Rachel Farley is a powerhouse in the making. With her rockin' "Ain't Easy" having landed the budding talent her first Top 40 hit, she's gearing up for the release of her debut album, expected sometime this fall. Her influences range from Britney Spears and P!nk to Martina McBride and the Dixie Chicks, and on her forthcoming project, fans can expect a diverse sampling of such legends.
Nashville Gab had the chance to chat with Rachel about the project, her new single "High Heels" and how it feels to hit her first parked car. The 18-year-old singer-songwriter also opened up about her friendship with Brantley Gilbert, the passing of her father in 2011 and a song she wrote in his honor (that will be on her new album).
Nashville Gab: Your musical career began at a rather early age, right?
Rachel Farley: Yea, I was 12 when I played my first gig with my guitar. I had a nice little tip jar. [laughs]
NG: Can you talk about that experience?
RF: I played at a little coffee shop that I used to do karaoke at growing up. I had my first gig there about six months after I picked up the guitar. I totally thought I was going to be super ready for it. As it turns out, a two-hour set is really long. [laughs] So, the eight songs that I barely knew how to play didn’t really stretch. It was an interesting gig for sure. I ended up playing the same set twice. It was awesome.
NG: Having started so young, how do you keep yourself grounded?
RF: It’s really not that hard, you know. I’m not saving lives. I’m playing music. I don’t really feel I’m doing anything that warrants an ego. I’m lucky to have a job where I get to entertain people for a living. I realize that what I do is great and it’s fun and music touches people, but at the end of the day, I’m not doing life-saving surgery or anything. It’s really not a huge deal.
NG: I hear you and Brantley Gilbert go way back.
RF: Yea. He’s a really good friend of mine. He’s a great mentor. He asked me to come out on the road with him for the first time when I was 13. I spent about two and a half years touring around with him going to college bars all over the place. It was just me and my guitar. We’d go around to all these sold-out, packed clubs. It was really where I learned how to grit my teeth and perform.
NG: How did you two first meet?
RF: Well, we’re both from Georgia, so we played in similar music circles. We ended up officially meeting for the first time at writers round in Gainesville, Georgia. I was in the opening writers round, and he showed up. He wasn’t on the bill, but he showed up and played a couple songs. My goal for the night was to find someone new to do a co-write with. So, I saw Brantley, and I had met his tour manager before. We kind of knew of each other. So, I decided I was going to ask him if he’d be willing to write with me. I walked up and was like ‘so, I know you’re busy, but if you ever want to write with a 13-year-old girl, give me a call.’ He wrote down my number on a pack of gum. Of course, I was like ‘cool, he’s totally gonna lose that, but I made the effort.’ [laughs] It was just a couple months later that his manager called me and asked me to start playing shows with him. I played the first weekend of shows with him and wrote with him on Monday. It all worked out in the end.
NG: Do you still keep in contact with him?
RF: Oh, yea, absolutely. We actually played a show together for the first time in a few years at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles [three] weekends ago. It was so fun to be able to catch up and play a show together again. We keep in touch when we can. We have our own little things going. Every once in awhile we get to run into each other at these events, and it’s always exciting.
NG: Has he ever offered you any words of advice?
RF: He’s always watching out for me. He’s my big brother. One of the greatest pieces of advice that really stuck with me through the years is ‘to never let them turn your cross into a dollar sign,’ which basically means don’t let them take your heart and what you love and change it so they can make money off of you.
NG: You signed your first publishing and record deals when you were only 15. How did you handle that?
RF: It was exciting. It was the first step as a songwriter and getting my first publishing deal was super exciting. I work for Peer Music, and I absolutely love the team over there. The other writers are amazing. I got my first cut with another artist here. Gretchen Wilson cut a song of mine called ‘Crazy’ that I wrote with Vickie McGee and Brian Davis. That’s just been a huge honor. I signed my first record deal with Average Joes when I was 15. That’s a great team over there, too. It was a great first step for me.
NG: Didn’t you release an EP called ‘Perfect Timing’?
