Rebecca Lee Daniels on Embracing Vulnerability Ahead of Debut EP Release – Pro Country

When the music of artists like Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile is what speaks to you, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the sheer honesty and vulnerability that they inject into their music seeps into your own songwriting as well.

With two single releases, “Bloom” and “High School Sweetheart,” over the last calendar year, Rebecca Lee Daniels has shown herself to be comfortable with that vulnerability. While the former is an upbeat, bluegrass tune that sets a scene for her move to Music City, “High School Sweetheart” tells the heartbreaking tale of realizing and accepting that a first love isn’t going to pan out. Both songs are set to be packaged on an EP, In Full Bloom, releasing September 22nd.

We chatted with Daniels all about “Bloom” and “High School Sweetheart,” as well as her upcoming EP, her musical heroes and more!

Rebecca Lee Daniels on Embracing Vulnerability Ahead of Debut EP

Pro Country: Your bio mentions that you base your sound somewhere between bluegrass, Americana and Appalachian music. Who are some of the artists you’ve drawn on for inspiration to zero in on your sound?

Rebecca Lee Daniels: I think sonically, there’s a band signed to Rounder Records called Mipso, and hearing their music totally blew my mind that it was possible to use bluegrass instruments in a folksy way and still be authentic. Brandi Carlile is the reason I ever wrote a song for the first time, and she’s my guitar’s namesake. Jason Isbell’s inspired me to be a “smart” songwriter; all I want is for people to hear a lyric and go “damn” the way people do when they hear his lyrics. John Prine’s silliness and humanity in his writing are something that I hope has rubbed off in my writing too. And of course Dolly Parton and Doc Watson for the feelings of home and coziness that Appalachia brings to me.

PC: You released your debut single, “Barrow,” in 2017. With six years now passed since that release, how do you look back at the song and the growth you’ve experienced in that time?

RLD: Shoo mercy. It’s hard knowing that the version of me who released that song was still victim to the subject matter of a lot of my music. I was just about to go off to college when I recorded that. I’m just grateful for the passage of time and that I am where I am now, pursuing music in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m just very grateful and lucky.

PC: You released your single, “Bloom,” in October of last year. Why did you feel that “Bloom” was the right song to return with and serve as the introduction to your next musical chapter?

RLD: I just felt like “Bloom” was the perfect introductory song for releasing music from this chapter because while it alluded to some of the difficulty and heartbreak that lead me to Nashville. It was also a hopeful and joyful song, which is much more reflective of me on a daily basis. My nickname is “Buddy,” as in the elf, and I’m often compared to a golden retriever in personality, so I wanted the overall vibe of stepping to releasing music as an artist for the first time to still lead with sunshine rather than rain. There is room for both, anyways.

PC: “Bloom” is currently in rotation on the Grand Ole Opry’s 650 WSM. What is it like to know that your song is spinning alongside some of the brightest stars in the genre and on such a historic station?

RLD: I’m still in shock. Like it still hasn’t sunk in. I love the Grand Ole Opry and everything it means to, country music history more than I can express, and it just is genuinely overwhelming to know my song has been on that radio station’s airwaves. The day I moved to middle Tennessee, I remember checking every few minutes to see when my car would be able to pick up 650 WSM AM. My “job-job” is coordinating sponsorships for Circle Network, who broadcasts the Opry on television, and sometimes a part of that means bringing sponsors into the 650 WSM radio station for an interview. Every time I’m in the studio for work, it takes everything in me to not burst out “MY SONG IS ON THIS RADIO STATION SOMETIMES, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”

PC: To coincide with the release of your last single, “High School Sweetheart,” you opened up about abuse you’ve lived through in your past. As release day was approaching, given the heavy nature of the song, what emotions were you feeling?

RLD: There were so many emotions, and the main one was gratitude; not only for being in therapy, but for having been in it long enough to feel like I could navigate and handle all these emotions to the point of not backing out of the release! I used to fear vulnerability on this subject matter so much outside of my closest friends, but thankfully, I’ve learned from two and a half years of playing this song at shows that it’s not just me who’s been in this situation, and odds are, it’s going to make some women feel seen and less shameful. I felt more at peace about the release when I realized there is no perfect way to release something with such an imperfect subject matter. I mean, one of the main things you learn in therapy if you have trauma is that healing isn’t linear and you will have backslides, and that’s normal and okay. I was putting pressure on myself for this to be flawless, perfect and ambitious, and I finally realized a few weeks before that “releasing it is the victory. It’s okay that I didn’t have the energy to market and promote the worst thing that has ever happened to me, especially the first time speaking publicly about it.”

PC: You solo-wrote “High School Sweetheart.” Given its subject matter, was it a song that was hard to write or a situation where once it was started, the song came quickly?

