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SXSW 2018: Thursday night at Luck Reunion (part 2) and back to downtown Austin – 15th March 2018

 
By on Tuesday, 24th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

If you haven’t read part 1 of my Luck Reunion recap, you can find it back here.

After a busy afternoon of fine music, the sun started to set over Willie Nelson‘s Luck Ranch, and I made my way to the World Headquarters stage, where a full docket of fine music was scheduled for the evening. The crowd had already begun to gather in anticipation of the later acts, and they were enthusiastic in their support of Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real. Lukas Nelson, for those not in the know, is Willie Nelson’s son, but he and his surf-tinged country rock band have a dedicated following in their own right. His fans were especially delighted when he was joined on stage by a pair of special guests, Margo Price and Kurt Vile.

LN and MP

Price made only a brief cameo after her surprise performance in the Luck Chapel earlier in the day, but Vile’s appearance segued into his own solo set, which received a surprisingly muted response from the Nelson family diehards in the crowd. Vile played songs from his own 2015 LP ‘b’lieve i’m goin down’ with assistance from the Promise of the Real, as well as a particularly moving solo cover of Bob Dylan‘s ‘Roll on John’.

Kurt Vile

There was a rather long interlude after Vile’s set, and dusk fittingly turned to dark before Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats took the stage. Rateliff has become quite the showman with the success of his two most recent albums, the 2015 breakthrough self-titled LP and brand new release ‘Tearing at the Seams’, and he didn’t disappoint the eager fans at Luck. He and his band tore through tracks from both albums, joined near the end by members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (who also played earlier in the day) for a blistering finale leading into the evening’s main event.

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That highly anticipated main event was, of course, a performance by the man himself, Willie Nelson. Nelson was joined on stage by a cast of family and friends, including son Lukas, for a set chock full of well-worn but well-loved tunes, including ‘Whiskey River’, ‘Beer for My Horses’ (which always made me laugh when I was a little girl) and ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys’.

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Fans in the audience were clearly primed to hear all the Willie Nelson classics they knew and loved, and Nelson didn’t disappoint. The strains of his final singalong were ringing in my ears as I made my way through the crowd to head back downtown, and I couldn’t resist a final look at the gathering as I departed. Lest we forget, among all the great old tunes of Willie Nelson’s storied past, the 84-year-old songwriter has a brand new album coming out on the 27th of April, called ‘Last Man Standing.’ Have a listen to its title track through here.

Luck Reunion finale
Photo courtesy of James Joiner capturing the atmosphere of fellowship perfectly

Though internet access at the Luck Ranch had been spotty throughout the day, I was able to call an Uber to get back into Austin to catch two more shows downtown before calling it a night. I was thankful for my SXXpress pass when I arrived at the already crowded Mohawk to see British ex-pat Bishop Briggs, who has taken the alt-rock scene by storm since I last saw her in Phoenix in 2016. Her debut album ‘Church of Scars’, featuring hit tracks ‘White Flag’ and ‘River’, has just been released as this article goes to press.

Bishop Briggs inernal

My final stop on this truly incredible day was at the Palm Door on Sixth, where diehard English troubadour Frank Turner was on stage for a solo set. Turner is a regular fixture at SXSW, and his fans turned up in droves for this showcase hoping to hear their favourite tunes. Turner obliged them to a degree, but quickly shifted focus to songs from his forthcoming album ‘Be More Kind’, including the recently released and pointedly political single ‘Make America Great Again’. Check out its charming promo video, filmed in Austin during SXSW, right through here.

Frank Turner internal

Seeing Turner’s relentless energy and enthusiasm for his new songs was a particular highlight of SXSW for me, even after the amazing songwriting I’d been privy to all day long at the Luck Reunion. Thursday at SXSW 2018 was a remarkable day indeed, and one I won’t soon forget. Many hearty thanks to the Luck Reunion organisers, as well as to all the artists featured here.

