The moment “Bullets” hit my ears, I knew I was going need more. More information, more music. An explanation. Zinnia‘s commanding vocals soar flawlessly above a stunning blend of folk and mellow pop/electronic. For some reason, this song struck a chord with me. I dug a little deeper and learned that the song was written a few years ago in my home state of Montana, adding another layer of depth. Lucky for me, I was able to ask Rachael Cardiello, the woman behind Zinnia, how, what, where and why. Check out the single, “Bullets”, off of her upcoming debut album, Sensations in Two Dot and read more about it all below:
MFL: Where are you from originally and how did your life land you in Toronto?
Rachael Cardiello (RC): I grew up in Helena, Montana and moved to Victoria, BC to study classical music when I was seventeen. What I had thought would be a four year stint in Canada just kept extending – I fell in love and eventually my partner and I took root in Toronto which has been a very inspiring homebase. I’ve been lucky to collaborate, tour and record with some truly sensational artists here and find the energy of this massive, multicultural centre very exciting.
My heart will always lie in the mountains though. I don’t think I could be a full time city kid without a solid dose of Montana every so often.
MFL: When did music become part of your life and has its role in your life changed over time?
RC: Oh jeeze, music just seems to have been part of everything forever. Feel like I could get rambly here.
Creativity was a constant in my childhood – our house was always strewn with instruments and art supplies. I was equally involved in dance, visual art and music but gradually music took precedence. In high school music began to split between a formal education and a very personal emotional-outlet. One had me me playing in the symphony, competing in concerto competitions, and earning scholarships to University – while the other had me pouring my heart into songwriting – spending hours alone with the piano – as a way to understand some difficult things happening in my life. The following years came with such destabilizing chaos – I lost my father and wrestled with severe mental illness. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through that time period had I not been processing through music.
In more recent years, music has become the professional vehicle that allowed me to collaborate, record and tour with truly wonderful artists throughout North America and Europe both as a side-player and with my own music.
MFL: As “Bullets” builds, in its stunning crescendo, the lyrics get more desperate, I can hear the pain in your voice. Can you divulge a bit more into what “Bullets” is about and how/why it came to you when you were in Montana?
RC: There are statistics I heard when I was young – particularly involving domestic violence and sexual assault – that seemed extreme. Yet through the years these statistics very much become a reality for people (particularly women) in my life. Bullets was written one summer – staying with my mom in Montana – when I was feeling the collective weight of these experiences become overwhelming. It sometimes seemed impossible that each person would have the strength to carry on through their pain. I’ve been astounded at their resilience.
MFL: You mention that you carried “Bullets” with you for four years before you settled on a final arrangement. How did the arrangement change over time and when did you know it was finished?
RC: Leading up to ZINNIA, I toured with many of the same musicians under my own name – Rachael Cardiello. In those years our sound morphed from chamber folk to a retro sound with Motown-inspired arrangements. The material I was writing for this album – starting with Bullets – had such an intensity to it, that it was difficult to find a sound with depth enough to contain both the intimate and furious moments. It’s a precarious balance and I found the smallest differences in synth tones or bass lines could undermine the directness of the lyrics.I was especially precious about Bullets. I really needed to get this one right – and a huge amount of thanks goes to my producer David Brandwein and my partner James Burrows for pushing me to find the sound that could hold it.
MFL: Where do you seek inspiration when writing your music and do the lyrics or melody come to you first?
RC: Lyrics and melody seem to come intertwined. Lately I need movement to write – usually biking around Toronto – and I’ll roll around a phrase and melody as I go. I can usually sense the chords and underlying rhythms. When I have time with a guitar or piano, I’ll search around til I find them. Sometimes the trick is pushing beyond what my head first heard as those are usually the safe, expected chords. In my side project TIDAL MOUTH (a collaboration with writer Daccia Bloomfield) I purposely reach beyond any sound or structure that is familiar. Though ZINNIA is more rooted in pop, it’s been hugely affected by the creative, experimental process of TIDAL MOUTH.
MFL: Can you get a handle on what it is about songs you listen to personally that really grab you and get you to listen to them over and over again? Do you strive to put these same elements into your music?
RC: I’m very drawn to the rougher edges of sounds and voices. That split-second crunch where the bow draws across the string, the breaks and warbles where the voice is less comfortable. Influences on that realm are Bill Callahan, Lucinda Williams and certain recordings of Shostakovich.
I’m mesmerized by movement and get especially hooked on music that is rooted in dance and the journey through a soundscape and idea. Everything is better when it moves.
The music that really catches me has something to say. For all the time and money one pours into creation, I think it’s a waste not to think through what you’re trying to say to the world. Either on a larger, political scale – artists like Hurray for the Riff Raff and Bruce Springsteen – or on a deeply personal level like Mount Eerie.
Those are the most essential elements in the music I’m drawn to and I think they definitely inform how I make music – sometimes subconsciously just in letting me embrace those aspects of my writing.
MFL: I’ve got to know, is your upcoming debut, Sensations in Two Dot, named after Two Dot, Montana? I can’t say I know very many people who know Two Dot. It is only a couple hours from where I live, in Bozeman!
RC: Ha yes! I grew up in Helena and always got a kick out of the name Two Dot on that Montana map. Also, sometimes Toronto is referred to as T-Dot and I like the juxtaposition between how incredibly different these two places are – population 67 verses 5.9 million.
MFL: What can we expect on Sensations in Two Dot? Does it tell a story or have a concept? Feel free to lump this answer with the above question.
RC: Sensations in Two Dot focuses on moments of doubt – creative, societal, and personal – exploring what it means to hold compassion through the grey areas of life. Whether in Two Dot or Toronto these nine songs probe the complex, sometimes unsettling similarities found in the human experience: the hauntings of unrelenting dreams, tensions and tender triumphs in relationships, systems of abuse threaded through communities, and the search for compassion and visibility in everyday interactions.
MFL: Finally, beyond releasing your debut album (no big deal…;o)), what sort of goals do you have for 2019?
RC: Oh jeeze we just want to be playing as much as possible. Our live shows have been wildly fun – explosive and giant – and we’ll be taking our crew on the road for a slew of shows across Canada with a few in the USA including Montana! Sensations in Two Dot will be out in the Fall and followed with European and North American tours.
Big thanks to the lovely Rachael for answering my questions and to Auteur Research for connecting us.
And before you go, PLEASE check out her latest single, “Black Bark, Yellow Leaves”, out today!