Rachel Eckroth‘s new video, “Strangest Dream”, is a haunting, meditative exploration that brings together a rich body of influences, from Derek Trucks’ Eastern-inspired guitar work to her own breathtaking vocals (to say nothing of the harmony contributions of Carlos Ricketts of John Mayer’s band).
Eckroth‘s newest LP, When It Falls, arrives October 19. Produced by bassist/producer/husband Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie’s Blackstar/Tedeschi Trucks Band), the record also features appearance from drummers Matt Chamberlain, Gary Novak and Sterling Campbell as well as the inimitable Doyle Bramhall II.
Eckroth spoke with PopMatters just ahead of a tour in support of When It Falls during which she will open for Rufus Wainwright while also playing in his band.
When It Falls may be pre-ordered now.
Where in the writing process of When It Falls did “Strangest Dream” arrive? Do you remember what inspired it and how it grew from there?
“Strangest Dream” was one of the first songs written for When It Falls, and went through three or four drafts before the lyrics were settled. Tim Lefebvre and I were listening to a lot of Fink at the time and wanted to convey a darker sort of blues vibe in a tune. The phrase that happens mostly in the bass line and sometimes in piano was the ‘seed’ and as the lyrics came, the rest of the chord changes came. When we hit the studio, Tim had the idea for the bridge, which is the most explosive section of the song.
The song also walks a couple of lines: There’s the blues element, touches of jazz, pop but it all hangs together nicely. Were those styles of music influential on you in your musical development?
I started off as a jazz pianist, and over the years morphed into whatever you would call me now. I think being a sideman on gigs of various styles has become an influence in my writing style. In this album, we definitely tried to corral it all into one general music world, but those outside elements of jazz will probably always peek through.
Derek Trucks and Carlos Ricketts add some exhilarating touches to the track but they don’t overwhelm it. Do you remember the song before their contributions vs. after?
Carlos brought his glorious voice to this track: I wanted to have these big harmonies but didn’t want them to be all female and his voice sits perfectly in the track. The demo was just me, but when Carlos put his parts down on the final, the result was a much fuller sound. Since Tim had worked a ton with Derek Trucks, he suggested we get him on one of the tunes, this was the best choice in that it had room for a solo and it was ‘bluesy.’ Derek sent a few genius solos over, and we went with the most angry one because it fit the story of the song.
We should probably also mention the production work of Tim Lefebvre. What approaches did he take to “Strangest Dream” or the album in general that were most surprising/rewarding for you?
Tim has such a great sense for creating parts in a song that are interesting and original, but also move the song forward. There were times I just had to trust that what he was putting on the tracks was the right thing. I had to let go of ideas I thought were essential to the song and just go with it. I am a huge fan of his ability to create sonic landscapes with effects pedals, and learned so much watching him experiment with sound on my tracks.
And now we have the video. What made “Strangest Dream” the right tune to make a clip for?
Derek A. Welte, the video producer is great at taking footage and tweaking it out in post. Since the song is literally about a dream, he used trippy colors and effects to help the story come across to the viewer.
When It Falls will be out soon and, having heard it in full, I have to say that I find its range of moods and material refreshing. Did you have a pretty specific idea about the kind of record you wanted to make before you went in to record?
I definitely wanted to make something with a darker edge, and with songs that touch on more than just romantic love. I think Tim and I had a similar vision in creating an album that showcased a wider musical spectrum but where the songs still sounded like they fit together. We used a lot of drones and layers of sound to add depth and interest to these darker grooves.
Do you have an notions about the ideal way to take in this album/the video and song for “Strangest Dream”?
I think people will pick out different things they like about “Strangest Dream,” whether you are a guitar aficionado, or you just want to watch the color trails coming off of my awesome cowboy fringe shirt, there’s a lot to take in. As for the album, you can say there’s something for everyone, but I think this time, we’ve surpassed that idea, and you may find yourself loving a number of tracks from When It Falls.