 

SXSW 2018: Thursday at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion (Part 1) – 15th March 2018

 
By on Friday, 20th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

On the Thursday of SXSW, I had the unique opportunity to attend the celebrated Luck Reunion, hosted at the Luck, Texas ranch of legendary country songwriter Willie Nelson. The Luck Reunion’s stated mission is “to cultivate the new while showing honor to influence”, among “musicians, artisans, and chefs, who like the outlaws and outliers before them, follow their dreams without compromise.” The event is staged at Nelson’s home and working ranch, which is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Austin, and which presents a very different atmosphere from the hectic SXSW schedule of conferences and showcases.

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Once arrived at the Luck Ranch, I didn’t have much time to get acquainted with the surroundings before the full day of music was set to begin. I took a quick peek into the tiny Luck Chapel to catch a couple of songs from Nashville songwriter Lilly Hiatt, whose quirky combination of folky Americana and grungy rock sounds can be heard on her recent third album ‘Trinity Lane’.

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Next, I headed outside to the Revival Stage, which was hosting a “song swap”, including a pair of songwriters I was keen to hear, Arizona native singer Courtney Marie Andrews and soulful Nashville songwriter Sam Lewis, who were joined onstage by fellow songwriters Caleb Caudle and Kevin Kinney (of Drivin’ N Cryin’). I’m not sure if the song swap was intended to be more interactive among the performers, but in practice, the four artists simply took turns singing their own songs, rather than actually swapping. That said, I was especially excited to hear songs from Andrews’ excellent recent album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’, and Lewis’ upcoming LP ‘Loversity’. All four singers made a strong impression of the quality of songwriting on display at Luck.

Buck Meek internal

Immediately following on the same stage, Buck Meek (also known to TGTF readers as part of Big Thief) played a set of his solo tunes, including one, ‘Sam Bridges’, that I vaguely recognized from a Big Thief show back in 2015. I was able to catch Meek after his set for a quick chat about that song as well as the new ones on his forthcoming self-titled solo LP. Stay tuned to TGTF for that interview, which will post in the coming days.

Sam Lewis internal

After chatting with Meek, I had an appointment for another interview, this one with the aforementioned Sam Lewis. Outside the Luck Chapel, he and I took seats on an old wooden swingset, which was both novel and remarkably sturdy. (Thanks to Sarah for the photo above.) Lewis was outgoing and easy to talk to, and we chatted extensively about his upcoming LP ‘Loversity’, which is due out on the 4th of May. Be sure to check back with us for the forthcoming full interview, where he expands on the album’s unusual title as a theme for the songs it contains.

David Ramirez internal

My next stop was at the Back to the Source Stage for Austin native songwriter David Ramirez. I’d spied Ramirez and his bandmates earlier, walking around the Luck Ranch and enjoying the beautiful day ahead of their set. The informal atmosphere seemed very much to Ramirez’ liking, and he played a gorgeous show for the occasion, finding a pitch-perfect blend of old songs and new ones alike. He and his band were in top form here, showcasing themselves collectively under the newly minted moniker David Ramirez and the Hard Luck.

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I had noticed in passing that the Luck Chapel had a constant queue outside it throughout the afternoon. With a capacity of only 50 people, the intimate stage was in high demand all day long, but never more so than for British singer/songwriter Jade Bird. Disappointed that I wasn’t able to get inside to see her performance, I went around to the side of the building and spectated through an open window. The collection of punters standing outside with me were as delighted with Bird’s performance as the lucky ones who’d gotten in, and she quickly gained a reputation as “one to watch” for the remainder of SXSW. I was fortunate to hear Jade Bird sing again the following morning; keep an eye on TGTF for my Friday recap.

Hop Along internal

From there, it was a quick few steps back to the Revival Stage, where I saw a pair of rather unusual acts, Hop Along and Ezra Furman. Hop Along were unfamiliar to me, but I took an instant liking to lead singer Frances Quinlan’s voice. Their new album ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ is an odd but appealing collection of songs painted with a broad sonic palette, out now via Saddle Creek. I was slightly more familiar with Ezra Furman, and the Luck Reunion seemed at first glance an odd choice of venue for his brand of angsty rock. However, if the event’s focus was indeed on “outlaws” of songwriting, Furman was in the right place, despite the oddity of seeing him perform in typically-female attire against the backdrop of a functional stable and horse pen. His recent fourth solo album ‘Transangelic Exodus’ is a brilliant and bizarre display of lyrical storytelling, out now on Bella Union.

