Local Current Blog

Rachel Lime on her wide-ranging music: ‘This is what makes me alive.’

Photos by Shelby Lano (above), Alan de Leon Taverna (below); both courtesy Rachel LIme.

In a biweekly series of features, we’re inviting Minnesota artists to introduce themselves to our audience. Today: Rachel Lime, an experienced musician who’s emerging as a singer-songwriter. Catch her on Sounds Like Home X, June 24.

My name is Rachel, and I’m a songwriter, producer, and performer. I have made music ever since I can remember. I took piano beginning when I was seven. I think as soon as I learned how to play the piano, I was writing stuff.

The first songs I actually made for public consumption beyond my piano recitals were these settings of poems from these books by Alison Croggon. They’re the Pellinor books. They’re basically like if Lord of the Rings had an angsty 16 year old female protagonist, and they’re these beautiful poems. I was really inspired to try to bring them to life. I think I was 13 at the time, and I tried to figure out how to compose and arrange a piece with different parts using our digital piano and tried to Google how to hook it up to our computer and record it with Audacity. I put them on YouTube and shared them within the fandom — totally geeky, and I still am, as people who listen to my album will figure out, I think. I even sent them to the author because I was very brave back then.

I’m 26 now, so that was 13 years ago, and since then, I’ve been making music constantly, but not really putting it out there in a real way. In high school, I learned how to play the guitar and would play songs by whoever I was listening to at the time. Then it was Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, and even Dashboard Confessional, and I was making songs like that, and also kind of like Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, things with piano. In college, I started getting into synth-pop, and so I learned how to do that and would make songs in that style, basically trying to imitate what I’d heard from these musicians and bands that I liked.

Over the last few years, I’ve been finding a voice and finding what I actually want to make, not just what I enjoy listening to, which is pretty different. I think what’s coming through is my actual vision for the music I intuitively want to make, how my brain works, and how I hear things and express things. I think it was only a year or two ago, where I really started making music where I was like, “This is mine.”

This is bringing together everything I’ve heard, everything I am passionate about doing, and turning it into something that is more individual and maybe more risky, because I’m really not sure what the genre of the whole thing is. It shifts with all the songs, but it was me following that voice and following that intuition. What makes me feel really validated about where I’ve ended up is that it’s kind of full circle to the first stuff I wrote when I was 13, where it was very inspired by folk music and whatever I thought of as medieval music. A lot of the music that I’ve made really captures that kind of fantasy world I was trying to access back then. It’s really been cool to come back to that stuff with more confidence and more certainty, and feel like I’m coming back to what I already was, but didn’t know how to express.

I’m adopted and came to Minnesota when I was four months old. I was lucky to be in touch with Korean culture through different cultural programs, because there are a lot of Korean adoptees in Minnesota. I learned the language, some of the culture and food, and even folktales, children’s stories, and things like that. That definitely is present in my music. I have a song called “Silla,” which is very loosely based on the story of this queen in sixth or seventh century Korea. I play a couple traditional Korean instruments on it, the gayageum and changgu, which I first learned at summer camp.

I guess being adopted and being from a place that was so distant, and growing up in a place where I felt very alienated and strange, even though I was pretty much like everyone else in terms of cultural things — I grew up going to a Lutheran church. I would eat sloppy joes, and all the American food. My family is Norweigan. I had all of that around me, but then I was also just a weirdo. I mentioned I was a huge geek, and I definitely felt like a misfit in a lot of ways. I think that is definitely a big part of my artistic voice, where I guess it’s just this sense of alienation and search for belonging. All of the songs that I make, and all of the stuff I create are all about that search for something, somewhere else.

The whole album is called A.U., which stands for a lot of things, but the first thing is alternate universe. All of the songs are about trying to access this other place, go beyond the ordinary, and go beyond where I am right now.

