The Making of Sedona: In Conversation with Rachel Stewart and Spurge Carter
Interview by Spurge Carter
Photographed by Rachel Cabitt
I met Rachel Stewart through our mutual friend Ricky. Rachel was having a string of parties at her place a few summers ago and I accompanied Ricky to a couple. I noticed her good energy and she would casually sing at some. When I heard she had put a song out I listened and was super impressed. She suggested we work on music together, and turns out we work really well together. As our friendship grows, she's further become someone I admire due to her determination, openness and positivity.
Spurge Carter is a music producer, DJ, and member of the Brooklyn-based band Barrie. Through the collective, THISISNOTACLUB, he throws the bi-weekly party 'Link In Bio' and hosts the podcast 'Basslines & Banter' at Kinfolk in Williamsburg. Rachel Stewart also know as Sedona, is a Brooklyn based singer/ song-writer from Los Angeles.
Spurge Carter: Alright let’s get it started.
Rachel Stewart: “Let’s get it started in here!” (singing Black Eyed Peas)
Spurge: So what made you decide you wanted to put music out? Have you always been musical?
Rachel: Well, my mom is a singer/songwriter and my dad is a piano tuner/bassist. He's actually the one playing bass on "Call Me Up" Since they're both musicians, I grew up singing in the shower. That lead to marching band which led to choir. I've been making music my whole life but it wasn't until about a year ago where I was like “Maybe I should share this with people because it's what keeps me going.” Now I’m swallowed up in it!
Spurge: So, you just played me your [new] song “Same Sky”... It’s a really good progression from your first single “Call Me Up”, which came out just about…?
Rachel: February. Nine months. Enough time for me to have another sonic baby.
Spurge: Is there an EP that encapsulates these first few tracks you’re working on?
Rachel: I have about twenty demos, but I want to put out a five-track audiovisual EP, Home Before Dawn. Hopefully by Summer 2019.
Spurge: What's the deal with "Same Sky"?
Rachel: I like to think of "Same Sky" as a response to "Call Me Up" in regards to both the sound and the image. "Call Me Up" is to fire as "Same Sky" is to water. After "Same Sky," I’m going to go back to the drawing board and choose which song I want to do next in relation to the story I'm trying to tell with this EP.
Spurge: What is the narrative for the EP? "Call Me Up" was visually pleasing but at the beginning of the video it was more, “This isn’t immediately understandable. This feels otherworldly.”
Rachel: I want my music to take you somewhere, from whatever you’re going through in the moment. It's the idea that you can escape whatever reality you’re in through your art. That's what I try to do and I hope it does that for other people. With all my videos I try to create some type of alternate universe.
Spurge: Do you have a general process for writing the songs that you want or calling up the images that you want to conjure?
Rachel: I’m still figuring that out. Most of my ideas stem from moments of self-worth, where I’m either lacking it or I have it but something else is off. A lot of how I create, in terms of my process, is stream of consciousness, that’s where all of my ideas come from. I never have to push something. When I’m writing a song or I’m thinking of a storyline for a video it’s usually something that overtakes me. Almost like a spell or a curse where I have to do it. I have to write these lyrics, I have to record this melody that popped into my head out of nowhere, I have to write the video concept or else something in my life feels off. I don’t know how it comes about or what triggers it, but its usually when I’m with someone who I feel comfortable around. The idea for the "Call Me Up" video hit me when I was in my boyfriend's suburban driving to the Catskills. I took out the car manual book, ripped off the back cover, and started writing. I have to write the ideas down quickly otherwise I forget.
Spurge: A lot of times, both with music and video, you work with friends.
Rachel: Like you? (Laughing)
Spurge: Yes, like me as well. (Laughing) Who have you been working with on videos?
Rachel: For the upcoming “Same Sky” video, one of my best friends Sammy King directed it along with the lovely Isabel Albuquerque. They're starting their own production company called Cherry B Films. My other dear friend Farrell Huntley produced the project. She is also starting her own production company called Yoni Media. And to top it all off, my girl Monica Murillo styled the shit out of it.
The entire production was a family affair. We had my babies Kate Emerick AD, Leona Johnson on production design, and Cassidy Gyetvan on art direction. All of my best friends have been the ring leaders of all my projects, for both the music and the videos. For "Call Me Up," Mack Keane, Harry Cubberly, Ethan Nelson, Dan Niazi, Katelin Collier, and Amanda Adam, just to name a few of the fifty friends who helped bring that song and video to life. They all spearheaded the song and the video with me every step of the way. And the same goes for "Same Sky." Everyone involved with Sedona is someone I hold close to my heart.
Even this interview! You’re one of my closest friends here in New York and we even make music together. I definitely think one of the things about Sedona that makes it special is that it is truly a collaboration. Even though I may be the embodiment of Sedona, it’s made up of a bunch of different people. So it’s more like Sedona is more of a force of nature rather than just one person.
Rachel: What is that? (Noah and Johnny are playing Black Eyed Peas’ "Boom Boom Pow" from the PA system in the living room)
Spurge: The thing that I really admire about you the most is that you're someone that's super sweet but there’s a clear determination behind everything that you do. That energy attracts willing collaborators.
Rachel: (Blushing) Music growing in the background. Black Eyed Peas is getting louder (Laughing)
Spurge: If you could DJ with one person who's alive right now, who would it be?
Rachel: Dam Funk.
Spurge: Oh, nice one.
Rachel: Or Toro y Moi.
Rachel: Or Uffie.
Spurge: Hell Yeahhhhhhh.
Rachel: Pop The Glock!
Spurge: Wowww thats a throwback. Your mom is a musician. Have you played with her before?
