Arum Rae: From Showtime to Big Time

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Photo by Maeghan Donohue

RBC Bluesfest
Wednesday July 12
Barney Danson Theatre 7:30

Not everyone's career path veers the same. Touring to mild success in the beginning, of her career, Arum Rae finally found some career momentum after some licensing deals for shows like Nashville. Eight releases down the road and she's always moving on to the next record and the next sound in an effort to finally attain that record that feels just right. We caught up with Arum before her set at the packed July 12 day of the festival to talk licensing, stripping back music and the ups and downs of chasing perfection.

Ottawa Life: How did you find yourself on the licensing side of the music world, considering it was part of what launched you forward?

Arum Rae: I got involved totally accidentally and I'm still surprised that's how I made my career. I was touring and different things, and I wrote this song with John Paul White of the Civil Wars. It was my first experience with that, and I hadn't thought about the song's for a while and The Civil Wars ended up playing it on a record. I was waitressing in Austin, and got a call from Disney and wanted to use one of my songs. He said it was "Kind of a big deal, more than I  make in a year" it changed my life, not just because of the money, but it boosted my resume. I had some success in film and TV, but I don't necessarily write for it. It feels watered down to me. 

Can you talk about the intimate process behind Sub Rosa and why you decided to record it in such familiar places?

I've always been that intimate in performing, but I'm into production too. Having seven or eight releases out, each one of them I always felt I missed the mark on intimacy since I feel it so much live. I was touring with Rodriguez and I was playing solo, and then I'd get off connecting with fans, so I wanted to create something to connect with those fans again. Instead of editing, just doing thorough takes, not chopping it up. It was a deep craving, and it helped artistically clear the slate for my next record. 

Was it intimidating to leave it strip so much away?

I was intimidated for sure. I thought "Yeah, I wanna do this" but then I tried different guitars. Got home and did background vocals and I'd send them along, and my friend would say no. My friend would insist everything stay at their utmost pure. Sometimes I listen back and think I should've put more backgrounds on, it's hard.

How did your collaboration with Ken Lewis come about and what made you decide to pursue the EP?

He did the interim tracks on Watch The Throne, for JAY-Z and Kanye. I remember first hearing that record and when the interims come in I'd think "This is F***ing genius, who did this?" So we were talking about getting a producer for a single, someone mentioned Ken and I looked him up and realized I'd been following him for years, we worked on a single and he did a great job, we moved from there.

Considering all the moving you've done over the years, your music has a diverse feeling, is this in part due to the places you've lived?

It might have hurt me more than anything. I don't identify with singer-songwriters, that's just too limiting and boring for me. I was raised listening to Tom Waits, and he reinvents himself every time. I'm very much that way, for instance Sub Rosa versus the full band for the new record, I couldn't stay the same. Sticking to a sound for your brand, undermines your music. JAY-Z stays JAY-Z but he tries new stuff.

With this and your sound in mind, where does a song start for you?

I always feel like I missed the mark, which is torture but it's why you keep going. None of the songs come the same way. There's an idea where if you can't play a song on guitar or piano by itself, adding a whole bunch of shit to me fails at my chosen craft. I try to be able to get the point across at its purest form.