by Erinn Fortson
When she’s not writing music, Rachel Taylor Brown is composing material for the civil and engineering firm she works for in Portland, Oregon. She sometimes finds it refreshing to be in the company of non-musicians in a city that’s overpopulated with fellow artists. Portland has developed a reputation for being the place to go if you’re a singer or songwriter looking to showcase talent.
“It’s more of a collection of a bunch of small, [music] families,” Brown says, when I ask about the bond among the city’s musicians. “There are so many different scenes and so many different types of music. It’s changing all the time. People are moving here so quickly that I was recognizing the other day that there’s these bands I’ve never heard of now, that are playing a lot of the clubs. [There’s] such rapid migration to Portland right now. I think the [music] scene is constantly changing. And there’s all these little families that kind of spread out.”
Brown doesn’t really fit into any of those clans. She considers herself reclusive and more removed from the clusters of musically inclined Portlanders. Because of her hermit-like nature, Brown laughingly admits that it’s sometimes challenging to show up for her own gigs in the community. She keeps it simple, surrounding herself with the small network of family and friends that have been continuously supportive over the years. And she’s okay with that.
If solidarity is any indication of her accomplishments, Brown released her ninth album, Falimy, on May 6th of this year. In an ever-changing, unpredictable industry, she has been able to persevere, doing what she loves to do. For a musician on any scale, producing an album isn’t easy.
“I’m so small in the [music industry] picture, that I don’t have any of the big repercussions that have been happening to musicians who have sizable careers,” says Brown. “But even at this lowly end, it costs actual money to make albums. [Even having] the good fortune to have people who want to play with [me] and really believe in [me] and are willing to play free, I don’t feel good about not paying my friends and my band members. It’s just a struggle to pull together the resources to make an actual recording and an album.”
“This is either going to sound crystal magic “unicorny” or it’s going to sound like I’m a melomaniac or something,” continues Brown, “but I really do feel like it’s my job to get the songs out. Even if it’s just personal and only [for] me and I know it doesn’t matter to anyone else; just for my own self. I feel like it’s a job and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It is an intrinsic thing.”
Falimy, Brown’s latest album is about family and its many different dynamics; thus, the record’s derivative title. Similar to her other albums, Falimy had no creative formula to it. When still developing her latest project, Brown took the spontaneous path and “just wrote” as she often does. Doing things in this way remains a success for her. It also takes some of the pressure off and gives Brown the room needed to make the music she wants to make.
“I try almost not to think as much when I’m writing,” explains Brown. “If a little fragment of melody goes into my head or a lyric or something like that, it’s almost like I half close my eyes and try not to get too smart about it. I just try to deal whatever it is that’s trying to get out and I don’t try to overanalyze it and I don’t think about chords. Most of the time when I’m working at the piano, I’m not looking at [it]. I just put my hands down and noodle around. I’m working something out [so] that I don’t intellectualize it too much. That’s part of what I enjoy and the fact that it is stress free. I don’t have any kind of an agenda when I’m writing or when I’m going in to write a song. And If I do try to impose my will on a song, I’ve noticed in the past that it’s turned out horrible.”
With this easeful attitude, Brown has been able to create and perform without obligation. She makes music for herself, whether the world is listening or not. If the masses hear a Rachel Taylor Brown song, well, that’s just an added bonus. The ability to freely create her art without answering to anyone, though, is what has kept the pressure off and Brown in the music game.
“I would prefer that tons and tons and tons of people heard my music, obviously. But, there are, all difficulties of putting out your own music aside, a real freedom to it at the same time, in that I don’t ever worry about or think about what someone else is going to think of my music. I’m not beholden to anyone. And so I’m like, what the hell? I’m just pleading myself when I’m writing this stuff, and so I’m might as well completely please myself when I’m writing this stuff. That’s always the way I approach my music and that makes it very fun for me.”