I recently had the wonderful opportunity to interview the up and coming Rorey Carroll. This Sunday, September 11, 2016, she will be performing at the Charleston Music Hall with the Todd Snider's East Nashville Review, also featuring East Side Bulldogs, Elizabeth Cook, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Kevin Gordon.
Rorey's sound conveys a sense of realism that resonates well with her audiences. I am grateful for her honesty and candor in this interview. It enabled me to get a small glimpse of the origins of the deeply rich and soulful sounds that are evidenced in her music and lyrics.
Steve: I read on-line that you spent a lot of time on the Appalachian Trail - like a year from what I understand?
Rorey: No... it was... six and a half months. I hiked the trail and I came back to it a lot. There's like a community on the trail that feels like home after you've hiked it, but I spent a lot of time afterwards, but when I through hiked it, it was six and a half months.
Steve: In the article about you in "American Song Writer" I read that when you were 20, your dad dropped you off at the foot of the trail to start your journey. Is that accurate?
Rorey: Yeah I was 20 years old. Yeah that's accurate.
Steve: If you don't mind me asking, what prompted that?
Rorey: I had already dropped out of college and I was living in Colorado at the time, hiking a lot and learning about the hiking culture. I knew I loved being in the woods. I wanted to do something with my life and college was not what I wanted to do, so I figured I would accomplish that... and it changed me. It turned me into a different person. I kind of looked at things differently after doing something like that.
Steve: Also in that same article it talks about your "self-inflicted homelessness". Is that referring to your time on the Appellation Trail or is it referring to something else?
Rorey: (laughing as she answers) Well you know, I didn't want to get a job.
Steve: Hey I can relate. I know quite a few people that feel that way.
Rorey: Yeah, well I wanted to play my music... so I lived in my car for a while... for years.
Steve: Well it's hard for me to consider that as "self-inflicted" homelessness. I think I see it more as you making the necessary sacrifices to reach your goals.
Rorey: Well yeah, I just wanted to get around the country, and I wanted to see things. So I travelled any way I could, whether I had a car at the time or didn't. I would ride freight trains, taking greyhound buses, or whatever it may be.
Steve: Did you start singing and playing guitar at a younger age or is that something you picked up later during your hiking and travelling days?
Rorey: I picked it up when I moved to Colorado when I was 19. I started playing and my friends taught me like a couple of chords. I actually (with a chuckle) I started to learn out of a "Grateful Dead" book. So I'm self-taught. I made it a point as I was traveling to learn from every single person that played to teach me a couple of things. You know, I was just always real adamant about learning from different people. I never had any schooling or anything so... I just kind of picked it up.
Steve: Do you have any siblings?
Rorey: I do.
Steve: And what do they think about your rise to fame?
Rorey: (laughter) Well I have a sister who lives out in Seatle who's the opposite of me. She's like a type "R" business woman... in a cool way - she works for Amazon. She's awesome - we get along great. I lost my brother about seven years ago... and.. when I lost my brother, I turned my life around. He was... he was my best friend, so it was really tough. When that happened it pushed me to get off the street so to speak and do what I am actually doing.
Steve: Well that answers my next question - about any incidents that you would describe as defining moments in your life.
Rorey: I think really everyone has a lot of those, but losing my brother was a catalyst for me, probably the biggest. It's probably still the biggest fire underneath me.
Steve: Do you mind if ask what happened?
Rorey: He had... um... basically a heart attack. He had an aneurysm in his heart. He died all of the sudden. He was with family when it happened. I was on my way to see him actually.
Steve: Upcoming plans after this tour - Where do you see yourself in say 10 years from now?
Rorey: I see myself (laughing) as a road dog. I don't know, in like Europe in some van you know somewhere cool in a van with a bunch of smelly dudes (laughter).
Steve: (laughter) I hear ya. Now something I notice when I'm listening to your music - there seems to be a defining line between your earlier songs of say 2012, 2013 which has a cheerful almost optimistic bluegrass sound to it - and your later stuff which has more of a sound of... cynicism, for lack of any better way to put it. Can you elaborate on that?
