‘A Whole Lot of Noise’
An Interview with Arum Rae
Words by Cher Dunn
Photo by Dominic Neitz
Brooklyn-based Arum Rae released her debut EP, Warranted Queen, this past April, and the buzz has been building around her ever since.
After seeing her perform live in Philly, I needed to know more about this mesmerizing singer-songwriter with so much soul. During our interview, I asked her about what she did after graduating Berklee College of Music, her songwriting process, touring, and what it’s like performing her honest and powerfully moving songs live.
As a Berklee graduate, can you tell us what your process was like breaking into the music industry?
The best way for me to ‘break in’ to the music industry was by playing out. Playing open mics with the hope that each venue would invite me back to open for someone. I would drive up to three hours for these open mics, from central Virginia to D.C. and Maryland.
How do you really decide what kind of music you want to make?
I try to make the music that I want to hear. But that comes with so much experimentation and constantly gaining knowledge of myself, my voice, and guitar playing. I’m still working to land the bullseye with my music. Every time I think I’m where I want to be artistically, there comes a new challenge or inspiration that shows me I’m still just beginning.
Your new album Warranted Queen has a sultry dance music vibe. Although the album has songs with sensual and romantic lyrics, there are also lyrics with a darker, bluesy side. Despite this, the album flows together so well. Who did you work with to produce the record and what was the songwriting process like?
The songs for the Warranted Queen EP were written well before going into the studio. The song ‘2001’ I wrote in 2005. ‘Warranted Queen’ was written in 2010. ‘Something’s Happening To Me’ was also written in Austin, but that one we added another section to in the studio. That one originally was just a straight punk rock song. ‘I’m Smoke’ and ‘Proof’ were also written in Austin. So basically I had this backlog of material that, by the time I met [producer] Sanford Livingston in 2013, it was kind of easy to throw songs out and see what would stick.
The writing of these songs happened in all different ways. Sometimes they would come all at once—but then the song ‘Warranted Queen’ I remember waking up at like five in the morning for several weeks to work on it before heading to my waitressing job at a breakfast place that I had to be at at seven. Morning time in general has always been a good time for writing. And for these particular songs, Sanford’s production brought them out in a refreshing and fun way.
Who were the songwriters you looked to for inspiration when first learning to write your own songs?
George and Ira Gershwin, Hank Williams Sr., Tom Waits, Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Outkast, Leonard Cohen.
How does it feel now that the album is released?
It feels good! I also have another EP coming out November 4.
Seeing your live show was quite powerful. You make a whole lot of noise with just your guitar and a drummer, and soul just pours out of your voice, leaving everyone in the room really feeling and connecting to your music. You mentioned one track you wrote for your brother that was really heartbreaking. Is it hard to perform such personal songs live? Do you feel like you are going through the pain again, reliving memories through your songs and the place you were in your life when writing them?
‘Heaven’ is a song I wrote with a friend in regards to his companion, who had major drug and alcohol addiction problems, whom he would plead with. That he could love her better than getting drunk or high would, and/or having to kill herself to escape the pain of her addiction.
Unfortunately, just one year ago, my family lost my brother to alcoholism. His liver was failing by the time he finally went to the hospital and there was nothing anyone could do. He was only thirty-four years old.
Singing ‘Heaven’ in remembrance of my brother helps me honestly, because there’s still a lot of me that wants to plead with him to stop drinking, and to let him know that he wasn’t alone and that he was and is so loved by many.
Singing ‘Heaven’ is also for every and anyone that is suffering from this disease as well. I feel like our society makes alcoholism and drug addiction look like a criminal act when it in fact is an illness that plagues so many. It can be cured but has to be acknowledged first! If our loved ones feel that they can’t talk about the hook in them that is addiction, then everyone loses. And that’s just a damn shame.
Do you have any advice for other artists going through difficult times who may not know how to get out what they are feeling?
We are all individually unique. Be kind to yourself, especially in moments of difficulty. Take the time to express and release your feelings through your art. That is what will make the world a more beautiful place.
What is the best and worst part of touring?
The worst part of touring is the lifestyle and the best part is the lifestyle!
How do you pass the time when traveling on tour? Are you listening to or reading anything in your free time right now?
Yes we check out all new records we are curious about. I’m currently reading several different books too. One on Buddhism and then Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom. I love biographies and autobiographies.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Do you have any plans set for next year?
For the rest of this year I am working on a side project with a Brooklyn-based DJ/producer and then prepping plans and writing for a full length record to come out in 2015.
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