Ezra Furman

By this point, I needed a break before hitting the World Headquarters Stage for evening sets by Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Kurt Vile, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and of course, Willie Nelson and Family. Drinks at the Luck Reunion were complimentary and freely flowing at various locations throughout the day, but I took this time out to avail myself of the food choices provided by a selection of local vendors. There was no shortage of delicious options, and if you appreciate a deftly-designed culinary experience alongside your carefully-curated music, then the Luck Reunion would certainly be your cup of tea. Stay tuned to TGTF for my Thursday evening recap, which will include more from the Luck Reunion as well as two late night shows back in downtown Austin.

 

SXSW 2018: Wednesday night with artists from the UK, America and New Zealand

 
By on Thursday, 12th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

My first stop on the Wednesday evening of SXSW 2018 was at the Townsend for the highly anticipated Focus Wales showcase. The Welsh lineup would prove to be a popular one, starting with a pair of singer/songwriters before moving into heavier rock and dance music as the night progressed. I stopped in for the early part of the show, and editor Mary took the reins for the later acts, which you can read about in her Wednesday night recap. Unfortunately the fates conspired against us, and we both missed up-and-coming alt-rocker Stella Donnelly. Donnelly is definitely one to watch: you can read our preview coverage back here.

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First on the Focus Wales bill was Americana singer/songwriter Christopher Rees, who dressed appropriately for his part in a distinctive Western-style shirt. Rees has been around the country music scene for quite some time, but this was my first real exposure to his songs. I have to say that his cowboy vibe didn’t quite ring true for me, though I do understand the difficulty of capturing it in such a contrived setting as SXSW. Putting him in comparison to some of the truly amazing country/folk singers I heard through the rest of the week, I can’t really say that Rees struck me as outstanding. He did, however, appear to have a few dedicated fans in the audience, and I feel sure that they would have a different take on his performance.

Dan Bettridge internal

Next up was alt-rock songwriter Dan Bettridge, with whom I had a quick one-on-one chat before the showcase began (stay tuned for that interview, to post as our SXSW 2018 coverage continues). I was intrigued by his in-depth description of his current project ‘Asking for Trouble’ and eager to hear a few of the songs in live performance. Bettridge was affable on stage, even a bit goofy at times, which unfortunately distracted a bit from the music he played. But getting beyond that, his songs were emotional and engaging, even pared back as they were from their soulful instrumental arrangements to single voice and guitar.

Field Report internal

Though the remaining bill at the Townsend was a promising one, I was eager to head to Swan Dive to see American alt-rock band Field Report, who have been on my radar since I first saw them back in 2013. Frontman and songwriter Chris Porterfield has a very understated but viscerally effective way with a lyric, and he didn’t fail to bring me to tears here. Their new album ‘Summertime Songs’ is out now on Verve Records, and I can report after-the-fact that it’s a stunner. Their set at the Swan Dive was no less brilliant, encompassing several of the new songs, including ‘If I Knew’, which you can hear below courtesy of Baeble Music.

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After taking a moment to pull my wits back together, I peeked back into a favourite spot of my mine during SXSW, the Victorian Room at the Driskill, for a quick taste of a more local flavour. Texas country rocker Colin Gilmore seemed pleasantly comfortable and very much at ease on the stage, inviting friend and fellow musician Betty Soo to join him midway through. The smattering of fans in the small crowd were clearly happy to have him there, a couple of them even daring to shake up the formality of the room with a bit of country dancing to his tunes. Though the Victorian Room is a nice venue for singer/songwriters, I couldn’t help thinking that Gilmore’s jukebox sound might have worked better in a more casual setting. If you get the chance to see him play in a bar or pub, bring your two-stepping shoes along for a spin around the dance floor.

