This week at Musical U, we got to sit down with Adara Rae (pronounced “Ah-DAR-uh”), songwriter and solo artist as well as the lead of her band, Adara Rae and the Homewreckers. At the young age of 20, she’s toured twice, released a debut album with her band, and has spent time recording with successful musicians like Chris Wilson, the drummer of Good Charlotte, and Mike Herrera, singer and founder of the band MXPX.
Adara had some great insights into the life of a songwriter and what it means to connect with others through the music she creates. From doing what comes naturally to dispelling the “pop is a dirty word” myth, Adara talks about the impact lyrically-sound and sonically-catchy music can make.
Musical U: Hey Adara, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Tell me a little bit about your musical background.
Adara Rae: Of course, no problem. So I didn’t study. I’m actually in school for social services. I kind of did the whole, you know, be-a-rock-star-but-I’m-realistic type of thing. So, musically, I think I took a few guitar lessons when I was 9 or 10 and that’s about it. I’m really a songwriter over anything else. I never really aspired to be Jimi Hendrix or anything on the guitar.
Getting to Know Adara Rae
MU: Good to know! Who would you say are some of your favorite or most influential musicians?
AR: So, I love Morrissey, the singer of The Smiths. I’ve seen him several times, I believe lyrically he’s one of the best. Also Bruce Springsteen’s a big inspiration of mine. I just saw him for the first time this month. It’s all older stuff. Janis Joplin, The Doors, George Michael.
MU: So you’re actually studying social work right now; tell me a little bit about your balance between your area of study and your life as a songwriter and band member.
AR: I’m not gonna lie – it’s very stressful right now, but I want to help people and touch people’s lives whether that’s going to be lyrically and through my music or whether that’s going to be through work in the community hopefully with a social work degree, so I’m just trying to explore all the outlets I can do that in. But I definitely find myself connecting a lot with people through my music and my lyrics.
MU: How long have you been writing songs?
AR: I’ve always been singing. I think it was in about first grade when I got my first journal that said songwriting or something like that on the front. A friend of mine gave it to me. And I look back at that sometimes and just laugh hysterically. But they were definitely attempts at songs, that’s for sure.
So the songwriting attempts started at about first grade and you know, there’s a song on my album right now that I wrote when I was 14. I would say when I was about 13 or 14 they started to get more legitimate.
The Truth about Writing Songs
MU: Have you ever thought about quitting in the past? If you did think about quitting, how did you handle it and why didn’t you quit?
AR: I don’t think that I’ve ever felt that way. I’m very blessed to have never felt that way. I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support in Tucson, my hometown, and now in a lot of surrounding cities, so I’ve been really blessed with that and that’s really helped me move forward. I’ve had a couple of times when I’ve doubted, but I’ve never wanted to quit.
Specifically one time, I was about to get on a plane to go record with some people I really admired, Mike Herrera from MXPX and Chris Wilson, the drummer from Good Charlotte. I started thinking to myself, you know, “What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like my songs?”
And as I’m saying that I started flipping through my phone to distract myself. I opened up my email and found an email from someone from Panama who happened to be in Tucson and ended up at one of our shows. He wrote about 5 paragraphs about how a specific song of mine had really touched him and told me not to give up. That was a pretty cool moment for me. It’s just little things like that I have to remind myself about when I start to doubt.
MU: Well it sounds like you’ve got some really great experience. What is the hardest part for you when it comes to staying motivated to keep practicing and writing?
AR: That’s an interesting question because I like to talk a lot about [the fact] that I don’t like to push the songwriting process whatsoever. If I can’t come up with something authentic in that moment I don’t want to push that.
So far, I just have to believe in the pattern that I will progress and get better, have more [song-writing] experience and just life experience to fuel the stories.
As far as motivation goes, I just write when I feel it. I think when you can’t really explain how or why something happens, then it’s right.
MU: What do you like the most about songwriting, specifically?
AR: I’m a bit of an empath, a person who very much wants to relate to and help other people. So being to take a page from your own diary and write a catchy hook with it so that hopefully, it’ll get stuck in someone’s head and maybe they’ll think about what you said and relate to it, is really cool. I have a strong connection with the musicians that I admire because their lyrics, at a certain time or with a certain song, have literally changed my life and set me on a different path. To be able to do that for someone else is really the goal for me.
MU: When you’re writing a song, are you focused on it being a “hit” song and creating something people really want to listen to, or are you more focused on the content and how it makes you feel and how it might make someone else feel?
AR: That’s interesting because I think in some ways there’s a little bit of a negative connotation that comes with the term “pop music”. Especially these days, there’s a lot of hipster-indie stuff, to a point that it’s almost not cool to like something that’s pop. I’ve always kind of been offended by that as a concept.
