Catch up with singer-songwriter Jetty Rae and listen to her latest single "Queen of the Universe" off her upcoming album, Can't Curse The Free, to be released in 2017.
What got you interested in music and in songwriting?
Jetty: I kind of started off just as a writer. As a kid in high school, I was the girl who had journals and journals full of poetry and I always had an affinity towards music. I always loved it; I loved listening to it, I loved singing. But people are always really surprised with how I came to it. I wouldn't say I was naturally talented at all, everything that I've had to do has been a lot of work and it's kind of weird, because you hear a lot of people who say that they were just kind of gifted and skilled from the beginning and I had a passion, but I didn't really have the skills or the talent; I was very average, I wasn't tone-deaf or anything, but just a very average singer. In high school, my mom actually started a theater company and I come from a really creative family who has always encouraged me to be creative; my mom bought me my first guitar in high school and I was in a theater group and I was taught a lot about the stage and performing and that's when I really fell in love with the stage. I had a late start as well though, I didn't decide to pursue music until I was probably 19 or 20 and decided, "oh, this is what I'm going to do, this is what I love to do". That's the long, long answer [laughs].
You mentioned your poetry, do you have a favorite poet?
I have a favorite author who I feel is very poetic. I'm a huge C.S. Lewis fan, I love anything he's written. I've read some more modern poets like Rupi Kaur and I liked some of her stuff. I don't really have as much time to read as I used to but, for me, it wasn't so much of, "oh, I love poetry," it was more like, "this is how I'm going to express myself and this is what I need to do to cope with life".
What was the first song you wrote that you were really happy with?
I wrote some songs in high school that my friends really liked [laughs]. They were really fun. There was one called - it's really cheesy - I think it was called "The Love Doctor" [laughs] and the first line was, like, "I am the love doctor, call me if you wonder what to do or what to say" or something. It was just a horrible song but I had some friends who really liked it and they always encouraged that. I would sit in the hallways in high school and be that girl strumming her guitar. It's probably one of the first ones I wrote.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
My musical upbringing is very random, kind of a smorgasbord of people. I listened to a lot of Christian pop music like DC Talk, Jennifer Knapp; that's the stuff that I grew up on. And then, as I got a little bit older, I started really liking some folkier stuff like Damien Rice and Patty Griffin and I've been a Lauryn Hill fan for a very long time. Also, along with the Christian pop, I was very obsessed with Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston; Whitney at least went in that gospel vein. A lot of random influences in there [laughs].
Is there a new artist from 2016 you're hooked on that you think everyone should listen to?
Yes! I have a friend who makes music in Detroit and we met through music. He followed me in my career and then he sent me an album and said, "I've followed your story, I think it's awesome, I love your music, I would be so happy if you would listen to my stuff," and he sent me this CD with this really nice note and I listened to it. His name is Greater Alexander and he just has this music that makes you feel so good. When I listen to his album Positive Love, it is positive and there's so much positivity in it. I was in a really bad place and sometimes you like sad music when you're in a bad space and I had just entrenched myself in that and when I put his record in I was smiling. I was like, "oh my gosh, this is so beautiful," and he's done lots of projects; he's super talented and super humble and I think everybody should know him. I love his stuff. His latest project was an instrumental - he plays the piano, beautiful piano kind of like a music score - but if you're just finding out who he is, I would listen to his album Positive Love.
What's your favorite Christmas song?
Ooh, my favorite Christmas song. I have to say I really love "O Holy Night", especially all of the verses, there's some just really beautiful lyrics in that song that get me every time and make me tear up.
How would you describe your own sound?
Well it's kind of changing. I would say it's more alternative now, in the past I would have said, "oh, it's folksy or songwriter," I think now it's singer-songwriter/alternative with a little bit of country. People have been saying this album is an alt-country album which is really interesting because it's so hard to identify genres nowadays [laughs], like what exactly you are, because everybody has a different definition. I think alternative singer-songwriter, even alt-country.
What were your inspirations behind your new single "Queen of the Universe"?
So that was written about a friend who had some family drama and she had somebody in her family who was just being super manipulative about money and talking behind her back and just pulling these really big power plays and my friend was really, really hurt about it. Whenever I have any problems in my life I usually sit down with a guitar and I was thinking about her when I wrote it. [Laughs] It was kind of a joke at first and I was like, "this is so funny, it's so outlandish!" 'cause I usually don't write songs that are quite as biting. I penned this as a joke and was like, "let's just make this really outlandish"; my husband helped me come up with the line, "you don't know what you're saying, you need a good spanking" and it was just a really funny joke and I never intended to record it actually. But then I had some friends who heard it and they were like, '"oh my gosh, we love this song!" and I kept having that reaction with the song and my producer heard it and I was like, "yeah, I have this song, I don't know if we're going to do it," and he was like, "yeah, we're definitely doing that song". It was kind of a single that never was supposed to be but I was really happy that people were resonating with it 'cause most of my singles and songs that I release are a little but more serious and kind of sad; they're a little more melancholy and this one wasn't any of those things. I was excited to release something completely new and different, especially for the people that have been following my career since my first super indie record. Just seeing the huge change and the growth. As an indie artist, every record keeps getting better and better and better because you keep learning; you've done everything wrong so many times that each one is exponentially better, hopefully. That's how I feel about this one anyways.
