release?
RB: Never say never! The band seems to grow by the day and I’m always open to new sounds. I’ve incorporated some additional instruments in the past - from piano to fiddle to steel pan - so I’m sure there will be more in the future!
OKP: Can you share a few things about being a modern touring musician--going out on the road in the 21st century--that the general public might be sort of oblivious to? If we opened the doors of that big conversion van a crack what would we see?
RB: It’s different every day! People might not realize all the blood, sweat and tears that go into getting from point A to point B. To do a one-hour college show more often than not it’s a drive to the airport, two planes, another (often long) drive, showtime, and then repeat in reverse order all within 24 hours. But on the other hand, you find yourself in places you never thought you’d be! I love that I’ve gotten to see so much of this country that I hadn’t been exposed to before. As for the 21st century - thank goodness for GPS… (though not always reliable! I’ve been through a mountain range or two when I’ve had to pull over and ask an actual human being for directions)
OKP: Now that you've released The Band out into the world, what's on the near horizon for Rachel Brown--a full length project? more touring or residencies? What's on the far horizon?
RB: All of the above! Since I’m eager to jump back into writing. We just had the release show for the EP which got me so pumped to play out more with the full band, as a lot of my touring is done solo. Which means next step is to get the band out on the road with me!