RLD: It’s funny, during the main Covid year 2020, at the time I viewed myself as having severe writers block. But looking back, the few songs I managed to squeak out are all going to be released either on this project or my next one! I wrote this in summer 2020, and it was more so inspired by a former friend of mine who I had gone off to college with identical situations, except she was going to marry hers and I left mine. But all she had ever wanted was to marry him, so it was kind of reflecting on how her happily ever after was so sad to this healed version of myself who had escaped a partner who severely mistreated me. I don’t quite remember what sparked the inspiration, but if I’m a betting woman, I probably saw an Instagram post from them or something like that, and the song just kind of fell out. Most of my songs happen quickly and I don’t really remember the writing process; I just kind of zone in and when I come to the song is done!

PC: What is it about yourself that allows you to open up and be vulnerable like you were on “High School Sweetheart”?

RLD: I think it’s the music that I have fallen in love with that has made me able to do this. I mean, you don’t get more raw and vulnerable than Jason Isbell’s and Brandi Carlile’s music. I think going from being in survival/protect mode for so long, to moving to Nashville and simultaneously really falling in love with music that is so truthful and vulnerable just clicked in my brain that I wanted and needed to do that. I’m quite literally just learning from my heroes who did it first.

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PC: Though the song details your personal emotions and a former friend’s situation, what do you hope listeners take away from “High School Sweetheart”?

RLD: I hope that others in similar situations can feel less shame if they spent a few of their fun teenage years in a relationship that made them grow up too fast. I always say it’s a song about how girls in small towns are often taught to settle. I’m very careful about absolutes, so I always am sure to emphasize “not all high school sweetheart relationships” etc., because its’ not, but I’ve met so many women my age and older who are like “oh my gosh, my freshman year of college SUCKED because I was holding on so tight to dating my high school boyfriend back home.” I think there’s also a part of me that if someone is still in this situation, it could maybe show them they don’t have to stay, even if leaving feels like the scariest, most impossible thing in the world.

PC: You’ve mentioned on social media that you have more new music slated for release this year. What information, if any, can you give about any forthcoming releases?

RLD: Eeek yay!! Yes, I am releasing my full EP, In Full Bloom, on September 22 of this year. My fiancé is being quite sweet and is sharing his birthday with my EP release date! Two of the songs on the EP, “Bloom” and “High School Sweetheart,” have already been released as singles, and my song “Burn” is being released September 8th. “Burn” is my BABY, and I am extremely attached to it given the cathartic nature of it and what it meant for me at the time of writing it. It’s the oldest song in my catalog that will be released; I wrote it October 20th 2018, on the anniversary of my assault, the day before my birthday a year prior. As I have found healing, happiness, growth and safety over the past five years since then, I am still wrecked every time I play it because when I wrote it, being emotionally and physically safe, let alone happy, seemed like a blurry concept I was hopeful for, but was still far off, and now my life is more beautiful, fulfilling and safe than I could’ve dreamed of. So I held on to it for a long time because it took me this long to be ready to accept whatever happens with this song once it’s out in the world. It’s hard to accept it might not reach thousands of ears right away, but I’m okay with that and have faith it’ll find the ears it needs to.

PC: What do you have planned for the rest of 2023?

RLD: I am fitting quite a bit into the 2nd half of 2023! I couldn’t be more excited. I just finished a busy gig month; I had nine shows (which feels like a lot working full-time in the 9-5 world [laughs]) and I’m looking forward to a calmer August before the rest of the year. I’m releasing “Burn” September 8th, making my AmericanaFest debut September 20th at Jaime Rodriguez’ showcase! I was an intern for AmericanaFest, so my joy and emotion at this cannot be overstated. It’s a full-day showcase with a mindblowing lineup of literal heroes of mine: Katie Pruitt, Aaron Lee Tasjan, MoonTaxi, Grace Bowers and more, and I go on at 9:40 in the a.m.! So that’s a Wednesday, and then Thursday at midnight, my EP comes out! These are the five songs that have carried me from being lost in east Tennessee to being found and having purpose in Nashville, so I’m quite cut up about them being out since I’ve been holding onto these songs for so long. “Burn” is five years old this October 20th, but it’s time for them to be out in the world, and I couldn’t be happier. If playing AmericanaFest and releasing my first EP wasn’t enough, I’m getting MARRIED October 28th! I am so beyond excited. We’re getting married at his parents’/grandparents’ home in their backyard in a field under a tree. It’s very down home and simple, and I know we’re both going to cry like babies. I’m convinced I’m the luckiest human being alive. Then a honeymoon in Washington, and before you know it, it’s the holidays! So 2023 is about to FLY by, and its basically 2024 for me already [laughs].

PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

RLD: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts and insights with you on my songs! That is such a special gift to give a musician/artist/songwriter.

1691154520 992 Rebecca Lee Daniels on Embracing Vulnerability Ahead of Debut EP

*Rebecca’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*

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