AUSTIN TRIO NOBODYS GIRL BRIDGES THE GREAT DIVIDE BETWEEN FOLK AND HEAVENLY POP
AUSTIN, Texas — “We always joke that it started out by accident,” offers singer-songwriter (and former Voice contestant) Rebecca Loebe when asked about the fortuitous aligning of stars that officially brought her and fellow Austin-based troubadoursBettySoo and Grace Pettis together as Nobody's Girl. “Well, actually, Grace and I like to joke that we tricked BettySoo into being in a band with us ...”
BettySoo, sitting across the table from her two bandmates at a post-rehearsal Tex-Mex dinner, laughs at this, but Grace is quick to correct the record. “It’s not really a joke, though,” she insists with a mischievous grin. “It’s true!”
But why split hairs? Whether it was sparked by happy accident or some manner of sly master plan, the magic of that union was undeniable from the get-go. That three of the loveliest voices in Americana and contemporary folk music could complement each other so beautifully might have been a given, but it was the songs they wrote together — songs unlike any of them had ever or probably would ever write on their own — that really made Nobody’s Girl, well, sing.
“In a lot of ways, I think of Nobody’s Girl as a super fun project that lets us blow off steam, because it gives us a whole different channel to tap into," says Rebecca. “But most of all, I’m always really moved by the power of what we're able to access as a trio: ‘ust the power of three voices onstage together, carrying the same message.”
They’ve carried that message for the better part of two whirlwind years, playing more than a 100 shows together from Texas to Ireland in support of a 2018 EP, Waterline, and a handful of singles released late last year. But that “power of three” they share has never been stronger than it is now, and it’s captured like bottled lightning on the trio's strikingly assertive — and yes, striking fun, too— full-length debut: Nobody's Girl, releasing on digital, CD, and vinyl through Lucky Hound Music on July 10, 2020.
Recorded in September of 2019 and January of this year at Lucky Hound’s own state-of-the-art Studios at Fischer campus in the Texas Hill Country, the new album found Nobody’s Girl once again working with Michael Ramos, the Grammy-winning producer who helmed Waterline. The sessions also reunited — and expanded — the veritable dream team of Austin talent that played on the EP. “Michael brought in so many great players for this record, it’s kind of insane,” marvels Rebecca. In addition to Ramos on percussion and keyboards and the formidable rhythm section of bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummers J.J. Johnson and Conrad Choucroun, Nobody’s Girl features arguably the deepest roster of Texas guitar heroes this side of a classic Joe Ely or Arc Angels record: Charlie Sexton, David Grissom, and David Pulkingham.
Of course, as road-seasoned (and in the case of BettySoo and Rebecca, classically trained and Berklee educated, respectively) musicians themselves, BettySoo, Rebecca, and Grace can certainly hold their own with the best of the best, just as they all have literally on their own, both as a lean-and-mean touring trio and as solo artists with more than 15 albums among them. But it’s the gorgeous sound of their voices, be they harmonizing as one or trading leads with the graceful, elegant precision of aerial silk dancers, that's clearly the main event. Well, that and the revelatory nature of the songs themselves. Lyrically, their co-writes can be as heavy and introspective as anything each of the three Kerrville “New Folk” winners has ever shared with a listening room or festival audience of serious Americana/folk fans. But the energy throughout the album leans decidedly more rock, with buoyant melodies and catchy choruses that often as not move the needle clear into the straight-up pop zone. It’s a disarmingly delightful turn that BettySoo playfully calls “bubblicious.”
“By that, I don’t mean that it’s flaky or light,” she explains, “because I think our songwriting instincts are all honed from the folk world. But I do think that the textures we tap into when we write together for Nobody's Girl are definitely more pop.”
