Songwriter Sara Rachele worked in rock and folk clubs for many years, so she says it’s sometimes difficult “to really get into” other performers’ shows. But that wasn’t the case at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, on July 24, 2014.
Rachele was at the legendary club to see the Rock*A*Teens, a swampy indie rock band from Cabbagetown, Georgia. The Rock*A*Teens were known to cook up an energetic stew of garage rock, rockabilly, and Southern punk.
“Honestly, where do I start?” Rachele asks. “I was, and am, floored by singer/guitarist Chris Lopez’s stage presence. I didn't just want to stay for the whole set or hang with this guy, I wanted to be Chris Lopez — the epitome of melodic songwriting, the epitome of cool.”
Some Rock*A*Teens fans believe the largely unknown group was the best rock group of the ’90s. Another Georgia-based band, though, was less known and the biggest musical influence on Rachele.
“Small Reactions really showed me what the Atlanta scene had grown into,” says Rachele, recalling the band’s May 28, 2013, show at the Earl in Atlanta. “These guys are so good at what they do and are such nice, interesting, and creative people. Their show was a wall of sound, which is totally unlike what I do when I perform. They just kind of meander on stage and then explode into this angular jangle-pop thing.
“I write folk songs, but they showed me how to apply confidence to what I do, with or without the help of financial backers. They really taught me the ropes of the indie-pop world. And when they perform, there's nothing but honesty. They are proof that you can be in a great band and not be a total mess. I try to make sure I keep focused like they do.”
Rachele, who hails from Decatur, Georgia, and now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, released her first album, Diamond Street, in 2014 and is now looking to raise money for her second album, which she will finish recording in New York next month. It can be pre-ordered on PledgeMusic and is expected to be released this summer.
“The songs are still about my life, but my bandmate, Spencer Garn, is producing this one,” Rachele says. “In 2017, may we all become more sophisticated.”
Rachele also has released 10 singles on vinyl and one on CD and cassette.
“I love music from the ’60s, and I get into the single world pretty heavily. My record store friends laugh at me for owning so many compilations. But I’m totally a singles girl in any format. I’m now working on finishing a record, a new single called ‘Change Your Mind,’ in Little Five Points (a district in eastern Atlanta).”
Decatur, a city of about 20,000 people about six miles east of Atlanta, has influenced Rachele’s music.
“It is where I grew up, and my folks are still there,” she says. “It’s a little bit inner city, and a little bit totally gentrified. I think comes out in my tunes.”
Rachele moved to Manhattan in 2011 and has been “in and out” since.
“New York is the center of the universe for me,” she says. “Honestly, it’s hard not being there right now. The city electrifies me in this sleepy, awful sort of way. There’s always bodega coffee, Tompkins Square Park, my favorite dog parks, and days when you don’t have to speak to anyone or even leave your tiny apartment. All of it ends up in my songs. That’s my writing town.”
Rachele cites three musicians she most admires.
“Oh gosh, I really like Ryan Adams and Butch Walker a lot,” she says. “Both seem to just do what they do, ya know, to the best of their abilities, and are pretty unapologetic and dedicated to their art. Sometimes it’s hard just being who you are, period. And then they play the pants off the guitar, too. Musical little jerks. More recently, I met Parker Gispert of the Whigs, and he’s an artist if I ever saw one.”
Rachele simply calls her artistry on Diamond Street folk music, though she says others have called it dream pop, verby Americana, or bootgaze. “But, since it’s all just stories, and live and on tape, I stick with folk.”
Ani DiFranco, Rachele says, gave the best folk performance she has ever seen. It was at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on Sept. 23, 2013.
“Ani’s command of guitar and the expressiveness of her writing is unparalleled,” Rachele says. “She's my indie-folk idol. She gets heckled and makes it such a special thing. I love that part of what Ani does.”
Melissa Ferrick’s show on Aug. 24, 2013, at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, though, influenced Rachele more than any other folk concert.
“Melissa is a friend of mine, and she asked me to open this show right after I’d finished music school,” Rachele says. “My life has never been the same since. I learned that some of us are meant to write and play and write and play, even when folk goes out of fashion — or monetary viability. We do it because we need that community, just as much as our fans need us.
“Melissa Ferrick has been on the road maybe forever. From Morrissey to Ani DiFranco, she plays with a fierceness and tours with a no-nonsense attitude that I think about any time I'm overwhelmed. It's about the songs. I felt a little ushered into this life by her. Most days, I'm thankful for that.”