Interview: Rachael Leahcar (Adelaide) on shedding the ‘little girl’ image & her upcoming tour

It’s been five years since Rachael Leahcar made the Top 3 on The Voice, alongside her mentor Delta Goodrem. The Adelaide born singer and songwriter, released her latest album Shadows earlier this year, showcasing a more mature sound with heavier lyrics, and is about to hit the road on the tour of the same name.

Rachael you’re about to tour Shadows around in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. How are the rehearsals coming along?

I’m very excited; it’s been a lot of planning, coming together finally. The band’s incredible! They’re very talented people! They learnt the songs pretty much straight away. They’re amazing! This is the first time I’ve toured since 2013, so I wanted to get out there, test the waters and do the main cities, but [I] definitely have plans to go a bit further next time [and] maybe do some more rural places.

Four years is a long time between touring for an artist. Why has it taken so long for you to tour?

I guess time got in the way. 2013, I released an album and then 2014, I released another album called Here Comes the Sun, which was a Beatles tribute album. I was at uni at the time, speech pathology for six months, so that prevented it a bit. I did do my own cabaret show around South Australia, which was about my life, called Colours of My Life back in 2015. Then I started working on this album and tour, and it’s just taken a long time.

What drew you to speech pathology? Was it essentially a back up if the dream of music didn’t turn into a full time career?

It was originally. I did learn a lot from it because it teaches you all about how the throat works, things that can go wrong and how to take care of it. It was very useful. It definitely made me think about the technicalities of it a lot more.

When I was in Year 12 deciding what to do with my life; [I] couldn’t see myself being a singer as a career because there are so many amazingly talented people out there, so I didn’t think it was realistic. I applied for a speech pathology and got in. Then in my gap year, I wanted to pursue music and see how far I could get and that was the year that The Voice happened. I deferred the next year of speech pathology and that was the maximum you could defer, so I could either drop it completely or go ahead and do it. I said, “I’ll give it a go”. I found it was clashing too much with music and I couldn’t do both at the same time, so one had to give. And of course it was going to be a speech pathology, because music is my entire life.

As I mentioned before, you’re about to hit the road. In terms of planning a show, do you prefer to map everything out before or keep some things spontaneous on the night; what is a show of yours like?

It depends how much time I have beforehand. (Laughs) In a lot of my performances I say whatever comes out, but for tours I like to be a bit better prepared. I have to learn the whole set list off by heart because I can’t read it on the ground. It’s either that or one of the band members has to yell out, “The next song is …” But often I do improvise, ad-lib a little, laugh at my own jokes and embarrass myself because I have a really weird sense of humour. (Laughs)

[The show is] mostly fun and energetic [with] a lot of upbeat songs that people can sing and dance to. I’ll try to interact with everyone as much as possible, so I can go away feeling happy and not crying.

Your tour is called Shadows, which is also the name of the album you released earlier this year and its title single. It’s quite a dark song with an important message about mental health. Have you always been drawn to the darker songs?

Not really to be honest. Back on The Voice in 2012, I’d just turned 18 the day after the blind audition was filmed. I was portrayed as a sweet, innocent, little girl and wore all these pretty dresses and sang classic songs like “Over the Rainbow” and sang in different languages. Over the years, I’ve transformed from that and become edgier and grown into my own skin. I was so ignorant to everything back then – I had no idea about the music industry. I’ve had to learn and grow through questions and experience.

With this album, I’m showing my true colours and there’s quite an eclectic mix of songs on there – fun ones, some rock, some pop, even a bit of country, so it’s all different. It comes from those experiences, especially over the past five years. There are definitely a couple of songs that are a bit dark, like “Beware the Wolf”; [that] was a very angry song. (Laughs). So is “No More Little Girl” – that’s me expressing my frustrations for being known as still the little, ignorant girl when I want to be portrayed as an adult now. But there are some really fun ones like “Sewn”, which I wrote on The Voice – that was about not being able to fit in any of the clothes they gave me. “What They Don’t Tell You” is light-hearted as well. There’s a song for every mood on there. But I will stop short of riding on a wrecking ball naked. (Laughs)

 What inspired you to write the track “Shadows”?

