Rachel Baiman knows a thing or two about Nashville, having moved to the Music City at the age of 18 and establishing herself as a fine singer-songwriter of Americana, bluegrass, and folk with three solo albums since 2014. So it’s only logical that she opens this PopMatters series of artists scheduled to perform at Nashville’s AmericanaFest from 22-25 September.
Along with her thoughts on the event and Nashville, Baiman today (9 September) provides a bonus in the form of an exclusive music video premiere of “Young Love”. It’s one of the ten songs from Cycles, her 11 June release she co-produced with Australian musician Olivia Hally. The album was recorded at Purple Wayne Studios in Australia.
The gorgeous music video was shot at El Mirage Dry Lake in Adelanto, California, “deep in the depths of lockdown in 2020″, offers Baiman in an email interview for this article. It required “a couple of weeks of planning, a day of shooting, and a month or so of editing, conceptualizing and revisions.”
Watch it now, then read on to learn more about the song, the video, and Baiman’s upcoming appearance at AmericanaFest in a special edition of our PopMatters PopQuiz.
Anyone who watches the video will undoubtedly notice that Baiman doesn’t appear in it. She left that up to Owen Scarlett, a Los Angeles-based photographer, virtual designer, and dancer whom she met through childhood friend Kelsey Middleton.
Becoming close friends after forming the Chicago dance company Visceral, Scarlett and Middleton eventually moved together to Los Angeles, and he created Owen Scarlett Productions, a digital media production company. “We build creative assets for companies and individual artists to help market/showcase themselves in their purest light,” Scarlett explains in a subsequent email. “We do videography, photography, graphic design, creative directing, and choreography.”
Obviously, Baiman was impressed with the work he was producing, saying, “I was totally blown away and reached out to him about making a music video with me.” Scarlett took on his “biggest challenge” by filling multiple roles, including “shooting, directing, dancing and choreographing the entire project. … I had to use a tripod and efficiently frame each shot and then hope for the best.
After providing “Young Love” for Scarlett to hear, “We talked about the meaning of the song, the way that relationships have to grow and change over time just like people,” Baiman reports. “The visual concept was all him; he wanted the desert landscape and some of the colors and motifs from the album artwork. His choreography shows tension and childlike tendencies throughout a journey of two people who are nonetheless in love. And I love how the sparse landscape reflects the loneliness of the internal mind and/or the internal experience of a relationship.”
With Scarlett left in charge of hiring dancers to illustrate “Young Love”, all he needed to do was find a partner for himself. His choice was Charissa Kroeger, a Southern California performing artist who has toured with Lorde and worked on projects with Dua Lipa, St. Vincent, Solange Knowles’ Saint Heron, and tennis legend Serena Williams. Baiman needs only one word to describe Kroeger — “stunning”.
Offering more detail about the concept, Scarlett states, “I wanted the movement and overall video to have a feeling of playfulness, tension, and reckless abandonment. When I think of ‘Young Love’ and how it evolves, I think of the playfulness you might feel when acting on the attraction you have toward someone and then how that grows as you age. The newness can be overwhelmingly exciting/playful but as time occurs, tension inevitably starts to play a role.”
Of course, to make a beautiful video, it helps to have a song as lovely as “Young Love”, one of four on the album that Baiman penned strictly by herself. She collaborates on five others, including four with Hally. The artist from Melbourne, Australia, is frontwoman-lead singer-guitarist in Oh Pep!, an indie-pop duo from Down Under she formed with Pepita Emmerichs after they met in 2009.
In the track-by-track description for the album, Baiman notes that “Young Love” was “Liv’s favorite of the songs that I brought to her, and she immediately heard that high octave vocal on the chorus. I was reluctant to move outside of my harmonic comfort zone and went so far as to record it with a more ‘folky’ harmony and send it to her, but soon realized that she was completely in the right.”
Thinking she wrote “Young Love” in 2018, Baiman points out, “It was a time when my relationship was getting very serious, and we were dealing with a lot of stressful life things — buying and trying to personally renovate a house with pretty much no money, planning a wedding, and finalizing visa and immigration status for my husband George Jackson so that he could stay in the country.
