Riveting Riffs Logo One  Rebecca Loebe - Give Up Your Ghosts
Rebecca Loebe Photo Two

With the recent release of Rebecca Loebe’s fifth full length album Give Up Your Ghosts she has sent a clear and powerful message to the music community that she is a singer and songwriter to be reckoned with. Her vocals are pristine, her phrasing is impeccable and her songwriting draws you in as she paints vivid word pictures.  Loebe (pronounced Low Bee) was born in Arlington, Virginia, her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when she was eight years old, she was schooled at Berklee College of Music in Boston and she now calls Austin, Texas her home. She took time out from her rigorous North American and international tour schedule to talk to Riveting Riffs Magazine about the record Give Up Your Ghosts and her career.

“The record is called Give Up Your Ghosts, because it is about what is holding you back or what is no longer serving you. That is the global theme of the whole record. It is pulled from specific lines from the song “Ghosts,” which are “Give up all of your ghosts / At least the ones you love the most / They were never holding you as close / As you were holding them.” That song came together pretty quickly in the writing process. Some songs I labor over for many months, but this one was a stream of consciousness writing experience. It felt like I was writing gentle instructions to myself for how to be happy, how to handle my life right now and how to handle (times of) feeling overwhelmed by the world at large. I just have to remember to relax and to chill out a little bit. I feel those lines in particular are about letting go of your fears or these giant roadblocks that you see ahead of you, because often they are really only in your own mind or they are much bigger in your mind than they are in reality,” explains Rebecca Loebe.

Rebecca Loebe Photo One“Ghosts,” is the second song on the new album and the song poses questions that cause the listener to be introspective and ask have I? Word such as, “Don’t forget we are all worthy / Of a little faith and a lot of mercy,” remind us to perhaps to forgive ourselves or simply just to cut ourselves some slack. Perhaps if you are someone whose confidence is a bit shaken or you still have some healing to do in your life, you need to make this song, your song this year.

“I have been thinking recently about who are (the people) in my core audience and I think that (the album) will resonate with women like me who are in their twenties, thirties and forties and who are emotionally empathetic. They are women who are engaged with the world and who like diving into lyrics. I also find that there are a lot of baby boomers in my audience, which I love. There are a lot of folks who grew up listening to listening to the classic songwriters of the sixties and seventies and who are drawn to the kind of music that I make, not just mine, but that of my peers,” she says.  

The song “Growing Up,” opens the album and wow would be a good way to describe Rebecca Loebe’s soulful vocals. It is a slower tempo song that speaks to how we change as we go through the years. Although, the song moves slower you are going to find yourself closing your eyes, moving to the music, perhaps tapping your toe or looking for a dance partner. It is a stunning vocal performance by Rebecca Loebe.

There are only three things on the album cover that are not white or a soft shade of gray, Rebecca Loebe’s name, her red lipstick and her dark hair. We find the singer / songwriter peering over the top of white sunglasses with a very subtle background. It works well and makes a big impact.

“This is the first time that I have had an album cover when the photo shoot had any kind of a theme to it. Usually the theme has been (she starts laughing) Rebecca stand outside in a pretty field. With this one I really had a strong vision of what I wanted it to look like and what I wanted it to represent. We talked about the theme of the record being let it go of what is no longer serving you and how we can all stand to give up our ghosts. I have been thinking a lot recently about how every person that we meet and every person that we interact with or every person that we ever talk to is so complex and so full of these rich complicated histories that we don’t ever fully know.  If you know anything about somebody it is based upon a small amount of information. We are all like giant icebergs, because all that is showing is the tiny tip.

We are all so full of our own history. We are a walking pile of our own experiences, decisions and situations that we have been in. Although, we can learn how to control our relationships in our past, we can’t ever fully run away from them. They are inside of us and it is who we are.  It is just this pile of experiences that are growing inside of each and every one of us. The white objects in this photoshoot represent those histories that are stacking up silently inside of us. I see it as a reminder for myself and not anyone else. I try to keep that in mind as I am meeting people and talking to people, so I can have a little more grace when I am interacting with them,” says Loebe.  

