Enhanced by a velvety minor key, “Winter Moon” has an airy coolness that singer Rebecca Angel serves up on a silver platter. She’s accompanied by a subtly funky organ and backed with a moody, moving percussion. The track appears on Angel’s upcoming album “What We Had,” which delves into past loves, loss and new emotional horizons.
“What We Had” comes out June 1st. What she has is style, affability and a talent that’s going to take off. Catch her early.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
At a very young age I realized that I wanted to be on stage. I’ve been singing as long as I can remember and loved the music my dad would play for me as a kid (Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Elvis, the Beatles and other legendary artists). I insisted at age seven to get involved in musical theater and that later translated to singing in jazz choir, student-directing the musicals, taking voice lessons in high school and majoring in vocal jazz studies for my undergraduate degree at Ithaca College.
Who are your influences?
I have many, but my top few would be the 5 B’s: Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, the Beatles, Bill Withers and Bon Iver. I am drawn to these artists because they sing from the heart and connect to audiences in a way that bring people on an emotional and spiritual journey.
What makes artists inspiring isn’t necessarily having the best vocal technique, but the ability to evoke a strong emotional response.
How did you come to be part of the Dennis Angel band?
My dad (Dennis) grew up in a very musical household. One brother played drums, another played keyboard and my dad played trumpet. He eventually decided to pursue a law practice instead of music and opened an entertainment copyright firm in the late 1970s.
In 2008 he became inspired again and started to write music. He put together a few albums which I was also featured on, and then a couple of years later got a band together and performed around Westchester and in Manhattan. I started singing with his band from age 14.
Did you and your dad always play together?
From a very young age my dad knew I was musically inclined. Voice and trumpet don’t really go together solo without a band, so sometimes I would play piano and he would play trumpet. He had a band that evolved over time with different musicians but a lot of it came about from word of mouth, and usually a bass player knows a drummer or vice versa. We’ve worked with the same saxophone player, Gottfried Stoger, for a while now who is excellent and has played on many of the recordings.
How do you take care of your voice?
Dairy has a very strong effect on my voice and that it prevents me from having a clear and open sound so I’ve completely cut it from my diet. I also try to avoid fried foods because that creates a mucus buildup. I find that eating healthy helps to keep my voice sounding its best. Vocalists are unique in the sense that the whole body is our instrument, so if you are really tense you won’t have a free and open sound. I find it important to have a strong mind/body connection, so I have done Feldenkrais and yoga to stay strong and grounded in my body.
For more daily maintenance I make sure to drink plenty of water and take vitamins to avoid getting sick. I always have a wellness formula on hand, and use vocal rescue spray, tea with honey, cough drops, essential oil diffusers and humidifiers if I feel I’m coming down with a cold, which helps keep my throat from drying out.
What types of songs are you drawn to?
Songs that are catchy, have a good message and are lyrical. It’s not always about the genre, because I like all different types of artists and styles. Some of my all-time favorites are “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Holocene” by Bon Iver, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers, Billie Holiday on “Lover Man” and “Don’t Worry be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.
I would say my favorite instrumental song is John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Even though there are no lyrics to tell you what he’s singing about, I feel so much emotion when I listen to his version I could cry; you can tell the lyrics are in his head because the phrasing is that of a vocalist singing the words.
What’s the biggest challenge to writing lyrics?
Sometimes I come up with the lyrics in five minutes, sometimes it takes me weeks. It really depends if I’m in the zone. When I try too hard it feels forced.
Sometimes the best lyrics come to me when I’m not trying, usually really early in the morning or late in the night when I can’t sleep.
Explain your cover of “Jet Samba” as you planned it to coincide with the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Jason Miles originally heard “Jet Samba” and thought it was a great melody. It was composed by legendary Brazilian composer Marcos Valle who wrote the hit “Summer Samba.” Jason sent the song to me and asked what I thought of it. I really liked how complex and catchy the melody was. It was originally an instrumental song so I was the first to record it as a vocal. Ronaldo Bastos wrote the English lyrics about a loving relationship.
Once we recorded it, we realized it was around the same time as the Rio Olympics and thought it would be an appropriate time to release the single.
Which of your songs was the most fun to produce?
I really enjoyed the title track “What We Had.” It was fun to see the song transform from just a melody my dad came up with to a story about something very personal to me. It was a joint effort with my dad coming up with melody, and my boyfriend (Jonah Prendergast) and I wrote the lyrics. A compelling bridge formed when I was working with the talented vocalist Maya Azucena.
What inspired “What We Had”?
After graduating college last May, Jonah and I planned a cross-country road trip. We knew for a while this was something we wanted to do to see more of the country, get more in touch with nature, get re-inspired musically after finishing music school and take a little break before diving into adult, real-world stuff.
While on the trip, the EP had already was mostly completed but we decided it was a bit short and adding another original song would be beneficial.
I was on the road when my dad sent me an audio recording of him playing trumpet on a melody he wrote. I kept putting it off and wasn’t sure if it would work, so I said I would play it when I returned home from the road trip.
Once I was back, I started playing it on piano and figured out some new chords and adjusted the melody. Jonah helped me write lyrics. It turned into a story about how we missed what we just had on the road. Having spent significant time on the West Coast and in the desert, we faced some sadness being back on East Coast with the winter weather. The more I thought about it, a lot of the songs on the EP are about reminiscing and past loves and relationships, so the title seemed appropriate.
When will it be released?
I’m working on writing more original music which hopefully will turn into the next album. I have plans for a single release which will hopefully come out this fall.
Talk about the other musicians on EP and how they complement your vocals.
The musicians on the EP are fantastic. They record their part either before or after I do mine, so I don’t see them in person; it’s very different from a live performance. All the musicians on the EP are top-notch and I’m very lucky to have them on the project.
Jason Miles, my producer, is featured on all the tracks as the keyboardist, using Wurlitzer, Rhodes, synths, etc. His sound adds a very distinctive sound which complements my voice well and since we’ve been working together so long he knows how to work with my voice.
Jonah Prendergast is also featured on many tracks on the EP. I’ve been playing with him for quite some time now too, so he knows how to accompany my voice and I know how to match his sound.
What’s the biggest surprise to you about the industry?
With social media being such a huge part of my generation I think it’s great how easy it is to share what you are doing with family friends and fans, invite them to gigs and share your music with large audiences.
On the other hand it’s definitely a challenge to make money from your music, so it’s important to find other sources of income, whether through performing or working side jobs.
What do audiences ask you most often?
Is Rebecca Angel my real name or a stage name? And yes…it is my real name.
Where would you most like to perform?
The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. It just looks so beautiful and would be an incredible experience.
Where have you played in New York?
Iridium, the Metropolitan Room and Cafe Noctambulo.
Are there new styles you want to explore?
I’ve always been drawn to folk music and more acoustic instrumentation, but haven’t delved much into it. I want to explore writing in that style, because I find it very poetic and easy listening.
Favorite part of being a singer?
That I can tell stories and take people on a musical and emotional journey just by doing what I love. How cool is that?
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Putting my first, fully fledged project out there and see how people respond to it! I also look forward to performing more and writing more meaningful music.
Thanks for having me on your blog!