by Tate Henna
Maryland-based singer-songwriter and harpist Kristin Rebecca is all about deconstructing silos in music. Commercially labeled as a modern folk artist, listeners notice immediately that her music unites folk, pop, and Americana genres. A full-time touring artist, Kristin Rebecca has learned from experience, including both triumphs and challenges, how to navigate the ever-changing music industry as an independent musician. Two solo albums and nearly a thousand countrywide shows in, she shows no signs of slowing down.
In Kristin’s own words, reaching for the sky is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Belief in one’s self and abilities renders half the battle already won. With each note and every lyric, Kristin Rebecca implores listeners to come out into the open, embrace the magic and wonder of life, and not only reach for the sky, but realize it’s not as far away as you might think.
I was fortunate to snag a few minutes of Kristin’s time before she took the stage on her current tour promoting her latest album, Tales, Trials, Truths. In the following interview, she talks about her journey to becoming a full-time touring artist, including how she navigates working so closely with immediate family members while retaining her individuality. She also shares her thoughts on the cutting-edge medium industry leaders predict will be the next big thing after streaming, and her votes for the upcoming Grammy Awards. Additionally, Kristin lets us in on her secret for musicians that enables them to survive any performance.
Q: You often talk about being a voice major in college because of something your Dad said about people remembering a voice. Whose voices stood out to you as you developed your musical style? Which artists are currently on your playlist? Anyone who might surprise your fans?
KR: Growing up, my vocal influences included Josh Groban, Joni Mitchell, and Celtic Woman. I have a little bit of everything on my playlist right now. High Kings are a current favorite. People might not expect French singer Saint Privat to be there. I heard one of her songs on a movie and bought her entire album. She’s fantastic.
Q: Your voice – and musical style – reminds me of Loreena McKennitt. Have you heard that before?
KR: No, I haven’t heard that before, although I am familiar with Loreena McKennitt’s music. I covered her song “Bonny Swans,” which is based closely on a traditional murder ballad. The story is about two sisters who go walking. The elder sister murders the younger one because she wants to marry the younger sister’s boyfriend. Someone later finds the body and turns the bones into an instrument, bringing the younger sister back to life. Celtic music can get a little dark!
Q: How are the strings of the folk harp arranged? I’ve always wanted to know how the orientation differs from that of the piano and the guitar.
KR: The strings are arranged chromatically. I tune in E flat, with the levers down, and I can move between E flat and E. The red strings are C strings. The blue (or black, depending on the specific harp) strings are F strings. The color coordination helps with hand placement.
Q: Indie artists have the ability to promote themselves more easily these days, but this simultaneously expands the pool exponentially. So much talent, but only so much space. How do you ensure your music cuts through the many other sound waves in the atmosphere?
KR: I think there are a few things that help. First, I play the harp, which is a unique instrument. My distinct voice also stands out to a lot of people. My music is seen as somewhat on the commercial side of modern folk, and that helps to draw audiences as well.
Q: How do you support yourself as a full-time, touring musician? I know that indie artists often struggle with balancing a traditional job and a music career.
KR: Mainly, I perform for money. I have a couple of students I train and also a harp that I rent out, but I make the majority of my income from performing. That’s why I’m always on the go.
Q: It is an understatement to say the music industry is always evolving. I read a recent article by Rolling Stone, “Sure, Streaming’s Transformed the Music Business. But What’s Next?” Rolling Stone predicts augmented reality will be the next big thing for the industry. What are your thoughts?
KR: It’s interesting to see where things are going. As artists, we have to focus on the digital side. It’s also interesting to see how some older distribution mediums like vinyl and cassette are making a comeback. There is something special about holding a CD or a physical product.
Q: I had a déjà vu moment when I learned you perform in a band, Painted Trillium, with your parents. Your Dad also tours with you as a solo artist. Years ago, I performed in a family band, and I can say, it definitely makes the working dynamics more interesting. It can be easier to offend when tough decisions are made and harder to agree. There is clearly more at play and at stake. What lessons have you learned along the way working so closely with immediate family members?
KR: I am very fortunate. My parents and I are tight-knit, and we have always thought along the same wavelength. There has not been any tension at all over the years in terms of decision-making.
Q: How do you handle mistakes during a performance or things not going exactly as planned? As someone who often performs solo, you are much more exposed musically while on stage than artists who play regularly with a band.
KR: Oh, yes. One thing I was taught while studying is don’t ever stop. Most of the time, people don’t notice mistakes or something going awry if you keep going. In the end, all they remember is how great the performance was overall. If you stop, it signals something went wrong. The audience doesn’t know every note and beat of your songs, so the ability to keep going no matter what enables you to retain a sense of creative control.
Q: The 62nd Grammy Awards air on January 26, 2020. Who are your picks in the following categories: Best Folk Album, Best Americana Album, and Best New Artist?
KR: For Best New Artist, Lizzo should win. It’s really cool how she features classical flute since it isn’t heard much in modern music. I think of folk and Americana as overlapping genres. Rhiannon Giddens was nominated, and she’s an incredible folk artist. And Brandi Carlile came out with a nice album last year.
Q: What do you enjoy outside of music that contributes to your creativity?
KR: I like to write, not only songs, but also stories. I am a nature person. When my Dad and I travel, we seek out state parks and historical sites, which influence my songwriting. For example, my song “Horseshoe,” from my last album has to do with Boothill Graveyard in Arizona, specifically the tombstone of George Johnson. He was hanged for a crime authorities later discovered he had not committed. A horseshoe was left at the gravesite to send him into the afterlife. I never know when I’ll find a historical idea that feeds into my songs, so I stay engaged and open.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is just beginning a career as an independent artist?
KR: The most important thing is to establish clear, defined goals. Your goals have to be more fleshed out than just wanting to make money. Do you want to do concerts or work primarily in the studio? Covers or originals? Get signed or stay independent? Figuring out exactly where you want to go is imperative.
Q: So, where can our listeners, readers, and supporters at Alchemical Records next see you perform in the DC/VA area?
KR: I will be at CABARET at Germano’s on December 27, and I would love to see you there. Tickets are $10, and there is food on site for purchase. Attendees go up to a special room and are treated with a place to enjoy dinner and watch the live show. A very important note is tickets must be bought in advance.
Purchase tickets for the show here.
Southern Maryland native Tate Henna is a freelance writer with nearly a decade of experience in higher education communications and marketing. With a passion for language in all of its forms, Henna seeks to capture each artist’s unique voice and inspire positive, meaningful change.