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Interview: RACHEL COLLIS

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Sydney singer/songwriter, Rachel Collis has recently released her second album, ‘Nightlight’ and Rock Club 40 caught up with the indie/pop/folk singer to talk about her latest release and her song writing inspirations. “I recorded an album a couple of years ago in 2012 while I was doing my Masters in Music,” she explains. “I recorded as part of my study. I hadn’t written songs in such a long time and they started pouring out of me so when I did that first album I was very proud of it at the time but I looked at it and thought ‘I don’t even know who I’m supposed to be in here’. The songs were so varied and such a patchwork picture of me as a songwriter so going into this album, I was resolved to work out what kind of song writer I want to be and what kind of sounds I want to have and so it’s kind of been an eighteen month process since that last album of writing songs again; quite varied songs but really picking the ones that I thought really mattered the most and were the kinds of songs that I want to record. I was also thinking about what kind of sound I want and part of that process was then finding Sean Carey who I did the album with. He is the former guitarist from Thirsty Merc. So I think the album has a lot of direction and I’ve really found myself as a songwriter, so to speak.”

If I Could’ is the first single from the album and, as Rachel explains, “It is essentially quite a melancholy love song because it is exploring the idea of wanting to do everything we can for the people we love but ultimately not being able to so there’s this real sort of helplessness to the song. I remember the bulk of the song lyric I wrote in a place in Outback NSW called White Cliffs, which is an opal mining town and I wrote the lyrics on a very surreal evening watching the sun go down over this incredibly bleak landscape with these little mounds of dirt where the mines were but it’s just such an isolated place and the people that live there were such interesting people because they lived in this isolation all the time. I feel that a lot of the experience of that almost surreal bleakness has almost formed the writing of the song in a lot of ways.”

Inspiration for many of the songs on this album was drawn, says Rachel, from ‘significant people’ in her life, including a good friend who passed away late last year and another friend who had been diagnosed with cancer but is now doing well. The latter song is called ‘Tomorrow’ and the singer describes it as ‘an exploration of living in the present because you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow.’  

But not all of her songs are so serious, as the singer points out. “There’s also a crazy song about a duck named Sybil that thinks that she’s flying and that’s based on a real duck owned by a very eccentric café owner in my hometown. Sybil is a duck who can’t fly and whose owner wants to strap her to his bike to give her a flying moment. The song is actually about working with your limitations and pretending anyway and having courage I guess.”

Rachel says that she wrote a lot as a teenager and it was her dream to be a singer/songwriter but, for a whole variety of reasons, she ended up going into a responsible job and leaving song writing behind. “I only came back to it a few years ago. I went off to study music and did a Masters in Composition and that’s when I reconnected and started writing again.”

Music played a big part in the singer’s life from a very young age. “From the time I was five until the time I was twenty, I did classical piano and did lots of diplomas and scary theory exams and I did classical voice as well from my mid teenage years into my early twenties but I loved playing contemporary music and I would emulate the sounds of the stuff I was listening to. I was fascinated to try to create a sound on the piano so that I didn’t have to rely on a band. How do I make it rhythmical so I don’t have the need for drums or how do I make it sound full so I don’t miss having a bass or a guitar? That’s probably the most real learning as opposed to all the classical stuff but then later I went and did my Masters in Composition which was in contemporary music so it felt very authentic and was a great time for experimenting.”

Rachel feels that it gave her a good grounding in music and, while she acknowledges that there are some great songwriters that don’t have that background in musical theory, she often wonders how they do it. “I think that having that musical theory background allows me to do things that I think I would struggle to do if I was just of kind feeling my way around the piano and trying to work it out; having said that, the whole song writing process still, in many ways, feels very mysterious to me. For all the talk and theory and understanding, there’s times when it just really works and I don’t really understand why.”

 

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2014. All rights reserved

‘Nightlight’ is available digitally through ReverbNation

For more information, please visit www.rachelcollis.com

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