Rachel: We’ve never played together but we've written songs together. And she has amazing, amazing songs from the 80s that she wants me to put out under Sedona. So I might do that.
Spurge: You've already kind of spoken on collaboration. What is your philosophy on doing it yourself, especially going through this difficult-to-navigate industry especially as a DIY woman.
Rachel: As much as I do things myself, behind the scenes there are so many people supporting me. So building a team around me, a family, a creative family, that’s what Sedona is. I’ve seen a communal benefit where the people who make music with me and the people who make videos with me, they get to know each other and then they start collaborating together on other projects, and it's beautiful! For example, Sammy and Farrell didn't know each other before "Same Sky." Now they're working on other projects together.
Spurge: You're doing it right! I’m curious about what your thoughts on social media are, specifically the relationship between that and a career in entertainment. You have an amazing Instagram account. I love the videos you put up throughout your day on your story that don't necessarily have to do with your music. They just show you being funny. How much does that weigh into your process or how much do you think it's good to be on there or to even advertise yourself through that?
Rachel: I think social media is a necessary evil in the world right now. It allows you to connect with people you might not have connected with in real life. But I also think it's really toxic to the artist community in terms of what determines your success as an artist. Self-promo in general is always awkward because you're promoting yourself and something about that feels unnatural to me. So for me, I kind of try to make it into a bit of a joke and I think that's you know…with every tragedy there's humor and that's basically what the Internet is.
And yeah, I think it's a sad cyber world out there so, you gotta spice it up with some poop jokes and nakey photos. At the end of the day, as a musician, I do think it's unfortunate how someone with a large Internet presence, but maybe not necessarily any talent, can receive more recognition than someone who isn't as savvy with online communication but is an amazing artist. That always breaks my heart.
Spurge: Influences. Go!
Rachel: 80s pop - Madonna. 70s singer/songwriters - Bridget St. John. I guess I see myself as Stevie Nicks and Gwen Stefani's lovechild, if they had a baby. But my all time favorite artists are Donna Summer, The Beach Boys, The Blue Nile, China Crisis, Carlos Santana, Kraftwerk...the list goes on and on.
Spurge: So, speaking of Gwen…. you know I’ve been waiting to bring up this No Doubt cover band you did around Halloween. Which I'm so gutted that I missed.
Rachel: (Laughs) Gutted!
Spurge: Do you have any other fun aspects that you want to add to your live show? Any wacky shit like live tattooing?
Rachel: We want to add tambourine. And I did a strip tease [for the No Doubt cover band show].
Spurge: OK. Nice! Outside of what you're listening to, you have a lot of musical contemporaries that you see out, in social settings. How much do you think your environment, for example, going to concerts, supporting your friends, living with Nico (of Nitefire and field trip) is a factor to your creativity?
Rachel: It’s super cool. Now that I'm looking at you and we’re sitting here...my friends who are in field trip are staying here and they're playing [at Baby’s] on Friday. You just finished your first album with Barrie. Nico is in Nitefire, Harry has Treatment, and my girlfriend Tanners is killing it! All my people are in awesome projects. And I love supporting. I love going to people's shows because that's how you show up for people. For me, live music is everything. Whenever I see people at my show, I remember forever. I have a couple friends who have been to almost every single show I've played. Cough cough, Emily Hoy. I always think to myself " How are you doing that? I don't know if I could do that for you!" But I love it, and it's crazy to think how many of my friends are pursuing music. It's pretty epic.
Spurge: Speaking of live shows, you recently discovered your dream band?
Rachel: I’m thrilled to announce to Spurge Carter's voice memo, that I have finally found my dream band! We've got Clare Gilb on guitar, Merilyn Chang on keys, Lily Mars on bass, and Tia Cestaro on drums. The cool thing about all of us is that I don't think any of us are at a point in our lives where we realize how awesome we are. It's just so cool to be making music with a group of people who I connect with on such a deeper level than the music. I feel like I have this group of sisters with me during rehearsals, at shows, and in our group texts where we just meme the shit out of everything.
Spurge: Love it.
Rachel: Lily, the bassist, has never been in a band, never performed ever. The No Doubt Halloween show was her first time and she rocked it! Tia has been playing drums for twelve years. She's literally the best fucking drummer. She still comes to practice and is like “Oh My God, I'm sorry I didn't practice as much as I should've.” And she doesn't even need to. Claire and Merilyn have been with me pretty much since my first live performance and they're definitely the heart of the band for me. Sedona is definitely moving in a direction where we're all gonna be writing songs together. The heart is growing bigger and stronger every day.
Spurge: Sedona is leaning into more of the band aspect!
Rachel: I've always said if I'm gonna be successful in any way, shape, or form, I would rather do it with people, than do it alone. A lot of pop acts are one person being backed by a bunch of other people who don't really receive the same credit or the same praise. I think that's what makes bands so special and that's what makes bands last so much longer, because it's a group thing. Anything that involves more than one person is more meaningful in a way to an audience because you're sharing something together. People see that and feel that!
Spurge: I feel like touring would be so much more lonely by yourself.
Rachel: I’ve always wanted a band that I could hang out with after the show and now I finally have that. Every rehearsal, every show I'm like “Yes, this is literally the best part of my day, my week, my life!” You know?
Spurge: That's amazing to hear. I'm really excited to see it.
Rachel: We’re playing December 10th at Trans Pecos. Come!
Spurge: Is there anything else you have planned for the rest of this year or early next year?
Rachel: The video [for "Same Sky"] comes out [in] January. Sometime in between then, I'll be releasing another single. Maybe an EP will pop up eventually. Or maybe another single. I have to figure it out. I have a lot of songs just sitting in my back pocket. I just kind of need that extra push to put them out and you know, no rush, life will take me there.