Rachel Brooke: A Killer’s Dream
At 28-years old, singer-songwriter Rachel Brooke has spent nearly half of her life on stage, playing music ranging from bluegrass to hardcore punk. Her third solo album, A Killer’s Dream, incorporates a spectrum of sounds and delivers a blend of prewar country, blues, jazz, and even some girl group pop of the 1950s and ‘60s; the result is an irresistible collection that has spent several months in heavy rotation at E145 HQ.
We got the chance to catch up with Brooke before a recent Arlington, Virginia show. She filled us in on A Killer’s Dream and her upcoming projects; best of all, she did a Friday Five for us that you’ll get to read in a few days.
What’s your musical background?
I listened almost entirely to bluegrass and old country growing up. My dad played banjo and my mom played bass. They played together a lot when I was little and they were still together. My dad was in a band called The Pine River Valley Boys in Saginaw, but he put it aside for a while to raise four kids. Now we’re in a bluegrass band together: Andy, my brother, plays bass, I play the guitar, and my dad plays the banjo. We do shows around Michigan in the summer.
When I was in high school, I played drums in a punk band. But after high school, when I was around 18 or 19, I started to drift back to country and bluegrass. I made my first record in 2007, and I did The Bitter Harvest, which was a record with Lonesome Wyatt (Those Poor Bastards) in 2009. Down in the Barnyard was recorded in 2011, and I did a 7” between Barnyard and A Killer’s Dream in early 2012.
What was the writing and recording process like for A Killer’s Dream?
I was on the road with Viva Le Vox for 6 ½ weeks and then we went right into the studio and recorded six of the songs on A Killer’s Dream. [Viva Le Vox’s] Tony Bones was just phenomenal on electric guitar. Then I did another session with Nick Carnes on guitar and Bill Chase on drums. This was all recorded at my brother’s studio in Traverse City. After that, I did my own solo session, which was shorter than the first two. I had a lot of fun making A Killer’s Dream. I try to compare it to other recording experiences I’ve had. I made Down in the Barnyard by myself at my house with a click track, which was very frustrating. I was trying to be creative but also trying to do the technical stuff. I said, “I’ll never do this again.”
A Killer’s Dream was done live. Andy pushed RECORD and that was it. It made it way more fun. We’d been playing the songs for so long that it was pretty easy for us to just go in there and record it to tape. We would do two or three takes for each song and pick which one was the best. Then we’d tape over what we didn’t use. I think my two favorites on the record are “Fox in the Hen House” and “A Killer’s Dream.”
What are you working on now? Do you write while on tour?
It’s hard for me to write on the road. It seems like there would be lots of inspiration on the road, but for me, I’m so focused on what I have to do and where I have to be that I get frustrated when I try to write. When I’m home, my mind is free to wander and it’s easier for me to work.
Out on this tour, I’ve gotten a few ideas for songs that I haven’t written yet. Lonesome Wyatt and I are going to do another record, so I’m working on ideas for those songs. He’ll write half and I’ll write half, probably.
How have you evolved as a writer and performer since your first record?
I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better. When I first started, I was really into old school country and that was about it. That was where my inspiration came from. Now I’ve tried to learn, tried different ways of songwriting. I want to learn and try new things and get better. I just want to keep branching out and experimenting. Each time I do a record, I feel like I branch out a little bit more. My goal is to one day do something like Pet Sounds and let loose: play whatever I want and have lots different instruments on the record. I think the more that I grow as a writer, the more I’ll want to experiment.
I don’t want to do the same thing twice. I’ll get bored. I want to do stuff I haven’t done before. That’s fun for me. I don’t ever want to do something just because it’s expected of me. I’ve seen a lot of bands who find success with one song or sound and they’re afraid to move past it. I don’t want to get stuck in the same spot.
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