RF: Oh my lord! [laughs] That one! That’s a little CD that got thrown together. Literally, those are pretty much live recordings. I got in front of a mic in a friend of mine’s basement and just one take, ran through all the songs. I was 13 or just turned 14 when I did that. I would bring it to shows and sell it for gas money. That’s a really just bare bones, rough, demo-style recording that we threw out there. People are still buying it. Occasionally, I’ll see people that bought it on CD baby, which is awesome.
NG: How influential were your parents in your decision to pursue music?
RF: Huge. They allowed me to do it. This is it. It’s not a walk in the park, and it’s not something a lot of people know how to manage or know how to begin to think about. I was lucky to have parents who allowed to do something crazy. My mom really took the bull by the horns and didn’t just throw me out there. She picked up books and learned about the music business and learned how to go about this and what the right way was. Not only was she smart, but she protected me in that, too. I was blessed to not have a stage mom. I have someone who really knew what we were doing. We were put our heads down and work. Occasionally, we’ll look up and see some cool stuff has happened.
NG: Of course, your father passed away in 2011. You actually wrote a song about him called ‘My Daddy’s Song,’ correct? When did you write that?
RF: I wrote it the morning of the funeral. One of the things my dad would also pick on me and ask [was] why I hadn’t written a ‘my dad’s a really great guy’ song yet. One of the last things he wanted me to do was write him a song. I woke up that morning, and it just kind of fell out. I spilled out everything I was thinking and feeling. I sang it at the funeral that day, actually. That song is really important and really special. We cut it live. The recording on the record is. We went into the studio [and did it] in one take. We had one take on vocals, one take on instruments. That’s something that doesn’t happen a lot in Nashville, and I’m proud of that, too. Hearing how it’s affecting people when the times we do play it out is [great]. It’s cool as an artist to see how you connect with people. There’s nothing you’ve felt that someone else hasn’t felt before. You’re never alone.
NG: Is it ever difficult to perform that song live?
RF: It can be emotional to perform it, but it’s kind of therapeutic. I actually love singing it live. I really do. It’s kind of nice to bring in something so important. We have a lot of fun onstage. We really throw down and enjoy it. Sometimes, it’s really fun to bring it in and say something really important.
NG: How is your album coming along?
RF: We’re pretty much done. It’s been two years in the making. I started it when I was on Average Joes, and we never released it. We came over to Red Bow Records and added to the record. It’s going to be a large album. It has 16 songs. We’ve compiled everything from the first time we made the record, which I was 15 [at the time]. There’s 10 songs from that, and there’s six songs from later on. It covers a lot of ground. I’m pretty excited about everything I get to say on this album.
NG: You’ve either written or co-written every song on the album, right?
RF: I think five songs on the record I wrote on my own. As a writer, I love writing on my own, and co-writing, too, is a different experience. You learn and take away something from people you get to share the creative process with. Sometimes, there are those things you have to say on your own.
NG: Is your single ‘Ain’t Easy’ indicative of the sound of the rest of the record?
RF: Absolutely. I feel like ‘Ain’t Easy’ [was] the introduction of who I am as a person and an artist. [It’s definitely] the kind of music you can expect from the record. Of course, it’s a pretty diverse record. There’s that, but there’s a lot of other stuff, too. That song was my first top 40 hit and super exciting as a brand new artist to break that barrier. I’m super proud of that.
[Adding:] We’re about to put out the next single, which is called ‘High Heels.’ It’s a little bit of a different flavor than ‘Ain’t Easy.’ It should be a good single for us.
NG: What’s the vibe of that song, and what’s it about?
RF: The song is fun. You know, it’s a song about kind of getting out and experiencing life on your own for the first time. It’s about the first time breaking free and living life.
NG: Is that one a co-write?
RF: Yes. I wrote it with two of my favorite people to write with, Jaron Boyer and Ben Simmons.
NG: What has been your favorite songwriting session so far?