Emme Woods internal

My next stop was a bit off the beaten path at the Iron Bear, where Scottish rocker Emme Woods was on the Glamglare showcase schedule. It was late in the evening by this point, and unfortunately Woods didn’t appear to be at the top of her game. The combination of alcohol and her thick Scottish brogue rendered her between-songs banter almost completely unintelligible to my American ear. Musically, her songs were sensual and bluesy, and the added brass instrumentation was interesting, but the band’s performance felt rather sullen and uninspired, and I was just as happy to duck out after 3 or 4 songs. Still, I could see that this might have gone differently on another night, and if you like sultry rock led by a rich female singing voice, you’d do well to give Emme Woods a listen.

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My favourite new act of the Wednesday night came at the very end, when I hit the Palm Door on Sixth Patio to hear New Zealand crooner Marlon Williams. Williams was predictably smooth and suave on stage, with a retro rock style that felt at once fresh and vaguely familiar. The younger women in the crowd were especially taken by Williams’ flexibility, which he displayed both in his serpentine dance moves and his remarkable singing voice. Taking full advantage of the breezy outdoor stage, Williams and his band played a brilliant high energy set that came as a most welcome surprise in this notoriously difficult 1 AM time slot. Watch for him to make waves with his recent album ‘Make Way for Love’, out now on Dead Oceans/Caroline.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Rachel K Collier (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 11th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Part 1 of this interview feature with the fabulous Rachel K Collier is through here.

We chat a bit about her performance at Latitude 30, which I was lucky enough to witness. Collier emphasises that her live show is very much a work in progress. “Without four cameras on me [to film and for the audience to see what she’s doing], I need to be interacting with the crowd. So I’ve had to simplify some of my live set. Otherwise, I’m just standing there, pressing buttons. Where’s my connection with the crowd? If I’m constantly triggering, I have be behind Push all the time. I’m still working on it, I’m constantly refining my live show. I realised quite quickly that I’m a performer. I want to be out there with the crowd. I’ll do whatever I can to combine both things. I never want to hit Play on a track. That’s just boring. Someone once asked me, ‘why don’t you just press Play?’ I want to have the freedom to trigger the clips whenever I want to bring them in. I want to loop whatever I want to loop. I want to be able to do things on the fly. I get a bit of a buzz from it!”

The Welsh artist is also eager to lift the veil over what is all too often a black box for electronic music fans. “In the future, we’d like to get cameras on the Push, so people can really see what I’m doing. No one can see the lights on the Push and what I can see.” I point out that as a female producer, songwriter and performer, she’s an all too rare breed these days. The very existence of Rachel K Collier and the success she has garnered so far can only be a positive thing for the future of electronic music, I explain. Having someone like her out front, showing a woman can make it in the electronic genre and have fun doing it is a huge thing.

“I trigger a new scene at the end of a song to trigger the tempo of the new song. If you trigger a clip, you stay in the previous song’s tempo. When I go from ‘And I Breathe’ mid-set, I have a big pitch drop before I drop the tempo from 123 to 94 for ‘Poison’. If I talk over the clip, I lose where the 1 [count] is, but then I need to bring in the next clip in, and it could come in anywhere. Maybe I should have a marker somewhere so I know where I am, but really, that’s part of the fun. A year ago, I would have been like, oh gosh, everything has to be perfect. Now I’m like okay, you know what, I’m triggering the clips, sometimes it’s going to go wrong, and I can actually now laugh about it. It’s live! Sometimes it’s good when stuff goes wrong. Actually, something did go wrong Tuesday, in the intro for ‘And I Breathe’. The controllers were moving, and I hit the BPM knob by accident. Luckily, where I was in the project, new scene, boom!”

She starts to laugh. “I’ve gone all nerdy on this. Is that okay?” I assure her it’s perfectly fine. To be honest, her being so detailed and ‘getting in the weeds’, so to speak, on her live show is further proof just how complicated her process is and how she’s taking it in her stride. Collier is also very adamant about making sure her music has meaning. Referencing her Quickfire Questions answer about a song that makes her laugh, she conveys her appreciation for Everything Everything’s ‘No Reptiles’ and the way Jonathan Higgs writes his lyrics. “With a lot of their music, I’m like, did he really say that? I like stuff with loads of imagery, because I do that in my lyrics as well. I’m really happy with reviews of my music when people say, ‘yeah, it’s dance music, but it has meaning. It has words, it has real lyrics. That’s what I didn’t really like about writing generic top lines, in any old time signature. It didn’t mean anything. Yeah, it’s going to make people dance, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I want to be able to dance, but I also want to be able to sing something that means something. As an artist, I had to get my head round that I need to be saying something.”

