Interview: Digging Into The Unafraid Soul Of Arum Rae

I first felt the extraordinarily lit power of soul artist Arum Rae at the Surf Lodge Summer Concert series in Montauk N.Y. She was an outstanding and electric surprise in between two raw, solo Head And The Heart sets. Arum’s fierce singer-songwriter energy quieted the loud bar chatter and the nighttime June vibes turned flawlessly intimate. This past Summer, Arum released an inspiring EP titled Loners and supported acclaimed folk artist Rodriguez on tour. Recently I caught up with Arum…

To begin, you sing “I’m a boom chicka boom” in the second verse of Wasn’t My Time. What inspired that phrase?

Haha I pictured a full figured woman shaking back and forth in a Cuban style dress, owning the whole room. That feeling of “c’mon, I can take you all on!”

Tell us where you’re from and about the music scene you grew up in. Who are the artists that have shaped you into a successful artist?

I’m from Colorado originally. No one in my family does music but my teachers at each school I went to for some reason always put me in music and dance programs. My music teacher in high school got me a scholarship to Berklee College of Music for singing. I was shocked I even got in! I was intimidated. From there I studied singers and the writers of my favorite songs like nobody’s business. I read their biographies and listened and fell in love with artists who I felt were raw, sincere, vulnerable and unapologetic. The list of those artists is endless but I’ll start with Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Donny Hathaway, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu…the list goes on and on.

I read recently that Justin Vernon of Bon Iver wasn’t ready to study music in college. Did you ever face any resistance or challenges during your music education experience? 

Oh yes, I ended up getting a business and management degree because I couldn’t handle the critique while I was in mid-exploration of my voice and writing. Going to art school is a conflicting thing because your art is unique to you and only you. Feeling any sense of pressure to be like anyone else was daunting. At my school, I felt a lot of that pressure to sound out like someone else and with my voice it was impossible. My voice is so different and I hated it for so long because of that. I didn’t know how to use it. When I stepped away from the scene I began to find and understand what I was working with so much better.

Tell us your feelings on the difficulty of getting noticed/”making it” in New York versus other popular cities like Nashville, Austin, Seattle… 

I came to NYC because I love the lifestyle. I lived in ATX for several years too. I loved it there but I prefer a higher pace such as NYC. Austin was very good to me though and I think because it’s smaller, it’s easier to meet people and connect. Nashville has been very good to me too! There are amazingly talented people in all of these places but the one similarity in making a name for yourself is just focus and consistency in your art. The music industry is so hard but also challenging in the best ways. And music, for me, is freedom!

How did the tour with Rodriguez come about?

I was actually learning and recording my own version of the Rodriguez song I Think Of You the night before my booking agent asked if I would be interested in doing the tour. I was in California with friends when I got confirmation of the tour on a Monday, and I had to meet up with Rodriguez and crew on that Thursday which was also my birthday so it was a lot of crazy timing. I ran through the house screaming and woke my friends up I was so excited! Rodriguez is one of my top five. He’s understated and so cool with his lyrics, arrangements and singing in every right way. He’s a genius.
Any special moments on the road with him that really inspired you and will stay with you?

Thank you for asking. Yes! The last night we kicked it in his green room and I got to ask him questions and discuss music in such a personal way. He was very kind and open to me. The complete convo I can’t share because it was a unique moment so precious to me that I wouldn’t want to exploit it. I will say he is a master of his craft because he studied his ass off and was very passionate about knowledge of music.

Who helps motivate and drive your creativity? 

Friends and people I admire musically. I love the new Solange record. I’m in the middle of doing an album and am gravitating toward a lot of piano players like Nils Frahm and Dustin O’Halloran and then the beat series by J-Dilla.
What are your feelings towards professional bands/artists who have music degrees like yourself versus other successful artists that didn’t pursue an academic music degree? 

I needed the education because I sang and danced growing up. I didn’t play in bands or anything and also really wanted to learn music theory inside and out. I didn’t know how to do that on my own. I admire those that have figured it out on their own too. But, to me, there’s no right or wrong way.

Is the attitude of the woman in the Cuban style dress “C’mon I can take you all on” a similar attitude you feel performing the song? Can you explain what you feel every night singing any of your songs into the spotlight?

I’m not Cuban but I feel like I’m so many things. Most often I feel like an old black man but also like a queen of my own empire. A psychic told me I used to be a queen in a past life haha! So saying “I’m a boom chica boom” is saying ‘I’ve already been here…this is old news… it’s fun but you don’t know it like I do…and I feel addicts I’ve known have that mentality. When performing this song, I think about my friend, truly, he survived a lot, even the second tower on 9/11 he survived. I’ve also known others that haven’t survived their addiction. I get nervous singing this song too though because although it’s a celebration, it’s also the feeling of, “wow, just barely made it.”

Questions from Scott J. Herman