Crafting highly-charged songs from the frantic emotions of life’s ups and downs is a characteristic of this jazz-inflected songwriter.
Have you always wanted to create music?
No. I didn’t think of myself as a particularly creative person in any artistic sense during my school years. I was very focused on sport. We didn’t have any big record collections at home… most of the music I remember hearing was a heady mix of church hymns, my dad’s Status Quo tapes in the car and The Chart Show on Saturday mornings! I do remember buying my first tape, Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, when I was about 12. Maybe that’s when I started to develop an affection for great songs. During my teens I got an allowance every month and would head into town and relinquish about half of it for a carefully chosen album. Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell, Sleater-Kinney, Radiohead, REM, all sorts really. I got a guitar when I was 17, the result of an instinctive desire to emulate some of the beauty and rawness in the music that I’d come across. I got three chords down for Blowin’ In The Wind and was away. I was pretty rubbish for a long time but kept plodding on, convinced it was a worthwhile pursuit.
Can you pinpoint a live gig or a piece of music that initially inspired you?
Too difficult I reckon – but going to gigs when I was in sixth form and seeing local bands, particularly with women players, was very encouraging. There was a band called Boba Fett who had a girl playing bass – it sticks in my memory ’cos it was a rare thing to see. A small thing, but a seed, and it helped me imagine myself doing something similar. Maybe I’d also put Suzanne Vega’s song Luka in there. So subtle and poetic and powerful.
If you had to describe your music/style in a sentence, what would you say?
Emotive, real life stories fusing the personal and the political, wrapped in songwritery sounds with a bit of jazz and 90s indie influence.
Do you have a favourite song or piece of music to perform? What does it say about you?
A song that has affected me deeply in the last few years is the jazz standard Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (Fran Landesman/Tommy Wolf). It just has the most perfect melody and trajectory and is such a pleasure to sing – it’s also quite difficult to do it well, so it’s challenging. I do enjoy listening to sophisticated melody/harmony, and one of the aims in my own work is to write things that are accessible but not predictable.
What do you think is the overriding influence on your songwriting: other art, emotions, current affairs – or a mixture of all of these?
Certainly a mixture of things. My own life experience, my thoughts and interests and feelings, the subjects I come across that I think are important or unusual – which is currently the realities of imprisonment and long term confinement, based on my friendship with a guy called Tamir who’s on death row in the US. Words are the linchpins in my songs, where everything flows from, so poetry and novels are big inspirations, I spend a lot of time researching themes. And yes, visual arts, the natural world, my subconscious, they all feature, they all do their work.
Why is music important to you?
It’s my small way of trying to make the world a more beautiful and interesting place.
Rachael Jean Harris’ latest EP Leaving Light is out now.