Rorey: So... I would say that if you listen to words on the bluegrass album... bluegrass has that saying that it cheers everything up, but it gets dark. I would say that record is a lot darker in a lot of ways than this upcoming record. When I moved to the South and started taking guitar and songwriting seriously, I fell into the bluegrass community and they taught me music. I learned a lot from the bluegrass community so those are my people. Those are my friends and so that's kind of where I learned from, but as for that I think I put out that record 8 years ago. It's my first record. It's not what I'm doing anymore really.
Steve: I understand. Now the "Five String House" concert on Youtube - I really enjoyed watching that. The band that you are with. Do you still perform with them?
Rorey: No I don't. They're still really good friends of mine. That was out in Colorado. I had a great band out in Colorado. That was really fun actually.
Steve: Well y'all have a great sound together.
Rorey: Yeah, really I loved playing with those guys. Murph and I, the guitar player and I spent so much time just drinking tequila and playing. I learned a lot of guitar from him. He's one of my best friends still. but no we don't... I don't go out to Colorado very much. If we did I would. I would totally play with those guys. But I got a different thing going on now so...
Steve: Yeah I understand that too. One of your songs I heard that really resonated with me. I don't even know when you performed it. I just know I really liked it - "Reach For The Sky" . It has what I would call, and correct me if I'm wrong about this, but a definite tone of optimism.
Rorey: Yeah... That song is totally positive. How did you get that song?
Steve: It's online... I think it was on youtube that I listened to it. (Reach For The Sky)
Rorey: yeah... It's just that I never really did that one very much, but yeah it's kind of a song about pushing through things - "When you reach for the sky, Be lifted up high"
Steve: Well for me, that one is one of my favorites, but honestly they're all good whether they convey optimism or portray a dark side, I enjoy listening to all of them.
Steve: If you came across someone today that reminded you of yourself when you were first starting out, what message would you share with them, if any at all?
Rorey: Well, are you talking about lifestyle or music?
Rorey: If you do that... try to find what you love. I'm really glad I dropped out of College. I don't think I'm cut out for that kind of life. And so if you drop out and you know that's not right, then find what is right and really commit to it. Because once you commit to something everything lines up for you. That's what I found out in my life. You know every lesson that I learned it's because... because I (expletive) up some way or I got off course. When you know what kind of course you want to be on... don't stay stale for a long time. It's like know what you want and go after it. Try to find what it is that really moves you, inspires you, pushes you.
Steve: I like that. Before this interview concludes, is there anything else you want to elaborate on?
Rorey: Well... I'm excited I love Charleston. I've spent a lot of time there and I'm excited to play there. It's a great crew, some of my favorite writers and favorite people, great friends. Aaron Lee Tasjan, he's another up-and-comer, Elizabeth Cook, and Todd Snider, you know obviously legends and Kevin Gordon is great too... so yeah it's just going to be a great show - I'm really excited about it.
Steve: Todd Snider - something I've noticed about his concerts, he always has a group with him and at least one or two up-and-comers. Personally, I think that's awesome that he is willing to do that... and that he does it. Can you elaborate on that?
Rorey: Yeah. If it wasn't for Todd... I don't even... He basically when I open up for him... it's just really hard when you're in Nashville and you don't have family, you know you don't have family in the industry or you don't... it's like you feel really alone... and when I met Todd, he's a very kindred type of friend. And when I opened shows for him people listened and it was cool. I was so used to playing (expletive) sidebars and stuff like that you know and... and people at his shows listen. And he just took me under his wing. He believes in me and that's given me a lot of confidence and drive to keep going and keep doing what I'm doing.
Steve: That's great.
Rorey: Yeah, Todd, he's amazing, he's an incredible mentor and incredible friend and incredible musician and I really look up to him. And Elizabeth Cook is also, she's really inspiring as well and she's done kind of a similar thing. But Todd, he's putting on my records and he's really fully taken me on. So having him behind me has meant the world.
Steve: That's fantastic. Well Rorey, that pretty much concludes the interview. Thank you so much for your time and candor. I'm really looking forward to the show at the Charleston Music Hall this Sunday.
Rorey: Yeah it'll be fun. Thanks, Stephen