Brian: Rachel Levitin's performance career started in middle school with chorus. Solo performances of her original music started at age 14, and she hasn't looked back since. She's known for her high-energy performances, her thoughtful lyrics, and positive storytelling, which I can vouch for personally because I have seen her on stage many times. She released her debut EP Nearly Broken, which reached number one on Amazon's music adult alternative new releases chart in October of 2015. Then her most recent release, "Get Back Up," we actually did the world premiere here on DC Music Rocks. My favorite memory about that is that Rachel was, you were in an Uber-
Rachel: I was.
Brian: And she took video or Instagram Live or whatever it was.
Rachel: Whatever it was.
Brian: She did video. I got to see video of her sitting in the car with her Uber driver listening to her world premiere on the show, which was, as a host, that was one of my favorite memories that I have so far is seeing that. That was amazing. Thank you for sharing that and for letting me do the world premiere because that song, check out "Get Back Up" by Rachel Levitin because it's awesome. Now I've talked too much. Listeners, it's with great pleasure that I introduce Rachel Levitin.
Brian: Thank you for being here.
Rachel: My pleasure.
Brian: Tell us about now, the music started, there's trumpet and guitar, we talked about that. But I just said that it started with chorus.
Brian: How did the revolution happen to where you are now from then.
Rachel: Basically, I was lucky I went to a bunch of good schools growing up. When I was in middle school, I went to the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, Illinois. It wasn't the biggest school, but they had a really good supportive community of teachers. I was into the arts, and in fourth grade, that was the year that you could sign up and start doing chorus or band, so I decided to join both, although band was my preferred choice just because I really enjoyed playing trumpet. What happened was, you know how when you're in school, you get to pick your instruments?
Rachel: I was trying out things. I tried the flute, couldn't get a peep out of it. Then I was trying to decide "Do I want to play drums or trumpet?" Looking back on it now, either one was going to be equally loud. Either one.
Brian: It's so true. In different ways, yes.
Rachel: In my mind, I decided "Oh, no, trumpet would be the better choice." So I tried that one, and I could play it right away. That, plus the other afterschool activities was the guitar class, and I just started within a few weeks of each other, and I've just been playing them ever since. I was nine then.
Brian: Now do you still play trumpet often?
Rachel: I do.
Brian: Or guitar more frequently now?
Rachel: Yes, guitar much more frequently. But from ages nine to eighteen, trumpet was really more my primary ... I started songwriting at 12, so high school was kind of like peak songwriting time, I guess. But trumpet was my big thing for middle school, high school, and did some in college at AU, American University, but really, my trumpeting days were more of a high school thing. I loved it, and now I get to ... You'll hear some trumpeting on a track we'll play later on in the show.
Brian: Yeah, we got a sneak peek coming. You get to hear Rachel play trumpet on another artist's song, which is really cool. Tell us about you outside of the music then. Are you a homebody? Do you hang out a lot? What's life like for you out there?
Rachel: I'm a definite extrovert, but I need time to sleep and recharge those batteries. I think it was a couple weeks ago I was either playing a show, going to a show, or helping with a show every single day in one week. I've learned that I can't do that. I got very tired, but I made it out okay. Extroverted definitely. Outside of music, I would say I'm a music fan, so I go to a lot of shows. You can find me at Jammin Java, or IOTA, or 9:30 Club, or DC9, or wherever more often than not.
Brian: Which is, I can say, I have seen ... One of the great things about the DC music community is you start going to shows, and then you start seeing people you know. There's so many times where I've gone to shows, and I didn't know Rachel was going to be there, and there she is, and now I got another friend who's at the show. I love it. She is definitely a music connoisseur and an awesome support artist. By the way, she kills it on the trambo ... Tramboline, that's a trampoline and a tambourine together if you didn't know, it's called a tramboline.
Rachel: Very fun.
Brian: She actually played the tambourine, although you know we should have you play the tramboline.
Brian: Bring a trampoline on stage, that would be-
Rachel: Let's do it.
Brian: Anyway, I've spent enough time on that. All right. Tell us about a funniest moment that comes to mind from your performing memories that you've got.
Rachel: Funniest moment. Well, this is pretty funny. In April a few years back, I forget what year, it's kind of irrelevant to the story, I saw a post on Facebook. One of my friends posted that her friend was organizing a pop-up chorus to sing with Damien Rice at the Lincoln Theatre as part of his sold out show.
