Falling In Love With Rachel Walker! Interview with Freedom's INK
Recently, I was given the privilege of speaking with Rachel Walker regarding her career. This New York native is an explosive talent who gave us her heart in each and every track within the album "Walk With Me" in 2009. There is a lot of buzz circulating about her upcoming project and Freedom's INK couldn't wait to get a glimpse into what this exotic soulful songstress has in store for us.
At what age did you know that music is what you wanted to pursue? When did you begin writing your own music?
RW-While studying at Tufts University, I was a member of an all female a Capella group called Essence, that specialized in music of the African diaspora. We were awarded a budget to record what would be the first official CD compilation project. The project would be the first time that I stepped foot in a professional studio. I fell in love with the experience and was never able to let go.
After receiving my BA, I moved back to New York City and started working full time. You can't go anywhere in New York and not meet indie artists trying to make it in the business. So I began networking and started singing hooks for local hip-hop artists. Once I began learning how to record, I started co-writing songs with other artist and eventually developed a skill for writing songs on my own.
Who were your inspirations? Did any particular artists/songs give you motivation to pursue your career?
RW- It's interesting because unlike most of the people I meet in the industry, I didn't really grow up around music. My parents are Jamaican and I only remember them playing classical, country and reggae in the house. I really started getting exposure to other genres of music during High School and College. I naturally gravitated toward the popular pop and soul artists like Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Monica, Mariah Carey and Brandy. Once I was exposed to the music of Erykah Badu, Amel Larrieux, Chante Moore and Maxwell I started reaching back even further back, to classic soul artists that inspired them, such as, Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder. Eventually, my love for music turned into a desire to actually create my own.
Did school play a role in your love of music?
RW- My High School history teacher Ms. Hillyer taught African American history and she was a lover of music. The idea to start a gospel choir came up and with her encouragement and direction a few of us mobilized to form the Fieldston Gospel Choir. We made our debut at the Annual Founder's Day Celebration. It was such an amazing moment. I didn't know I wanted to pursue music then but when I saw how happy it made us and the people we performed for, it was at that moment that I really understood the transcendent power of music.
When did you first hear someone say that you could be a Professional Singer, and how did that make you feel?
Oh wow! Let me think. I think it was during one of my first studio sessions after I graduated from college. I was co-writing my very first song ever, "Hello", with my friend and frequent collaborator Michael Narain and I remember when we recorded it, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I went from singing hip-hop hooks to actually building a creating my own R&B/Pop song. Once the song was finished and mixed, I remember the engineers and artists who heard it saying to me that "this could really be something." At that point, I had a real feeling that this was something I could pursue and be good at. I knew I had to keep writing and creating and working at my craft.
Tell us about your dancing career? When did you begin? How long? Where did you study?
RW- I started taking dance lessons at the tender age of 3 years old at Miss Dorothy's Dance School in Mount Vernon, NY. I studied tap, ballet, jazz and gymnastics for 10 years. In high school I joined the The Fieldston Dance Company, where I studied modern dance and was blessed with the opportunity to study with The Anna Sokolow Dance Company and The Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble. I went on to perform as a hip hop back dancer for various indie artists and while at Tufts, I choreographed a solo performance for A Long Walk Home, Inc. (ALWH) a non-profit organization that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women. Overall, I have had 15 years of professional dance training.
What types of music do you enjoy?
RW-People might be surprised at my eclectic taste in music. I instantly gravitate towards music of the soul/hip-hop/ and reggae genres. Some of my favorite artists are Maxwell, Beres Hammond, Amel Larrieux, Brandy, Incognito, Erykah Badu, Corinne Bailey Rae, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Michael McDonald, Bob Marley, Dwele and Bilal, just to name a few. But, I am also a huge fan of rock/pop artists like Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, Incubus, The Script, Seal, Sarah McLachlan and Sia. I think it's important to listen to everything and appreciate the different ways people express themselves through music. Music is interesting to me because it can take so many shapes and forms.
What have been some of your favorite collaborations/ who would you love to collaborate with in the future?
RW- Perhaps I am biased but one of my favorite collaborations is working with Poet and Artist, Tshombe Sekou on the remix for my single "Falling". What I enjoyed most about it is that most people expect an R&B singer to either collaborate with another singer or hip-hop artist. I enjoyed doing something different. What made the collaboration special was listening to how Tshombe was able to interpret and articulate the meaning of "love". The song was written with the intent of capturing the ethereal nature of love when it first happens, and Tshombe's contribution really expressed how complex and intense "love" can really be when it is discovered or felt. I also like how he was able to bring a masculine sound and perspective to the song.
Can you tell me about the upcoming project..inspiration, who you are working with etc?
RW- I am in the process of writing and creating music for my brand new EP which is untitled at this time. I am extremely excited about it. It is a collection of songs that really capture the essence of where I am at in my life right now.
The past year has been what I like to call a "year of first's". I released a new single and collaborated with spoken word artist Tshombe Sekou, I went on two international tours in France and the UK with the Legendary Sister Sledge and Kool & The Gang, and most recently, I was able to collaborate with a major corporate sponsor, Palmer's Cocoa Butter, to re-issue a special edition copy of my single "Falling" for distribution at this year's 7th Annual Prestige Awards for The Make A Wish Foundation.
The journey that has led to all of these amazing experiences and accomplishments is the inspiration for my new EP project. "Walk With Me" was my first project so it took you through the positive experiences as well as the challenges I faced in relationships and in life. This album reveals a more confident and fun side of me without neglecting that the fact that I am still experiencing life's challenges. Listeners will see from the production and vocal approach on this project, I am clearly in a different space both personally and creatively.
I am very excited to be working with Sinque E. Rivers of Riva Road Music Group/ Westchedda Music Publishing. Sinque produced my latest single "Falling" and has been such a pleasure to work with. I'm also excited to be working with Shawn Rey Smith of The Beatsmithz. Shawn is an accomplished producer and musician who has placed tracks with well-known artists such as Destiny's Child, Tamia, Mya, Kelly Price, Joe, Lloyd and Gerald Levert. He also produced four tracks on my debut album "Walk With Me." His wife, Kelly Smith, an amazing writer & singer in her own right, is co-writing and assisting me with vocal production on this project.
My creative circle is very small and close knit, but the sound on this EP will be massive. I am very excited to present this new project to the world. I am aiming for a summer release. Stay tuned!
Rachel Walker's release "Walk With Me" is nothing less but simply beautiful. Simply because her voice is breathtaking! Strong and passionate it rises and falls like ocean waves over wonderfully produced tracks. To my old school fans that feel that they are missing a voice right now, Rachel Walker will definitly fill that void. To my younger fans, they too will appreciate the talent, passion and artistry. The song writing takes you were she has been. It's a wonderful journey!