Rachel LaFond is a pianist and composer who ‘tells epic tales about life’s sweet mysteries and its most powerful moments through solo piano music.’ With one album, Wandering Soul, already under her belt and another to follow, Encounters of the Beautiful Kind very soon (out 1 June), Rachel is certainly an artist to watch. In conversation with Rachel we discuss her relationship with the piano, the story of how she began composing, her new album, and much more.
Hello Rachel, how are you doing? What are you up to, music-wise, at the moment?
Hey Katy, I’m great, thanks! Things have been so busy and interesting since I released my first album last year, Wandering Soul. It’s been an incredible journey and learning experience, growing in the music industry and personally as a musician.
I think setting up our own recording studio at home has been the biggest challenge of the past few months. I made friends with an experienced and talented sound engineer in Auckland named Mike Bloemendahl, he has been an amazing friend and partner-in-crime through all this. He guided me and my husband/manager David through choosing microphones and other studio equipment, the crazy detailed work of mic placement, learning how to use the recording software…then we spent probably twenty hours working together on the mastering. David and I went from knowing next to nothing about recording to…well…knowing enough to create this gorgeous album! We’re so excited, I think the recording quality is going to blow you away!
Speaking of my second album, it’s called Encounters of the Beautiful Kind and it’s releasing on June 1. I wrote it during the first year David and I were settling as expats in New Zealand after traveling the world for a year. I’ve actually got two beautiful singles from Encounters out right now, called Luminous and Your Beauty Calls Me – those are on my website at www.rachellafond.com or anywhere digital music is found.
We read on your website that you started playing piano very young, is that right? Do you feel this long relationship with your instrument has truly deepened your feelings with performing and writing on the piano?
Yes, I began formal lessons when I was five years old with my mother, who was a piano teacher. She actually first started me playing on her lap when I was a toddler, and I think it was those early experiences which caused me to develop such natural fluency and passion at the piano (thanks Mom!). If my relationship with the instrument had been more brief, I don’t think I would have quite the same deep appreciation and gratitude for my ability to create music at the piano.
It’s not at all unusual for me to go from feeling some big, difficult-to-define emotion to sitting down at the piano to “sort it out” almost instinctively. For instance, my song Tears for Catalunya came to me the morning I woke up to news of the Barcelona terror attack in August 2017. I didn’t even know the details of the event at the time, but that morning I was just so overwhelmingly sad for our hurting world. I sat down and wrote Tears for Catalunya that morning, and made a YouTube video the same day in the hopes it might prove a balm to the wounded souls in Barcelona. Tears for Catalunya is track four on Encounters of the Beautiful Kind.
As poetic as this kind of creative process is, it’s actually been a personal goal of mine this year to start approaching my composing in a more organized, goal-oriented and form-informed way. In January, New Age icon David Lanz invited me to visit his home in Cyprus for three days to impart some composing wisdom to me – we had a super dense couple of days arranging my songs Luminous and Heart Full of Memories, which are both on Encounters of the Beautiful Kind. I learned so much about the nuts and bolts of writing music and organizing it in a way that makes more sense to the ear: returning to themes and developing them further than I did in Wandering Soul – I bet you’ll hear the difference!
Do you play any other instruments? If you had to, which one would it be and why?
I do sing, and actually used to perform professionally as a vocalist (fun fact!). I’ve also dabbled in a few instruments like ukulele and flute. I’ve found my piano skills make it pretty easy to transition over to other instruments, but I’m not very patient with being a musical beginner. I invariably come back to the piano. One instrument I do wish I’d picked up as a youngster is violin. There’s something about the way it can absolutely wail with intensity, it’s able to convey a depth of feeling that is all its own.
When did you start writing music? And what drew you to it?
I didn’t actually start writing music until I met my future husband David, when I was 29 years old. I had been a classical piano teacher and performer for years, but had never been able to write music I thought was any good, and certainly my efforts at improvising ended in disappointment and self-criticism. I truly had no idea I had a writer of music inside myself.
If you’ve ever fallen head-over-heels in love, you’ll know the truth of it when I say the intense flood of unfamiliar emotions can be overwhelming. A few weeks after I met David, I was gazing out the window at the autumn rain in Seattle, waiting for a student who ended up not showing up to their lesson. I was exhausted and distracted almost out of my mind with thoughts of him, and this music just started…running through my head. I sat with that experience for a few minutes, not quite understanding what was happening. I went to the piano and by the end of that evening, I had this piece of music, feeling almost like it had been gifted to me out of nowhere.
My second composition, Redemption, sprung into life a year later in the same way.
The rest of my first album Wandering Soul was inspired by travel. David and I quit our jobs and sold everything we owned to travel the world for a year. Musical inspiration hit me at different points on the journey. For example, the first time we came to New Zealand, we stayed in a beautiful cabin with a piano in the hills west of Auckland. I’d gone a few months without a piano at that point, and out of that reunion Ember Warmth – Twin Peaks was born. Other pieces were inspired by a mountain river gorge in Japan, the moorlands of Devon, England, a village in South France, and on and on.
