Liverpool-born Rachael Jean Harris has devoted her life to the writing of songs. Recently, the vast majority have fallen into rich themes surrounding the lives of people on the raw edges of existence. Each lasting several years, these themes become areas for detailed thought, study and research, sparked by real stories, resulting in evocative and poignant tales.
Following the acoustic sounds of Just Like He Said (2007), her more electric, grungy, 2013 release, Dig, focused on women and children in conflict zones, suffering in lesser reported corners of our world. Taking real events and accounts and extrapolating these into fully formed narratives, she attempts to place the listener inside the situation and present them face to face with the danger, freedom, longing and defiance that her protagonists experience.
Rachael's latest release, Leaving Light focuses on those living in confinement, in particular the day to day realities of Death Row inmates in the USA. Rachael started a pen friendship with Tamir, an inmate at Ely State Prison, Nevada, after seeing an advert for an organisation Human Writes that facilitates communication with inmates and provides a support network. It was through the development of this friendship, and the inspiration she found in Tamir's life, character, story and the connections between them both, that compelled her to write a series of songs.
What does long term confinement look like, feel like? How does somebody hold close a belief in their own dignity when choice, human contact and meaningful work are taken away? Who carries responsibility? What can we, on 'the outside' learn from those who practice purpose and hope within a mechanism that has abandoned them to the scrap heap? The songs explore questions and ideas surrounding the complexities of human dignity, longing, memory and the power and potential of mercy.
Leaving Light was also inspired by a variety of literary references including: The House of the Dead (Fyodor Dostoevsky), Falconer (John Cheever), Poems from Prison (Etheridge Knight), Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson), The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), and American Notes (Charles Dickens).
Rachael's current writing takes on a distinctly more personal theme, intertwined with a growing interest in the lives of birds. She is discovering how journeys through loss, grief, past relationships and new freedoms find solace and reverberation within the natural world.
Musically, her key strength is to allow the story and melody to inform and dictate the flow and direction of her songs, allowing her to incorporate more complex harmony, rhythm and song-structure than is typically found in the singer-songwriter tradition in a way that feels natural and appropriate. This considered approach results in each song having a unique flavour, and defined personality.
Rachael graduated with a first class degree from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and is due to begin a Masters programme at the Royal Northern College of Music in 2020. She credits the time spent listening to and gigging with local jazz musicians as the period that taught her most as a writer and player.
Musical influences are predictably numerous but she credits those who have inspired her most as PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Esperanza Spalding, Mahalia Jackson and the composers and songwriters of the Great American Songbook.