Rachel: And we were the surprise to end the concert, to do his, what's it called, the encore. He surprised everyone with this chorus at the end of that specific tour. So me and my friend Jason Mendelson of the MetroSongs-
Brian: Yes, he's been a guest on here, too. He's awesome, yup.
Rachel: Yes, yes, yes. We ended up in that chorus together, but a day before I was supposed to do that, I was transported to the ER because I had a kidney stone.
Brian: Oh my gosh.
Rachel: I'm pretty young, so-
Rachel: Stress, it happens, folks. Hydrate. It's the most important thing you can do for yourself. When you're stressed and drink coffee like I do. Drink water. Don't Gilmore Girls it. Drink water.
Brian: Public service announcement by Rachel Levitin.
Brian: Drink water. Okay, got it.
Rachel: I drank a lot of water after that, but I did sing on stage with Damien Rice with a kidney stone in my body at a sold out show on a Friday night at D.C.'s historic Lincoln Theatre.
Brian: That is amazing and hysterical at the same time. Wow.
Rachel: And painful.
Brian: There you go. Yeah, I can only imagine. I drink a lot of water, so I'm hoping-
Rachel: Good man.
Brian: I can't ever relate to that story actually, but we'll see what happens. All right. Tell us about what's something in your music collection that might surprise us.
Rachel: Oh, I'm a big dixieland and big band jazz fan.
Brian: Like what?
Rachel: Benny Goodman, all that old school, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, anything that you would hear on the street in New Orleans with those marching bands for the weddings, that kind of stuff. The first reason I fell in love with trumpet was Louis Armstrong.
Brian: Well, there we go. Yeah, and boy, he's got ... That's, wow, cool stuff. All right. So she's kind of a pop indie amazing performer herself, and yet, there's big band, dixieland jazz. I love it. All right. Your earliest memory with music, what comes to mind?
Rachel: Oh, that's easy. My dad was a singer-songwriter and guitar player, although I don't think I ever heard any of his songs, so I don't know if he actually did that when we was an adult, but when he was younger. When I was a little kid, we had this tiny, mini red guitar that my grandma got me. I thought it was a real guitar. I thought I was playing it when I really wasn't. My dad would play guitar, and then we would write songs about like farm animals or something. I remember one was called Pink Flamingo. I don't remember how it went, but I remember that it happened. So I have that memory. So it goes back as far as my memory actually takes me.
Brian: Wow. The Pink Flamingo memory with your dad. That is cool. I love it. All right. What about the first memory performing? What comes to mind?
Rachel: Oh boy. Well, the first time I performed an original song, I don't remember where it was because there's a few different examples I can think of, but I know that my legs ... I'm pretty confident. Now, you would never know that I would ever be nervous. Every once in a while, I get a little stage excitement, I wouldn't call it stage fright, but excitement like-
Brian: Stage excitement. I love it.
Rachel: You're a little bit buzzed, all naturally and everything. But my legs used to shake underneath me. Mentally, I was good to go, but my body was saying "no, no, no." They would start tremble beneath me, and I had to learn how to push through that. The first few times, I definitely almost like fell to the ground because my legs were not going to hold out underneath me.
Brian: Wow. Do you have like a tactic or something that you use to work through it? Or you just learned over time to work through it?
Rachel: I just learned that I have nothing to worry about.
Brian: Got it. That is pretty cool. Wow. What about a funniest moment on stage? What comes to mind?
Rachel: Oh boy. I should've thought about it. I should've done my homework on this one. Funniest moment on stage? That's tough. I think recently, well, I don't know if it was funny, but my band and I have a good time. We only just formed this July, and every time we end up taking on-the-stage selfies or things like that. It's not exactly funny, so that's kind of not an A-game story, but we have a good time. We're a bunch of jokesters.
Brian: Taking selfies on stage.
Rachel: It's fun.
Brian: I love it. Yeah.
Rachel: I don't have a selfie stick or anything like that, but you know what, we like to goof off.
Brian: There's still a chance. You can still make that happen, you know.
Rachel: Well, I called them a bunch of goofs because you should see the Facebook message group that we have. It's basically just a bunch of emojis that we keep sending back and forth to each other. Shout out to Graham, Kendall, and Alex. You guys are hilarious.
Brian: Oh my god. Have you stepped into the GIF game yet?
Rachel: I feel like I need to, but we haven't gone that far. We've added some bitmoji to our game.
Brian: I'm going to tell you a secret. If it's a Facebook group, there's a button that says GIF.
