Music Interviews
8:10 am
Sun February 16, 2014

Rachel Ries' Album Reflects Her Urban-Rural Split

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 4:13 pm

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The lilting voice of Rachel Ries comes to us courtesy of many different landscapes: the wide open spaces of South Dakota, the equatorial humidity of Africa, the bucolic green of Vermont and the managed urban chaos that is Brooklyn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL RIES: (Singing) Time, I forgiven you, time. You were songs in my head, so I threw you over my little shoulder and you land, you landed on the floor...

MARTIN: The daughter of missionaries, Rachel Ries grew up hearing Mennonite hymns and Congolese spirituals. Today, Ries splits her time between Brooklyn and Vermont. She's just released her third full album. It is called "Ghost of a Gardener." Rachel Ries joins us from Wisconsin Public Radio in Milwaukee. Thanks so much for being with us.

RIES: It is my pleasure. Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, when you were young, your folks were missionaries in Zaire, which is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. I wonder if you could point us to what we hear in your music from that time in your life.

RIES: I don't know if it really does come out in direct ways at this point in time. I felt like I grew up where we lived out our life in song, where we showed our faith and showed our love in song. And I think for me, even now, music is such a reflection of what I believe.

MARTIN: For you, music is very directly connected, correlated to a sense of the divine in some way.

RIES: In some way. But a very, very human and messy divine. I think being alive very messy and divine.

MARTIN: I'd like to play a cut of the album. This is called "Holiest Day." Let's take a listen and we'll talk about it on the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLIEST DAY")

RIES: (Singing) Drove away far from the lake, I found the farmer's daughter and we could've been sisters if I were humble, clothes muddy, red cheeked and reticent. I looked around and wished that I could stay and cover my head. I keep a fire going and I tuck the kids all into bed.

MARTIN: I read in an interview that you said that songs begin with a sort of hunch. Can you impact that a little bit?

RIES: Did I say that?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah. You never know - maybe you didn't.

RIES: Oh, I probably did. I just never know what I say. Yeah, I feel like there's kind of a tugging at my sleeve, that there's something there. And for me, when I write, I'll get this little nudge, a little tug, and I'll sit down and the language and the music will all come out at one time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIES: (Singing) And I'll return time and again, to the door we entered in. No regrets, Mr. Dissident, I see so now I know. I see, so now...

MARTIN: I'd like to talk about your title cut, "Ghost," as in "Ghost of a Gardener."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHOST OF A GARDENER")

RIES: (Singing) 'Cause I'm a ghost of a gardener...

MARTIN: Who is this ghost, Rachel?

RIES: Rachel, it's me. So, I grew up in South Dakota in a very agrarian-based community. And over the years - I've lived in Chicago for seven years, and then New York City, and I felt like increasingly there was this ghost me, this ghost of self that was kind of trapped in the apartment, didn't know how to get out, didn't know how to find something green, didn't really understand where she was and just sort of withering away. But, yeah, the ghost is that me who's at ease in the wide-open spaces. And that me was kind of suffering in the city for so long.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHOST OF A GARDENER")

RIES: (Singing) And I'll see this (unintelligible) see this (unintelligible).

MARTIN: You did take a couple of years off away from the music business. How come, and what did you learn during that break?

RIES: Probably, unsurprisingly, it gets rather exhausting to try to get people to like you every night. And just to put yourself on that line and on that stage every night. So, after a while I just knew that I needed to not hunt for that and be hungry for that for a while. I needed to, I needed to figure out who I was without music. Felt like I just needed to rip the music out of me and figure out if it still had a place there and figure out who I was.

MARTIN: So, speaking of reinvention, I want to play the song "Mercy," because you...

RIES: Oh, boy.

MARTIN: ...switch gears in a big way with this song on the album.

RIES: I be.

MARTIN: Got a Western-cowboy kind of quality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY")

RIES: (Singing) A stranger for the picture that she sent, clouds will marvel in. I don't know what you meant by them but I'll give you everything.

It's pretty fun to play live.

MARTIN: Is it?

RIES: It's pretty fun to swagger through this song and make a big ruckus.

MARTIN: Are you comfortable on the stage now, in who you are after this break and who you are now?

RIES: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, it feels great. I'm just so much more comfortable in my skin. Yeah. It's so fun to just completely be your off-kilter self on stage. It's really its own kind of rush, its own kind of high to just be you.

MARTIN: Rachel Ries. Her new CD is called "Ghost of a Gardener." Thanks so much for talking with us, Rachel.

RIES: Ah, it's my pleasure. Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY")

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.