“And, I don’t think there’s anything bad about that!” adds Grace. “I think for some people, ‘pop’ is almost like a dirty word — especially in a town like Austin thats all about ‘serious’music with integrity. But sometimes something fun is good in its own right. The kind of songs I want to write are the ones that have something to say, but that also make your foot tap and that you want to play really loud in your car and sing along to. And in a lot of ways, those songs are a lot harder to write, at least for me. But as a band, I think we are able to really do that sometimes. I don’t know what it is about the combination of our different backgrounds that brings that out, though, and it actually really surprised us when we started recording that EP two years ago. We were all going, like, ‘Oh, wow — these are pop songs!’”
Two of the songs from that EP, “Waterline” and “What’ll I Do,” are featured again on the new album, remixed with a brand new coat of proud sheen. “What’ll I Do” was actually one of the first two songs they ever wrote together. Back in late 2017, the three longtime friends decided to embark on a tour together — not as a “band” so much as one-time, three-week song-swap. But on a whim, just for fun, they decided to try co-writing. Doubtless it had something to do with the fact that Grace happened to already have an “in” with the Studios at Fischer (and Lucky Hound) team, who’d offered her and her friends an overnight stay for a writing retreat. Come morning, when they played their hosts the two songs they’d written as a thank you for the hospitality, they were offered a record deal on the spot.
“At this point, we had not even played a single gig together,” Rebecca recalls with a laugh. “But the chemistry was really good, and we were already having so much fun, we just figured, why not? And that's how we became a band!”
Apart from its two covers (one by another Austin songwriter friend, Raina Rose, and the other by New Wave legends Blondie), the rest of that first EP was written in about 36 hours and recorded nearly just as quick. By contrast, the new songs on Nobody’s Girl came along quite a bit slower — as in a little over a week, spread out over a couple of non-consecutive months in late 2019 and early 2020. Those were literally the only days that they could schedule for writing together all year, given the myriad distractions and responsibilities of road-managing themselves on tour. “But fortunately,” says Grace, “we have a pretty high productivity rate in terms of hours that we're able to actually write together yielding songs that we're all excited about.”
All nine of their new co-written originals that made the cut for Nobody’s Girlcertainly warrant that enthusiasm. From the Wizard of Oz-inspired opener (and lead single) “Kansas,” a stirring call to technicolor adventure and self discovery, straight through to the closing lullaby of "Lark" (described by Rebecca as an abstract meditation on earth and life and letting go, chock full of love and loss and “a whole lot of tenderness”), it’s an album rife with intriguing juxtapositionsnot unlike the aforementioned balance of lyrical depth and effervescent fun. Sometimes the contrasts are weighed against each other within the confines of a single song, as in the somber reflection on family pride and generation-spanning guilt in “Birthright” and the soaring, cautious optimism of “Promised Land,” with its metaphorical mountaintop perspective on the entire country (and human race), hoping to see a picture big enough to eclipse the bitter political and social divides tearing us apart. Other times, entire songs seem to pair off against each other as two sides of the same coin. Take, for example, "Rescued" and "Tiger," two future singles that balance each other out like the proverbial devil and angel over one’s shoulders. “Tiger,” notes Grace, is a warning about the “darker side of what happens when you let loose of your self control”; “Rescued,” on the other hand, is a defiant paean to not just losing self control, but owning that decision with unabashed pride.
“In other words, don’t mansplain my bad decisions to me,” explains BettySoo with a laugh. “And don’t try rescuing me, either, because I'm going to make this irresponsible choice and I’m going to have fun doing it! Because sometimes in life you have to be able to do that. Basically, if you’re not going to hurt anybody, bend the rules a little bit. But when there are stakes, then take care of each other! That’s what ‘Promised Land’ is about — and I think that also hews pretty closely to our philosophy as a band.”
Well, that, and maybe this, too: No matter how much songwriting talent you have in-house, a smart cover or two can really help tie the proverbial room together. Back before they wrote their first two Nobody’s Girl songs together, BettySoo, Rebecca, and Grace took Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” for a spin and posted a video of them performing the classic as a sort of teaser trailer for their maiden tour. Late last year, they revisited it again with a proper studio recording that was released as a stand-alone single. And although you won’t find that particular gem on their new album, the record does offer two other covers every bit as perfect: “Beauty Way,” a resplendently bittersweet anthem/ballad for the troubadour life penned by Eliza Gilkyson, another Austin-based songwriter and one of their biggest heroes, and Carole King’s ‘So Far Away,” from 1971’s immortal Tapestry.
