Rachel Stolte, guitarist/vocalist, is one half of the Californian duo Great Northern. The other half is guitarist/singer Solon Bixler – onstage they are joined by additional musicians – and the band released the gorgeous Remind Me Where the Light Is, their follow-up to Trading Twilight For Daylight earlier this year. I talked with the striking Stolte after the band’s appearance at the Crocodile and was so charmed by her. She’s a siren onstage with that unbelievably beautiful voice and offstage she’s a warm, equally charismatic and intelligent woman.
Dagmar: I was reading that you used to be an actress?
Rachel Stolte: I was. I went to UCLA for acting. That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. I was simultaneously doing music – actually I did music before acting. I started when I was about fourteen, singing – not really playing instruments. I took piano when I was seven for three years but . . . the way my brain works I don’t really pay attention unless I’m interested so piano I figured out by ear. I loved singing harmonies to Depeche Mode and amazing bands like that. I did a play my senior year in high school and I loved it. It was my ego that got in the way of my pursuing it. I thought, thespians, they’re weird, they touch each other and I was like, I wanna be cool. But I’m so not cool. I started acting and it was really fun. I did it for a long time and I got my degree in it and I studied for five years after college. Music feels more organic and less forced. There’s amazing actors out there who do it so much better than I ever did and I feel singing especially is more my calling at this point. I would love to revisit it. My acting training informs me onstage on how to communicate with an audience.
Rachel Stolte & Solon Bixler of Great Northern – photo by Dana Patrick
D: You named the band after the hotel in Twin Peaks?
RS: Yeah. David Lynch’s mind is amazing. I loved the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, that was my introduction and then I went back and watched the show. I had seen Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Eraserhead. Then I saw him [Lynch] speak one time at a college and he’s just matter of fact. It’s not like it’s this put on thing, which I think is cool. That’s just his imagination, naturally.
D: Who’s your favorite David Lynch character?
RS: I loved Isabelli Rossellini [in Blue Velvet] because she’s mesmerizing and gorgeous. I think more than a character what I like is the darkness, the humor, the absurdity, the non linear story telling, the subtleties in the peripheral view, the fact that the human mind is capable of imagining things that are incomprehensible to the majority people. We all have crazy thoughts and he has a great way of executing it in a visual form.
[We get to the subject of Stolte’s bandmate and partner, Solon Bixler]
RS: [Solon] is a Greek name that means fairness and wisdom – he’s not Greek, his parents were hippies. It actually really suits him. He’s an amazing person, he’s very fair about things and is less judgmental than anyone I’ve met. He’s super talented – I feel lucky.
D: It’s hard to find people who aren’t judgmental.
RS: I know. I’m observant – like I love human behavior and I’m fascinated with the subconscious and with what people are conveying with their body language and what they say – all that stuff. Solon doesn’t think about that stuff.
D: You two met for the first time at a concert?
RS: It’s funny, we don’t remember how we met. We were in and out of each other’s lives for like seven years. We were friends and we’d meet and we’d gravitate and talk – we always liked the same music. We were like, we should just play music together, we’re always at the same shows. We would joke around. And he would disappear and I would disappear, then we’d meet again. We can’t remember the first time we officially met. We were at an Elliott Smith show and he gave me some tapes and asked if I wanted to come up with some piano stuff. I was like, fuck yeah. A couple months before I had been trying to manifest things in my life that I wanted. I had these little pieces paper: I want music back in my life, I want to fall in love . . . all these things. The next night after I had taken these pieces of paper and put them in a box I ran into him. I went home and I listened to the music. Eight months later he was living with his girlfriend and I was living with my boyfriend we [traded] back and forth 4-track tapes. When we got in the studio together it was crazy chemistry. Scandalous. We fell in love and it’s six years later.
Rachel Stolte at the Crocodile – photo by Dagmar
D: You’re interested in astrology?
RS: I’m obsessed. I’ve been studying it incessantly for eight years.
D: You and Solon have the same sign.
RS: We do, we’re four days apart. And two years. He’s older than me. Capricorns are the seagoat. The whole plight of the Capricorn is not to be driven materially but to dip their tail in the water, which is the spiritual realm and if you can balance both then you will probably have success. They say [a Capricorn] is cold and calculating but if you don’t use your tail to get to the emotionality then you’re empty.
D: The cat noise in Stop. Is that your cat?
RS: Yes – Ricky Penny Pearl.
D: I was hoping that was your cat.
RS: She’s very musical. We’ll wake up in the middle of the night and she’ll be playing piano with her paws and she’s actually really good. She never plays bad notes – she always plays low notes. She hangs out in the room when we record a lot. She meows to the beat.
D: That’s so cute it makes me want to cry. Was it easier to perform onstage as an actress as opposed to a musician?
D: Because you were someone else?
RS: Yeah – it was easier to hide. With this it’s more vulnerable and real and able to connect with people. It took me a long time to feel comfortable doing that. I’m finally feeling that with this album. With the first album I was a different person. I was hiding. I played piano and I barely sang. I started to learn guitar and write these songs that were more belting songs out and it’s so satisfying. It’s like, wow, what have I been waiting for? I feel connected to it more than the piano. It really helps me sing.
Gallery of Great Northern at the Crocodile