Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Rachel Curtis

Artwork for ‘Strobe Lights.’ Courtesy of Rachel Curtis.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

Normally delved in contemplative folk, Michigan-based singer-songwriter Rachel Curtis showcased her pop side with the debut of the music video for her latest single “Strobe Lights.”

The track was co-written and produced by band bassist Tyler Tesla, mixed by Curt Micol and which was mastered by Grammy-nominated engineer Steve Fallone (Norah Jones, John Mayer, Arcade Fire).

Over time, Curtis has shared stages with acts like Gladys Knight, City And Colour, Brandi Carlile and Cole Swindell, her vocals even getting her to Hollywood on “American Idol” in 2018.

In addition to herself on vocals/guitar/mandolin and Tesla, Curtis’ live band also includes electric guitarist Jason Marr and drummer Danny Lindstrom.

The Music Bugle had the opportunity to speak with Curtis about “Strobe Lights” and more.

Music Bugle – What would you say is the biggest challenge of being an independent artist? 

Rachel Curtis – I would say, the biggest challenge of being an independent musician would be having to do everything yourself. You not only have to be an artist and performer, but you have to play multiple roles that normally would make up a full team of workers. For example, I have had to learn over the years different skills, like photography, videography, graphic design, marketing, networking, business techniques and producing and recording, just to name a few. It all can become overwhelming at times, but it’s worth the joy of making music and trying to get it heard, in hopes to inspire others or reach them emotionally through song. 

Music Bugle – What inspired your single “Strobe Lights” and did the video come out the way you hoped? 

Rachel Curtis – The song was first inspired by my bassist, Tyler Tesla, who came to me with an intriguing main guitar riff and listening to it made me think of a long, relaxing car trip — looking out and seeing the afternoon sun shine through the trees lining the road, resembling a strobe light as you move past. Writing the song provoked a pleasant memory, filling me with a calm, peaceful feeling from past adventures. Soon after hearing that guitar and getting the main idea down, the lyrics just kinda flowed out of me and it was a very visionary process. As far as the video, my mom was the one who found the space “Glenlore Trails” outside of Detroit, Michigan after seeing it on TikTok. She has been a huge help with not only the creative input for this video, but past album covers and photography. We came up with sewing battery-powered lights into my old prom dress and planned out the scene ideas. I don’t consider myself much of a dancer, but I started coming up with ideas in my apartment kitchen, feeling like a kid again and to have the video turn out the way it did, really surprised me. (Laughs) The venue was kind enough to open the entire park for us on a Monday evening and this idea that originated from my parents house and my apartment kitchen came to light. I called friend and local talented videographer, Craig Dereck Jones and his team were on board. I couldn’t be more grateful and happy with his work.

Music Bugle – What are your goals for 2021? 

Rachel Curtis – After a long year without live shows, I really miss that sense of community and excitement. I hope that the world becomes healthy enough to get back to playing concerts and plan a tour. Until then, I plan on doing some more live-streamings and keep releasing my new music. I already have another song planned to drop in April and have around 13 songs on deck to just keep pushing out throughout the year. I have learned way more about the music business side of things this year and hope to contribute those lessons into my music plans this year.

Music Bugle – How would you describe Michigan to someone who has never been there before? 

Rachel Curtis – Michigan is filled with beautiful nature scenes and places. You can take a two-hour trip to Lake Michigan or any of the surrounding bodies of water in the Summer and feel like you are at a tropical beach. I think Michigan is a state filled and dedicated to the outdoors. It’s beautiful. The Winters are a bit long, in my opinion, but I really enjoy the seasons here. In the Fall, Traverse City has some of the most amazing colored leaves. Just driving down the street is so pretty. In the Winter, seeing Lake Michigan freeze over is a sight to see and West Michigan towns like Saugatuck, Holland, Douglas and Grand Haven in the Spring and Summer have really cute boardwalks. Not only is it a state filled with nature, but we have two big cities – Grand Rapids and Detroit, so I would say, Michigan is very well-rounded. You get a little bit of everything!

Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your type of music? 

Rachel Curtis – I can let go of any feeling or idea and put it into a song, no matter the vibe. I try and not to get too caught up in the genre of a song when I am creating, rather than let it introduce itself halfway through the writing process. 

Music Bugle – How would you compare your new music to your old music? 

Rachel Curtis – My releases in the past have leaned toward more of a contemporary folk pop sound and I am excited to explore a different style of music in me that I haven’t really focused on. Growing up, I would listen and be inspired by multi-genres, all the way from Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones all the way to Dolly Parton and Ella Fitzgerald, but right when I started performing and releasing music, I became interested in more folk pop bands like Vance Joy, Lumineers and Florence & The Machine. My upcoming songs have naturally drifted into more of that pop sound that I gain inspiration from at an early age, I am excited about exploring that more in a modern way.

Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write? 

Rachel Curtis – I would say this new release “Strobe Lights” was the hardest to write. Although the original idea, lyrics and melody came very fast and natural. The process of recording and collaborating on it during a worldwide pandemic delayed a lot of the production and finalization part of things. It definitely was a first for me to record the vocals from my apartment closet and couch rather than being in the studio and coming up with ideas through zoom and audio movers.

Music Bugle – What would you call the biggest memory of your music career so far?

Rachel Curtis – Opening for Grammy Award-winning artist, Gladys Knight. I grew up listening to her and so many legends she has worked with. I remember looking out into the crowd and taking my first breath in awe. Times like those feel like reality is a dream and it was an honor that I will always cherish. 

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise? 

Rachel Curtis – Right now, I have really been enjoying John Legend’s album ‘Bigger Love,’ Maggie Rogers, Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves and John Baptiste.

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians? 

Rachel Curtis – I believe social media is a wonderful outlet to help grow a fanbase, community and network with people in the industry. The expectation to post, create content so much and get high follower counts is a lot. I try to not get to catch up with numbers, but it is hard when that might be the first thing industry professionals will look at. It has a lot of power, so that can be overwhelming at times.

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