by Annie Parnell, Managing Editor
Rae Isla loves driving long distances. “I’m a road girl,” she explains to me over Zoom, as we discuss the upcoming tour for her May release, Another Life. The tour begins in Brooklyn this week, and Country Queer is excited to join as a media sponsor.
If you’re a touring musician, it helps to have a penchant for travel, which Rae has in abundance. Today, she’s calling from Mexico City, one of a trinity of cities where she currently splits her time (the others are Brooklyn and Seattle), and a new home that she’s grateful to have. “I finally feel like I have friends,” she laughs as she tells me about recently seeing a production of the British play Shopping and Fucking that features an actor she’s befriended in town. “I’m mostly down here to record music, and now I happen to have a life here.”
In this respect, Another Life is a fine album to be touring behind. Delving into cross-country attachments and long-distance relationships, it feels transitional and yearning, like an Americana-fied version of certain early Lana Del Rey tracks, or Sharon Van Etten’s 2014 release Are We There. Whether Rae is threading in people (“California, do you love me?”) or politics (“this country, so divided with its science and its faith”), there’s a distinct preoccupation on the album with places, and the long roads that link them.
Another Life was released several months ago, and, according to Rae, is getting toured now only because it finally feels feasible to tour. This has made preparation a bit of an odd process, and has necessitated some evolution from the album’s original mixes.
“I didn’t want to just sit around and practice the same songs the same way for three or four months,” Rae tells me. She jokes that the live versions of Another Life’s tracks will be a little “Rae-imagined,” with new interpretations that blend the past, the present, and the future.
In a way, she’s been inspired by revisiting these past selves from her older catalogue, particularly in the process of recording new material that will debut after the upcoming tour. “I’ve been fighting it,” she admits. “To go into the past and just sit there…it’s something I’ve never done before.”
As an artist, Rae is driven by moving forward, and eager to constantly grow and evolve. As such, even this return to her history — both her previously-recorded music and current meditations on the deep-seated roots of gender, nationality, and family — is bringing about changes. “I think for a long time, I’ve been writing the same song over and over again,” she notes. “Now, it’s like finally — a new scent to follow.”
Also inspiring her right now are the fantasy and science fiction stories she grew up with: tall tales of journeys and heroic cycles that feel right at home in this stage of her creative life. She’s a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, as well as the literary tradition of Latin American magical realism, a term she comes back to often when describing her work. “I think they’re a reflection of the human experience,” she says of these epics. “Something about removing one element of the tangible from a story makes it more desirable to ingest.”
Music, to Rae Isla, has that same transformative effect. “It’s one degree away from being human to sing,” she quips. “You can get away with more magic in your music than you can in normal life.”
Rae Isla’s Another Life tour begins this Friday, September 17, with a performance at Brooklyn, NY’s The Sultan Room. Keep an eye out on the Country Queer site and socials for some exclusive tour content, and be sure to catch Rae performing with Elizabeth Wyld, Riley Moore, and special guest Pablo Valero at one of the dates below.
September 17th – Brooklyn, NY, The Sultan Room
September 21st – Richmond, VA, Hardywood Brewery
September 23rd – Nashville, TN, Tempo
September 24th – Greenville, SC, Radio Room
September 26th – Philadelphia, PA, City Winery
Annie Parnell is the Managing Editor of Country Queer and cohost of the radio show Cowboy Church. She also runs the newsletter Tugboat. Her writing has been featured in PopMatters, The Boot, Taste of Country, We Are The Mutants, and the Virginia Literary Review.