"I met with groundhog trapper “Trapper Jack” this morning" We chat with Rachel Baiman
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Nashville's Rachel Baiman explores growing up as a female in the US on her latest record, Shame. Released to rave reviews late in 2017, and toured extensively since, we spoke to Rachel ahead of her upcoming tour as half of 10 String Symphony.
Hey Rachel, how’re you doing?
Hey there! I’m doing really well!
Where are you right now?
I’m having some lunch at home in Nashville :)
What have you been up to today?
Well today has been interesting... I live in a little cabin on the river, we get lots of wildlife and there have been some groundhogs making their home with us. I thought they were cute but apparently they have been digging through the foundation and chewing on thermostat wires, so I met with a groundhog trapper “Trapper Jack” this morning! Then I went to the gym and now I need to practice some songs for a rehearsal this afternoon.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from Chicago but have been living in Nashville for 10 years. I grew up as a fiddle player, bluegrass, Old-Time and a little Scottish music, but now I’m more focused on being a songwriter and bandleader. I still play fiddle and banjo in my band and often play fiddle for other people. I’ve also got a duo called 10 String Symphony which is sort of experimental and really focused on the five string fiddles.
For those that haven’t heard it yet, what can you tell us about your record, Shame, in two sentences?
Shame is inspired by a combination of John Hartford’s Aereoplane, Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey and Courtney Barnett’s amazing lyrics and general badass vibe. All that being said, it’s a record that’s really personal lyrically, and explores the many fascets of growing up as a female in America, and what that meant for me.
How did you go about writing and choosing which songs to record?
I didn’t really have an outcome in mind when I started writing and recording, so that made it a very organic process. When I wrote Shame, the thematic nature of the record started taking shape. I recorded it in two three day sessions over the space of nine months or so, whenever Andrew Marlin and I were both off the road. Some songs, like 'Let Them Go To Heaven' and 'Never Tire of the Road' were written and chosen once most of the record was recorded, because they felt like great additions to what was already there.
You’re not afraid to take on tough subjects, which was the most difficult song to write?
Because I usually write by myself and lots of songs never make it into the world, I never find it too difficult to write about any subject. The scary part is playing a song for people for the first or second time and having to say those words out loud and learn to own them. The hardest one for me to record was 'Take a Stand', but it was also one of the easiest to write because I think I just needed to tell that story.
One of my favourite songs on the album is the title track, what can you tell us about it?
Thanks! That one was inspired by a variety of news stories that I tuned into regarding the fight for abortion rights in the States. I had written all of the verses and was just trying to figure out what the chorus was going to be. I happened to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, where he was discussing various attempts to defund planned parenthood. He argued that if one truly wanted to prevent abortions, one would make reproductive health care and contraception readily available, and that really this fight was all about shaming women for having sex. When I listened to that, it just occurred to me, you know what? That’s it, that's the chorus. This is all about shame.
What was the thinking behind your version of ‘Never Tire Of The Road’? (Which is fantastic by the way.)
My fiance, George Jackson, showed me Andy Irvine’s 'Never Tire of The Road' when we were driving somewhere. He said, “I think you’d really like this one”, I think at the time we were listening to a lot of labor-related folk songs, like Dick Gaughan. I loved that it was a song about Woody Guthrie, and I thought it would be a great addition to the album.
Do you want to tell us about your Schatten banjo pick-up?
Schatten was recommended to me by my friend Allison de Groot, who is one of my favorite clawhammer players. It sounds really nice and is super low maintenance, I actually installed it myself.
You recorded the album in North Carolina, what was the studio space like, and did that affect how the finished album sounded?
I recorded at an awesome studio in Chapel Hill called the Rubber Room. Everything is run through an analog board so that definitely changed the dynamics of mixing, any small change you wanted to make would take a couple of hours so it had to be really worth it. I think it helped us stay focused on musicality over perfection. It was really great to be out in North Carolina for the recording, I love Nashville, but I didn’t want to make a Nashville album so it was nice to have a chance to be in a different zone. I stayed right next door to the studio and just lived and breathed the album while I was there.
Andrew Marlin produced, how did that come about?
I had met Andrew a couple of times when 10 String Symphony played out in North Carolina and we had a chance to jam a bit at an awesome festival called Pickathon. I was listening a lot to a couple albums he was involved in, the Mandolin Orange album Such Jubilee, as well as Josh Oliver’s solo album, which he produced, and another by a band called Mipso which he produced. I was so addicted to the soundscape he was creating, I found myself wanting to hear those albums over and over and noticing the way they all made me feel. He randomly reached out to me one day about playing a gig in his hometown and I took my chance to ask if he’d be willing to produce some songs for me. He was up for it so I went out there for just a couple days. We worked 14 hours for three days and it was just magical. So after that I knew we had to make a whole album.
What’s the one song on the record that you would really want people to hear?
I don’t know, I guess it depends who is listening. They are all really special to me for different reasons.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general life at the moment, have you ever felt you were treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I think men and women are treated differently in nearly every situation, it’s hard to escape gender norms and the perceptions that go with them. That’s a vague way of saying yes, it happens all the time. I have felt a marked improvement over these past ten years in Nashville, and I’m relishing having so many amazing female instrumentalists in town at the moment to talk and jam with. It really changes the landscape of expectation for the scene in general I think.
Tell us about Folk Fights Back?
Folk Fights Back is an organization that I started with two friends, Kaitlyn Raitz and Lily Henley. We put on a series of benefit concerts across the country to raise money for a variety of non-profits doing invaluable work in the era of the Trump Administration.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
A few months ago I got hired to play a wedding, at which Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires were all guests. When it came to the dance time, I was assigned to play the square dance with Bela and Abigail. So Bela turns to me like, “what tune are we going to play?” I was like, “UM YOU’RE BELA FLECK YOU SHOULD PROBABLY PICK” ha ha.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
There’s a 10 String Symphony album coming out July 13th, so I’ll be doing some heavy touring on that through early October. I’ve got some plans in the works for a little EP that will hopefully be coming out later this fall and I’ll be playing some shows on the East Coast to support that. Then in November I’m getting married, so I’m going to take a few weeks off before the holidays.
Are you heading back to the UK at any point?
Yes! I will be coming back to the UK in January 2019, I can’t wait!
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
Two very different artists I’ve been obsessed with this week. Lilly Hiatt’s new album Trinity Lane is so good, I would recommend the song 'Imposter' and 'Records'. Another artist that totally blew my mind this week is a guy named Jeremy Dutcher who I heard on NPR’s “Q”. Jeremy is a Walastoq First Nation Canadian, who made a record of new music composed to accompany A Capella field recordings that he studied from his Walastoq tribe. My favorite song from his album is called 'Mehcinut', but the whole thing is incredible.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
You should have asked, "what’s your favorite thing about touring in the U.K.?" and I would have said, tea and scones, so delish.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I totally went down the amazing coffee rabbit hole a few years back, and I still love going to coffee shops in different towns on tour. I used to just drink it black, and I would always bring an Aeropress and coffee grinder on tour, but at some point I got so strung out on caffeine and addicted that I actually had to wean myself off of coffee. It was a painful process, ha ha, but these days I’m more of a green tea gal (boring, I know). I occasionally treat myself to a cappuccino :)
For more on Rachel, including tour dates, visit her website. You can also see what she's saying on Twitter (or rather what 10 String Symphony are saying...), like her on Facebook, or see what she's up to on Instagram.
Her fantastic record, Shame, is out now and available to buy or stream anywhere decent. Tidal stream is below.