Nobody’s Girl photo credit to: Valerie Fremin
Nobody’s Girl is a powerful team-up of three Austin-based solo artists, including BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, and Grace Pettis. Originally intended as live performance tour where each would play their own solo work with a little support from the others as needed, the group fell into a songwriting experiment before they ever played their first show and the result spoke for itself. Then came the touring together, which only enhanced their sense of working well together, and their first EP, Waterline, arrived in 2018. Going into 2019, they set songwriting dates and wrote and recorded the songs you’ll hear on their self-titled album, Nobody’s Girl, out on July 30th from Lucky Hound Music.
The songs on the new album have been created through a wonderful melding of minds and talents and the themes they investigate with a great deal of honesty are bound to really resonate with audiences, from “Birthright” which looks at the complicated legacies that American families carry, to “Kansas” about the ups and downs of leaving a small town, to “Lark” which takes a clear-eyed look at longing and a struggle for hope.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the Austin area, you can catch the release show for Nobody’s Girl on July 29th, but there will also be some livestreaming for fans on July 30th. Nobody’s Girl are going to be playing live for a few dates in August, including Mountain Stage for NPR in West Virginia, but their bigger touring will be taking place in October and November, so keep an eye out for upcoming dates. I spoke with Rebecca Loebe ahead of this exciting return to live performance about the formation of the band and how three accomplished singer/songwriters have created such an interesting creative voice together.
Americana Highways: I get the sense that a project that shows people working together in this way is really needed right now. It has that vitality or energy to it which I think people are ready to respond to.
Rebecca Loeb: I just re-listened to it a few days ago because we got together for a rehearsal on Zoom. We were discussing how it’s going to work as a live show. But I felt all of those things. I thought, “Oh my God, we used to get together in a room and make music, and we will again soon!” It may sound corny, but I was moved by it.
AH: It’s a real human thing. I’m glad to hear that you are going to be performing together soon.
RL: We will be playing a launch in Austin on July 29th, and we have a few dates in August, Mountain Stage for NPR in West Virginia, and a lot of touring in October and November, with dates still coming together. I’ve heard from friends who are already performing that there’s a big demand for live music right now, and that’s really exciting. I know that in my soul, there’s a big demand to do the things that make me feel whole, healthy, happy, and connected to other people, and I think music is a great example of that. I always like to think of music as doing a service for the audience. If people are looking for that service of community and emotional release through music, I am more than happy to provide it.
AH: That’s really well said. I think the people will be there for it just based on my own feelings right now and a lot of friends of mine. I know that you all played together as Nobody’s Girl for a hundred shows or more, so you’re really set as a live performance group at this point. Wasn’t that the original idea before you started writing together?
RL: Yes, absolutely. We were just going to go on a one-time tour as three singer/solo songwriters performing in a round. We were going to back each other up performing original songs, sing harmony together, and maybe add a lead guitar here and there. But it was nothing as hugely interactive as our project has become. There was one really big push at the beginning. We were invited out to a recording studio to write a few songs on an overnight writing retreat. We wrote three songs.
The next morning, when the studio owners came in, we played them the three songs we had just written. And they said, “Those are great! Would you all like a record deal?” They were setting up a record label and were really legitimate. They wanted to sign us as one of their first acts and we were more than happy to do that. That was in late 2017 and we’ve been working together as a band ever since. We wrote a few more songs and were able to get our first EP recorded, Waterline, before we had actually played a gig together, which was pretty crazy.
AH: That’s amazing. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the accumulated experience that you each had in your solo careers probably made that more possible to click together and get things done so quickly.
RL: That’s really quite true.
AH: Was there a moment when you thought, “Oh no! We have to write more songs now.”?
RL: I think the only “Oh no” moment was, “Oh no! We need a band name.” We were going to go out on tour with a cute, corny tour name, which was The Sirens of South Austin. It was strategic since it conveyed that we were all singers and where we came from.
AH: As far as I understand it, the hardest thing about recording the new album was the logistics of managing to get together for songwriting.
RL: Absolutely. We wrote all the new songs for Nobody’s Girl throughout 2019. We scheduled writing dates at our first session in January 2019. I should probably schedule things in that way for my whole career. It’s a complex thing and there are a lot of people involved when you consider all of our solo careers.
AH: Are there ideas that all of you bring to those gatherings, or are you really starting from zero when you walk into the room to write?
RL: It’s gone in all different ways. Sometimes someone has a guitar group that they like, or they have a chorus but they don’t know what to do with it, or they have a story that they want to tell but they don’t know how. We’ve definitely started in those ways before. But then, the longer we were in writing mode and touring together, the more often we’d come across things together, like a place or a piece of poetry, and we’d say, “Hey, we should write about that sometime!” We’d squirrel it away and then bring it up the next time we got together. But one of our first writing summits was when we were on tour in Ireland and we had four days off together.
We were at Grace’s mother’s house, since she is an Irish Poetry scholar and lives in Limerick. It was a magical time and we had two full writing days where we sat writing songs. One of my favorite songs on the record, “Lark” came from then and was written, start to finish, from scratch. I think there was one line of it in one of our journals, but it took a totally different direction. We were looking out this bay window in Limerick. A lot of the nature imagery in the song is from that. We called it “poetic I-Spy.”
