Oftentimes, people not only avoid rejection, but they fear it.
Raquel Telfer doesn’t work that way. The Iowa native realizes that in order to succeed with something, there may be plenty more rejections that prelude that success.
But as she received more than 200 rejections in 2018, she made 2018 one of her biggest year’s yet, releasing one of her most powerful singles and making a name for herself with “The Best Band Ever.”
Looking to double her rejection count in 2019, Telfer is looking to make 2019 her biggest year yet. Read all about the songs she has released, breaking through inhibition to release music for the first time, her plans for 2019, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Raquel Telfer: As a kid, I had the most exposure to Bob Seger and John Mellencamp. My mom jammed these artists constantly. My dad would jam Tracy Lawrence and John Anderson-type country music. Outside of that, my sister and I had a little record player and would jam Elvis and The Beach Boys over and over. I don’t think I ever sought musical inspiration growing up, I just sort of rocked out to whatever we had laying around.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
RT: If there was a moment, it was probably when I first started co-writing songs. When I started to find that there were other people that loved creating songs as much as I did, and had dreams of “making it,” I started to really feed off that energy and think to myself, “maybe there’s a way I could do that…”
PC: You have mentioned that there was a time when you were too inhibited to share your music and your songs with people. What helped you break down that wall?
RT: I’ve always been into self-improvement, and I knew that I wanted to be less inhibited, so I really put my mind to working on that. Music was the perfect opportunity to really grow in that area. I was always pretty quiet and shy growing up, but my mom would seize opportunities that would get me up in front of people, such as rodeo queen pageants. Competing in rodeo queen pageants gave me my first experiences public speaking and performing on stage. I think these experiences helped me first be able to get on stage and perform my music. I sort of eased into it, because initially, I would only write songs, and share them with a couple people. Then, I started getting on stage playing guitar while my sister, who was a singer, would perform my songs. I knew that to be a successful writer, I had to be able to play my songs for people and be able to perform and record them. While my mind would always try to hold me back from “getting out there,” the dream kept pushing me forward. I think part of that wall will always stand, but I continue to chisel away at it with ever song, every recording, and every performance.
PC: As you were preparing to release the “But It Helps” EP, were you feeling any pressure- internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time?
RT: I was. Most people didn’t even know that I wrote songs or sang at that point because I was so quiet about it and didn’t post much about it on social media and such. So I knew putting these great recordings of original songs, with me singing them, of all things, would be a “holy crap” moment for people. I have always liked to surprise people though (laughs). I had never released music before though, had no idea how to promote it and whatnot, so I really didn’t have the pressure of expectations for it. Just putting my music and my voice out there was going to be a win in my book.
PC: “Rose Colored Shot Glasses” has become one of your signature songs since its release. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song and why you chose for it to lead off the EP?
RT: My favorite thing about the group of songs on the EP was that all of them came from a personal life story. Being primarily a writer, I am often going for whatever is catchy, what other people will deem as “good,” whatever will work for the artist who will be singing. So they are oftentimes not necessarily attributed to any specific personal experience of my own. However, the “Rose-Colored Shot Glasses” idea came to me during a hangover. I was on the sofa recovering after a “just-broke-up-with-my-boyfriend-girls-night-out.” A friend and I had gone to see a Randy Houser (this was before he was a big thing) show. We had managed to drink enough liquid courage to sneak into the paid VIP section of this small concert, and pretty soon we were in the front row dancing and singing all the words we didn’t actually know, and then before we knew it, we had snuck into an after-party with the band. It was a really fun night! The next day, however, I couldn’t understand how the hurt of this break up on top of the pain of the hangover could have been so fun! In my head I thought, “I must have been seeing life through rose-colored glasses last night, except they were *shot* glasses!” I immediately picked up the guitar and wrote the chorus to the song. The EP leads off with this song, because this type of song “hook” …the clever twist on words/phrases, and the deep irony within the lines of the chorus is my signature writing style. It is these traits in my writing that many co-writes I get brought into are hoping to add to a song.
PC: “It Helps” is a pretty powerful song. Why did you decide to name the EP after this song?
RT: The EP wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this song. My co-writer on this one, Sheree Sharp-Miller, and I started this song after going to a monthly event in Omaha, NE called the Benson Songwriter Exchange. At each of these meetings, there would be a song challenge where they’d draw a word or phrase or random idea out of a bucket, and you had to write a song associated with it. The phrase drawn at the meeting we went to was none other than “It Helps.” There was something magical about this song. I loved the deep, more profound lyrics that we had come up with, and I think it resonated with me so much because at that point in my life, I felt like I wasn’t necessarily dealt the best possible cards, I didn’t necessarily have the best luck, I didn’t necessarily make all the right moves, but it never stopped me from moving forward. This was the first song I had written that I was like, “people gotta hear this!” I decided I *had* to record this song, and it didn’t make sense to go to Nashville and just record one song (at that time I lived in Nebraska), so we included the other songs on the EP in the recording sessions. I actually had a male demo singer record it initially, because I didn’t think I was going to do it justice, and heard it as a male song. However, once his recording of it came back, I knew through the vocals that he didn’t feel it in the same way I did. And, this song was a song I didn’t write with or for another artist, we wrote it and recorded it just because. It was *my* song. So, I went back and recorded my own vocal on the existing track, and the EP was deservingly titled after it. Interestingly, song critics and industry people deem this the least commercial of the songs on the EP. The lyrics are a little more abstract, as well as the melody lines, but the interesting thing is that I see this song resonate with more people than all of the others. The entire EP is on Pandora, but “It Helps” is the only song that has made its way to commercial major label artist stations. It’s like, as an artist, I had communicated a point and created something non-formulary that resonated with people, and that was so special to me.