“I don’t know that we necessarily added anything to ‘Beauty Way,’ because Eliza herself and even Ray Wylie Hubbard have already done a pretty damn near perfect job on that song,” admits BettySoo. “But the siren call of it was too strong. We love it so much, we couldn’t resist attempting it — we just felt it in our bones that we had to sing it.”
And the King song? Let’s just say the piano made them do it. As in the very same piano that King herself played on the original recording of “So Far Away” — and the whole rest of Tapestry, too. It was the same piano that was also used on Joni Mitchell’s Blue—and that now just happens to be proudly owned and homed by Studios at Fischer. And although it was actually Ramos, the producer, who played the piano on the album, just knowing that the instrument so prominently featured on two of the most iconic singer-songwriter records of all time can now be heard on theirrecord, too, is a thrill in itself for all three women in Nobody’s Girl.
“I mean, we’re all fans of both of Tapestry and Blue, so for as long as we’ve known that that piano was there, we dreamed about recording a song from one of those albums,” says BettySoo. “We daydreamed about just letting that piano sing through one of those songs again — and about having an album that would be a vehicle for that to happen.”
Who knows? Maybe it was destiny. But Nobody's Girl, the album, is a lot more than just a vehicle for three friends to cover a beloved old song on a piano with an especially storied history. It’s a testament to the power of three strong independent songwriters with three strong voices coming together as one, carrying their message along the beauty way with a "bubblicious" roar like nobody else.
Wed., March 18 AUSTIN, TX Guero’s/ComboPlate SXSW party- 1:05-1:40pm
Thur., March 19 AUSTIN, TX The Pershing/Lucky Hound SXSW party 4:00pm
Thur., March 19 AUSTIN, TX Victorian Room at Driskiill Hotel official showcase 10:00PM
Tue., June 7 CHARLESTON, WV NPR Mountain Stage taping at Culture Center Theater
Thur., June 9 NEW YORK, NY Rockwood Music Hall
Fri., June 10 CAMBRIDGE, MA Club Passim
Sat., June 11 NEW HAVEN, CT Café Nine
Thur., July 9 OKLAHOMA CITY, OK The Blue Door
Fri., July 10 FORT WORTH, TX The Post at River East
Sat., July 11 AUSTIN, TX The State Theater (The Paramount)
Fri., July 17 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck
Sun. July 26 LA VETA, CO Deerprint Wine
Fri., July 31 OLATHE / KANSAS CITY, KS Olathe Indian Creek Library
Sat., August 1 KANSAS CITY, MO Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads
Sun., August 2 DES MOINES, IA Vaudeville Mews
Thur., August 6 MINNEAPOLIS, MN The Hook & Ladder Theater & Lounge
Fri., August 7 MADISON, WI The Winnebago
Thur., August 20 BERWYN / CHICAGO, IL FitzGerald’s
Sat., August 21 LIVONIA, MI Trinity House Theatre
Sun., August 23 WORTHINGTON, OH Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza
Sun., October 25 SAN DIEGO, CA Lestat’s Coffee House
Thur., November 5 CAMBRIDGE, MA Club Passim
Fri., November 6 ALBANY, NY The Linda
Sat., November 7 FRANKLIN, MA Circle of Friends / First Universalist
Wed., November 11 NEW YORK, NY City Winery – The Loft
Thur., November 12 PHILADELPHIA, PA City Winery
Fri., November 13 WASHINGTON, DC City Winery – The Wine Garden
Sun., November 15 NEW HAVEN, CT Café Nine
Sat., November 21 OXFORD, NY 6 On The Square
Sat., December 5 DECATUR, GA Eddie’s Attic
**More dates to be announced
PopMatters premiered the lyric video for "Kansas": https://popm.at/NobodysGirl