The lead single that I released the other week is about humanity’s message to extraterrestrial life in the form of the Voyager Golden Record that was sent out with Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977. It’s basically a message in a bottle from humanity to anyone who’s out there. It’s kind of this idea of searching for something else, and it’s very light hearted, but there’s still that message. “Silla” is inspired by Korean history and mythology and is about Queen Seondeok before she was queen, when she was just a princess knowing that she had this destiny to fulfill. She was obsessed with the stars, and she ended up making this the first astronomical observatory in Asia. I mean, I’m sure it was for more practical and mundane reasons than what I made it out to be in the song, but it’s about this kind of longing for the stars or for something else. The other songs are about that as well in different ways. A lot of them aren’t exactly biographical, like the first few singles, but are obviously related to my own feelings in life. Being adopted has definitely made me very connected with the stories of seeking a place where you feel at home.

I’m actually moving to New York this summer, not for music exactly. I’ve spent a lot of time in Minnesota, even though I’ve just kind of started doing music. I went to college here. I grew up in central Minnesota. I’m back pretty much every year at some point for some stretch of time. I’m really excited to move to New York, and it’s really not art related, although that would be a plus. I’m going because I’m excited by the idea of the world hopefully being a bit more open, at least more open than last year, and some new horizons to explore.

I don’t really know how to play live shows, so I need to work on that, but I definitely want to play shows, wherever I can. I would love to come back here and play as much as I can. I love the music scene here, and have been an observer for many years now, just not up on the stage, usually. I’m gonna continue to pursue it and who knows where it’ll go. Anything worth doing is worth doing fully, so I’m putting everything into this.

I’ve learned over the few shows I have played that it’s really hard to be on a stage alone, especially if I don’t have a clear instrument. I have a keyboard that I need to figure out how to make work with all my songs, but all of my songs are made very much on a computer. There’s not many live continuous sections. It’s all pieced together with MIDI, which is intentional, but makes it very challenging to try to think about how to actually play that in an engaging way. I think it would be good for me to try to create adaptations of all the songs, and get a drummer, a bassist, and another person on keys. Get some sick lights, and maybe like video projections to make it more interesting. We’ll see. I’ve learned now that taking this seriously means learning how to do 10 different things and trying to do them well. I’m now marketing myself and trying to figure out Google ad campaigns. Then, I’m going to have to be a stage technician and try to figure out how live performance works, and also have to be a performer. I creative directed a music video.

My video started with me just thinking, “You know what? I should probably make a music video from one of the songs on my album.” I posted on my Instagram stories and two separate people recommended Alan De Leon Taverna. He had also worked with someone I know, FPA, who’s a really amazing musician. There were all these second degree connections, so I emailed him and pitched a couple songs. Basically, he was like, “Yeah, just let me know about a concept.” Then it was  1 a.m., and I was laying in bed like, “What is the concept?” and then I suddenly got this image of a girl on a bed that was like floating through space. I was like, “Okay, that’s it.” Then, I grabbed a piece of paper and started drawing out a storyboard, which has pretty much remained almost shot for shot, with Allen making it much better than my drawing.

We worked over two months to put it together, to assemble a crew, for me to go on Etsy for literally dozens of hours and find the wardrobe, and for me to find makeup artists, Miz Frozaen, who’s amazing, and the person who did my hair, Pang Zoua Thor. It was really important for me to have an Asian team with me, doing my hair and makeup, because that’s important. I see Asian people whose hair and makeup are done by people who aren’t Asian and it’s just clear to me, and I wanted people who are like me to do it, and to not exotify me or make me into something I’m not. That was really cool. We shot in a day and a half. The crew was great. The lights were great. It was amazing and so magical to go from this 2D drawing I had made to this room with a green screen and a bed. Alan and the team did an amazing job, and I feel very grateful to have been able to make it.

I’ve always made music, and I always will. This is a new step for me, because I’m really trying. I’ve spent so long doing this as a hobby, because I felt like I couldn’t do it for real. I felt like I couldn’t put resources into it, and that I should be focusing on other things. I’m actually now kind of turning a corner in my life, I guess, where I’m like, “You know what? This is what makes me alive. This is what makes me want to be alive and to live, and it connects me with people.” I want to continue to pursue it on this level. I mean, you can never know where it’ll end up.