Rachael Jean Harris releases Imprint, her second single of 2022, a mystical, grief-fuelled exploration of her relationship with the coast-dwelling Cormorants of her New Brighton home. Referencing the physical landscapes of the Mersey Estuary, the Irish Sea, and the Liverpool city skyline with its ever watchful Liver Birds, Imprint evokes a Beatles-esque, Kate Bush inspired, time-tripping spin around the strangeness of grief and the beckoning solace of the natural world. Out on all major streaming platforms on May 27th.
Liverpool-born Rachael Jean Harris has carved out a highly individual sound which melds folk, jazz and indie, taking inspiration from poetry, literature and inventive, thoughtful songwriters (PJ Harvey, Suzanne Vega, Esperanza Spalding).
Musically, she was a late starter. Early obsessions with academic and sporting success were undone by a “fearful and suffocating perfectionism” and, as she drifted into her twenties, attempts at graduate study faltered. To the surprise of many close to her, she responded by latching onto a compulsion to make music, emulating the expression of bands and songwriters she was growing to love. Self-taught, led by intuition, and encouraged by a few friends, she stuck with it, sought singing lessons and was encouraged by her teacher to study at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. It was those three years at LIPA which put her on the songwriting path.
Since then, her creative intention has been clarified: “To respond faithfully to the inner compulsion to write songs that pinpoint the truth and beauty of human experience and invite moments of communion, affirmation and empathy.”
Recently, the vast majority of her songs have fallen into rich themes surrounding the lives of people on the raw edges of existence, real stories that have become areas for detailed thought and research and resulted in unexpected 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 suffering in conflict zones and lesser reported corners of the world. By taking real events and accounts and extrapolating these into fully formed narratives, she placed the listener inside the story and presented them face to face with the freedom, longing, danger and defiance that her protagonists experienced.
Rachael's 2019 release, Leaving Light, turned her attention to those living in confinement, particularly the day-to-day realities of Death Row inmates in the USA. After replying to an advert from an organisation which facilitated communication with prisoners, she started a pen friendship with one at Ely State Prison, Nevada. It was the development of this friendship, and the inspiration she found in the connections discovered, that compelled her to write a series of songs examining questions and ideas of longing, memory, the power and potential of mercy and the tenacity of human dignity. Inspiration came too from literature, including: The House of the Dead (Fyodor Dostoevsky), Poems from Prison (Etheridge Knight), and Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson).
What has led her to write about these unique subjects?
“There’s no doubt that there are echoes of my own life experiences in the emotions of Dig and Leaving Light. For most of my twenties, I was in a difficult marriage. It was painful, distressing, and lonely. For a long time I didn’t have the courage to leave for good, but the women in many of the conflict stories I was researching had huge inner strength and I fed off that. I sing the songs from Dig in the first person. Listening back, I’m invoking the defiance of those women whose stories I resonated with, albeit from vastly different realities.”
[Well the city lies in ruins and you’ve a whisky in your hand/ there’s a fire raging through it and you’re still swaggering around/ I’m calling you out… ]
“It’s a similar story with Leaving Light. I was friends with the inmate a long time before I started writing about confinement but his graciousness and humour, despite his situation, were inspiring. Our own personal longings were at times reflected in each other’s experiences and of course that has come through in the songs.”
[...do you know how it feels/ to be broken by the beat of relentless say-so, mouth shut, stay low/ even my dreams occupy the walls/ But now I’m swinging for an aspirin, coffee, paper, pen/ The rope the scope the sweep the swing/ Maybe today I’ll get up like I’m going somewhere.]
Rachael's current writing takes on more intentionally personal themes, intertwined with a growing interest in the lives of birds. In doing so, she is asking questions about our fundamental connectedness, loneliness, the importance of attention and affection for the lives we share our spaces with, and how her own journeys through loss, grief, past relationships and new freedoms find solace and reverberation within the natural world.
Rachael graduated with a first class degree from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a distinction at Masters level from the Royal Northern College of Music and is currently supported by Help Musicians UK.