The Generosity of Her Crooked Heart
For 10 years, Rachel Ries didn't feel she was calling her artistic self by the right name.
That's a long time to have your music traveling through the world in the wrong suit of clothes.
Ries is intentionally authentic, which is exactly the kind of person I am drawn to. I like people who are gently, relentlessly determined to be themselves.
I spoke with Rachel Ries for fewer than 15 minutes, but she gave me much to contemplate during that time. Here are a few thoughts for your contemplation, inspired by Her Crooked Heart:
What essential elements of yourself lie forgotton?
What are you determined to say to the world?
Is the "name" others call you a true reflextion of who you are? If not, how do you step toward your necessary transformation?
My hope is that the conversation Rachel and I had on In the Moment might serve as a source for your to draw from on a journey of your own.
A new musical era has begun for Rachel Ries as she expands her sound and allows ‘Her Crooked Heart’ to take the lead. You just heard an excerpt from the new EP: ‘To Gentlemen’ that was called ‘Loving You’.
Tell us about the name change and sort of, the transformation.
I played as Rachel Ries for quite a while, actually. Since I started making music in high school in Freeman, and for about a decade it's kind of not sit quite right with me, 'cause I often play [with] a band and that's the direction I've been going in for a while. I always felt like—the name Rachel Ries—all it ever says is a female, probably with a guitar and a lot of feelings and I never felt that that was evocative enough, or told enough of the story or gave any clue as to what the music I make actually is, or told what I care about.
Was that change a collaborative thought process of coming up with a name, or was it something you came up with by yourself, and I want to use the word rebranding, but you know, you had to go through that part of it too, you had to deal with all the branding stuff that was out there. Are you doing that in partnership?
Yes, I've had a lot of consultations—but no, I generally am an operation of one, kinda hire people on occasion to help with things, but I don't know anything about rebranding so I've had to learn a little bit, and I'm sure I've had many missteps, but I'm doing the best I can. Especially with social media, it's a little bit of a nightmare, but it's alright.
You asked about how that name came about though, and that also was a very solitary thing. I've been wanting to make the change for a decade and it's just that the name never came and I kept on making music and putting out [music] as Rachel Ries and about three months ago, in a moment of fullness and reflection, up out of nowhere the name kind of popped up and I recognized it right away as the right thing for me.
Why does it feel so right, even now?
I guess what I care about is articulating that the messy, true, honest motto is not always neat and clean human beauty that we all are. I try to write songs that are deeply personal, but hopefully even more so relatable. I think the world is full of people who feel alone, and I think music is a great way to kind of make up for that distance.
I love that, let's listen to something from the EP. This is, 'Are You Good You Are'.
[sung] You got my heart, right where I wanted it to be from the start. I knew it would be safe over the sea. Now I see, the good you are for me. But do you see what I see?
When we began, I couldn't feel my reprieve—but you're a good man and your hands broke down my disbelief. Now I believe the good you are for me. Do you believe?
Well midnight is falling and you're sound asleep. All over the ocean, you'll see me in your dreams. And when day is done and I'm sound asleep, all over the ocean, I'll see you in my dreams.
Where we keep safe in the arms of reveal 'till we finally finish what we feel. 'Cause I do fear the good you are for me. But I see, I can see the good you are for me. But I believe it, I believe the good you are for me. Do you believe, my sweet?
And you can get it as an album, vinyl, CD, or download—all those things together at once?
All those things, I even do artwork for it.
Let's talk about that artwork. How does something like that fit into this whole process for you?
Well, I guess--how do I say this cleanly and succinctly? A number of years back it started with making preserves. I was wracking my brain for what I could sell at the merch table, but [still] feels like me—authentically me and not the usual T-shirt and stickers and blah, blah, blah beer cozy and stuff. And the thought came to make preserves, make jam, and sell it at shows. Which I don't always do, but most often I do have preserves at the merch table and in the past couple years, for me what that does, is that it kinda respects my entire self.
Like, I'm out touring and traveling and being social and very outward and commercial and all of the stage and spotlight based stuff, but I'm also very much a girl who grew up in South Dakota with a Mennonite mom and grumpily helped her preserve tomatoes. And so as I've gotten older, I love that part of me and where I came from a lot more, and it's sorta been a way to kinda bring my entire person on tour with me—all of me is represented. And the art work, that has been a further extension of how—when I was a kid—all I did was draw and daydream. I started to do more artwork in the past couple years, and it's sort of been uncovering parts of myself that I'd forgotten. So I'm doing art prints, doing various drawing or portraits or prints and having those go along with releases as well, just trying to figure out ways to represent my entire self, because a music career can really take everything.
As you talk to other musicians, work with other musicians, sort of live this life, how difficult is it to remain your authentic self, especially when you're swimming in that pool with so many other artists as well?
How difficult is it? I guess it just takes a lot of intentionality. I would suspect that [in]many careers you can fall down that trap of believing in scarcity, and certainly within the music and the arts, "oh there are too many of us, there aren't enough shows, there' aren't enough fans, there's not enough money." I think you can easily start to make yourself feel small and try to do the common denominator--marketable things that are known and that are trusted. I guess I feel a little bit rebellious and wary of that.
I think about scarcity a lot. I'm curious that you use that word too, because that's something , that scarcity mindset.
It's powerful. I think it's responsible for, well, pretty much everything. I just read a horrifying article this morning about global warming, the end of the planet.
Right, take it to it's extreme.
Everything can point back to scarcity, really.
And let's take it back to the simplicity of growing up in South Dakota. What do you take with you that is just essential to your core, that you really identify with growing up in Freeman with your mom and the lifestyle that you lived as a child? What's essential to you now, from that time?
I was actually just talking to my sister-in-law, yesterday or two days ago, about how grateful I am for the boredom I experienced as a child. We were talking about the toddlers—my nieces and nephew—and how we need to let them be bored more often. And I was just saying how this fullness and this space of my upbringing completely made me the introverted, self-curious, creative person that I am. I'm sure I was already wired that way.
I was sick, as a child. I had one of those little confinement things where I had to hang out in a little tent so I could breath and yes, nothing to do and I just treasured those hours and those days. Of just the freedom to just think and read and do that—what a treasure, wonderful stuff.
I also think that with South Dakota in the first four years of my life, my family, they were Mennonite missionaries in Africa and so that my family was there for ten years, me only until I was four 'cause I'm the baby, but that's our very earliest knowledge was that not everyone was the same color and if you wanted a toy, you made it from scrap. You belong not only to an isolated insular family, you belong to an entire community, and everyone has a hand in that, and also a decent appreciation for our country that is easily dismissed. I get irritated with the city folk when generalizations are made about our rural areas or the Midwest.—that I carry, sometimes I get a little bit grumpy about it.
Carry it forward. Carry the flag.
The new extended play is call ‘To Gentleman’. We leave you with the title track. You can find more on hercrookedheart.com.