Story and slideshow by MADELINE SMITH
Tanner Crawford gently plucks the strings on his cello. Cameron Jorgensen joins in on his bass drum mirroring Crawford’s rhythm while lightly tapping on the rim of his snare. Scotty Phillips’ soulful vocals fill in the rest of the sound as Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” rings through Crawford’s living room.
These three musicians make up RaeRe (pronounced “Ray-Ray”), a local Salt Lake City soulful folk band. Their unusual arrangement of instruments gives insight to the band’s personality.
The members of RaeRe attended Emery County High School, and all throughout, Phillips and Crawford played music together. Their first original song, “I’m a Vegan,” was written during their junior year.
They started writing songs first on the piano, and Crawford would then translate the notes onto the cello.
Crawford also plays an Appalachian dulcimer, a four-stringed instrument that is plucked or strummed, usually heard in bluegrass music. “Hope and Coffee” is currently RaeRe’s only song with the dulcimer.
Phillips struggled at singing with the cello at first, but he learned to sing on key, driven by his emotional connection to the instrument.
“The hardest thing about singing with a cello is that it’s not a typical instrument to sing with by itself,” Phillips said. “It’s usually an instrument that accompanies something else, like a piano.”
In the summer of 2011, Crawford and Phillips were ready to move on from a single accompanying instrument to a fuller sound, and asked Jorgensen to be their drummer.
Crawford and Jorgensen listen to similar genres of music so they thought he would be a good fit. As they practiced, they could feel the music click.
Jorgensen focuses on understanding the structure of the song, and sometimes practices on a full drum kit with cymbals. Occasionally, he’ll bring a hi-hat or crash cymbal onstage, but it doesn’t get more complex than that, he said.
“Adding more drums can easily lead me to overcomplicating my part, which is a huge disservice to the band and audience,” Jorgensen said. “People come to shows to listen, not watch.”
He uses mallets, rods, brushes and sticks to create a variety of tones that suit the mood of any song, he said.
Jorgensen doesn’t just play drums, however. He picked up the guitar in RaeRe’s songs “The Witch” and sometimes plays on “Yellow Daisy.”
“Playing with other bands, your guitarist will leave their guitar at your place and you can’t help but play it,” Jorgensen said.
The band members thought of finding a permanent guitarist, but adding another person with a sporadic schedule to work around seemed like too much of an obligation, Jorgensen said. Also, it would only add so much to a sound they’re already content with.
He said a benefit of having just one string instrument is that Crawford doesn’t have to match another person, and can follow his own formula to suit the atmosphere of Phillips’ lyrics.
Phillips sings about life experiences other people can connect to, such as lucid dreams or a favorite coffee shop.
“I like to write things that I know other people could possibly relate to because music is very special to me as a tool to help other people,” Phillips said.
His lyrics don’t only stem from happiness, however. He said he’s also motivated by hard times he’s been through and tries to create something special from the heart, hoping people will enjoy it.
“Inspiration doesn’t always mean it’s uplifting,” he said.
The mood of Phillips’ words dictates which instrument Crawford plays. Because the dulcimer has a limited range of notes, he uses the cello or piano on more dynamic songs, he said. Also, the cello is better suited for songs with a sad or angry tone.
Jorgensen bases his percussion part off Crawford’s arrangement to fit the overall feeling of the song they’re working on.
RaeRe rehearsed its only love song, “Like Blake,” in Crawford’s living room on Nov. 25, 2012, and even though Phillips isn’t in the same state of mind as when he wrote it, he still gets choked up, he said.
He sings about a past breakup and questions why the relationship didn’t last, after all he and Blake went through and how perfect they were for each other. In the chorus, Phillips references a novel written by Richard Bach about a seagull that is bored of its day-to-day life, titled “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” It flies higher than the other seagulls and was, as Blake described Phillips, distinctly different.
As they performed this song in Crawford’s Salt Lake City apartment, each member’s eyes closed, and they subconsciously responded to each other’s playing.
“When three talented people care about what they do, a natural chemistry develops,” Phillips said.
Every time Phillips sings, he becomes the music, allowing the words to take control. This makes it easier to convey the emotion he felt when the lyrics were written, he said.
Crawford called it a performance blackout, where he loses himself in the music and doesn’t remember what happened while playing his instrument.
“It can only be achieved safely when you know your music,” he said.
Not every member in the band is gay, but it identifies as queer.
Jorgensen said, “If people thought I was gay, I’d be OK with it.”
Phillips said, “There’s nothing specifically homosexual in our songs, but it’s who I am so it reflects in them.”
Even though he doesn’t sing about relationships often, Phillips said he’s not going to incorporate the word “female” as opposed to “male” to please people.
Crawford said despite how the band identifies, straight people hear their music and say, “’Whoa, I feel the same way,’” because they talk about emotions that are human, not specific to just one group of people.
RaeRe carries this theme of openness through its performances, and wants to break the invisible barrier between the musicians and audience.
Crawford said, “Just because we’re on the stage doesn’t mean we can’t interact with the crowd.”
Phillips likes to create a metaphorical sense of comfort while performing. He often sets up end tables and displays items from his house on top of them.
RaeRe’s stage presence is very casual, Jorgensen said. Most bands that have a cellist play in a formal sitting position, but Crawford tries not to look rigid. Jorgensen said they just get into the music.
RaeRe had its debut on July 31, 2012, opening for Jay Brannan at Kilby Court, 741 S. Kilby Court. Phillips, a fan of Brannan, said it was a dream come true.
The band’s second show was at Paper Moon, 3737 S. State St., with The Brian Bingham Band.
On Nov. 6, 2012, they opened again for The Brian Bingham Band, along with Chanda Charmayne at Urban Lounge, located at 241 S. 500 East.
Jorgensen said RaeRe’s audience is often pleasantly surprised about how full of a sound it delivers, despite not having a guitarist.
Phillips said, “Compliments never get old and they never go to my head.”
He recalled receiving a letter from a woman his mom works with, who had connected to RaeRe’s music. She specifically praised each musician, and said “Marilyn’s Song” helped her through a hard time.
Phillips saw her at a Smith’s grocery store and he said she was crying as she hugged him. He was astonished that his band’s music could impact a listener enough that they would be excited to see him.
“To be able to give someone help is the best thing you can do,” Phillips said.
After their performances, the members of the band watch videos recorded during their set. Phillips said it’s surreal to hear people singing along.
RaeRe is focusing on getting its music to new audiences using social media such as Facebook and YouTube.
“You just have to not be afraid to tell people what you’re doing,” Phillips said.
The guys are planning to play more shows in 2013, possibly with an onstage couch to accompany Phillips’ end tables and complete a full living room vibe, Crawford said. Until then, Phillips, Jorgensen and Crawford have a lot to prepare.
The band is getting ready to record its first EP, although it has enough material to record a full album. There are 25 to 30 original songs written, and RaeRe is always in the process of writing more.
“I woke up yesterday and wrote two songs,” Phillips said with a laugh.