I saw a friend raising money for a charity supporting people with mental health issues and it hit me that there are so many people out there struggling with this. It’s so common, yet there’s so much stigma attached to it and people feel ashamed to talk about it. In talking about it, we can help the situation. It’s so sad there are so many people, and people who I care about, experiencing depression, bipolar, anxiety and even suicide. I did the film clip the way I did, following people from different backgrounds and ages, to show that depression doesn’t discriminate against anyone.

I wanted to write this song to tell them I know this can be absolute torture, you feel like you’re a burden on everyone, but you’re not alone. There is support out there if you need it. It’s also for the people who are supporting someone with a mental health issue to be there and listen, because that helps a lot – to know someone [is] there and loves them.

It was written from the perspective of someone experiencing it; especially in the music industry, we all experience highs and lows. I know myself personally; especially when it’s really quiet, you think, “What am I doing this for?” In those down moments you really doubt yourself, feel really down and like nothings going to happen. And I guess I was writing from that point of view, how I felt in those times; and while it doesn’t compare to depression, I was trying to fit that in with what people have told me they’ve experienced with mental health problems.

Not only is a dark, heavy song but it’s also quite raw and has a big sound. How are you going to translate that live and bring that extra layer of emotion on top of it?

Live brings a whole new dimension to music! It’s my favourite thing to do out of everything – recording and anything else that comes with music. Performing, you can inject all the emotion into it. I’ve often cried on stage in certain songs because it gets so emotional and you get the response from the crowd. I want to make it really special for everyone and have my amazing band behind me to bring it to life.

In my fringe show a couple of years ago, I was singing a song [from] this album called “Little Lady”, which was dedicated to my cousin who passed away from a brain tumour. When I was on stage telling the story in the lead up to the song, I started tearing up. As soon as I started singing, the tears [were] rolling down my face. (Laughs) Then right at the end I had to turn around and blow my nose and then go, “On with the show!” Sometimes there are special moments you feel in the room [where] those feelings and emotions come together and explode out of you. That’s what’s so special about live music. You don’t get that in a recording, it’s always the same.

I am singing [“Little Lady” on tour] and I’m going to try to play piano, which I’m scared about. I’ve never done it before in public. I’ve played the piano for a long, long time [but] never could play and sing very well, so I’ve had to teach myself that co-ordination. I’m a little nervous for that, but it’s all part of transforming as a performer. You’ve got to take risks. It’s a new experience. I always like to give something new and exciting. (Laughs)

You sang a lot of covers on The Voice and you mentioned your Beatles tribute album earlier. Shadows is an album you were heavily involved in writing. Can connect more to the songs you’ve written or just as well with covers?

Absolutely! There’s nothing quite like singing your own songs because I’ve mostly done covers in the past which I’ve tried to put my own interpretation in. I never sing a song if I can’t understand the lyrics, so I’ve tried to portray those best I can. But you never quite know what the actual meaning is. I remember one song I sang I took it as a certain way, and, then I actually spoke to the singer of the song and she said it was about something completely different so I was portraying it the wrong way.

When I’m writing my own music, I know exactly what it’s about and exactly what I want to portray to the audience. It makes you a lot more vulnerable as well because it is your personal story, which is what I love about performing as well and connecting with the audience. I’m really glad I can finally get that opportunity to share my story with everyone. I would find it a compliment if someone interpreted my songs in a different way because that means I left it cryptic enough to be able to relate to a different situation even other than my own.

RACHAEL LEAHCAR TOUR DATES

November 19th | The Gov, ADELAIDE | Tickets
November 24th | The Old Museum, BRISBANE | Tickets
November 30th | Ellington Jazz Club, PERTH | Tickets