She is quick to point out the potential contradiction she has in her own preference for music. “I love straight dance. I’m a raver. You could probably tell from my set!” Everyone says, ‘you have so much energy’. I’m really a passionate musician. And I made that music! This is so nerdy, but that actual groove of ‘Poison’ is a fast groove at 124, and I shoved it into MetaSynth. It’s this really nerdy granular synthesis program, it’s my secret weapon now. If I want something that’s a bit edgy, I chuck it in there, it’s like a playground. You can go in there and mess stuff up. I slowed this 124 down, I pitch shifted it down. I liked it and brought that sound back into Ableton, put my own kick and snare [drums] into it. I’m really fussy, there’s three kicks in there, I made one of the kicks in my Korg MiniLogue, sampled it, cut it up perfect. I like taking bits of the other tracks and resample it. See, this comes back to Ableton. You can’t do that in Logic or ProTools. That’s what I mean when I say it [Ableton] helps me express myself.”

There have been a few bumps this week in Austin, but nothing serious that could dampen her mood. “South By has been a bit of a learning curve. Some of the sound engineers are not as familiar with this kind of electro vibe. Some of them are like, ‘what is all this?’” It’s a nice segue to my next question, asking Collier how she’s been treated in the electronic world as a woman. So far, Grimes has been the most vocal female artist in the electronic genre to complain about the sexist treatment she’s faced. “It definitely happens when [you’re a woman and] you’re a producer. When you’re performing, they probably think someone else produced it, or whatever. My first EP, I remember playing it to someone. ‘Oh, who produced it?’ Uh, me? He just went on, thinking that I was the featured artist on the record. I was like, what the hell?”

Rachel K Collier Words You Never Heard EP cover

“I’ve had a few things [like that] happen. With my first self-release, I did it on Love & Other, a really small label. [That EP, ‘Words You Never Heard’, got a review of 8/10 on Mixmag. Not bad at all straight out of the gate – Ed.] That was really cool, a nice starter. I look back at that stuff and go, gosh, that’s really basic. Then my first-ever self release on AWAL, I got a comment, ‘great track! Whoever produced this for Rachel should do a whole album with her.’ I said to Ben, email them now, tell them I bloody produced it! Get that message through. Some people just don’t connect girl and a bass line. Girl and drums. Girl and computer. There’s a girl called Nightwave, she’s a female DJ, she did a Boiler Room and people totally slated her [read more about that incident here]. She’s now set up this whole thing [with other UK female electronic producers] called Producergirls. She does her lecture with quotes like ‘Who did she do to get there?’ and ‘Oh, she must have a ghost producer’, all this crap boys say.

“It [being a woman] works in my favour, in a way. Red Bull has their #NormalNotNovelty [music workshop], I’ve done some stuff with those guys as well. So I’m proud I’m a girl and doing it. Screw you guys. It’s funny, I’ve helped many guys with their Ableton sets. I’ll tell them we’ll FaceTime later. I love teaching it as well. Every single person I help is a guy. It’s really cool, because they’re like, ‘Rachel really knows her stuff about Ableton, let me call her.’ I might actually apply to be a certified trainer now. I might as well just do it. I’m already helping people.”

Reaching out in such a way seems entirely natural for Collier, although her initial foray into YouTube “started off slow. But people are really into it now. My single’s out today. I filmed a little talk-through inside the screen and put that on YouTube last night. ‘Here’s the project using Ableton Live 10. It looks beautiful. Here’s the bass, here’s drums, here’s the keys. Here’s the riff I did.’ I want to be transparent as well. I want to be honest. I couldn’t be anything else. Some other people are like, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t tell anyone my secrets. That’s just not my character. I’m better being myself.”

She’s very excited for the work coming up for the rest of the year. “I’m going to be producing my album now, and then I’ll be making an Ableton video for my single ‘Darkshade’ that was released today.” Although Collier is based in Wales, she’s very cognisant of staying in the public consciousness in territories beyond where she’s from. “We’ve learnt we need to keep building our presence here in the States.“ Sounds like us Americans might be seeing much more of Rachel K Collier in the coming months. Fingers crossed! Massive thanks, Rachel, for taking the time for this interview.