Could you tell us more about this new record and how Can't Curse The Free compares to your earlier releases?
It's very different. It's a departure, for sure. My last full-length album I wasn't the same person, I guess I would say, I've been through some personal tragedies and some life experiences that have changed my songwriting, have changed me as an artist in the way that I express myself. This album is about other people's stories, I've kind of taken a backseat from my own storytelling and my own perspective and infused that perspective into other people's stories. It's more of a storytelling album and all of the songs are, pretty much, about other people. There's a lot of adversity in the album but the main theme is all about rising; it was going to be called Born To Rise In Another Town and I decided on Can't Curse The Free because it's a statement of, no matter what life throws at you - adversities, trials, tragedies - for me, personally, that's not going to change me. I'm not going to become enslaved to depression or hopelessness.
Is there a song off this album that you would say is your favorite to perform live?
When I performed "Can't Curse The Free" for the first few times there was a general electricity in the room, just because it's such a statement song. The lyrics start out, "you want to destroy me, you don't ever want me to climb any higher than my lowest plateaus," and if people are listening to the words they're like, "whoa, who wants to destroy you, who just wants you to stay so average," and it's about an epic struggle. The lyrics to that one, every time I perform that one I feel like it changes the atmosphere in the room and that one I'm always like, "oh I've got to safe "Can't Curse The Free" for the end!" because it's my favorite song to play. That one has gotten such an amazing reception from people as well. They'll be like, "oh, yeah, all your other stuff was good but, man, "Can't Curse The Free", where can I get my hands on that?". I'm really happy that it's resonated because, for me, it's one of those songs that you write that'll never get old for you. It's never not going to be true for me and I'm always going to feel like that; which can't be said for all the songs that I write because you change.
In one sentence, how would you describe Can't Curse The Free?
[Laughs] I'm going to get all hung up on my words because I'm a writer and it has to be really epic.
A passionate cry of the heart for freedom, love, and understanding.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I hope that there's a lot of understanding and healing, those are two things that I want. I want people to understand themselves. I think a lot of people don't take stock of their emotional well-being and what exactly is going on in their hearts and minds; we're so busy and we live in a very consumeristic society where we're just seeing everything: Instagram, Twitter, we're just adding to the noise sometimes. Not a lot of emphasis is put on taking care of your mental state and your emotional state and, for me, when I play these songs and when people hear them, I'd say, I hope that you are understanding yourself better through my lyrics. I hope that you hear one of my songs and finally something in your life that you've never been able to articulate makes sense to you, like, "oh my gosh, that's exactly how I feel," because, all of my favorite songwriters, that's what they do. They write a song, they draw me in with their words, and then they tell me, "oh my gosh, I'm finally able to makes sense of this longing that I have because they just said it so perfectly in a way that I never have been able to". That's what I hope to do for people. Also, just to bring healing. I feel like when you're understood, that allows healing to happen in your life. I wrote songs on the album about child loss, a mom who had lost two sons in a tornado; "Another Town" is a song about being in a place in life that you never would have chosen for yourself and it's usually a circumstance that has happened that you had no control over and, when you realize that other people are in the same place as you, it just makes it easier. It doesn't take away the pain or the hurt, but it lets you know you're not crazy and you're not alone.
Is there anything you want to add?
The whole project was pretty amazing. The people that were involved in it, I'm very humbled and very thankful. The producer, Mitch, we're friends; we were just business acquaintances before this project but now I consider him family. The encouragement that he gave me for this project and how excited he was to come to work every day, it made it so amazing. The last session we did, we were both crying at the end [laughs] we were like, "this sucks," and just crying over a glass of margaritas like, "this is so sad that it has to end!" because it was really, really special. Mitch and the players - I told you I loved the '90s/early 2000s Christian pop and this band, Jars of Clay, a bunch of their members got to play on the album because they're friends with my producer and that was really, really fun. The guy who I got to master the album, Chris Athens, he's amazing. I thought it'd be a long-shot to get him to master it and he did such a good job. He just did Ingrid Michaelson's latest album and he did Coldplay's X&Y album and a ton of other people that everybody would know. I'm just humbled with the team that I have on this album.