I think if it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong. [Songwriting] should be fun and it should come naturally.
I like to make my songs pretty straightforward, simple, and easy to listen to. I think if it’s easy to listen to, if it’s catchy, people are going to listen to it more and then if you have meaningful lyrics within it, that takes it to a new level. So I guess I kind of focus on both.
MU: What kind, or whose, style do you feel you resemble the most?
AR: That’s funny. So a lot of things that we’ve done as a band, for example on this tour we played a show in Altadena, California, and somebody in the audience after told me “I can’t place your sound, but I love it.”
I’ve always strived to not be in a genre box. My live band is myself on guitar; a bass player; a drummer; and a utility player who plays saxophone, guitar, and viola, and switches those instruments throughout the performance. That has really been a blessing to me, because, like I said, I don’t like to be caught in a genre.
MU: So you sort of sweep through several different genres at the same time?
AR: Yes, definitely. We’ve been called a couple of different things. I don’t like to call us any one thing, I just try to repeat what others have said. We’ve been called bluesy-pop-rock and we’ve also been called folk-country-rock. Especially with our most recent album, called Here Comes The Music there was kind of a whole campaign around that, of, you know, this is just music. On the album you’re going to hear some songs that are more country or pop or rock but it’s just music. There’s lyrical meaning and overall, it should be fun to listen to – because that’s music.
Words of Wisdom
MU: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a songwriter?
AR: As far as lyrics go, I think everyone is capable of writing songs. If you’re capable of connecting to your own feelings and writing them down on paper then you can be a songwriter. Nowadays you don’t need to play an instrument, you can just pop up a beat on the computer and go. So lyrically I think everyone has it in them. If you wanna play an instrument and write the instrumentals for a song, then there’s a learning curve. You have to learn to play and you have to put the effort into that.
MU: When did you feel like you really “made it” as a musician or a songwriter?
AR: I still don’t think I have, but that’s in my nature to always be striving for more. I know when I started just in Tucson there were a few venues there where I said to myself “If I can just play there, I’ll be satisfied.” And now I’ve played there about a million times! So in some ways it’s good because I think it’s humbling, but in some ways it’s negative because I think I need to appreciate what I’ve had a little more.
Being 20 years old and just getting back from my second tour and having an album released already and working with the people I’ve worked with, I think I’ve done okay. A really important moment that continues to happen now is seeing people I don’t recognise sing my words in the crowd. It’s one thing when your mom is singing along – but when someone you don’t know knows your music, that’s pretty cool.
MU: You know it’s funny, we’ve interviewed several different musicians and every single one has the same answer – “I still don’t feel like I’ve made it.” What’s the hardest part about writing songs?
AR: In a way it’s rude of me to say that there isn’t a hardest part, but with that I would just revisit what I said before that when you can’t explain how something is happening then it’s a good thing. You know I think it’s a gift the way that I write and I’m thankful for it. Songs just kind of come to me. I think if it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong. It should be fun and it should come naturally.
MU: Have you ever written a song that’s really personal and what did it mean to you?
AR: All of ‘em. 100%.
There’s a specific song, which is the song that the guy from Panama commented on and that several people have commented on, and it’s the one I wrote when I was 14. And it’s called “If You Loved Me.” It’s a song that I play over 5 years later now and I go “What the hell was I thinking when I was writing this?” It’s so deep and I can’t even recall feeling that way. So that one’s very personal and it’s special to me because I wrote it so young and I’ve been playing it for so many years. But I had a man message me and say it’s helping him get through his divorce. So that’s powerful.
MU: What makes some songs more personal for you and other ones not so much?
AR: I think it’s about content. I don’t really like to write anything that lyrically is just nonsense. I have a few songs that are just fun and those are definitely a little less personal. But I think the songs that come when I’m in a harder place are more personal than the fun happy ones.
MU: What are your best songwriting tips for aspiring writers?
AR: Just be authentic to yourself and to what you believe in, in your writing. If you do that, there will be others who feel that way, too.
MU: What’s the most important thing you want people to know about you, your music, and your craft?
AR: I think to know that my songs and my lyrics have more value than just the poppy sound that you initially hear. That “pop is a dirty word to most musicians” thing – I want people to move away from that.
Thanks again, Adara, for sharing your insights and your story as a songwriter here on the Musical U blog.
To learn more about Adara and her music, check out her website, www.adararaemusic.com or visit the band’s Facebook page. Don’t forget to listen to Adara Rae and the Homewreckers’ debut album “Here Comes the Music.”