“It was a really stressful time and a far cry from the sort of fairy-tale romance that we had been in for the first few years of our relationship. When I wrote this, I was meditating on how different the two of us are in our approaches to life in general, and how beautiful it is when you can have a huge fight and know with confidence that the other person will still be there on the other side of it. That’s the kind of love I want to give.”
Baiman, originally from Chicago and a banjo-fiddle-guitar player who became the Illinois State Fiddle Champion as a 17-year-old, has spent more than 12 years in the Nashville area. Self-producing 2014’s Speakeasy Man, her first full-length album, she handed over the production duties to Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin for 2017’s Shame. On 11 November 2018, the multi-instrumentalist married Jackson, also a fiddle/banjo player, and they live in Madison, Tennessee, with their dog Hartford.
Calling herself “an interior design nerd,” she rebuilt and designed “a vintage camper from 1958” during the pandemic, but also — like many artists in the crippled music industry — had to reassess her career along with the date when Cycles would finally drop.
“The team I had planned to release this album with was effectively gone,” Baiman divulges. “I had to rebuild from the ground — new manager, new label [Signature Sounds Recordings], new booking agent, new publicist. It was really scary in the middle of it, when I thought, ‘God, am I starting from square one all over again?’ But in hindsight, it allowed the time I needed to get this thing out in a good way with solid support behind it. …
“Creatively, I noticed that when everything switched to streaming or recording from home rather than live shows, I really had to get used to staring in the mirror constantly (as in hearing myself back *every* time I played, with no live energy to smooth the edges). I am certain that it’s made me a better musician, although I can’t say I enjoyed it — ha.”
“Young Love” is certainly a bright reflection of Baiman’s positive outlook toward the future.
Rachel Baiman Takes a PopMatters PopQuiz: AmericanaFest Edition
Baiman, a Nashville resident, agreed to answer a number of questions related to AmericanaFest and the Music City ahead of her showcase at 8:00 pm Thursday, 23 September, at the original Basement on 8th Avenue.
What does Americana mean to you and what are your thoughts about it being included as a music genre?
I think genres are just tricky in general, so I don’t pay too much attention to them, but it’s really nice to have sort of a “home base” as a musician, and an organization to give mutual support. I guess I think of it more as a community of shared interest in roots and roots adjacent music than a genre.
What song of yours best expresses the spirit of Americana?
Maybe “Hope It Hurts” [on 2021’s Cycles]. It’s a little grungy, a little angry, a little sexy, and a little sad.
If you plan to attend AmericanaFest throughout the week, which artist are you most excited to see and why?
I’ve been loving the new Riley Downing album, so I’d love to catch that, as well as Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno — so good!
Among the artists selected to perform at AmericanaFest this year, who tops your wish list of collaborators in concert and why?
I’m a big Lilly Hiatt fan and she’s one friend in town I haven’t gotten to collaborate with, so I’d love for that to happen one day.
If you could collaborate anywhere with any artist past or present, who would it be?
Natalie Hemby is my dream co-write!
What do you remember most about your previous AmericanaFest experiences?
I’ve played or been at AmericanaFest almost every year since I’ve lived in Nashville. I have seen incredible showcases at the original Basement by Lake Street Dive and Yola, years ago. Those tiny shows by future huge star bands are some of my favorite moments of the festival.
What prompted you to make the move to Nashville at age 18, and what’s the most important takeaway you can share about living there?
I wanted to be where the music was at! I think the most important thing about Nashville is that it’s a community of musicians. If you move to town with a collaborative and supportive rather than competitive mindset, you will thrive. If you show up with an agenda, people will see right through it.
As a longtime resident of Nashville, what’s your favorite restaurant and menu item?
Mas Tacos Por Favor, fish tacos.
What hidden gem in Nashville needs to be discovered by anyone who visits?
No way I’m telling!!!! That’s how they get ruined.
What’s your favorite venue in Nashville as 1) a performer and 2) a spectator, and why?
1) As a performer, I love the Station Inn, the old-school vibe, the way it never changes; it’s very grounding. 2) As a spectator, the Ryman, for obvious reasons!
This is the first in a three-part series previewing artists scheduled to perform at AmericanaFest in Nashville from September 22-25. Other musicians set to appear who were profiled here this year include Maggie Rose, Ida Mae, Suzanne Santo, and Desert Hollow.