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rachel_collis5 (mid)Sydney based singer, songwriter Rachel Collis, who released her new album Nightlight in September, chats with Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips about the creation of it.

“For me the song is always about the lyric and what it’s saying,” says singer songwriter Rachel Collis of the most important aspect of the tracks on her new album Nightlight. “The melody matters too but ultimately, it is a vehicle for communicating an idea and it’s important that the idea comes through in the lyrics and is the focal point.” Voice and Piano, they’re the two most prominent elements on Rachel’s second album. The arrangements are uncluttered, the voice is powerful, the piano playing is soulful and thoughtful. It’s the perfect scenario for Rachel’s deeply personal songs to shine through.

Prior to recording Nightlight, Rachel had been quenching a thirst for knowledge. She’d completed a degree in German and Linguistics and undertook a Masters of Music in Composition and Music. In 2012 Rachel collaborated with a theatre director to produce a one woman show which played at the Sydney and Adelaide Fringe Festivals. It wasn’t until recently that she began performing her music without the constraints of a formatted show. “The experience of doing the theatre shows was a great learning thing but I did feel restricted in that format,” she explains. “I was writing better and better songs, which I would have liked to have performed but I couldn’t insert them into the show … it would have disrupted that piece of theatre. I wanted the freedom to do a concert and sing whatever I wanted, so I started doing that In Sydney in 2013.”

rachel_collis1 (low)Growing up, Rachel was exposed to all kinds of musical influences which have combined to create her own individual style. “The first cassette tape I owned was Amy Grant’s ‘Heart in Motion’, she was all the rage at age eleven,” she says embarrassingly. “I was really into pop music. A lot of the music I listen to now though, is from guitarists. I love folk music, country music … for me the challenge as a piano player, is how do I create music which has the soul or feel that guitar music has but without using a guitar … because I can’t play it.”

Despite being released in spring, Rachel feels that Nightlight has an overall winter vibe. “I started writing a song called Winter In Munich, a long melancholy piece,” she explains. “I went out to Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains with my photographer in winter because I said to her, this is a winter album. I asked her to take pictures of me while it was still grey and winteresque.  It feels like a winter concept album, a lot of melancholic songs, a dark feel to it which is why Nightlight became the title track.” The idea was formed after Collis had been enjoying an album by a German artist Anna Depenbusch, who had released Sommer aus Papier, a summer concept album.

Collis wrote a lot of the album on a Roland RD300GX, the keyboard she uses a lot on stage and then recorded on an acoustic piano in the studio. On stage however, she prefers a grand. “Ideally when I perform live I like to have a grand piano,” she says. “I am such a heavy player. I may not always play the most interesting stuff but I can definitely play loud. I have performed on a Steinway at the Opera House … it is not my favourite but possibly the most expensive I have ever played on. I have played briefly at Pitt Street United Church in Sydney … years ago I did a classical recital there. I was singing, not playing but had a bit of a play while I was there. It was a Bosendorfer, which is a German piano and I think as valuable as a Steinway. That is the most lovely piano I have ever played on.”

Helping to achieve the exquisite piano tones on Nightlife was co-producer Sean Carey (Thirsty Merc). “Sean miked the piano in a way he hadn’t before. This is probably the Australian in me talking but I love to be able to hear the grit of the piano and hear the pedal and the keys clicking but at the same time, and this is probably more of an American thing … I love the sound to be very resonant and wet and I think he was able to capture both of those things.”

Nightlight Album CoverRachel is well aware that some of the world’s greatest songwriters have had no formal training, however she is grateful that she did have the opportunity to study music and feels that those skills were utilised in the creation of Nightlife. “I think that musically when something is not working, I am able to write it out, look at it and analyse it from a theoretical perspective and improve it,” she says. “I can transcribe songs that other people have written and analyse what they are doing and see what makes it great. I think it is a real advantage to have that background. Having said that, for all the talk of the advantages, at the end of the day, I still feel terrified that I won’t be able to write another good song again. There is something mysterious and scary about writing a song.”

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