RF: That’s hard. I’ve been blessed to get to run into a lot of cool co-writers. I love writing with Jaron and Ben. We’ve got a couple cuts on the record together. There’s one called ‘Fire,’ which is one of my favorite cuts on the record. There’s one with Brantley called ‘I’m Gonna Love You Anyway,’ and Mike Bacall, who I wrote that one with, too, and a few [other ones]. Mike is like family. We call him Uncle Mike. [laughs] Writing with him is always awesome. It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite songwriting session, because they’re all so unique.
[Adding:] Now, a bad writing session is bad. [laughs]
NG: You mentioned you wrote a song with Brantley on the record. Can you talk about that?
RF: Yea. It’s ‘I’m Gonna Love You Anyway.’ That one was really fun to write. Brantley and I both kind of had an off day that day. Mentally, we were having a real hard time wrapping our minds around a song. All three of us were in a different place. Brantley was stuck on wanting to write a ballad. I really wanted to write a mid-tempo. Mike wanted to write something fun and upbeat. We could not get on the same page. It was a disaster from the beginning. We’re sitting there, and we’re eating Wendy’s chili and sitting there staring at paper. Brantley and I kind of decided that we needed to get real jobs because we couldn’t write songs anymore. Uncle Mike wouldn’t let us give up. We sat there for hours, and when we got on a boat on the lake behind Uncle Mike’s house, I picked up a Brantley’s guitar and started playing the melody. We wrote [it in about] 20 minutes on a boat. It just fell out once we sat down. Brantley won. We wrote a ballad. So, he wins that one, but it’s OK, I’ve won other ones. [laughs] I’m so not mad about that.
NG: You’re playing the Grand Ole Opry again. How excited are you?
RF: I’m so excited. It’s such a huge honor. I made my debut back in March. I got the phone call to play the Opry for the first time two days after ‘Ain’t Easy’ was released. It was completely unexpected. I was just overwhelmed. My whole family came up. I don’t even know how many people I had show up. Everybody except my paw-paw showed up. He couldn’t come because he was in Florida and already transferred his mail. That was a big deal, you know. [laughs] ‘I really want to be there but I don’t know what to do about the mail.’ I thought that was really cute. Only 70-year-old people think like that. Everybody came and it was great. They asked me to come back and play again. I guess I didn’t do too terrible the first time.
NG: Do you do cover songs in your live sets?
RF: We don’t do too many cover songs. If I do a cover, I want it to count. We do a few covers. One of them we’ve done for awhile now is ‘Hot and Cold’ by Katy Perry. We do our own spin on it. That song is a lot of fun. We do ‘Close’ by Alex Clare. One thing we’ve done in our longer sets lately is put together some of my favorite ‘90s songs. We do a little ‘90s breakdown in the middle of the set, which is a lot of fun. We [definitely] like them to count when we do covers.
NG: What was the first album you ever bought?
RF: I think it would have to have been Britney Spears. I was a huge Britney Spears fans growing up. I think I saw her in concert about three times. She was my first concert. I was wearing leather then. [laughs] I looked about what I look like now, just a mini-me version. Growing up, I listened to P!nk my whole life. She’s been a huge influence. I grew up listening to everything. My influences come from all across the board. There are a lot of blurred lines in music. I don’t think there are a lot of definite genre lines. I don’t think there should be. I think creativity is beyond those lines.
NG: I read on Twitter that you hit a parked car recently.
RF: [laughs] Yes. I hit a parked car. We don’t have to talk about that, though. I totally did. I was in the parking lot at the mall and just kind of hit it. I didn’t think I was as close as I was. I felt so bad, so I had to leave a ‘I’m sorry I hit your card, call me’ note.
NG: Have you gotten a call yet?
RF: I did. I was hoping they’d be like ‘that was really nice. We’ll just fix it. We won’t call her.’ But that didn’t happen. They called me, ‘thanks for the note.’ ‘Thanks for...nevermind.’ So, I gotta pay for that. I had never hit a car before. I’ve hit a pole once, but I’ve never hit a car.
[Adding:] It doesn’t happen often, but maybe it’s a new trend. We’ll find out.
Photo Credit: Facebook