GOLDMINE: In late 2019, I reached out to BettySoo, from your Texas trio, about your Tracy Chapman cover and highlighted your harmonious version of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” which we have played on the radio the past two Christmas seasons and at Christmas dinner. Lee Zimmerman included Grace Pettis’ new solo album Working Woman in his Indie Spotlight series in our Goldmine July 2021 issue, along with the group’s full length self-titled album Nobody's Girl, which I look forward to discuss with you. It features ten originals and one cover, which Lee Zimmerman wrote is faithful to the original and ties past to present, Carole King’s “So Far Away.” In 2019, my daughter Brianna and I saw Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. I bought her a souvenir t-shirt, which lists all the songs in the musical, and on the top of the list is “So Far Away.”
REBECCA LOEBE: Carole King is an extraordinary writer. We all really admire her. We wanted to do a cover and there were so many good songs to choose from. We ended up with “So Far Away” as something we all resonate with. As singer-songwriters we are always coming and going from somewhere. We tried several different arrangements, but nothing felt right compared to the original arrangement. Our producer, Michael Ramos, went into Firefly Studio one day playing piano, and that piano is actually the same piano that Carole King used in the original recording fifty years ago. It was then up to us to live up to that beautiful arrangement. It was really fun to hear what Grace and BettySoo brought to the song, allowing me to work off of that.
GM: Michael also added trumpet.
RL: That was a surprise to us. We didn’t know he could play that instrument, and that was a really nice bonus.
GM: As we celebrate Carole King’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this year, let’s also highlight the original flip side of “So Far Away,” another song from her Tapestry album, the lively “Smackwater Jack” with that same piano which Michael played.
RL: What blows my mind about Carole King and the songs from that era is how young she was when she was writing the songs and how wise she was. She had such a great perspective as a songwriter her whole career, as if she was born to just be doing what she does. The groove in “Smackwater Jack” moves so fluidly, carrying the listener along with the story. It amazes me on how versatile she is, playing that same piano, going from a tender ballad to something like this with a roadhouse bluesy style. What is interesting is that “Smackwater Jack” is dark yet upbeat while “So Far Away” is slow and forlorn yet also so very loving, so I think that is a very interesting juxtaposition.
Flip side: Smackwater Jack
A side: So Far Away
Top 100 debut: August 28, 1971
Peak position: No. 14
GM: On your album, “Birthright” comes to mind as a song with dark but important lyrics about abuse, slavery, and other issues. Brianna and I saw the movie Rocketman about Elton John. There is a scene where Elton John sees his father demonstratively loving his young stepbrother in a way he never received. I was reminded of that with your lyrics, “Number one mom for her new family but left me when I was three.”
RL: Exactly. That song happened because one of us attended a family event that was on land in Florida, which was clearly old plantation land, and that started a conversation about these dark histories we generally don’t talk about, obviously America’s darkest history that people go to great lengths to avoid discussing, slavery. There were slaves in this country for twice as long as there haven’t been slaves, and it is looming under everything and no one wants to talk about it. It started a conversation about what else is looming under the surface, which is where the idea of the family scenario came from. Grace or BettySoo came up with those lines and it just breaks my heart.
GM: Another topic, which is more current, is addressed in your song “Promised Land,” with the question, “Is there a sign on your neighbor’s lawn that makes you wonder how we went so wrong?” You probably saw that traveling around in 2018.
RL: Yes. We saw a lot of signs in people’s yards, and it is interesting because as neighbors, you generally get along with your neighbor, ideally. What doesn’t come up when you are discussing neighborly things is who is going to vote for who. So, it can surprise people to see people on a different side of the political spectrum, who you thought were just like you. It is a lesson that no one person is just one type. There is a polarization to think that a person can only be one way and if they support a candidate that you don’t agree with, then they are bad. We want to encourage people to listen to each other. There is this cultural divide in our country, even before our country was a country, pre-Revolutionary War, so it has been a part of our society’s fabric for a long time.
GM: You also have songs about relationships including “What’ll I Do,” which is catchy and includes a section that made me chuckle, “I can see you just got a tattoo. Is that supposed to be Van Gogh?”
RL: Ha ha. “What’ll I Do” is one of the first songs that we wrote together, before we even knew we were going to be a trio. We were going to go on tour as three solo acts and got together to write something to close out the shows with, joining each other on stage. Friends of ours had a recording studio and while we were there, we wrote three songs. The next day the studio owners heard that song and said, “That is great. Would you like a record deal?” They had just started the Lucky Hound Music label and offered us a deal on the spot. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
GM: Another relationship song, which is my favorite due to the powerful harmonies, is “Waterline.”
RL: I have very fond memories of recording the harmonies for that song. We arranged them in the studio and BettySoo had a very specific idea for what my low part should be, and I had a hard time grasping it. She kept repeating it back to me and I finally got it and now I don’t know how I could ever sing it a different way. I love singing harmonies on that song.
GM: “Rescued” also has some great harmonies and a wonderful bridge on this catchy pop song.
RL: Thank you. This song was really fun to write. We spent a lot of time on it. Sometimes the upbeat, light songs that you may think are easier to write are really head scratchers. We really wanted it to have a feel with lighthearted confidence. We wrote it three different ways. The bridge survived several drafts, so I am happy that jumped out at you. We really put that song through the wringer.
GM: Maybe it was easier to write “The Morning After,” which is tender and pretty.
RL: Yes. That was fun to write. We began writing the album in Ireland, where Grace’s mother lives. When we went to Europe for the first time, we spent a couple extra days at her mom’s house. Grace’s mom is a poetry scholar and left books of poetry open around the house for us, hoping that we would find some it interesting, which of course we did. The phrase “the morning after the night before” jumped into our journals. When we returned to America, we looked at the ideas we came up with there. We had a great time writing this album. I feel very nostalgic talking with you about it, reminding me of our time in Limerick. It was beautiful.
GM: Yes. I was in Limerick and sought out the statue of Richard Harris, down an unassuming side street, across from an ATM. Speaking of beautiful, so is your song “Ghosts” from your 2019 solo album Give Up Your Ghosts.
RL: Thank you. I got my home studio back together during the lockdown and have begun writing more songs for future albums, plus have done a covers album, available for free on my website, but my main focus for now is Nobody’s Girl with our new release and concert dates, playing as many shows as we possibly can, with information on our website. It was lovely chatting with you. Thank you and Goldmine for always supporting me, BettySoo and Grace.