AH: That’s a lovely backstory for a beautiful song. It just proves that you can reclaim these bits of time, wherever you are in your life, for creative work. I know that you have some specific goals in songwriting in your solo work. Does that relate to songwriting with Nobody’s Girl or is it a whole new world?
RL: Writing with Nobody’s Girl is a whole new world. It’s a whole new approach. It’s a very different process and I think that we all exercise different songwriting muscles than we do when we are solo. Obviously, we all want to have compelling melodies and the best music we can writer, but we also sort of give each other permission to branch off in slightly different directions. We say things that we’ve always wanted to say but have not been able to quite find the words for.
There are quite a few more socially or politically-minded songs on this record that are beliefs that we have all held but it can be hard to write about that stuff. The song “Birthright” comes to mind, which is about intergenerational trauma. That’s a heavy topic to broach on your own, but with two other people to bounce ideas off of, you can sort of voice your insecurities and push through them, rather than letting your insecurities squash the song, which can happen when you’re writing solo.
AH: That song is really nuanced. In a way, it has a lot of interesting ambiguity to it, which makes it more universal, but something I really connected with was this idea of there being almost two versions of each family. There’s the one presented to the public as a matter of historical record, and then there’s the one that’s definitely not presented to the community but is the reality of lived experience. I think a lot of us deal with this duality, but particularly this generation.
RL: Especially this generation that’s presenting itself publicly and on a daily basis. I definitely resonate with that. That’s something that’s actually come up in my solo career recently, how much depth there is to each person. We have all these assumptions about people based on their appearance and a few details, and we think we know them. You never really know what’s going on beneath the surface of every human or every family.
I think, in some ways, that’s what makes the human experience so lonely. Not only can we never really know what’s going on with another person, but we also know, as individuals, that we will never, truly, be known. You can have a conversation with someone and the two people leave that conversation with totally different experiences of it. It leaves us feeling kind of lonely sometimes.
AH: That’s a crazy truth. It’s demonstrably true. These are radically different internal experiences. In a way, it’s motivating, because you start asking, “Can I communicate more than I am so far?” The internet, of course, has had a lot to do with making this worse, because it’s the short form of human experience.
RL: We were also raised with the idea that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry in public. But I think that idea has run its course. That idiom wasn’t birthed at a time when we were living our lives in public, but because we were raised that way, we try to present this polished version of ourselves. It gives everyone the impression that everyone else is doing great at all times and it makes everyone feel terrible.
AH: “Kansas” is a song that really captures the imagination. What has public response been like to the song so far?
RL: That’s one that really resonates with people. It’s one of the first ones from this record that we started singing live and we’d get a lot of comments about that at the merch table after shows. I think a lot people, regardless of where they are from or what their political affiliations are, can identify with coming from a place where you don’t feel truly known. Or, more specifically, coming from a town or a family where you feel like an outsider. And that is very much what that song is about.
AH: I think the idea of “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” is so prevalent in American pop culture that people can really latch onto it, but then it’s also about what it might mean in your own life. My own feeling, when I listen to it, is that there are some different possible emotions there, too. The idea of not being in Kansas anymore also doesn’t feel 100% positive because it can also mean that you can’t go back again.
RL: Definitely. It’s also about not being able to get back to where you were.
AH: Was all of this a shared experience that you three talked about when writing?
RL: We all had parts of it, absolutely. We write in a lot of different ways, but I remember that one of the ways that session came together was that we talked about all these concepts, then we talked about our hometowns and histories, and then we all went to different corners and wrote a few verses worth of stuff. Pieces of all of that writing were woven together into these verses that we wrote together. It’s funny, I don’t think any of us really remembers who has written what lines. It all just comes out of a common energy that we’re sharing together when we’re in the room.
AH: I love that description of the process. That’s so much like a writer’s workshop, going after ideas that appeal to you. Is “Promised Land” a song that’s of its time, like “Birthright” or is more universal?
RL: “Promised Land” is a song is a song that we wrote together in the summer of 2019 and reflecting on where the country was at that time. It was reflecting on the midterm elections that we’d just had and the upcoming presidential election. Everything felt so very polarized and divided. We were at BettySoo’s house, and she had a beautiful painting on the wall. We separated and wrote a little bit on the concept of flags and division.
AH: I love some of the imagery in that song that really help to convey the ideas behind the song. We see the country geographically, but of course, all of you have toured so much that you’re bringing that real experience of America into it. The perspective feels far from theoretical and that gives it weight.
RL: Speaking of imagery, I was staring at that beautiful painting in BettySoo’s living room, and that’s when the lyrics, “I saw your face in the stars last night, shining down from a clear black sky” came out of nowhere. I kind of tucked that to the side and it was our entry way into the imagery of the country and the places we’ve been. Yes, we’ve driven from Colorado to California, and we know how far it is from Appalachia to the West Coast. It’s a huge, vast, country full of unique individuals and different regional sensibilities. We are all different in a lot of ways, but we are also all united by this union.
Find more on Nobody’s Girl, here: https://www.wearenobodysgirl.com