After being blown away by her bluesy new single “Queen of the Universe,” we just had to chat with singer-songwriter Jetty Rae for a NoiseTrade One-on-One. We discussed the variety of influences the shaped her brand new album Can’t Curse the Free, her impressive array of musical side projects, and her recommendations for some up-and-coming artists you should check out from her home state of Michigan.
NoiseTrade: Your new single “Queen of the Universe” has such a confident, bluesy slink to it. Where did that inspiration come from?
Jetty Rae: The recipe for that song was one part family drama (not my own), second part channeling my inner Miranda Lambert. I wrote the song as a tension relieving tonic for a friend of mine who was caught in a family power-struggle, and she was having a hard time seeing the absurdity of it all. I think there was some alcohol fueled words from the real-life protagonist that really captured my imagination and awakened an ironic-humor that is carried through out the songs narrative. I kidnapped the real life inspiration and turned her into a fictional “Queen of the Universe” My favorite lines in the whole song are: “Don’t know what you’re thinking, your probably up drinking and thinking’s the farthest thing from your mind.”
NT: Is the emboldened sound of “Queen of the Universe” representative of the rest of your new album Can’t Curse the Free or is it just one crayon in the box of what you’re creating with in your new batch of songs?
Jetty Rae: “Emboldened” is completely the right word for this album. There is a gritty honesty that I feel was released in these songs. I’d say the new album is definitely a departure, stylistically from my previous works. It’s more bluesy, soulful, and a bit more spaghetti western spooky, but the flavors of folk that have characterized my previous works still remain. There is definitely a common theme of rising, rising from circumstances, heartbreaks, and even curses.
Each song is produced in a way to let the lyrics shine. I’m a lyrics girl first and foremost, so that was the most important thing for me when it came to building around these songs. I gave my producer Mitch Dane complete freedom, and I was astounded at the directions some of the songs went. Mitch had a pretty good idea how dark this album would be and when I finally caught on I was elated. The tension is there, lots of mystery and longing.
NT: What experiences and inspirations went into your songwriting on Can’t Curse the Free and what do you hope listeners take a way from its lyrics and themes?
Jetty Rae: “Can’t Curse the Free” is my favorite song I’ve written to date (it was a request from my brother), simply because it is one of those truths that will always be a bedrock for my life. The age old battle of light and dark, good and evil is still happening now. Sometimes I forget there is no neutrality. There are no coincidences when it comes to my victories or losses.
The way I explain this song is that it is about a mighty foe. The king of lies, who wants you to stay in darkness, confusion, and shame. I would venture to say that most people have these inner monologues of complete self-hate, discouragement and shame. They believe horrible things about themselves, based on mistakes they’ve made and lies they believe. The verses expose the real enemy of your soul’s plan to overwhelm you with your inadequacy, and shame. By the time the chorus comes in, I’m ready to take some names. Every time I sing “I went to bed a slave and I woke up free, now you want me back, now you want me back, but you’re never gonna put those chains, never gonna put those chains back on me. Because I get fuller and brighter, and cleaner and wiser, and stronger, a fighter, I’ll step on the viper, and dance on the fires that you meant for me, and I remember, you can’t curse the free.” Those words change the atmosphere in my heart first, then usually the room.
NT: Alongside your proper solo albums, you’ve also released a lullabies album, a Christmas album, and a duets album with Heath McNease under the name Pen Pals. Do you approach these types of releases any differently or get to express yourself in any new ways than you do with your standard albums?
Jetty Rae: Definitely. Each one of these projects allow me to express myself in different ways. There is a lot of expectation I place on myself when it comes to my solo albums, with these “side” projects I’m able to get out of my head a bit and find a little more freedom to explore. There is always a balance of control and freedom in creating, and these other projects have been instrumental in allowing different melodies and narratives to come through.
My lullaby album is my most commercially successful album to date, which is really funny to me because it cost me almost nothing (I recorded it in my home studio with three mics). Pen Pals was a really awesome project that turned out to be such a gift! Heath and I had known each other for years through the festival circuit and he approached me with these beautiful songs, and we made something that was just very magical, and lyrically and melodically completely different to anything I would have written on my own. Each album has it’s own players and collaborators that lend to the flavor and direction of the project. I’ve been so blessed with each and every producer, engineer and collaborator I’ve worked with.
NT: Finally, a few years back you were handpicked by Sarah McLachlan to play Lilith Fair in your hometown of Detroit, MI. What did that recognition mean to you at that stage of your career and who is an up-and-coming artist that you recommend folks should check out?
Jetty Rae: At the time it came as a complete shock. I was starting to really gain some momentum at that point in my career, and I felt pretty undeserving. To say it meant nothing to me wouldn’t be honest, but I do think it meant a lot more to others then it did to me. I came and did what I always do, I played my best. I just happened to be with some heroes of mine. Sarah was very early inspiration to me, so the whole experience was pretty surreal. I remember being back stage before the finale and seeing her girls there with wet hair in pajamas watching their mom on stage. That made more of an impression on me than anything else. I thought, man it would be so cool if I could bring my family into this calling, and we could travel and do this thing together. I’m so thankful for that opportunity to grow, and realize some new dreams.
As far as up and coming artists there are so many to choose from in my home state of Michigan alone! The Accidentals are not so up and coming, they are just up, but those girls (and guy) have such an amazing work ethic and humility, and their music is inspired. I would also have to recommend Alisa Turner who is a hero and wonder, as well as my dear friend Greater Alexander.