An In-Depth Interview With
Rachel Ann Morgan
Baltimore’s Rachel Ann Morgan will be performing at the inaugural Femstock, and we wanted you to have a chance to get to know her! Check out what she had to say about her theater background, songwriting, favorite venues, musical influences, and her views on women in music.
How has your theater background influenced you as a musician? What are some of your favorite shows you’ve performed in?
The most prevalent way my theatre background has influenced me as a musician is in my stage presence. Stage presence is something necessary to be a successful actor/dancer and it has really carried over into my live music career in how it allows me to evoke emotion and connect with my audience. I also attribute my ability to sing many different styles of music to my stage presence and musical theatre training. It’s funny though; everyone always brings up how easy live music must be after a life of being on stage in theatre, but it’s the complete opposite. In a musical, I am on a huge stage with a big light rig in which I can barely see anyone in the audience. On top of that, I am in a costume and heavy make-up; I am being someone else. It is so much more nerve wracking to be on a tiny stage (if on a stage at all), in front of my friends and peers, just opening my own soul to everyone!
At the top of my list of favorite shows I’ve performed in is definitely Shrek: The Musical and 9 to 5: The Musical. In Shrek, I played Princess Fiona. It was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been a part of, and on top of that, I got to show off my tap-dancing chops! In 9 to 5, I played Doralee Rhodes, which is the character played by Dolly Parton in the movie. The entire show is all Dolly Parton music, and what female vocalist can’t appreciate some Dolly Parton? Another top show would have to be The Producers, which I’ve done two different productions of — once at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD and then again at York Little Theare where I starred as Ulla. That’s another show I got to really show up some of my dance skills, especially tap; and I got to do a back-flip off of a desk! ha!
What have been some of the highlights of your career since shifting your focus to music? Any favorite venues you’ve performed at or artists you’ve performed with?
Well, I obviously love The 8×10. It feels like home every time I play there; no matter which group it is. Abigail does so much for the local community, and they are the reason so many of us young guns feel so comfortable at The 8×10! Aside from that, I’ve had the opportunity to play venues in a couple of different cities now with The Ron Holloway Band. There’s a lot I really love, and it’s because they all have their own unique charm and character about them. The Hamilton in DC, The Acoustic in Bridgeport CT, The Pour House in Charleston SC, just to name a few — these are all venues that are quite different, but each had something special about them that made playing there a lot of fun!
As far as highlights go, I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some very big idols of mine this past year with The Ron Holloway Band. Playing with Ron himself is always a really fun experience, not to mention how much I continue to learn from him. Back in September, The Ron Holloway Band played an after party in Fredericksburg, VA in which Warren Haynes, Matt Abts, and Jorgen Carlsson from Gov’t Mule all joined us on stage. Then, this past February, RHB did a few after parties at The Hamilton in DC for Tedeschi Trucks Band, and one night, Susan Tedeschi, Kofi Burbridge, and the horn section (Kebbi Williams, Ephraim Owens, & Elizabeth Lea) all came and sat in with us. That was really a special night for me. Susan is one of my biggest influences, as she is for so many young female musicians. So, sharing a mic with her was definitely one of the most exciting things I’ve gotten to experience in my music so far! And aside from having half of TTB join us on stage, it was really something special to see Susan and Ron together. Ron played in her band for many years, they go way back. So to see the appreciation they have for one another is really some special.
What role has Baltimore played in your growth as a musician?
Baltimore has played a huge role in my growth as a musician. I mean, it’s where I did all my “growing” for the first two years of being a “musician.” From playing my first open mic at The Ashland Cafe in Hunt Valley, to joining my girl Amanda Lynne & Friends at Sullivan’s, to booking my very first gig with Hop’t at Mick O’shea’s. It’s also where I’ve met so many fellow musicians either somewhat fresh to the music scene or seasoned players who have been doing this forever. The Baltimore music community is such a strong one, and a lot of the people I’ve met through it have helped my grow as a musician by teaching me very valuable lessons.
Do you have a specific songwriting process? What sort of things inspire you to write music?
I don’t really have a specific process. I wish I could just sit down when I have free time and say “okay, now I’m going to write a song,” but unfortunately that’s just not how the creative juices work for me. I always get song ideas when I’m driving down the highway, or in the middle of the work day — just, the worst times to try to write something down! I frequently will have little tunes pop into my head either right as I’m falling asleep at night, or right as I wake up in the morning. So I’ve gotten pretty good with the voice memo app to hang on to my ideas until I have time to sit with them!
As far as inspiration goes, it really depends. It could be some overwhelming emotion I’m feeling at a certain period of time that strikes me to write something, or sometimes is just a phrase that I then build from. However, I do find that just being alone in & with nature tends to inspire me. It allows me to clear my head and be creative.
Who are some of your musical influences, whether past or present?
I grew up listening to a lot of southern rock, blues, and jam type music. My dad was always playing The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Stephen Stills, Neil Young; and then my brother started getting me into Gov’t Mule, The Derek Trucks Band, Moe, while my mom was buying up every Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks record she could — so all of that is really the overall style of music that influences me most.
It’s difficult for me to choose specific people who influence me simply because I feel my love for music stretches so far and wide. Even artists for groups that I don’t love the sound or music of, I can still find an appreciation for what they did or are doing for the live music scene. I’m also always discovering and searching for music new and old I haven’t had the pleasure of stumbling upon yet (suggestions are always welcome!!!)
What makes you proud to be a woman in music?
I feel like women are really under-represented in the genres of music I hold near and dear to my heart. So being able to be part of that, on any level, makes me proud. It makes me proud to see so many of my friends doing the same thing too! Look at Baltimore/DC alone: Julie Cymek (Sweet Leda), Kristin Lagana, Mary-eL, Deebo (Gypsy Soul Revival), Mindy Miller, Katie Dworak, Amanda Lynne, Ursula Ricks, Black Betty (Ron Holloway Band), Carly Harvey…. that’s just 10 off the top of my head. There is SO MUCH girl power happening in this area right now, and it makes me SO PROUD. (If you don’t know these names, you should be looking them up asap!)
What makes you proud to be a woman in life?
The strong women who surround me make me proud to be a woman in life. The strong women who raised me: my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins; as well as all the strong women I am lucky enough to call my friends and peers. I’ve been so fortunate in the past few years to really make some strong connections with some serious “sheroes” (as Deborah Gerlach likes to say). These women inspire me to be stronger and wiser. They are goddesses; more focused on lifting each other up than tearing one another down, and that, more than anything, is so important right now.
Catch Rachel with her band, R.A.M. Band, live at Femstock on June 4, 2017 at one of her favorite venues, The 8×10!