Rachel Gollay comes in out of the cold and into the lounge at the Live Oak Music Hall in Fort Worth's trendy, gentrified Fairmount neighborhood. In spite of the cold, she decided to brave the trip on foot. Meeting Gollay, "rock star" isn't the first thing that enters your mind. She's quiet and even a little awkward -- more like a teacher, perhaps, or office worker.
But no sooner does she slide into the booth across from her keyboard player and co-conspirator, Russell Jack, and we have a fan standing nervously at the edge of the table. The girl was there from Dallas to perform at the Live Oak's open mic, and positively gushed about about Gollay's new album, Built for Love. Her music has that kind of effect on people.
Gollay wrote the songs that comprise Built for Love, which was released last summer, seven or either years ago while she was studying at TCU. "They were all in kind of a rough acoustic demo stage," Gollay remembers. "A couple of them were on Myspace, back when that was the place to put your tracks up online."
She introduced classmate Russell Jack to them, and while he was producing and recording music in Brooklyn, she was working on her masters at Indiana University. They both found their way back to Texas. "I'd been listening to these songs for seven years in Mew York on myspace," Jack says. " Really, really rough tracks -- and I always wanted to produce it."
"He had all these ideas in his head that now I'm learning were there all along," Gollay adds. For instance, she says she hadn't envisioned these songs as being a full-length, but Jack quickly interrupts to say he always saw them that way. "So it's just sort of like a slow boil that quickly came to fruition in the last year and a half or so."
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To hear these songs with just Gollay and her guitar, it's hard to imagine them as anything but folk. Really good folk. They have a laid back, conversational style that is easy to get lost in. Once Jack, drummer Joshua Jones, guitarist Taylor Tatsch and bassist Billy Naylor got involved, it became something else entirely. There's a strange, almost popish quality with synths, songwriting and honest-to-god production values that makes for something you actually want to listen to more because of the instrumentals, and not in spite of them.
"I like to tell some sort of narrative," Gollay explains, "even if it's not a traditional point to point a plot line or story. But I do like to include in my lyrics at least some imagery that can pull people in and they can sort of put themselves in that position and get a sense of what I'm going for... I try to strike a balance there - I feel like if I'm too literal then I'm doing something wrong, and if I'm too abstract then it's harder to latch on to something that's esoteric."
One of Gollay's most memorable songwriting turns on Built for Love comes with the song "Receptionist." "I was watching The Office one day," she says, admitting, ironically, that she's not even that big of a fan of the show. "I just wanted to write a song, sort of an ironic song but also from the perspective of the character Pam, like almost like she's reconciling herself to this really mundane job. And I thought taking on the role of that character what sort of song would come out from that perspective. A little bit inspired by the office."
But the song is a lie: Gollay never wanted to be a receptionist. While at TCU, she had plans to be a teacher -- but that didn't last long.
"I thought, 'Yeah, I'll be a professor. That seems like a sweet gig,'" she remembers. "It turns out it only is if you like teaching, and you like academia. I kind of got burned out on it in the whole two years of a master's program. So I just decided I'll get the masters, I'll come back, I'll find a normal person job and do music to stay sane. Have a creative outlet."
As luck would have it, she found a day job that also supports her creativity. She works for Salt Lake City-based Big Cartel, an e-commerce company. Big Cartel offers an art grant program, and they helped pay for the album. In turn, they have a loyal employee (though still not a receptionist).
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"Our cultivated base of users are all artists and musicians," Gollay says proudly. "I'm a company man."
A second album is in the works, but until that drops Gollay will keep playing the local club scene. They will be at Rubber Gloves in Denton Saturday, and back at the Live Oak in Fort Worth on the 20th of February. They are looking to book more Dallas gigs, so keep an eye out.
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