By Deaglan Howlett | Posted August 13, 2019
Rachel Ana Dobken is a singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist based out of Asbury Park. Her latest release, When It Happens To You, is raw, inviting and familiar. Her songs touch on the human condition and how we are all much more similar than we sometime realize. Rachel was kind enough to let me ask her some questions about the album, her songwriting process and her eclectic mix of influences.
How did you come up with the title, When It Happens To You?
So, the title of the record actually came to me in the form of a poem. Essentially, it’s about the concept that we don’t know what an experience is like until we go through it ourselves. Someone can tell you, “Oh I can give you all of this advice, but you won’t know what it means, what it truly feels like, what to DO and what is right for YOU until it happens to you.” It came to me just like most of my writing does— subconsciously and at a time when I wasn’t thinking about it at all. I originally thought, I will make this into a song and use it as lyrics! Which I may still do… if you’d like to read it (this is a condensed version there's about 3 more stanzas!):
When it Happens to You
Then you know what to do
Know exactly what I am going through
Hope it happens to everyone
You and you and you…
So that you know what to do
When it happens to you
Our pride and preferential being
Existing within this sphere we call earth
Acting as if we have each other
When all we do is try to live first
Selfish, but it comes from a place of fear
Of wanting of wishing of hoping oh so much
That you'll find love, connection, acceptance, and trust
Pick me look at me love me respect me!
Because all we all ever want is acceptance
From you from me.
From every living thing.
It seems so hard to find
If you think of it this way...
Or maybe not?
When it happens to you
You will know what I mean
Hope you figure out what to do
When it happens to you
When did you start writing for this release?
Well, the oldest song on the record I wrote in 2013 when I was still living in Upstate NY post-Bard College. That song is “Got Away.” The second oldest song is “Belief Beneath” which came to me in 2015 and was completed shortly after my debut EP Detach was completed. The majority of the songs came to me within the past year, and I’d say about 40% of the songs were completely flushed out. It really all came together once we started tracking and mixing.
What is your writing process like?
My writing process is very fluid and organic. Ironically, it’s the opposite of how I’d describe myself— it’s relaxed, free, organic, flowing….
I don’t choose when or where songs come to me, or even what they sound like. They just do. It’s almost like its own spiritual entity (not to get all “hippy-dippy” on you here). I find when I allow the art to speak for itself and come out when it needs to, it always does and does so in a compelling way. I worry that I will run out of material but honestly, every time I think this, something better musically and philosophically comes to me. Something is always rattling around in my brain and is always dying to come out. Usually I’ll hear parts of a song when I am most able to let go and clear my brain (showering, when I’m falling asleep, while going for a run), when I am not thinking about anything at all.
A lot of times it can be after my brain is going for days and I’m coming down from, or feeling residual emotions from whatever situations are going on in my life. The next thing I know I’m in the shower and an entire melody comes to me, a lot of times in conjunction with a lyric. I have a basic idea of “this little line is definitely a chorus or a verse.” Almost immediately after I know, “oh ok this is what the groove is, this is what the drums will be doing.” And then I’ll have an idea, even if the parts have not come to me yet, where the song is to go.
Typically, (especially if I’m feeling wildly inspired or going through something) I will continue to hear parts throughout my days and weeks and won’t be able to escape it. The song just happens. Usually, after a structure is set the lyrics will come. It always varies in different ways and each song has its own set of similar yet different creations. After that, I’ll sit down a couple of times and work through until lyrics and structure are all flushed out! Then comes the workshopping with the band!
Influences for this album?
Well, I listen to everything but I don’t try to sound like anyone. I just know what I love and for me it comes back to, the groove and genuineness— intention behind the music. Don’t worry about the bullshit, don’t worry about people and your “image”, just hone your craft and be true to YOU. I guess I will answer this in regards to production, and where I saw the record fitting sonically in 2018. It was (sort of but not really) all over the place. Sometimes when referencing where the drums should sit, we’d pull up Allen Stone. Other times for vocals, it would be Lake Street Dive (I get the vocal comparison to Rachael Price a lot wooo go Rachel’s)! Guitar-wise, My Morning Jacket and White Denim… I could go on and on.