When we asked Rebecca Loebe about your song “On Your Mark,” her response surprised us, “I am excited and a little nervous to tell you about this song. It was an unusual writing process for me. Normally, I will start with a nugget of an idea. I will have a little bit of a melody and a little bit of a lyric that will come to me then I will put that together. I will figure out a song that has that line in it and I will work out from there.  Most of the songs for the record came that way. This song came from a writing exercise from a songwriting retreat that I was on. I was in west Texas with a group of about twenty singer / songwriter friends. There was no internet and there were not any cell phones. The guy who runs the retreat has a few exercises that he likes everyone to do to loosen up your creativity.

With one of the methods called the cut up method he passes out these books, like romance novels, sci-fi novels and all sort of paperback books. You tear them apart and you rip out pages. You look through them to find single words that jump out at you, because they are interesting. You cut them out and you make a giant pile of the words that you find interesting. Then you start arranging your words to see if it sparks any ideas or if any lines come to you.  That is where the chorus for the song came from. I had “on your mark” and “merry-go-‘round” in my little pile of words. I remember looking through the pile and thinking I need to find the words “get set,” because I wanted it to say on your mark, get set, go and don’t come back. The point is it was supposed to give me the idea. I wrote the chorus (She sings it).  

Once I had that I put together a few words that I had cut out and that implied a verse and I wrote it all out as a first draft, then I kept rewriting. I would take the first draft and refine it and change some of the lines and I started writing towards a story. That would be my second draft and then I would start over again with the third draft. Around the fourth or fifth draft I looked at it and I realized it was a story about gambling addiction. I have been close to someone who was affected by that. It is hard to watch and it is sad to watch. From that point I wrote the song from the perspective of being a lounge singer at a casino. The band is in the corner and they have a four hour set to play and they see this guy come in. He has no idea what is ahead of him and he is new at playing cards. He is really excited and by the end of the cycle he is completely destroyed by the greed and the sickness for gambling.”

As for the musicians who play on the album she says, “It is a really great crew of people. I am playing acoustic guitar and the producer Will Robertson also played acoustic guitar. Anthony da Costa plays electric. He is a fantastic singer and songwriter.  Raina Rose who is one of my very best friends is also a great singer and songwriter and she sings harmonies, as well as, Heather Mae another singer and songwriter. The core of the rhythm section is Andrew Pressman on bass and Robin MacMillan on drums and percussion. Andrew has been one of my best friends for the last ten years and Robin is his best friend since childhood.  They grew up in California and they have been playing music together since they were in the fourth grade.  I knew I wanted to work with Andrew on bass and I wanted to work with a drummer who was his favorite person to jam with. I do not have a touring band, so I wanted to take a shortcut to chemistry. I wanted a bass player and a drummer who had a lot of built in chemistry. I did one record with them in the past and it worked out really well, so we did it again.”

The song “Got Away,” has a bit of a bite to it and it has a quicker tempo. The opening guitar riff draws you into the song immediately. While a lot of songs are about the one who got away and the storyteller is talking about a love now lost that is not the case with “Got Away.” Loebe puts some sandpaper into her vocals giving the song more of an edge, as she sings “I’m the one that got away.”

Loebe says, “The attitude of this song is, you can’t hold onto me. You can’t control me. You might just wake up and I will be gone. Who knows? It is implied that the person in the song is currently in a relationship, but is feeling kind of antsy. It is also about we can all get a little bit antsy about being a grownup and of grownup life. After you become an adult and you start paying your bills for the first time. When I paid my bills for the first month, I felt so accomplished and when I paid my bills for the second month I thought I nailed that. In the third month I paid my bills and I thought I got this and I am so on top of things. In the fourth month I thought gee do I have to do this again? It just kept going. Now fifteen years later here I am, still holding onto that feeling of, on the one hand I’m a good citizen and I pay my bills on time, but on the other hand sometimes you just want to run away from it. I think that is a really natural impulse and I wanted to celebrate that impulse. That is what I enjoyed about this song is that it wasn’t bemoaning somebody else getting away or somebody else doing something to you. It was proactive. I might run for it. I might bolt, because I am feeling kind of antsy.”