Rachel: Oh, there is?
Brian: Go in there. Try it.
Rachel: I've just never pressed it. Oh boy.
Brian: Your group will just one-up on the GIF situation.
Rachel: Oh, they're going to love it.
Brian: It's going to be amazing.
Rachel: Get ready, fellas.
Brian: Tell us about a time you tried and failed?
Rachel: Tried and failed. Well, let's see. Good question. I feel like I'm using dead air. Tried and failed. I remember I really wanted to be a first chair trumpet at the jazz band. I went to Interlochen for two summers in Traverse City, Michigan to study jazz. Looking back on it now, yeah, did I want to want first chair or whatever? Yeah, I did, but I wasn't like the rest of the kids there. I was, but I wasn't. Whereas they all planned on being professional instrumentalists when they grew up, which I'm not opposed to it, I just at that point in my life wasn't so sure about my route in life. And being there as a trumpet major instead of a songwriting major, it kind of changed the game for me. But I love jazz. I auditioned, and I ended up, I think, getting fourth chair. At first, I was disappointed, but then I realized "You're not practicing. That's your fault. If you want to be a higher chair, you should probably practice."
Brian: Yes, this is good.
Rachel: So here I am at a world-renowned camp for instrumentalists, and I wasn't practicing. So, yeah, of course I would get fourth chair. Then I started practicing. That was just the ... I went back for two summers, so that was just the start of the first summer. Then I practiced it, and I think I got up to third chair, and maybe even sat in on some second at that point. But you have to remember, these are kids from all over the country, all over the world who-
Brian: Right, in a really competitive thing.
Rachel: This is what they want to do.
Brian: [crosstalk 00:11:37] you're a fairly gifted trumpet player, too. We hear you on guitar on stage a lot, but you with a trumpet is also a really good thing it sounds like.
Rachel: Yeah, I got to get my chops back, but I have a few concertos in my bedroom that I can probably still play if I practiced.
Brian: I feel like that's a "That's what she said" thing. I don't know.
Rachel: Right, work it in.
Brian: Anyway. Concertos in the bedroom. I love it. Anyway.
Brian: All right. One of my favorite last questions to ask is what's one piece of advice that you would offer?
Rachel: Just don't compromise yourself, and don't be afraid.
Brian: Say more on that. Don't compromise yourself.
Rachel: Know what you're capable of, and don't sell yourself short. Confidence is hard to come by. I know a lot of people who struggle with it, but I know a lot of people who don't, and I really just comes down to knowing that ... When I sing, I know that I'm supposed to be doing that, and it feels good to me. So if you're doing something that feels good to you, do it, and don't let anyone inside your head and make you think that you shouldn't be doing it or you're not good at it. Just do it.
Brian: If folks want to follow or find out more about you or follow you, where are the best places for them to go?
Rachel: Best place to go is I love Instagram the most just because I'm a, I would like to say, a novice photographer or something of that nature.
Rachel: I do like to take photos of animals and concerts. So if you like cute animals or music, follow my Instagram. It's R-H-L-E-V-I-T-I-N. I'm also on Twitter, and I have a Facebook page for my music, and then just rachellevitin.com.
Brian: Rachellevitin.com, that's the magic spot. You had mentioned earlier, and I want you to share with the listeners about Tony Lucca and the story that you were saying.
Rachel: Oh, Tony Lucca. Yes.
Brian: Yeah, talk about that real quick.
Rachel: Tony Lucca. We go way back now. I became a fan of Tony Lucca in 1999 when the Disney Channel was airing a Mickey Mouse Club marathon because that was peak NSYNC years. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling, they were all on the show, but so was Tony Lucca, who was also on The Voice season two. I've been a big fan of his music for a long time. I first saw him open for NSYNC back in, I think it was 2001. We met back then. I have an autograph and picture from then. Fast forward to 2010, got to interview him for a website I was writing for at the time called We Love DC. Fast forward a few years, there was a chunk of time I think I saw him more throughout a year than I saw my own family just because he would come here for concerts, and I wouldn't go home that much. We just go way back, and he became a good influence on me.
This past weekend, I flew home to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, a milestone birthday, with my immediate family. We had Tony come, and we played a little house concert for everyone, then went out to dinner. For the first time, I got to play two original songs with someone who had a really big influence on me. I'll never forget it, and I'm really grateful. Tony's back here on April 9th, I believe, yes.
Brian: Well, Tony, shout out to you. I love that story. That's amazing.