The title of Rebecca Loebe’s new album Give Up Your Ghosts is a mission statement for the singer-songwriter: nothing is impossible. Fearlessness is in her DNA, so it’s really a continuing idea. Loebe (pronounced low-bee) made it into Berklee Music College at 16 years old, landed on Season 1 of The Voice (she’s the only non-champion with a track on the show’s compilation album), and is indie as it gets; the latest release is part of her first-ever label deal.
This time around, courage paid artistic dividends. When asked to compose a couple of very specific songs for a television show, Loebe initially balked. “I was reading the email and thinking, ‘no, can’t do it, that’s not how I work,” she said from her home in Austin. “I’m inspired organically; I’m not just this monkey who can crank out a song.”
Spurred by a big potential payout, Loebe relented. Though neither song made the show, both became standouts on the new album. “Tattoo” is a lovely breakup ballad, while “Got Away” rocks with edgy danger. Writing them taught Loebe “a concrete lesson about self-limiting beliefs; what is actually true, or what is me being afraid that I can’t do something, and therefore telling myself it’s impossible.”
Loebe’s previous four albums were arduous and time consuming to create. The new one, however, came in a creative burst that lasted only a few months. “It was just wild, I never experienced anything like it before,” she said. “Rather than write for the art of crafting songs over a several year period and choosing the ones that feel the strongest, it was a process of expressing what was currently happening, currently on my mind, my heart … it felt very cohesive and timely, right now.”
She’s something of a reluctant songwriter and performer. Although she’d established a reputation in her hometown of Atlanta before setting out for Boston, Loebe shied away from performing at Berklee. She majored in sound engineering, and took a job at a studio upon graduation.
“The average age of a freshman at Berklee when I was there was 25,” she explained of her reticence to perform. “I felt like basically still a high school kid who sneaked in off the street. So overwhelmed by the talent around me, and a little intimated.”
Focusing on production turned out to be a good choice. “If I had been trying to divide my attention between performance and engineering, I wouldn’t have gotten as far in either,” she said. “It also gave me a way to participate in the school, to be a member of the community and the ecosystem there by helping other students, by having something to offer that wasn’t musical but I was comfortable with.”
Fortunately, an instructor coaxed Loebe into finishing the many songs “secretly” written at Berklee in her spare studio time, so the world wasn’t deprived of her talent. She got back into her performing groove and by 2009 she’d won the New Folk prize at the 2009 Kerrville Folk Festival. Having established herself as a songwriter, her singing led to a spot with Team Adam on The Voice two years later.
On Give Up Your Ghosts, Loebe hits many lyrical highs, looking at social anxiety with the inspirational “Popular,” riffing on fame with “Everything Changes,” sounding soulful and scrappy on “Growing Up” and, on the title song, casting off demons that are “never holding you as close as you are holding them.” It’s solid effort from start to finish.
The new disc builds on success achieved last year with Nobody’s Girl, a supergroup including Loebe, Betty Soo and Grace Pettis. The trio began as a three-headliner package tour, but grew bigger. “Something magical happened in the planning phases,” Loebe said. “We got together to try writing one song, for a show finale. At the end of the writing retreat… they offered us a record deal as a band. We hadn’t even played a gig together yet.”
This originally appeared in the 21 February 2019 issue of Seacoast Scene
Rebecca Loebe w/ BettySoo
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m.
Where: Windham Ballroom, 36 The Square, Bellows Falls, VT
Tickets: $15 at popolomeanspeople.com