Rebecca Loebe uses a melisma to great effect with her vocals. We stumped you right? If you are not a singer you probably don’t know what a melisma is, so asked Loebe to explain.

“A melisma is the singing of a single syllable, while moving between several different notes in succession. I am holding that one syllable and singing a bunch of different notes.

I can’t even claim that this was intentional, but it was just the way that it came out.  A little bit of it came out that way and I liked it. I kept developing it and it grew and eventually that became the main hook of the chorus, but it wasn’t decided (in advance),” she says.  

Let’s talk about the song “Tattoo."

“It is funny you have asked me about a couple that came in unconventional ways. I was asked to write a song for a TV show, which is something that I didn’t think I would ever want to do or that I would be good at, but I got this email asking if I would write a song for a character on a television show. The character on the show was going to start performing and they needed material for her. I was thinking nah, that’s not how I get inspired, I need organic inspiration. I can’t just be inspired by a business email. They wanted two songs and at the bottom of the email it said, if we choose your songs we will pay you, seven thousand dollars each and I thought it can’t hurt to try (she laughs).  That was inspiring. I decided to give it a shot. Rebecca Loebe Photo Three

One of the things that they wanted was an introspective Folk ballad and I thought how hard can that be? I sat and I started finger picking. I read a little bit about the character who in fact had a lot of tattoos and who had recently had his heart broken. Aside from that I was channeling my emotions and heartbreak, while trying to remember what it felt like the last time I was really trying to get over someone. That is a hard thing to do. You can’t change your emotions. You can change your mind and control your thoughts, but you can’t control how you feel. It is like somebody trying to change their mind by telling themselves I am fine and I am not even thinking about you. I am still not thinking about you and I am doing a good job not thinking about you and that is how over you I am.  Then you have this permanent and visual reminder that you will never get away from without some procedures. It is just there reminding you of this relationship. That is where that came from.  It turns out I have some emotions to process after all,” she says.

As for Rebecca Loebe’s incredible vocals, “I have been singing all of my life since I was a kid. My voice has grown, as I have grown. It has evolved with me. I took voice lessons when I was young. I went to music school and I studied voice there a little bit, but I was probably eighteen or nineteen when I stopped studying voice at Berklee.  I think most of what I do now vocally is the result of spending ten to fifteen years on the road singing for people every night. It is feeling out what feels good to me and what people respond to and learning as I go.”

She has been singing for audiences as a touring musician for a long time now.

“It depends on when you start the clock, I went on my first tour in 2004 and then I went home to Boston where I was living at the time and I spent a year working at a recording studio and working at a grocery store, while trying to figure out how to make music my fulltime occupation.

In 2006 I quit my job and I moved into my car. I started touring again trying to make it fulltime. I was on and off touring in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and I was trying to do it fulltime, but I was failing. I would have to move back in with my parents or sleep on the couches of friends. I took part-time jobs, licked my wounds and tried to figure out how to get my next record made. In 2009 I finished a record that I felt pretty good about and I went out on tour and the tour got longer and longer. By the end of 2009 and early 2010 I realized that I hadn’t had another job in a year and that I was actually making a living as a fulltime musician. In some ways the clock starts in 2004 when I went on my first tour, but in some ways the clock starts in 2009, because that is when I started making a living at it fulltime,” she says.

We asked Rebecca Loebe how it affects her as a performer when she feels the energy that comes from an audience, “It is crucial and it is everything. When I am performing songs live for a room full of people the whole point of it is that I give them something that they can’t get at home, while listening to my songs. That means sharing about the inspiration of the song and sharing the meaning a little bit more. Also, it means reacting to what the audience is giving me and it changes every night. There is a real exchange of energy and information. It is like a conversation, but I am the only person talking.  It is really important to me that I am engaged and connected with the audience, because they give me their energy, as they are experiencing the song. Once I sing the songs they don’t just belong to me anymore and they are not just about my feelings and emotions when I wrote the song. Once you hear the song it becomes about your experiences and your feelings. It (becomes) about what led you to this room and what colors the way that you hear the song.  You have a group of twenty-five or twenty-five hundred people who are all interpreting the song through their own mental filters at the same time. That creates something. There is energy and when it comes back onstage it helps me to perform the next song.”

