Rachael Price On How Her Stunning New Album Is 'A Return to My Roots as a Singer'

Jonno Rattman
Rachael & Vilray

Rachael Price is gearing up for her new fall tour when she calls me to discuss her new LP Rachael & Vilray, her first side-project away from Lake Street Dive. The album is, on one hand, a departure from the Americana/pop styles of Lake Street Dive; on the other, a return to the jazz and swing music that inspired her to pursue a musical career growing up.

“I started out singing this music when I was very, very young,” she tells Billboard. “I was really into big band musicals.”

Price and Vilray, a guitarist/singer/composer who wrote 10 of the albums’ 12 tracks, first met in college at the New England Conservatory of Music, but didn’t begin collaborating regularly for about a decade. “[Vilray] was in a band with two of my Lake Street Dive bandmates, Mike (Calabrese) and Mike (Olson),” she says. “I did come in once and collaborated with them on a song about reincarnation, but that was the one time.” 

Rachael & Vilray is out Friday (Oct. 4) via Nonesuch Records and the duo depart on their 15-stop tour on Nov. 1 in Chicago.

Below, Price talks about her inspirations for Rachael & Vilray, discovering Vilray’s shared interest in jazz and swing, and other musical styles she still wants to explore.

Congratulations on the new record! It’s a little different from your previous work with Lake Street Dive in that it plays on the jazz and swing styles of the 1930s and 1940s. What were some of your inspirations for the album?

One of the most fun things about making this record is that it’s a return to my roots as a singer, because the first music that I fell in love with was jazz from the '30s and '40s. I started out singing this music when I was very, very young. I listened to a ton of Ella Fitzgerald, a lot of Doris Day, a lot of Peggy Lee. Then I studied jazz and I met Lake Street Dive, but we're a totally different type of band and went in a totally different direction. When I realized that Vilray, who has been my friend for long over a decade, was as into this music as I was, and not only was into it but was able to write in the style perfectly, I jumped at opportunity to get to sing this music again.

You’re also pretty busy with Lake Street Dive and touring with them. How long has this project been in the works for you and Vilray?

It's been about four years since we first started doing shows together. It was about five years ago that I saw Vilray perform songs, not originals, but obscure covers from this time period. He was a good friend of mine, but he kept his passion for this music a little bit hidden -- even from his good friends. He started busking in the subway, mostly to grow the strength of his voice. I went to go see him at a bar and there was like 30 people there and I was completely transcended. He understands this music in such an intimate level that it's not a regurgitation of the music -- it's a continuation of it. I asked him that night if he’d let me sing with him and he said absolutely. He was sending me new songs every couple of weeks and it just grew from there.

The songs on the album sound like standards from that the ‘30s and ‘40s. How did you tap into that era so well to make it sound like something straight out of that time period?

It's a testament to Vilray's songs. He put all of his heart and soul into this music, and he’s a great craftsman intellectually, and that comes from the fact that he’s studied this style to an almost scientific level. He's able to emulate the lyrical vibes and everything about it. As far as the sounds on the record and the production of it, I feel like that was really magical. We talked a lot with our producer, Dan Knobler, about how we didn't want it to sound too vintage and obviously we didn't want it to sound too modern. We weren't trying to make a nostalgia record. We still wanted it to be fresh. I feel like it straddles this line where it beckons to the past, but it doesn't feel like you're putting on a Billie Holiday record.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?

I think “Alone At Last” is a masterpiece. I think it completely belongs in the catalog of American standards. It's interesting, it's specific, it's a very unique melody. I was really taken by the arrangement that was done for it. It's one of Vilray's first really genuine love song that he'd written. He wrote it as an honest message to his fiancé because he's an introvert and he really appreciates being introverted with her. The whole thing is very touching for me and I love to sing that song.

Was there an artist that you wanted to emulate when you were recording the album? Or were you mostly just trying to put your own spin on that style of music?

It was a mixture of both. I think part of why I sat down singing jazz when I was in my early twenties is that I didn't necessarily feel like I had a unique voice. That can be the difficulty when you're emulating a style from so long ago. There's this emotional disconnect. The longer you spend with it, the deeper your connection is with it and the more copying it gets out of your way. Singing story songs has really helped me return to that in such a way that I feel like I'm singing it more authentically, and I think singing original songs helps because I'm not comparing them to the recordings that I grew up with. But at the same time, 100%, I was calling on the inspiration of very specific singers for certain songs. There were certain ones that Vilray would be like, "Can you sing this like a Peggy Lee song?" It's more like calling on the inspiration of their spirit versus emulating their specific sounds.

You recorded two covers on the album: “Nosotros” and “I Love The Way You’re Breaking My Heart.” How did you decide on those songs?

“I Love the Way You're Breaking My Heart” is a Peggy Lee recording and as far as I know it's not really a standard. It's more obscure now, but it was a pop song back then. When we were looking for covers to do, that was where we were looking. There are the more familiar tunes from that time like “Blue Moon,” but we wanted to stay away from those mostly because we wanted people to have fresh experiences when they were hearing this style of music and not immediately connect it to something else that they've already heard. “Nosotros” was a song that I learned a long time ago. We just wanted to do a song in Spanish and I knew that one. It's a beautiful song.

Recording in Spanish must’ve been challenging, no?

Spanish is a great language to sing in because it's all pure vowels. It's actually quite easy to make it sound lovely. I actually want to do an entire album in Spanish. That's been a goal.

This is your first side-project away from Lake Street Dive. Are there any other genres or musical interests that you still want to explore?

Definitely. I think one thing that this has shown me is how much I want to explore every side of what I'm into and see. I want to explore every depth of singing and learn how to do every style as well as I can because it's just really fun for me. It's like a craft project. I would love to sing R&B on a hip-hop track, for example, and I would be the one singing the hook.

Are you and Vilray planning any more shows down the line or planning to record another record together?

Yeah, it's definitely not going to stop. We'll do this tour and we're going to do one show in London at the beginning of next year and go from there. Hopefully we'll do a residency of some sort in the city because that's something we really enjoy. We'll definitely make another record.


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