PC: “Danglin’” is one of the standout tracks in your catalogue, and is another emotional song from the EP. Is it at all awkward for you to give the kind of look into your life that this song provides?
RT: “Danglin’” also came from a very personal experience. I was just playing around on the guitar with chords and singing gibberish melodies, when that “ear candy” melody on the chorus, that made it the standout track it is, came out. I knew immediately that I had to write something to that melody, but didn’t really have any ideas started that would fit the sound. At the time, I was in a long-term relationship that left me constantly hanging, needing more and thinking we just needed more time and it would get better. In my immediate soul search for inspiration, I realized that the state I was in at the moment was like I was dangling, hanging on for dear life, but wondering if I should let go. Just that word “Danglin’” felt so perfect with that melody, and we finished the song with that concept. There’s definitely an awkward feeling with releasing this type of song to the world because you know when the audience hears it they automatically start to envision what must have been going on in the artist’s mind when this was written. It can be difficult to give them that intimate of a look into your life and see vulnerability, and yet, that is the job of an artist…to express the things that we don’t express in everyday conversation, and to really deliver it in a way that a listener can *feel* it in the music. These are the types of songs that listeners connect with. While it can be awkward to be vulnerable like that, it is at the forefront of my goals, to be more raw and unfiltered and vulnerable in my creations and performances.
PC: “Bloom Where You’re Planted” is a bit of a change from the rest of the EP, as the previous three tracks detail different aspects of love and love lost and this song has a more inspirational, upbeat vibe. Can you talk about the writing process of this song and what it means to you?
RT: I think I first heard the quote “Bloom Where You’re Planted” in the Shonda Rhimes book, Year of Yes. I was reading that, and there was a lot of inspiration about starting where you are. This resonated with me because at the time, I lived in Nebraska, was trying to pursue music, but knew I kinda needed to be in Nashville to pursue it at the level I wanted to. But, I was doing the best I could with what I had where I was at. I had the basics to make music: a guitar, pencil, paper, and a voice…just a like a plant really only needs soil sun and water to thrive. We ran with this concept in the writing of “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”
PC: “Where Fallen Angels Fly” is probably the most emotional/powerful track in your catalogue. What has it meant to hear from people who have been touched by the song?
RT: Interestingly, this song was not written from any personal inspiration, but it became very personal to me after I had written it. This was my dad’s favorite song of mine. I hadn’t really understood his connection to it until he committed suicide in 2014. A couple years later, after the EP release, I was booked for one of the longest shows I had ever played. I wouldn’t normally play this song in a lively Saturday-night-at-the-bar setting, but I was scrambling for material to fill the time and threw it in the set. It was the night before Christmas Eve, and the bar was bustling, and considering it was an acoustic show, I didn’t think anyone was even probably listening to the music, let alone the words. However, after I finished playing “Where Fallen Angels Fly,” a man stood up in the back of the bar and shouted, “That was the BEST song of the night!” I couldn’t really understand how that could have been, but later after the show and the man had left, my parents said they had talked to him after that song and he had a brother who had recently committed suicide. The song is a bit ambiguous and we didn’t intend for it to necessarily be about a suicidal person, but it really took me back and made my heart cry a little bit out of both sadness, and happiness, that the song touched this man in that way. He felt his brother in the song in the same way my dad felt himself in it. It was a profound experience for me as a writer, and I knew I had to sing on that recording and release it to the world for anyone else that it could resonate with.
PC: You tour with “The Best Band Ever” which features two great, accomplished musicians. How does playing with musicians of that caliber help you in your own craft?
RT: Playing with the incredible musicians in my band has really given me insight into what it means to “be pro.” I feel so lucky that musicians of this caliber, who have brought the songs of bluegrass legends to life, would have any interest in bringing my music to life. I really had to start operating in a “next level” mind set. It has taken my skills in organization and the business side of music to the next level, and really inspired me to “get it together.” Outside of that, I feel that for my works to be worthy of their sounds on it, the craft has to be on a higher level. That has helped me really try to apply more craft, skill, and creativity to the songs I write for myself to perform with them.
PC: You’ve described yourself and your music as “granola,” can you define what you mean by that description?
RT: My family called me a “granola” growing up, because I was really into earthy things, and nature, and “saving the planet,” eating vegetarian, etc. The music I play out with the band really portrays that part of my personality. It’s rootsy, earthy, made from acoustic instruments, and has a free-spirit rhythmic vibe to it.
PC: What plans do you have for the near future?
RT: First and foremost, I plan to continue incorporating more and more of my truth and authenticity into my artistry. At this point, I have many avenues I’m pursuing though. I’m working on some cool commercial country things with up and coming artists, I’m working on writing some film/TV scene sounds that are more electronic, I have a couple pop songs in the works, we’re looking to grow the band and add an additional musician or two, and the band is working towards playing more festivals and booking bigger shows. My biggest plan, however, is an eventual collection of songs recorded by “The Best Band Ever.” The music industry is a tough crowd, and I’ve learned that the best way to success is to not make plans for successes, but plans for rejections. I figure in 2018, I had somewhere between 200-300 rejections, whether that was festival applications or booking requests for my band, publishing pitches, song contests, etc. This year, I plan to work for around 500 rejections. With that many feelers out, and putting myself and music out there for enough opportunities to accumulate that many rejections, we’re bound to have something hit. Probably a few wins. 🙂
PC: Additional comments:
RT: You can check my music out anywhere it can be streamed or purchased (Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music, etc.). I have music videos and acoustic videos on YouTube. Follow The Best Band Ever and all my musical adventures on Facebook at the “Raquel Telfer and The Best Band Ever” page. More info at www.raqueltelfer.com.
*All images courtesy of raqueltelfer.com*