Artist Spotlight - Rachel Tucker
As Jill and Leah and I sat around the studio mixing room, with just a handful of musicians and producers, we awaited the yet unheard notes of Rachel Tucker's debut EP, Kingdoms. We had been invited to Rachel's "first listen" - when the artist gets to hear the final mix of their album for the first time. But this was not a familiar moment for Rachel. For her, we awaited songs that she had barely dreamed would ever play over a studio sound system. Years of private writing, of personal struggle, of family loss, of joy and transition, many late nights, supportive friends, and exhausting fundraising had led Rachel to this moment - a moment she had come so close to giving up ever reaching.
Rachel began her passion for music at a very young age. "I tinkered with writing music since I was maybe 7 or 8," Rachel recalled. "Unfortunately, big hits such as 'Challenging Me to a Race, Boy, It's Crazy' and 'Joe Boxer Ain't Got Nothing on the Lord' did not make it on this album," she laughed. "I've always loved music and singing."
On a September Friday night, students piled into a house on Carson-Newman campus to sing and recite poetry at a monthly event called, "coffee house." It was a place to celebrate the expression of art, in any form and talent, that existed among the CNU student body. Over 200 students loudly filled the house with laughter and conversation. Sometime amidst the madness, Rachel Tucker stepped onto the stage and began to play the piano. It was a song she was still working on at the time, a song now simply entitled "Michael's Song," about her prayers for her brother in Afganistan. The room fell silent as hundreds of eyes intently watched her play the piano and sing with the deepest sincerity - and significant talent.
I sat in the audience, blown away by the graceful strength of Rachel's voice. To no surprise of mine, she was one of the worship singers at Arrowhead Church. She also lead other worship events around the CNU campus and almost every time we held a coffee house, people cheered for Rachel to take the stage and sing.
Anyone who knows Rachel will tell you that her fiery hair is matched in ferocity only by her passionate personality. Very friendly and outgoing, Rachel is the kind of person who can make strangers feel like lifelong friends in just a moment of conversation. It's the kind of warm intensity that can be very powerful - and through music, Rachel reins in that inner passion and conveys it in the most emotional and authentic delivery. It is silencing and inspiring. All with the utmost modesty.
Some of that authenticity is owed to the various struggles Rachel experienced over the last few years. From her senior year of high school until her junior year of college, she struggled with an eating disorder. "It was something that very quickly took me captive," she said. "A couple of years later, I saw that even in those moments when I thought I was alone, Christ was in the middle of those battles sovereignly leading, teaching, and refining me to be more like him." In fact, the song, Burned, on her EP, is Rachel's apology letter to herself - lyrically and melodically moving from suffering to restoration. "Because of what I went through, I see him more clearly, and that's far better than any comfort of this day." Other events would help shape her music, including the passing of a close family member and the deployment of her brother to the conflict in the Middle-East.
"I've been writing serious songs for about 4 years now, and every time I played a new song, people would always ask me, 'Do you have a CD? How can I listen to your music?' and for a long time, my answer has always been, 'No,' unfortunately." But in the summer of 2013, Rachel was offered her first real chance to share her music with the world.
"It was really funny, I was walking by the stage and this guy literally jumped out in front of me to introduce himself." Chris Perkins, a producer out of the Knoxville area, was opening a new recording studio and had been recommended to listen to Rachel as a potential artist. "I still didn't have any real desire to record any of my songs, but honestly the opportunity wasn't really there until I met Chris." After he listened to her sing, he was convinced that she should record with his studio. "Suddenly Chris made me excited about the possibility of an album. Maybe this was something I could do, you know?" Despite her fear of rejection and failure, Rachel finally decided she would record an album, fulfilling a lifelong dream. And in the summer of 2013, Rachel began what she described as, "one of the most trying undertakings of my life."
Thankfully, Rachel wouldn't take on this project alone. In addition to a producer, she soon gained a faithful manager as well. She met Chandler Tarr at her church and after cultivating a friendship with him, asked if he would be her manager. "Chandler has been a lifesaver in this whole process. He is so organized and grounded emotionally, which was a big deal for me because I am not those things," she laughed. "I basically sang and he took care of just about everything else. The CD would not exist without him." Chandler also wrote the lyrics to the most gospel-explicit song on the album, To The Faithful, based on Colossians 1. This was the first song that Rachel co-wrote with another musician.
Rachel and Chandler decided to use the popular crowd-funding website, Kickstarter, to raise the funds necessary to create her EP. The Tucker team needed to raise $5,000 in order to cover the bare minimum costs of the album, and Kickstarter provided the perfect platform to get it off the ground. "We absolutely couldn't have done it without the Kickstarter. The whole concept, whoever came up with it, was a genius. It has allowed the means for people to accomplish things that they would not be able to do otherwise." But the Kickstarter wasn't as simple as just receiving money. "It is stressful. At first it moved along quickly but then slowed down. The thing is, you really have to sell yourself. You are the product and you have to convince others to buy that product - which is very much counter to my personality. But it was worth it. And it is so encouraging to see all the people support you in this way." The Kickstarter was fully funded and Rachel's CD was on track.
After a year of hard work, fund raising, late nights, and many hours in the studio, Kingdoms, as the EP would come to be called, was finally ready.
The Moment of Truth
Chris, the album's producer, hit the play button.
As we sat around the sound system to hear the album for the first time, the sincerity of the lyrics, the power of the vocals, the diverse instrumentation, and quality production far exceeded an average debut EP. Kingdoms doesn't feel like a first stab at a nursing student's hobby- it feels like the well funded product of a polished and experienced team of industry professionals.
"Truthfully, this process has been hard. If you don't love it deep down, you will be worn out. But you have to start. And when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, I love it. No matter how annoying the process is. It's very likely that you won't make a lot of money, in fact you might even lose money, and music has to be worth it for you. And it is for me. The fact that a chord of three causes something truly majestic to happen captivates my very spirit. It's a part of me. It makes sense. The Lord gave me this gift and I'm so thankful."
Rachel's desire to share her music with others is rooted in something much deeper than a desire for fame - her love of music and her hope it will inspire others. "I want people to hear what the Lord has done. One of the most encouraging responses to my album was a friend who said, 'I think I know you better from these songs than I've known you from the start. It makes me want to be whole, reminds me of why I'm breathing. I'm in awe of the goodness and faithfulness of our God.' These words sum it up quite nicely."
Kingdoms is evidence that wonderful things can be made by people who are passionate and thoughtful about their craft. With very little money, a full time nursing program, and a small team of talented people who believed in her, Rachel has come out with a fantastic first album.
"Oh, I expect there will be more to come. I think albums are like tattoos- once you get one, you just want to get another one. Not that I have a tattoo, but I'm sure it's the same principle."