The singer-songwriter talks about her latest album, Give up Your Ghosts.
Virginia-born artist Rebecca Loebe independently released her debut album, Hey It’s a Lonely World, in 2004. Six years later she released her sophomore album, Mystery Prize, which spent 10 weeks on the Americana Top 40 charts before Loebe signed a record deal. Shortly after, she was cast on the first season of NBC’s The Voice, where she quickly became a fan favorite with her cover of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.”
Now, following up her 2017 album, Blink, with 2019’s Give up Your Ghosts, she’s proven that indie-folk lightning can indeed strike the same great-music place twice.
Recently we talked with Loebe about her writing style, musical influences, and upcoming tour with her band, Nobody’s Girl.
Cowboys & Indians: Congratulations on your new album. What’s most exciting about the release?
Rebecca Loebe: Why thank you! There are so many things about this release that are exciting to me. This is the first time I’ve released an album with the support of a record label, and it’s also the quickest timeframe in which a record has come together. Not to say we rushed it. We spent about the same amount of time as we usually do. It was just more concentrated and I was able to go into the studio much sooner after the songs were written. The whole thing feels very immediate and of-the-moment to me.
C&I: What’s the journey of this album been like?
Loebe: Every aspect of making and releasing this album has been very different from the process that I’m used to typically. [Usually] I’m scrambling to squeeze studio time in between tour dates, and it can take over a year to get in all the sessions I need to get the songs where I want them.
With Give up Your Ghosts, since I had a record deal, I was able to clear two months of my schedule last summer and really dig in. Clearing my schedule like that allowed me to focus on it in a way I’d never been able to before.
Once the record was finished, I had a whole team of people working hard on the business side to help me get the word out. In addition to my manager and booking agent, who have both been with me for a while, we had the entire Blue Corn Records team, plus radio promoters and publicists sharing love about the album. It was wildly different from what I’m used to and, honestly, really fun.
C&I: What inspired the album?
Loebe: When I wrote these songs, I didn’t realize I was writing for an album. I had just released my previous album, Blink, in the spring of 2017. Later that year I found myself inspired, honestly, by current events, the state of our world, and finding my place in it. I started writing little tunes to myself, words of encouragement that I could hum under my breath when I was struggling with the state of the world. I think I especially sometimes need to be reminded to “Relax, let it go, roll with the flow,” which is how those words ended up, verbatim, in the chorus of the title track, “Ghosts.”
C&I: How does this stand out from your other music?
Loebe: With this album, we made a conscious decision to pick up where my previous album, Blink, left off. Same band, same sounds (reverbs, guitar tones, etc.), applied to this new batch of songs. So, sonically, it has a lot in common with Blink, but the attitude of the songs is completely different. In the past, the songs I wrote were all about what I needed to say and with this record it’s full of what I needed to hear. I think that’s the main difference.
C&I: What’s your songwriting process like?
Loebe: Ha, my songwriting process is so neurotic and weird! Maybe everyone’s is, I don’t know. I typically start with a scrap of inspiration, which comes to me as a few lyrics and a bit of a melody. Then I have to figure out what song includes that line. It’s like an algebra equation: A scrap of inspiration plus X equals completed song. Solve for X and I’m done!
C&I: Any favorite stories about how certain songs on Give up Your Ghost came together?
Loebe: Definitely! I had been carrying around the lyrics for the chorus of “Growing Up” for a while, and then out at a writing retreat at a hot spring in West Texas, far from the internet or cell service or civilization of any kind, really, I wrote the melody of the chorus and a melody for the verses. I didn’t know what I wanted the verses to be about, but I figured it would be some sort of uplifting and empowering anthem for women and that I could finish it when I got home.
But then on the ride back home, when my phone started working again, I learned that while I was away in the desert the Harvey Weinstein scandal had broken. My feed was flooded with horrible news and important but difficult-to-read #metoo stories. I no longer felt like writing an uplifting or empowering anthem. I just wanted to curl into a ball and cry.
I tucked the song away for a month or so, until I was at another writing retreat with my friend Megan Burtt. I asked if she’d take a listen and maybe help me finish the tune. We poured some wine and talked about the initial inspiration for the song. We talked about our lives and our families and the state of the world … and kept drinking wine until finally Megan said something along the lines of “Hey, look, I don’t think it has to be an empowering anthem at all. Sometimes it’s just a bummer out there. … The punches keep coming and coming and you have to keep getting back up, not because you’re so strong but because sometimes it’s the only way forward.” And then we wrote the verses and bridge to “Growing Up”
C&I: Is there a specific song fans have really taken to?
Loebe: In 2008 I heard a piece on NPR in which a translator interviewed a number of Hispanic migrant workers who were being deported. In every interview, people were talking about coming to America and working hard under difficult conditions in order to send money home to the people they loved most in the world.
It occurred to me in that moment that if someone is here working hard to send money home to their loved ones it means that they don’t get to see their loved ones for months, for years — sometimes they don’t know when they’ll get to see them again. Not only that, but they don’t get to enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor. They don’t get to see their loved ones benefit from the money they send. They’re sending money on blind faith that it’s having a positive impact, and that’s enough to get them out of bed every morning working in challenging and oftentimes scary circumstances.
I wanted to write a song for that love, for that sacrifice, and that’s where my song “Marguerita” came from. I play it almost every night, and it gets requested at almost every show.
C&I: Do you have a particular song on Give up Your Ghost that you’re most excited about or most proud of?
Loebe: Honestly, I feel so connected to these songs that it’s hard to pick. If I had to choose one, I’d say that the song “Popular” is the one thing I want to say to everyone I meet right now. Really, I’d just like to hug everyone and tell them that no one felt cool or popular when they were younger; most people don’t feel that way now, even those that we admire most. But I can’t hug everyone, so I wrote this song instead.
C&I: Are there any songs that didn’t make it on the album that we can expect to hear later on down the road?
Loebe: We recorded one additional song at the basics session, but I cut it from the album because ultimately it didn’t feel like “me.” So I have no idea if anyone will ever hear that! I have started writing more lately. There’s a whole new crop of tunes bubbling up that I’m excited about — folks will be hearing those before too long I’m sure.
C&I: What musicians and songs have been influential to you? What’s on your playlist these days?
Loebe: My go-to influences at the moment are Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin, Raina Rose, Kacey Musgraves, Richard Thompson, and Lori McKenna. I just checked my Spotify playlist and, yup, that’s them!
C&I: What’s something about you that people don’t know or are surprised to learn?
Loebe: I was on my high school junior varsity wrestling team in 9th grade.
C&I: What can we expect next?
Loebe: I’m touring a lot this fall with my band Nobody’s Girl (a collaborative project with songwriters Grace Pettis and BettySoo). We’re heading into the studio very soon to begin work on our first full-length studio album as a band. I’m also going to be announcing an acoustic tour of the U.S. and U.K. next spring very soon, so keep your eyes out for that. It’s been an exciting year and I’m even more excited to see what 2020 brings!
For more information on Rebecca Loebe, visit her website. Order the new record on Amazon.
Photography: Michael Hogan