In the Spring of 2018, Rachael Bawn was minding her own business, quite literally, when she accidentally found herself signed to the record deal of her dreams. “It kind of happened backwards,” she says in Toronto, just before the release of Chasing Lights, her debut album on BMG in the U.S.
Her team was methodically following a strategic plan for Bawn to establish a social media presence, laying the groundwork for an eventual signing. She’d already completed the album, produced by Mike Krompass (Smash Mouth, Jordan Knight), and executive-produced by Dean Jarvis (The Weeknd, Alessia Cara), both of whom share songwriting credits with Bawn, and others, on the album.
“We had the entire album done, we even had all of the branding done,” says Bawn. “Basically, we’d done everything independently up to that point. We’d been working with a social media PR company based out of New York City, and they brought me there just to shoot some live footage so that we had that content. They set up this show at The Iridium and they had me perform there.”
The venue originally planned for the performances was booked, and The Iridium was their “Plan B” location. “When we got there, we found out the night was hosted by Fieldhouse Music, which is under the BMG umbrella,” says Bawn. Unbeknownst to her team, Fieldhouse founder John Loeffler had just been named Executive Vice-President for BMG in New York. The rest, as they say, is history.
The 20-something Bawn set out on a songwriting career when she moved to Toronto from Hopeville, in Northern Ontario, at 19 years old. However, she put her musical ambition on hold for a few years after her father passed away from cancer. She spent several years counselling and mentoring young women – four full years with one group of girls – before returning to her first love, music. She caught the attention of Dean Jarvis, who then introduced her to Toronto-based Mike Krompass. Her work with young women still fresh in mind, Bawn set out with a specific goal: to write an album with a positive message. “Every song had [to have] something that people can relate to, [that] hopefully inspires and helps people,” she says.
Jarvis and Krompass set up sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles, where Bawn worked with a wide swath of experienced writers. Although the album songs are all collaborations (except for “Trying”), Bawn says, “Every song on the album has a piece of me in it. Even if it was geared towards a lot of the stuff the teens I was working with were going through, there was always something I could relate to, and [I always] put a part of myself into the song.”
Bawn describes the division of labour as pretty even. “I have a lot of fun with melodies, but I’m also very particular when it comes to lyrics,” she says. “I think as a songwriter, I really try not to be cliché… because they’re more geared towards teenagers, I try to keep them a little more conversational, I guess, rather than super-deep and poetic. It depends on the song. It was always different, depending on the writer I was working with.”
Serious issues, such as eating disorders and self-harm, are dealt with in an honest fashion. “I spent so much time with [her mentoring group] that it was easy to put myself in their situations, and imagine how it felt,” says Bawn. She recalled similar feelings from her own school days, too.
“I was really insecure,” she says, “and I would never have gone to school without makeup on. I spent so much money on clothes, and pretending to be something that I wasn’t, really. I was trying to live up to this standard. I remember the feelings of insecurity, and how that can lead to influencing the choices you’re making, and the people you’re surrounding yourself with, and the situations you find yourself in. I mean, kids make really bad choices sometimes. It’s just part of growing up, and learning who you are.”
Since the signing, Bawn has been working on new music, and gaining some valuable performance experience. “I toured a lot last year,” she says. “I toured the States for five weeks with High School Nation, a travelling festival, then this fall, from October to December, I was touring the East Coast of Canada with Live Different, a charity based out of Hamilton, with motivational speakers.” Bawn’s songs were interspersed throughout the programme.
Now, on the eve of her record release, the whirlwind years of writing, recording, and performing the songs has finally come to a head. “It’s exciting,” says Bawn. “I feel like this day has been coming for a long time, and I’ve been singing these songs for the past year while I’ve been touring, so it’s surreal. I think on the day it’ll hit me a little harder.” It probably will.