"I created the band by asking myself “Who do I most want to spend endless hours, monotonous days, and wild weeks with?" We chat with Her Crooked Heart
The artist formerly known as Rachel Ries but now known as Her Crooked Heart is on the verge of releasing her/their debut album. We caught up with Rachel to talk about why the change in performing name, find out more about her new music, some bits about her background and bunch more.
Hey Rachel, how the heck are you?
I am great! Thanks for asking. And you?
Pretty good, thanks. What have you been up to today, and where are you right now?
It’s still pretty early – I can hear my neighborhood waking up – but thus far I’ve had coffee, eaten an apple with almond butter, meditated, and calculated how much time I have to mow the lawn before the rain starts. I’m sitting in my tiny little backyard house in Southeast Minneapolis and the lilacs are blooming. The house is messy as I loathe cleaning.
Me too, it's really boring... So, tell us a bit about you, when was the first time you remember singing or playing music?
My earliest musical memories come from age three or four when my family lived in what was then Zaire (now the DRC). The singing and dancing in church was just off the hook! But when I was five, after we’d returned to America, I got obsessed with the violin I saw my older, cool cousin playing. I dug in my tiny little heels and informed my parents I was going to play violin. And thus it began. As for singing though? Always. I don’t remember when that began but I remember telling my babysitter at age four that I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. Tada!
And what do you do for fun?
I’m a bit of a workaholic so there’s that… I labor for what I love! But I also cook, preserve and pickle things. I gather with friends who make me feel good. I read – mostly sci-fi and religion/philosophy/spirituality. I go to Riverview: the cheap, local movie theater. I binge on Schitt’s Creek, Sex Education, Better Call Saul like everyone else. I have an unhealthy obsessive love of jigsaw puzzles (I know – so lame) so I’m not allowed to do those because then my day is done.
This is your first album as Her Crooked Heart, but you’ve released music before, what prompted the change?
For so many years, playing under my given name just felt… incomplete, lacking, energetically misaligned. The name “Rachel Ries” doesn’t really say or evoke anything about the music I make. So for about 10 years I wondered when/where I’d find my music-making name and then there it was one morning! Waiting for me, under a rock in my brain. I feel the name “Her Crooked Heart” reveals a few poetic clues as to what I care and sing about. I think it hints at the essence of my work. Which is a good thing to ask of a band name, no? And not to mention, I’d been playing as a band for awhile and with this change, I finally have a name that can contain that reality.
What can you tell me about your new album, To Love To Leave To Live?
Too much for one answer! But here’s an important thing: in my mind/heart (and on the cover), the title is actually an unending circle. ...eve to love to leave to live to love to leave to live to love to leave to live to lo…” And I’ll let you ponder what that means to you.
This is a very personal album, which song was the most difficult to write?
Oooh… most difficult to write… Well, technically, 'I Fell in Love' is a real gnarly piano piece to play. It spins through four keys in a rather classical, baroque and unrelenting fashion. 'Windswept' as well – she modulates and changes time signatures and is quite tricky compositionally. As for lyrical and emotional content? That’s the easy stuff for me. I articulate comfortably from deeply personal places. The trickiest bits are always the editing down, the trimming of the fat, the critically seeing where the lyrics get too heavy-handed or thick. A razor’s edge sometimes. 'Pleasant Valley Reservoir' was a razor’s edge.
And are there any of the songs that you feel differently about since you recorded the album?
Sure! As a human, I am not static. There are three individuals who play heavily in these songs and, curiously, each relationship has changed significantly since I recorded these songs. But somehow they all still feel current. It’s as if the lens of now just shifts the interpretation as I sing them night to night.
What’s the one song you’ve recorded for To Love To Leave To Live that you really want people to hear?
Oh man, just one? 'Courthouse' is one that I haven’t stopped relishing and revelling in since we made it. It just became itself so completely and powerfully. So I suppose that’s my answer? 'Courthouse' is this fierce, weirdly joyful, determined and danceable song about taking back my name; about filing divorce paperwork.
You’ve just released a video for your new song “Windswept”, what can you tell us about the song?
It’s all about meditation. Pulling over to the side of your wind-whipped mentally-spinning life to go quiet; to go within. One of my rarer songs as it’s not about external relationships and how they play out in my internal realm. “Windswept” is ALL about the dance within.
And what about the making of the video?
It was so fun to make the video for 'Windswept' I felt acutely that working with dancers was the right move for this video but, as I know nothing about dance and choreography, it was great for me to have to let go of control and let Renée and Evy (the dancers) and the director and crew just do what they do. And it was terribly fun to laze about in wildflower fields for a few days.
You’re about to tour the UK, what are you looking forward to the most?
It’s been two years since I’ve played over there and I’m so looking forward to reconnecting with friends, fans, fans who’ve become friends. I’m also amped to finally be able to bring the band over and introduce them to the UK and IE I know and love. And…. it looks like we’ll get to spend the summer solstice actually AT Stonehenge! So that’s a wild something to look forward to.
You’re bringing an all female band with you, was that an important choice?
I created the band by asking myself “Who do I most want to spend endless hours, monotonous days, and wild weeks with? Who do I want to be trapped in the car with? Who do I want to have my back and whose back do I want to have?” The answer was these women; all accomplished multi-instrumentalists and songwriters I deeply respect. It’s more common for bandleaders to first ask “What instruments do I need in the band?” and then go from there. For me these days, it’s all about heart/energy first. The technical pieces will follow and fall into place.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I’ve remained fairly unscathed when compared to many of my female-bodied peers and contemporaries. Or perhaps I’ve been oblivious to closed doors or gender-based biasis directed at me? I will say, there’s been a steady stream over the years of older men making sure to tell me what I should do differently; where I’m falling short; how my videos are egotistical; how I could have improved a rhyming scheme. Actually just this morning I got an email from some random guy who doesn’t like my fluid relationship with grammar and capitalization in my newsletters! Isn’t that funny? That he was so troubled by my writing style that he needed to tell me? When I’m in a good mood, these are chances to have a conversation and (hopefully) gently, slyly shine a light on bullshit patronizing behavior. Invariably I’ll end up learning something too. Of unsurprizing note: I can’t think of a single time a woman came to me with unsolicited, presumptous “assistance.” Sigh.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Ah, go on and spend some time with Devon Sproule. Seriously – do it! An entirely unique and stunning Voice in the massive universe of song. “The Gold String” or “Colours”.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
“Do you have any other musical / creative projects?” Why yes, yes I do. So glad you asked! I’m the founding director and primary choral arranger for a delightfully odd 60-voice indie choir here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of my not-so-secret superpowers is arranging songs for 4-8 part harmony. The choir is called Kith + Kin Chorus (kith & kin = friends & family) and it’s probably the best, most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. I love my singers and the community that I daydreamed (and labored) into existance. You can read more about it at www.kithandkinchorus.com.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Well, I roast my own and I take it with whole, raw milk I illicitly source from a local farm (shhhhhh). I often toss a pinch of cardamom seeds when I prepare. Time now for my second cup, I believe!
To find out more about Her Crooked Heart you can visit their website, you should also check out their socials. The band are touring the USA now and the UK and Ireland in June and July, tour dates are also on their website.