What was it like producing your own record?
It was fantastic and insanely overwhelming. I’m a perfectionist and I thrive off of being in control, so I definitely drove myself crazy at times (surprise, surprise)! I am so proud of the way the record came out, so proud of the work we created. Everyone told me during the process (while I was pulling my hair out) that I would be so incredibly proud of what I was achieving. But in the moment it was insanity at times. Listening to mixes over and over again and losing context, having to make every little decision from what take should we use to what guitar tone works best? I didn’t know how much panning mattered before this record… Should the drums be “wetter” and the guitar more “dry”? All of these decisions fell on my shoulders and I had to eventually be like, “whatever fuck it, I can’t care anymore, let’s just say it’s great. I have to be done…” But, as an artist with a vision, as someone who hears exactly what they want down to the last riff (I’m soooo happy with that ending to “Understand”) it’s extremely rewarding to know that you’ve created something with 100% authenticity true to the art itself. I know that isn’t always the case, but I will for damn sure strive hard to make sure it is in my music career.
Who did you work with?
Great question to follow-up with because as much as I loved to produce this, there is no way I could have without the help of the folks who gave me constant feedback and who played with me… let’s start with my engineers Tim Pannella and Joey Henderson— simply the best.
Then the players—Dan Haase (bass), Ryan MacLean (lead guitar), Andy Jackle (drums—”Intro,” “Got Away,” “Taking My Time”), Chris Dubrow (bass—”Us,” “Taking My Time”), Joey Henderson (guitar—”Always,” “Intro”; vox—”Belief”), Mark Masefield (b3), Ian Gray, Denis Daley, Bruce Krywinski (trombone, sax, trumpet), Danny Clinch (harmonica!) and I played drums, guitar, piano and sang. It was mixed by Kyle Joseph and mastered by Justin Colletti…
I’d be nothing especially without Chris Dubrow (who truly helped me get this off the ground organizing my thoughts and sounds through the pre-production phase), Dan (such an incredible player and amazingly helpful opinions, Dan and I have a great flow and a lot of respect for each other as musicians—I’m extremely grateful to him and our musical chemistry), Joey (oh man, thank you Joey, my right hand man in so many ways, Joey and I think, hear and feel things in a very similar fashion and we happen to have very similar musical influences)... and of course everyone else. Even the musical friends and my boyfriend who gave me feedback and lent me an ear to know I had to get the fuck out of my head—Renee Maskin, Tara Dente, Joe Michelini…
Favorite song you have written? Why?
Whew, this is a tough one… I think for this record it’s either “Understand,” “Everybody Wants” or “Learning How to Let Go.” In regards to “Understand” and “Learning,” its for similar reasons. I love the sentiments of what they captured, and more so I think because it’s something I live and struggle with frequently. This gnawing feeling that we have as a society, as people, as artists to compare and be down on ourselves for being different or wondering why we aren’t succeeding at a pace we expect, in any situation.
It’s a coming to terms with reality in the moment, but also allowing yourself to feel the feelings rather than fight with them. Not understanding all the time why you’re having them but just accepting that…
“Everybody Wants” is an epic love song and is in other ways one of the best track on the album (lyrically well-written, easily accessible, showcases my vocals the best)…
Who are some other artists you feel define your sound?
I love so much music, I’m such a music nerd I could cry about my love for the medium—I know this is why I keep going… some of my biggest influences, and you can make the call whether or not you hear it!: My Morning Jacket, The Band, Jeff Buckley, Incubus, John Mayer, Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Amy Winehouse, White Denim, Thelonious Monk, Julie London, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles… the list goes on and on…
I’m planning out 2019 and trying to figure out our gigs. I am in the works of figuring out some music videos, and I do have an unreleased single that will come out probably in the spring—keep the eyes and ears peeled!