We are massive fans of your album ‘Wandering Soul’ and we are looking forward to your next release ‘Encounters Of The Beautiful Kind’. What should we expect from this album?
Thank you so much! I’m so happy to hear you love Wandering Soul! Where Wandering Soul was my instinctual, passionate music-making at its best, Encounters of the Beautiful Kind takes that same expressive intensity and applies it in a more thoughtful way. Expect the same passion and journey in each song that you found in Wandering Soul, with catchy tunes that stick around in your head and perhaps more of a cohesive experience to the album. Of course, I already mentioned there is an absolutely gorgeous, rich piano sound.
The music explores universal human experiences: feelings of loneliness, worries about not being good enough, and the evolution we undergo as existing friendships change or fade while new connections spring to life. It culminates in the realization that as we bear each other up and connect with one another, we make the world a more beautiful place for all of us. By the way, if I may, the pre-order is now available for Encounters of the Beautiful Kind on my website at www.rachellafond.com as well as on Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon, and again, Your Beauty Calls Me and Luminous are out now!
What do you find about your work that has meaning? Would you say you could describe a meaning behind each track or do some pieces you write just appear out of a feeling?
I feel like I am making the world a more beautiful place in my own small way with my music. There’s absolutely nothing like the sincerity shining in someone’s eyes as they share how they’ve connected with my music. Honestly, it’d be worth it to have that experience with even one person, and I get to spread my music around as far as the internet will take me!
As far as specific compositions go, most of my tracks and pieces have stories and particular evocative experiences behind them.
For instance, my most recently released single Luminous came to me while scuba diving in New Zealand’s Northland. It’s something I absolutely LOVE to do, but it had been a while since I’d been underwater. Floating there in wonderful delight (despite terrible weather, I might add), Luminous came to me as I realized I could just as easily have been floating in a sea of stars, so of course I ran to a piano as soon as I could.
I wrote my other single Your Beauty Calls Me the day I took delivery of my new piano in our home in Auckland, after going two years without an instrument since we’d been traveling. It was honestly like falling in love all over again, having this beautiful piano to play on that was mine. It’s my love song to the piano.
I could go on and on, each piece has a story to it. I think part of the reason people enjoy my concerts so much is that I tell the stories behind the music before I play.
What artists/musicians are you enjoying at the moment?
I spend a lot of time listening to submissions for my own Spotify playlists, releases of fellow artists, and live radio shows in my genre. I’ve just recently discovered Martin Herzburg, who has this amazing style – melding a soft piano minimalism with intense emotional arcing. When I first found him, I couldn’t believe I’d lived all my life without hearing his music! Check out his tracks Komm, Komm, Nach Hause and I Have Seen Your Soul. I promise you’ll be glad you did. I’ve also been into this vocalist named Tina Malia, and an album she released in 2016 called Anahata: Mantras for a Heart Wide Open. It’s one of my favorite listens for calming my mind at the end of an intense day. She has the sweetest voice. My favorite is Hey Ma Durga.
Do you have any advice you would give to musicians wanting to compose for the first time?
I most certainly do! Just let yourself BE. Let yourself create whatever it is you are creating without judgement. It took me YEARS to get past the critical inner voice that said anytime I sat down to improvise it was awful and I should definitely stop before I broke something. I think that sort of intense self-criticism can be an unfortunate side effect of competitive classical training. I wish I’d given myself permission to create music sooner, even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be at first.
Have you got any live shows coming up?
Yes! I’ve got an album release concert coming up in Auckland the weekend of the release date. Check out my Facebook page for details: www.facebook.com/rachellafondpiano. I’ll be streaming through Concert Window and playing on the gorgeous piano that inspired Your Beauty Calls Me, listeners from all over the world can join in the fun!
Also, in July I’ll be playing some concerts and touring in the US with some amazing piano friends of mine. So far, I’ve got a series of concerts lined up in the Pacific Northwest with Joseph Akins and I’m talking with several others, definitely check my Facebook or Songkick for details, I’ll be performing in spots all around the US.
What is the plan after the album has been released?
That’s a great question! Of course, there’s all sorts of fun promotional work to be done for Encounters of the Beautiful Kind. I’m sure you know that for an artist in my stage of growth, the biggest and most important job (beyond, you know, making good music) is getting more ears to hear my music. Then there will be this tour in the US (my first tour!). Once we get back home to New Zealand in August it’s back to recording and art creation to put together a spooky EP for a Halloween-ish release. I’m super excited about that, I’ve already been writing the music and it’s sounding great. I’m also planning to make some really killer music videos with local New Zealand artists, and have plans for a social media campaign to engage with creatives and their work all around the world.
I want to plan an Australia tour hopefully the end of this year or early next year, and also want to tour my home country of New Zealand! David and I are also keen to have a European adventure tour sometime in 2019. You can be sure you’ll see more and more music from me as time goes on, we’ve got grand plans!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, it’s been an honor to be featured at Contemplative Classical!
Thank you, Rachel for such in-depth, wonderful answers – we look forward to hearing Encounters of the Beautiful Kind, and the Halloween-ish EP! Be sure to listen to Rachel’s new album ‘Encounters of the Beautiful Kind’ on the 1st of June.