 

SXSW 2018: Wednesday afternoon with fantastic female artists at the AloftLive and Single Lock showcases – 14th March 2018

 
By on Tuesday, 10th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

After starting my Wednesday at SXSW 2018 with a keynote speech by Lyor Cohen at the Austin Convention Center, I decided it was time for both some fresh air and some music. With that in mind, I headed to the Aloft Austin Downtown hotel, which played host to a full showcase of female artists, sponsored by Aloft Hotels and Universal Music Group. The lineup included several artists on my “must see” list, and the breezy but intimate patio lounge proved an ideal venue for both listening and taking photos.

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Nashville alt-rock singer/songwriter Liza Anne came to Austin hot on the heels of her latest LP release ‘Fine But Dying’, which came out on the 9th of March via Arts & Crafts. As you might glean from the title, the songs on ‘Fine But Dying’ aren’t exactly upbeat, their lyrics dealing with such heavy topics as love, patriarchy, and mental illness. But in live performance Liza Anne didn’t shy away from even their most angst-ridden moments, addressing them with dark humour and unflinching candor. She gave a fiercely memorable performance of several of the new tracks on the Aloft stage, including ‘Closest to Me’ and ‘Small Talks’.

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Richmond, VA native and Spacebomb Music associate Natalie Prass came on next to play songs from her upcoming sophomore album ‘The Future and the Past’, due out on the first of June via ATO. I’d seen her live previously, both at SXSW 2015 and in Tucson later that same year. In the three-year interim, Prass has written not one but two album’s worth of songs, one of which she scrapped in favour of what would become ‘The Future and the Past’. Prass gave a charmingly relaxed set here, with the new songs sounding remarkably jazzy and fresh in the cool breeze on the Aloft stage. We’ve already featured the new album’s first single ‘Short Court Style’; you can have a listen to the recently released and singularly appropriate track ‘Sisters’ just below.

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New Orleans soul/spoken word group Tank and the Bangas are led by singer and poet Tarriona Ball, whose deliberately unassuming stage presence masks a sharp lyrical precision and an almost hypnotic vocal style. Backed by fellow vocalist Anjelika Joseph and a full band of instrumentalists, Ball had her audience enraptured from the first moments of the set to the very last. I’m not sure the visceral power of this kind of music can ever really be captured on recording, but if you have the chance to see Tank and the Bangas live, don’t miss it. My favourite track in their set was ‘Rollercoasters’, which you can hear in this live video from American public radio station WXPN’s World Cafe.

The remainder of the Aloft Live lineup included British singers Jade Bird and Bishop Briggs, both of whom I was (fine but) dying to see, but I took a rain check for the moment, knowing I’d have chances to catch them later in the week. At the moment, I had a long walk ahead of me, across to the east side of downtown, for the Single Lock Records showcase and Nashville folk rock songwriter Erin Rae. While the stage at Weather Up, which played host to Single Lock that day, was decidedly less glamourous than the one at Aloft, the songwriting on display was nonetheless strong. Rae appeared with a sparse band of two members, whom she admitted to having “borrowed” for the afternoon from fellow Nashville singer Tristen, to play songs from her upcoming album ‘Putting on Airs’. Rae’s wistful singing voice on the title track from that record, and especially on recent single ‘Can’t Cut Loose’, made a poignant and lasting impression as the afternoon sun began to fade into evening.

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SXSW 2018 Interview: Rachel K Collier (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 10th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

By the time I manage to pin down Rachel K Collier at SXSW 2018, she’s already had a busy week. It’s Friday afternoon, we’re sat with drinks in the swanky bar at the Omni Hotel, and the electronic phenom from Swansea is so comfortable being in Austin, slang that’s only used by seasoned veterans of the festival is already rolling off her tongue. Positivity is exuding out of every pore of this up-and-coming Welsh artist. “I’m going to be bringing out my album in September. We wanted to release two singles [ahead of that] and I thought, what perfect timing! There will be loads going on at South By, I might as well release a single today [‘Darkshade’]. My Instagram followers have gone up since I arrived, [up by] about 130?” She flashes a grin, even though her time in Austin has been totally chockablock. “Loads of little things with the press, with radio, BBC Wales did an interview with me last night. It’s all timing together quite nicely.”

