Interview With Singer/Songwriter Rebecca Schiffman

by MEGAN ZILIS · May 4, 2009

Forget everything you thought you knew about indi-folk music. Don't know anything to forget? Then you don't know Rebecca Schiffman, the talented up and coming singer songwriter who recently released her new album, To Be Good for a Day, which received Vice magazine's "Album of the Month". Rebecca, who also works as a painter and designer, sat down with me to discuss her life, her music, her music video, and her plans for the future... [youtube][/youtube]

You are a multi-media artist. Do you focus on a single form of expression at a time or are you doing the jewelry, painting, writing simultaneously? I've realized recently that I am most productive when I focus on one discipline at a time- when I try to do a little of everything at once it becomes paralyzing and I get nothing done. But it's also difficult to commit to one project and ignore the others- I'm still trying to find the best way for myself to work.

What bands are you into right now? I mostly listen to singer-songwriters and bands from over 30 years ago, but that's probably common so I'll list the ones that are around NOW that I love.

Jeffrey Lewis, Chief, Max and the Marginalized, Ted Leo, The MGMT, Gillian Welch...

How would you sum up the music scene of New York as it pertains to your genre? I feel a little disconnected from the music scene in New York. In high school I went to a show just about every night and was so eager to hear new music. I'm pretty sure I damaged my hearing then too. Now I really only go to see music if it's a classic like Neil Young, or a friend's band...or one of the few I mentioned above. I find Jeffrey Lewis very inspiring- he's a great lyricist- I saw him play several years ago at a house party and I try to see him play whenever he's in town. It also feels great to have friends who are making music that I love- like Chief and Max and the Marginalized. It's cool when going to see a friend play isn't just an obligation- you're totally psyched to hear the music.

Where can we listen to your music? You can buy it on iTunes, Amazon, and the new album is available on CD at Other Music on 4th Street. Or you can listen to some songs on my MySpace. I also play live around the city pretty often. I list my shows on my website.

Is Rabbit Habit your first video? No, it's the second. Last year Supermarche (there should be an accent on the "e") directed a music video for "Penguins and Igloos" which is from my first album- the video was released on the bonus DVD for the Green Owl Compilation to benefit Energy Action.

Describe working with Jack Bryan. Working with Jack is fun because we're like brother and sister and can make fun of or criticize each other without hurt feelings- which is a great dynamic to have when working on something creative because vibes can go sour fast if someone is too sensitive or insensitive. I also feel like I can trust him to do his thing- he takes the craft of film very seriously and has his own style- so even if it's just a music video I know he will be thoughtful about each shot and cut and won't release something if he thinks it's bad.

How is this album different from your last? I think the most noticeable difference is my voice. The first album "Upside Down Lacrimosa" was my first time recording and I was so uncomfortable singing, I sang with much less feeling - I'm pretty deadpan/monotone in real life but this one more so - and I was so shy about my voice that I insisted it by very low in the mix. On "To Be Good for a Day" I have more confidence in my voice and my lyrics are more straightforward- I've let go of a lot of shyness I had.

The other difference is in the production- on the new album I wanted every instrument to be heard clearly and separately - and to have less extra overdubbed parts. Just because there is a part that could go somewhere doesnt mean it should- I like to imply harmonies to the ear if that makes sense. Leave if open for the listener to kind of imagine. I also wanted to make the songs more "coverable" (like they could be played by anyone on any instrument)- less identified by their sound/style - and more just by the lyrics and chords.

You're a native New Yorker. How does being a native New Yorker impact your perspective in terms of personality, musical content, opinion? I was raised on Woody Allen...

Who is Javier? He's an ex-boyfriend. I started writing the song just about The Rabbit Habit and being alone- but then we started dating and the song changed - I didn't finish it til we broke up more than a year later- when I was ready to go back to the "drawer." He also directs music videos and films. I hope he likes this one.

How does the video capture the spirit & mood of the song? I think the pacing of the video goes well with the song- the fades and shots of the hand strumming- it's a sort of slow introspective song.

Should listeners relate to your music or simply enjoy it. What are your expectations of your latest album? It makes me very happy when people say they enjoy listening to my album. If they relate to it that's great too. I'm hoping people like it enough to want to hear my next recording (which doesn't exist yet.)

How is your music a representation of your demographic? What's my demographic? I'm not sure...

What are you working on right now? I'm working on a new song and as a fun experiment for the first time I'm recording it as a dance song with Jay Israelson and Diego Duenas from Lansing Dreiden. I don't know how to make beats and loops so I recorded a version of me singing with guitar and they are translating it into something danceable. I'm hoping it will be the kind of song that has enough energy for me to put it on my "cleaning my room" or "get out of bed and get dressed" mixes...most of my stuff until now has been pretty mellow. Jack Bryan is going to do the video but I don't want to give away the idea until it's worked out.

How are you going to push this album forward while moving toward your next goal? I'm not one to plan ahead- I would like to go on tour at some point- find a bigger band to open for- maybe squeeze into their van with my guitar- I can't drive though. My goal is to make enough money from music and art so that a. i don't have to do anything else - I'm terrible with money- i only come up with ideas that involve losing money- so I'm working on figuring that out.

How does it feel to put your emotions on display? Through music, art, whatever means, it takes a lot of courage to put oneself out there as you do. I'm so used to it now- I think it feels good- once I put some personal issue into a song or painting it's as if it's been dealt with- I'm freed of it. So I guess it's kind of therapeutic - I don't want to sound cheesy but...oh well.