Rachel Harrington: finally ready to sing gospel
It was a comment by her grandfather that gave Rachel Harrington the title for the first gospel song she’s ever written – “He Started Building My Mansion in Heaven Today”. It got her a nomination for the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at Merlefest (she came second). But its appearance on her new CD, Celilo Falls, is the culmination of a very long and personal journey for Harrington.
She was raised in a radical, right-wing Pentecostal home in Oregon but chose a different path, and is only now reconciling the parts of her life.
“I grew up surrounded by gospel music and I still love it, but once I became an adult and started to make my own decisions, about my own beliefs, well, I think one of the inherent things in being a teenager is rebelling,” she says. “As soon as I could, I ran as far away from the church as I possibly could.
“It has taken me years and years and years to get to a place where I could comfortably sing a gospel song, because it didn’t feel genuine. It felt just not right.”
The whole of the album, she says, feels more personal than her previous ones, and so she feels stronger ownership of it. And it’s been better-received than her two previous albums, doing well on the US folk charts – though Harrington is firm in her insistence that what she sings is actually country music.
“I still haven’t figured out why folks like this record better than the other two,” Harrington admits.
Harrington has never been afraid of being on the road, and happily spent three straight months on tour last year, including a huge number of UK dates. But it was a somewhat frustrating visit – the new CD only turned up right at the end.
But Harrington was determined to give Celilo Falls the publicity she thinks it deserves, so she slipped in another short tour – 10 shows in 10 days – this spring, to present it properly to her British fans.
“The record was actually supposed to have gotten to me here in England when I was on tour, but we had a few different delays,” she says. I didn’t end up getting the CD until the last three weeks of the tour, so we thought let’s do a proper release tour, at least just a couple of weeks.”
Despite the problems, the album was still released in the UK before it went on sale in the US – a deliberate decision on Harrington’s part.
“I’ve actually done that with all three of my records. It’s partly a matter of the workload, but it’s also a money -flow issue. You’ve got to spend a few thousand dollars on a release, so you do that and then you’re saving up and maybe three months later releasing in the States.”
She says she has a higher profile in the UK than at home, thanks in part to the support of DJ Bob Harris, so it makes sense to release the album here first.
And she’s already thinking about her next album, hoping to do one or two things that she couldn’t do on the last one.
“My vision for the record is that it’s going to be a honky-tonk, maybe rock ‘n’ roll kind of record. That’s what Celilo Falls started out to be: I had a batch of songs and we started out in that direction and then I had some funding that didn’t come through for the record, so all of a sudden couldn’t bring in the drummer and had to scale back the budget, so I wrote different songs that would sound better pared down.”
She’s also thinking about how to build on the sound that she’s created in her trio, with Evan Brubaker on upright bass and Colby Sander on dobro.
“I have been listening to a lot of old country music and playing with these two guys as a trio the last couple of months has been absolutely wonderful for me. Playing as a trio with three-part harmonies has been so fun.
“Colby plays really awesome twangy electric guitar, like Buck Owens or Dwight Yoakam. With all that in mind I’ve been thinking about old-time honky tonk music, maybe seeing if we can get a drummer on a teeny kit, and if we could tour as a four-piece I would like to do that.”
She plans to be in the studio in the summer, and the new album should be out at the beginning of 2012. Harrington will be back in the UK at the same time.
“I have so enjoyed playing with the boys, that now coming over by myself or as a duo just doesn’t seem so appealing, even though it’s not very affordable to bring the fellows along. I’ll be back in January or February, hopefully at least as a three-piece. Lord willing, it’ll be four!”