Collier began her time in Austin at Hotel Vegas, a venue with big names all week but a bit out of the way, east of the city centre. By her account, her maiden voyage to Austin clearly began on a high note. “It was like the crowd was on fire. They were so energetic! I did one filter and they were [all] like, ‘whooooo!’” She raises her arms up for added effect. “And at the end, I had an encore. You know, at South By, you have 40 minutes, that’s it, isn’t it? But because I was last, it was crazy.” She’d already been through all her songs and asked the audience what to do. “Play ‘Paper Tiger’ again!”, they shouted. “I got all the audience singing, and I looped them [in]. It was an amazing show.”

She appears both surprised and chuffed by the local reception. “Monday night, it seemed to be all Austin and American guys [in the audience]. It was totally rammed…that’s actual exposure, then, isn’t it? You really are showcasing to new people. Monday was cool because there were fans there who follow me on YouTube. Monday night, they were dancing like mad, they were loving it. Tuesday night [the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation-supported showcase at Latitude 30], they were more of an industry crowd.” Collier already has her sights set on returning to SXSW. “Next year, I want to play to people who have never heard of me. I met this guy who said to me, ‘oh, best South By find this year!’, so it’s like yay! He’s discovered me! The response has been amazing.”

When you’re far from home, it can be astonishingly validating to get approval from crowds you’ve never encountered before. “It’s funny, Mary, I feel like I’m in the right place. I feel like I should be here, it’s important for my career. Also, because I’m Welsh, it is great, because the press back in Wales is like, pow pow pow! Rachel K Collier! They’re pushing it constantly in Wales. There’s only six Welsh artists here, which really helps, to be in the minority. Being female, doing electronic music, again, it’s different. But I’ve been really lucky, Ableton is supporting me, and PRS Foundation, BBC Introducing, yeah, it’s been really cool!”

2017 proved to be a pivotal year for Collier, the live artist. “Last year was a really awesome year because I did my first UK tour. Last year was my transition from making the YouTube videos to the stage. It happened [all] very fast. I was doing my YouTube video, and then I was doing my first college performance and I was opening different Projects, different songs. Then I had another show and thought, okay, I need to do three songs, and they need to be in the same project.” Soon enough, she found herself needing to take her music up a major notch. “By July, I was playing in the Czech Republic at Beats for Love Festival. I had to do an hour set. So it was like, right, okay, now I need to have songs. It took a year to take the live show and refine it, refine it, refine it, refine it.

“In December, we played a sold-out show at London Koko. It was an amazing way to finish the year, to go from that little college show, to all these little workshops, to bigger shows, to the UK tour. I thought, oh god. I hope it’s going to continue into next year, and then you get the email from South By. Ben [her manager] called me and said, “You’re not going to believe this. We’re going to South by Southwest!”

With a fresh perspective of how her music has been received on this side of the pond, she says almost with a tear, “I felt quite emotional this week. The response from the crowd on Monday! There were some guys from Monday night, they were saying, [changes to American Texan accent] ‘we follow you on YouTube and saw you were coming to Austin, like no frickin’ way!’ One of them, Alex, he was so cool. He posted a pic [from the show] with the caption, ‘Rachel, you crushed your first American show!’ …they could come to the first show because it was an unofficial showcase. When we were planning for SXSW, of course we were interested in all the official showcases, but I was like no, man. The unofficial ones are cool because they don’t require the industry / wristband thing. It’s been really cool, I hope it all continues.”