Rebecca Loebe has become pretty popular with audiences in Europe and later this year she will be touring in England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany. She has already visited Montreal, Canada and before and after her tour in Europe she will be crisscrossing the United States.

Loebe offers up these insights about touring in other countries, “I have played in some countries where English is more understood and in some countries where it is less understood and in countries where English is not predominately understood it definitely requires a different performance style. It requires songs that communicate emotion musically more than lyrically. I will skip songs when the melody doesn’t move much even if the lyrics are really meaningful and I am really proud of them. I will substitute for them with songs that have a more dramatic melody line or a more interesting rhythm, so people who don’t understand the lyrics can get a toehold into them and they can still have an enjoyable and emotional experience. 

It is interesting how different countries in Europe have different levels of fluency in English. In the Netherlands they speak exceptional English. When we went to Belgium for one show, I found throughout the show there was a murmuring of conversation and I thought I just didn’t have the audience that night. I learned later that half of the people didn’t speak English, so their friends were translating the lyrics for them. I thought that was very sweet.”

One might argue that a career in music for Rebecca Loebe was born when she was six years old and she sang a song at a talent show that took place at the end of a summer camp.

“I practiced it all summer and I was so excited. It was a song from The Little Mermaid, which was my favorite thing at that point, because I was a six year old girl. I sang “Part of Your World.” I remember my mom standing in the back crying. At lunch after the talent show people were really nice to me. Then the fifth graders invited me to sit with them at lunch. Being invited to sit with the fifth graders was a pretty big deal. At that point I thought I like this music thing,” she says.

Not quite The Little Mermaid, but at home, Rebecca Loebe was listening to Doo Wop and Soul and girl groups, such as The Shangri-las and The Marvelettes. During her middle school and high school years she turned to Alternative Rock and groups like the Gin Blossoms.

“There was also some great singer and songwriter stuff going on in the mid to late nineties. Jewel’s early records had a big influence on me and I loved Sarah McLachlan and Ani DiFranco. It was a major moment in Pop culture right when I was fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. It was a great time.  I happened to be a teenager during this golden moment in the music industry. There were a lot more women in the mainstream than was typical. I didn’t know at the time that was abnormal,” says Loebe.

That provided us with a nice segue into Rebecca Loebe’s views concerning women in music, “When I was a kid I listened to a lot of girl groups I always thought that women controlled the music industry, because all of the music that I liked was by women and I just imagined the music world as being completely controlled and dominated by women. Then I grew up and I went to music school and there was an eight to one male to female ratio. I do think that they have worked hard to straighten that out a little bit since I was there in the early 2000s. It was a pretty shocking and male oriented environment. Then in my (sound) engineering major the ratio was twenty-five to one male to female. I don’t think they were turning women away at a high rate, there were just fewer women applying to the program at the time. Why is that? I don’t know why things are the way that they are, but I know when I am in a room, like I was at a recent event where there were twenty different bands, there were probably eighty men and fifteen women. Most of the band members were men and occasionally the lead singer would be a female and occasionally one side musician would be a woman. It is so typical to have a group that is all male. That is the default and that is just what a band is, but if you have a band that is all female it is (viewed as) a novelty. It is a chick band. It is a lady band. It is a girl group. I don’t lose sleep over it, but I am miffed, considering how much women have to offer. Why aren’t they given more opportunities to offer it?”

Rebecca Loebe is creating her own opportunities in music and she has been doing so for a long time now. If she continues to create stellar albums like Give Up Your Ghosts, she will become to girls and young women today what Jewel, Ani DiFranco and Sarah McLachlan were to her when she was a teenager in the nineties, an inspiration and a mentor.  

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This interview by Joe Montague  published March 4th, 2019 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of Rebecca Loebe  and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved