By: Mut Asheru
Based in San Francisco, indie group Blue Rabbit consists of composer, songwriter, and singer Heather Anderson, who is joined on vocals by Arami Reyes and Sarah Rocklin. Their album SEPERATE has been reviewed several times and what I got from reading one of the myriad reviews out there about them is that others besides myself have a difficult time defining this groups sound. So rather than reinvent the under-described wheel we decided to go with a feature and let the band describe their sound for themselves.
Knowshi: If you had to define your music by placing it in a record bin at a music store what category would you put yourselves in?
Heather: Well, there is something pretty cool about music stores who lump every nuanced subgenre together under the sign “ROCK”, listed alphabetically by band name – even if it’s a tad weird to find your Small Faces next to your Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s nice to not pigeonhole bands into a particular sound, and to let listeners try something new with fewer preconceptions. So ideally, we’d fall under “B” in the rock section. But since every artist needs to give this answer a stab, I can tell you that my Wikipedia research tells me we’re closest to “modern baroque pop”, “indie pop”, or if you wanna get down to it: “alternative modern baroque indie pop”. Problem is, those terms only hold meaning for a few.
Here’s my take: The ‘modern’ because overall, we have a contemporary, edge-pushing sound and aren’t afraid to experiment, the ‘pop’ because weird as we might be, we still love catchy hooks, and ‘baroque’ is a reference to our classical elements – such as key signature and meter changes, as well as our string instruments. And indie…well… I’m actually reading a book right now that tries to define what “indie” means. Pretty interesting stuff – especially the historical perspective on “indie” in the 50s and 60s. It’s called Slanted and Enchanted. Check it out!
Knowshi: Please tell us what methods you used to make your voice so flexible and expressive?
Heather: Well, thank you, by the way! Four of us sing, and frankly I do terrible things to my voice and throat and must be better about it. It’s hence not very flexible –but it’s our emotive grit, our ‘dirt’ in the mix. Arami and Sarah – who we call “Sarami” – say that their vocal strength has come simply from practice, singing together for six or more hours per week. Also, for a not-so-healthy quick fix at shows: whiskey straight up with a lemon wedge. Though, we were just informed that we’d be smarter to gargle with apple cider vinegar. We’re learning!
Knowshi: How do you approach your songwriting?
Heather: The way I approach it is changing. Expressing myself in the form of a melodic lyric has been more of a life-long ‘tick’. It’s automatic, instinctual; It’s been both my medicine and crutch of sorts. In the past, when I wanted to tell someone something personal, I’d sing them a song. I’m the relationship person who hates when it’s time to have “a talk”. In college, I’d literally say, “Ummm, hold on, lemme get my guitar.” Our album is made of those kinds of songs. Each one is 100% autobiographical, like a private conversation.
Lately I’ve been writing about more abstract feelings and concepts, and about other people’s stories. Also, since the album came out, I’ve put a lot more thought into pop song structure. I’m fascinated by the craft, and by what makes a melody appealing. There’s so much to learn, it’s endless and inspiring. I’m not sure yet, how that will change this next album from the first, so you’ll have to listen and let me know next year.
Knowshi: How do you strike a balance between the business of music and your creativity?
Heather: You basically have to split into two people. And both of you have a full-time job. One needs to feed and care for the muse, give it musical soul food, feel inspired, space out, spend time alone, pace around brainstorming and singing under your breath. The other one needs to be creative in a different way – needs to reach out to as many people as possible to get the music ‘out there’. This is no easy task, but it’s not total hell either. You just have to view ‘self promotion’ as sharing something you love with people you respect. If you don’t like sharing, or other people, you better hire someone!
Knowshi: Do you all plan on giving the world some good material for a future “Behind The Music” special? Or are you pretty tame?
Heather: We are laughably tame when it comes to the typical Behind the Music fare – drugs. We do have some inter-band “Fleetwood Mac”/ “No Doubt” sort of love-and-heartbreak stuff that we can dredge out if needed.
Knowshi: Do you prefer the stage or the studio?
Heather: Funny that you ask, because we just all voted to take a brief stage break to go into the studio. I can’t say that any of us totally prefer one or the other, but I can say that it’s hard for us to focus on both at the same time. I love recording, and it’s going to be amazing to step back into hiding, work out some kinks, and play around with the final structure and layering of each song – without worrying about how we’re going to pull it off live in 5 days. However, when we’re done with that, the resulting recording would be meaningless if we weren’t out singing and sharing it with real live people. Shows are like parties of all our closest friends – we can’t stay away for too long!
Knowshi: What’s next for Blue Rabbit?
Heather: Wow! We have so many hopes and goals that I’ll have to use some self restraint (not my strong suit) to give you the highlights. In order: releasing our next single along with remixes from our first album, releasing our sophomore album next year, working with a talented producer who shares our vision, touring in the US and Europe! Right now we’re working with a London producer on our single, “Flattened and Shined”. And like I mentioned above, we’re about to hibernate for the winter and write and record some new tunes! Oh and live action and animated music videos are of course on our wish list. If someone’s got some skills in that area, please let us know!
Knowshi: Why is your rabbit blue?
Heather: For better or for worse, I have to take full blame for the name, because I was the only band member at the time. It was actually blue before it was a rabbit. I used to call myself Blu Ram (no ‘e’ so that the words were symmetrical), but when I first started the band, I’d just been through the “Missing Piece” breakup, and was feeling less like a butting ram, and more like a smaller, vulnerable and nervous rabbit.
Blue is always good: an indigo sky, blues music, the ocean, the mood. And I grew up with lots of rabbits. I had 37 at my peak. I was also having lots of dreams with rabbits in them at the time. Rabbits in hutches. Rabbits running free. I was going to write a book once called Rabbit Dreams. It didn’t hurt that it’s also my Chinese animal. I also really like word pairs that start with B and R. I feel like it’s an unexplainable lifetime of reasons. One day I woke up and thought – blue rabbit, of course. Oh – and I didn’t want to call the band ‘Heather Anderson’. Who the hell would want to join that? Not I! Also, I’m a huge fan of Chan Marshall and so I thought – hell, if she can call herself Cat Power, then I can surely call myself Blue Rabbit.
Knowshi: The entire album is an excellent show of sleek and inventive lyric writing and vocal arrangements. Do you all write together?
Heather: Thank you!! We have a little system, and I like to think we’re getting better at it all the time. It’s not always the same, but here’s the general flow of how it works best: I typically write the skeleton of the song on my own – the words, main melody, chords. Then, depending on who will have me first, I might teach that to the girls, or work with Kevin on the beat. It’s best if I can work with Kevin first, because a great beat and good rhythmic phrasing – or placement of the lyric – is kind of the backbone to the whole deal.
In the “beat first” method, Kevin and I create a rough “training track”, which is just an MP3 of me singing a scratch track over his drums. This helps the girls get a head start before getting to practice. Now, remember, I said this is ideally how it works. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of practices where I just sing to their faces and they sing it back, again and again, like the passing of a field holler or something. Once they have the main melody down, they come up with their own harmonies and other arrangement ideas. And as they solidify their ideas, I then start to have some new ones, and it flows like a circle until it settles for while.
The way we sing our songs is always changing, though the changes are subtle. In the beginning, we didn’t use chords. But now that we have a keyboardist, violinist and harpist, they’re quite essential. So the instrument people will invent their own parts based on the chords – and also offer feedback, critique, suggestions if they notice something kind of ‘off’. After we have the basic song down, it’s a never-ending free-for-all. We’re really lucky that we all have similar tastes and get along really well. We’ll each yell out our various ideas and opinions at practice, and in turn, ideas will either get a choral response of “Oh YEAH YEAH YEAH!” or an animated flurry of debate will ensue, ending in something we’re all cool with. I’m endlessly surprised by how easily we create en masse.
I know that Adam, our violinist, would like to compose some intros and interludes, and we’d like to also showcase Tim and Eah’s solos more, so we’ll see. Also, we are just starting to explore the full extent of everyone’s talents. Timmy and Eah are both great singers, and so we’re working towards highlighting that more. And a few of us are harboring instrumental fantasies…a mini synth keyboard, French Horn, lots of stuff. We’re always evolving.
Knowshi: If you could go back in time and invent one thing what would it be?