Unexpectedly, Collier has become an ambassador for music software giant Ableton. But perhaps maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise? She’s a self-described “hardcore fan” and “diehard enthusiast” of their products, so I ask her just what she loves about it so much. It sounds like she could talk for days on how much it makes her work easier, though she went through a period of not using it at all. “I studied Music Tech at uni, it was all about making music with technology, that was the whole kind of vibe. We’d have to do these recitals that were innovative and new and no one had seen before. I thought, I want to do something on stage. I don’t want a looping pedal, I want to loop stuff, I want to make up some weird stuff. My teacher introduced me to Ableton and said, ‘try this’. I was working in session view for performance. I thought, this is cool.” Turns out, unbeknownst to me, Collier had been in a different part of the songwriting world for a while. “Fast forward a few years, moved to London, I was doing a lot of top-lining kind of work, recording in Logic and ProTools. I thought, you know what, I hate this, I want to produce again. I met Ben and he asked, ‘do you produce in Ableton?’ ‘I haven’t used that in ages, I love Ableton! But I thought that was only for live stuff.’ ‘No, you can produce in it.’

“For the first time ever, I saw Arrangement [View], I have no idea how I missed it. So then I started producing in Ableton. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like I connected with it. This is how I can express myself. I’m just a super fan! I absolutely love it. I started producing again, I was really happy. I released the first EP I made myself, I produced it myself. But then I was like, ooh, I want to perform it, though! That’s what I love about Ableton. You can take this production that you’ve done – I’ve obviously started everything in Session View – go to Arrange View, and then you can simply go back into Session View and construct this whole Project.”

Collier’s next step was to share her music with the public, and in a way so many bedroom producers do these days. “I started my YouTube channel, still loving Ableton. Then I decided I wanted to meet them. I need to meet someone there, tell them how much I love it and thank them, show them my work. I went to ADE [Amsterdam Dance Event] 2016 – I played this year – and I went to ADE purely to meet someone from Ableton. I went to the Ableton stand and I met this amazing guy named Jan from Dutch Ableton. By then I’d had 400,000 views of ‘Nothing is Forever’ on my YouTube channel [There are now over 1.4 million views of this video of Collier’s – Ed.]. He said, ‘cool, email me.’ He replied straight away, that really doesn’t happen in our industry. He introduced me to the UK team, Mike, Simon, and Danny, and they replied, “hi Rachel, come in for a chat.” They said, will you do a convention with us, can you do a performance? And that was my first-ever outside of YouTube performance with my APC [Akai Professional Ableton Performance Controller] and my [Ableton] Push.”

Since taking that chance to find Ableton staff at ADE 2016, she’s “really bonded” with not only with the London Ableton team but with the team at Ableton HQ in Berlin, who asked her to front their Ableton Live 10 global campaign. “It was so cool, because it was the first time ever [for an Ableton release], as a female producer, ‘would you come over and produce, and make a track for our Live 10 release?’ It’s not, ‘go and do the top-line because you’re a girl and you sing’, it’s ‘go and produce the music’. I was like, hell yeah! I flew out to Berlin a couple of times and got to go to Ableton HQ, use Ableton 10, use the new plugins, Pedal, the Echo, the Groups Within Groups. I was meant to be second on the video because my BPM was around 130, and the structure of the video was such that they were going to showcase this tempo, and then this tempo, and then this tempo.

“Because of the way I write and I sing, and they have this new Metronome feature, they said, oh wait, we’re going to put you on first. It was such an amazing experience. They are just so cool and so supportive.” It’s evident from the smile on her face to see that Ableton is really a part of Rachel K Collier, the artist, and she’s wholly appreciative of their efforts. “When you on stage and you’ve got a slammin’ sound system, everything is running from the laptop into the sound card, everything goes into Ableton, through my sound card, and back out again. Vocals, all the synths, all the clips, all the samples, all the looping. So it’s mega that I can actually perform like that. And it’s all because they made that.” Ableton also introduced her to Indian online music magazine and community forum Wild City, who just began an initiative last November to be more inclusive in the music industry towards women. Part of the initiative is bringing Collier out to Bangalore, India, with support from the British Council, for a 2-day workshop where she will teach her most favourite subject. “Basically I’m going to hang out with young Indian girls and teach them Ableton. Dream! I spend most of my life looking at Ableton. It’s pretty bad. Someone once said to me, you talk about Ableton all the time. Well, it’s kind of my life, to be honest!”

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Rachel K Collier, which will post here tomorrow.

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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