Posted October 17, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Rachel Brooke Embraces Classic Country on New Album

Rachel Brooke photo by Jess Varda
Rachel Brooke photo by Jess Varda

Since her last solo effort, 2012’s A Killer’s Dream, singer-songwriter Rachel Brooke worked on collaborative projects with Modern Mal and Lonesome Wyatt. Brooke, who lost her father a few years ago, also filled her time by “living life.”

 The Loneliness in Me, her first solo effort since A Killer’s Dream, reflects that time period. An old-school country sounding effort, the album notably features Detroit’s legendary Dave Feeny on pedal steel, giving this album a direct lineage to Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose,on which he also performs his magic on pedal steel.

Brooke wrote many of the songs with fellow musician and husband, Brooks Robbins, and mastered at Detroit’s recently launched Third Man Mastering. Brooke spoke via phone from her Northern Michigan home.

Talk about what’s happened since your last solo effort, 2012’s A Killer’s Dream.
That was the last full-length record, but I released three other things since then. I did a 7-inch called “The World’s Greatest Anchor.” I did a collaboration with Lonesome Wyatt. We did one other record, and in 2015, we did Bad Omen. In 2017, I did another project called Modern Mal. I wasn’t touring very much. I toured after A Killer’s Dream for a couple of years but then I had a baby, and I stayed home with him for a few years. I didn’t really go on the road at that time because I didn’t want to leave him. I went to work at a regular job to have some type of money coming in. I was an outreach advocate at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. It’s been a busy time. I wasn’t able to focus on a record until about a year and a half ago when I started to zone in on it again. My son is five now and not a baby anymore. He started to go to school, and I can now shift my focus back to the point that I can create again. 

Your dad passed away during that time too. Losing him must’ve been particularly difficult. 
Yes. Last year in July, he passed away. He had cancer that was in remission for a while. He had non-Hodgins lymphoma that was directly related to Agent Orange. It’s awful. He was in remission and then it came back really fast and it was really aggression. After it came back, it took him really fast. That was really hard. I was dealing with that. It was full year of grief. I sometimes still fall back into it.

He introduced you to bluegrass.
He was an amazing banjo player. He was so good. He started playing banjo when he was in twenties. He even had a banjo in Vietnam. My grandma sent it to him, so he could play it. He played a lot through his life. I was around it for my entire life and eventually learned how to play bluegrass with him. He was a big influence on me for sure. 

How’d you find out about punk rock?
When I was a teenager, I was in this band and played drums. It was three women and one male. It was throughout my teenage years, my angry years — not that I’m not angry any more. Then, in my twenties, I was in another band in Detroit. It was fun. I would still do it.

It’s fun for me to play different kinds of music. 

The Loneliness in Me documents some of these things, doesn’t it?
Yeah. I talk about worrying and a lot of that is anxiety and depression. I’ve been diagnosed with depression. It’s not a constant thing that I battle, but I do have serious bouts with it. 

The title track is so chipper. 
We wanted to make it upbeat and catchy. A lot of people like sad songs, but sometimes you need to get those other people who like the upbeat stuff. I want to draw them in any way they can. It wasn’t on purpose. It just happened. 

Is it about you or someone else? 
It is about my life, but people can relate to it, especially musicians who work and have families, especially right now when you cannot even connect with people on the road. I wrote it from my perspective, but I do know that a lot of people can relate.

Your wrote the songs with your husband?
Nine of them we wrote together, and three I wrote by myself. It was equal. It was 50/50 in certain parts. For the nine we wrote together, we sat down together and perfected them together. There was a lot of intent. 

Don’t take this the wrong way, but many of the songs sound like standards. 
That’s the best compliment ever. I love that. I have to give a lot of credit to my husband for that. He has this ability to come up with these melodies that sound so familiar to you. You don’t really know how. I agree. It’s something about them. Even with the songs he writes on his own that aren’t on this record, I feel the same way. I like that about them. It’s something familiar and familiar feels good.  

What made you want to adopt the old-school country sound?
My old records all have a style to them. My last solo record was more Rhythm & Blues-based. Before that one, it was more country, but it was more traditional. This one has a strong country sound. I’m influenced by the 1960s country sound. I don’t know if that comes through. 

I love the pedal steel guitar.
I’ve never had pedal steel guitar on any of my songs before. I was like, “I have to have it on this one. I  got to.” One of my all-time favorite country records from the past couple of decades is Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose. I love that record so much. There’s so much good songwriting and the backing band is amazing. When I was doing this record, my friend said we should try to get Dave Feeny. I’m a big fan of that record. I reached out to him. He’s not that far away. He’s down near Detroit. I said, “Would you be interested?” He was. I got him to play on a few songs. That’s just so cool to me. I always wanted the sound of pedal steel. He, especially, isn’t your typical player. He has his own sound. That’s so important. He definitely does, and I wanted that on my record. There are lots of people who play pedal steel, but I wanted him.  

Talk about recording in Traverse City.
I recorded up there at my brother’s studio. It was pretty cool. It’s a little different from my last record, which was done live. I had a couple of different sessions. We had one session getting down the scratch tracks live. I did the scratch tracks live, and didn’t go to a click track. I wanted the feel to come across as live. It was just me and my guitar and then we had the drums come in. He was so good. He followed my playing so perfectly, and from there, we could build. Even though it wasn’t all done live, it kind of was. The bass was done live. We had a couple of sessions after that. 

Did you finish before the pandemic?
It was almost done. We just had to do the mixing and some vocal harmonies. I did a lot of them from home and sent them in. I had to wait a couple of months to get in there and mix. I finally went in there in May safely.

“Ghost of You” is such a beautiful ballad. Talk about that track a bit. 
That song is kind of an older one. We kind of reworked it. My husband wrote it a long time ago. We changed the lyrics. He had a chorus, but it just wasn’t right. That song, in my opinion, was meant to sound like a classic country drinking song. It’s one of those heartbreak songs. I love that song on the album specifically because one of my all-time favorite moments on the record is the pedal steel solo. That is one of the coolest moments on the record. It’s not your typical country thing, but it fits so well on there. 

And what about “The Awful Parts of Me”? 
It kinda is. Here’s something that I haven’t told a lot of people yet. On this record, there are references to other things. People don’t know yet, but I reference a lot of my old songs. There are references to six or seven old songs. That song references three. It’s about when you write sad stuff and how people can really relate to that kind of stuff. It’s like, “You only love the awful parts of me.” I like that people like those things, but it’s a thought that I had. 

The pandemic really limits your ability to present these songs live. You must be anxious to get out and play them live. 
I hope so. I’ve been playing with this guitar player I found out of the blue. Random. I was playing a show up in Northern Michigan. He showed up the night before, and he was having a drink and talking to a bartender who told him I was playing the next night. He showed up again. She told me, “Just so you know. There’s a guy coming out who is interested in your music and plays. You can pretend like you never saw him before.” You know how it is. You don’t know who people are. This guy turned out to be so good. I was like, “What are the chances?” He’s from Michigan. He’s from the Western side of the state. We’ve been playing together more, and I would like to take him out on the road maybe next spring and maybe have a four-piece band. I sold my touring van a while ago, so I need to get it together. Eventually, it will come together. I go out there solo a lot. I can foresee that happening first, but I want to get out there with the band because I think it comes across well if you have that full sound. 

Photo Credit: Jess Varda


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].