Since 2004, Rebecca Loebe has made a name for herself with captivating folk songs and a genuine appreciation for her fans. Currently based in Austin, she’s shared the stage with other folk legends from The Civil Wars to Ellis Paul and gained considerable exposure with her performances on NBC’s The Voice. She’s currently playing a string of shows with BettySoo, but we were able to chat with Loebe about everything from singing competitions to gender inequalities. Follow Rebecca Loebe on Thrillcall for tour updates here.
Thrillcall: You’ve been playing a lot of shows over the years, but is there anything different about this tour? What are you particularly excited for?
Rebecca Loebe: I’m really excited to tour with BettySoo. We’ve known each other for a year but we’ve never really played shows together. We’re touring specifically because we’re doing some performances for panels at Berklee College of Music and we figured we might as well play some concerts along the way! I love her music; I love hearing her songs and she’s hilarious on stage. I’m hoping we can get together to do harmonies and collaborate throughout the night.
TC: Do you take any particular inspiration from your hometown of Austin, Texas?
RL: My songwriting definitely has changed a bit since I began living in Austin. There has been an immediate shift into more story-based songs that are a little more concrete and descriptive and a little less ethereal and general. They’re about scenes and the emotions carried within the scenes instead of purely the emotions themselves. I do feel like I hear a lot of that in the Austin songwriters.
TC: What’s the musical background like from your hometown? Was your family musical at all?
RL: My family is very supportive musically, even though there aren’t any professional musicians in my family. Welll, my aunt was in a barbershop quartet if that counts. But my dad always played guitar and sang on special occasions when we were kids. I grew up with free reign to listen to whatever I wanted, and I clung to the ‘50s and ‘60s doo-wop from their vinyl collection. So that’s what I was into, in addition to girl groups, which was very different than lyrically driven story songs. It wasn’t until I was older, after college probably, that I got into singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Patti Griffin, etc.
TC: Going in a different direction: you’ve been an independent musician for a while now, have there been any major changes in that world that you’ve noticed going on in recent years?
RL: It’s interesting. I went on my first tour in 2004 for my first album so I’ve been touring for about a decade. I do know that the digital revolution has changed the landscape quite a bit, but the difference between 2004 and 2015 is not nearly as drastic as the difference between 1994 and 2004. I feel kind of lucky that I was not making a living as a musician in the 90s. For me, this is the only music economy that I’ve tried to make a living in, so I am used to CDs being more of a souvenir from a live show rather than the only option for experiencing that music again. I’ve experimented with download cards, I fan-funded my last few albums, and I have a subscription website where I release a live recording every month. There are a lot of elements to how I make my living as a performer that I don’t think were possible before this shift in the landscape.
TC: Before this career as a musician, you studied at Berklee and worked as a recording engineer for a short time. Could you speak to how you made that switch from the technical side to the performance side of the music world?
RL: It happened really quickly. I went to college and decided to study audio engineering because I wanted to release albums, perform, and tour. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was pretty sure I was going to be huge at it. I figured that I should learn how all of those technical aspects work so that when I got my first big record deal I couldn’t be manipulated by some evil producer. But, I ended up loving it and planned to move to Los Angeles for a career in audio production. Right towards the end of school I had an engineering teacher who was my main mentor. I explained my plan and he knew I was a singer-songwriter. He looked at me and said, “Yeah, you can do that. But I think you’d be happier doing something more creative.” As soon as he said that it was like someone dumped a bucket of cold water over my head. I snapped out of it and went back to songwriting.
TC: Do you have any vocalists in particular that you take inspiration from?
RL: Let’s see, I love Patty Griffin. I love the nuances of her voice and all the things she can do with it. Dolly Parton, Otis Redding, Brandi Carlile.
TC: Just hearing some of those names, do you often thing about what it means to be a woman in this field? Is that something that crosses your mind a lot?
RL: You know, sometimes I don’t think about it at all, and sometimes it becomes very clear that there are some differences. Something I noticed is that there are a lot more younger women doing what I do, hopping in the car with their guitar and driving around the country to play for people. Because I think women tend to decide to try this when they’re a little younger. I feel like men come to it a little later. And then this field of women thins out after a little while. You’ll run into road blocks. Someone might say, “Oh, such and such doesn’t like to have female openers.” And I’m sure there are some people who don’t like to have male openers but I do feel like it happens more with women. Sometimes there will even be female performers who don’t like to have female openers, which really irritates the hell out of me but it’s not my call.
TC: I noticed that you did a few musical competitions and songwriting contests. What place do you think these types of events have in your musical process and the music industry in general?
RL: Competition with art is so hard. On the one hand it’s total nonsense; you can’t compare the quality of a voice or song objectively. There’s no right and no wrong, and there’s no winning in art. If people are making art then we’re winning. But, something that I’ve noticed is that if a folk festival were to say “Hey everyone, we put together a concert with 16 of the most upcoming singer-songwriters and we think you should come listen. They’re really good! They’re each going to play 2 songs!” I’m not sure they’d be able to fill an auditorium. But if they say, “Hey everyone, they’re all going to compete against each other in a last man standing contest to win $500 and a chance for fame and glory, come see what happens,” suddenly you have a full amphitheater. And it’s not just blood-thirst. It’s also an avenue by which the audience can participate. They pay more attention because they’re evaluating the performers. I do think it can be a helpful tool. I lost way more of those things than I won by a long shot but the ones I participated in always helped because they gave me an audience when I didn’t have one. Going and singing songs for people can never hurt.
TC: If you had a favorite of the musical process, whether writing or the studio or on stage, is there something you consider most important to you?
RL: Being on stage. That moment where I can deliver songs to people is a thrill to me. I love writing, and being in the studio is a really magical artist experience, but for me there’s nothing more thrilling than being on a stage in front of people, no matter how many people, to share that energy back and forth. That’s why I’m not worried about the digital changes. You can’t pirate a live concert experience. It’s not possible to have that feeling in any way besides being in a room with someone on stage.