Falling in love, as thrilling as it is, requires a huge level of vulnerability. That immensely happy and slightly uncomfortable feeling is encapsulated in Rachael Cantu's most recent music video "You're the Most." Its dreamy camera work, pastel tones and soft, upbeat vocals paint that image just as well as some of its lyrics: "Is it too soon / Is it too fast / How will we know / If it will last?" The openly gay artist also makes no apologies for showcasing two nonbinary people as the main characters in the video, being boldly and "unapologetically queer." This is the visual center of the California-based artist's new EP "Love Rush," which came out on April 13. The six-song project is a collection of love songs showcasing a new solo sound to 36-year-old Cantu's repertoire. Between The Lines caught up with Cantu to talk about her inspiration for the EP, her upcoming projects and why "normalizing" queerness is important.
Listening to the "Love Rush" EP compared to your 2013 "Covers" album or 2009's "Far and Wide" shows a pretty stark contrast in style. Why the style change?
It started with Little Brutes. It was a project I did a couple years ago and that had more of a pop sound and it's kind of my first collaboration as a release with another person, and me doing the topline writing, which is vocals, melody, lyrics.
So, after that venture, I got really into topline writing for other artists, with other artists for their records with producers. Every day is like a new producer, you go in the room and just write a song. That's actually how this one came about. I was working with a producer and we were writing just to write, maybe to pitch to another artist or whatnot, and this handful of songs really felt like mine (laughs). I thought, "I'm gonna use these."
What was your timeline for this EP?
These songs happened really quickly. Each of the songs was written in a day because that's how a lot of these sessions go. When you're doing these topline writing sessions you have a day, that's about it. Sometimes two, but usually you're expected to have it done within the day, and it's a great challenge and a really great way to work that muscle. That kind of writing is so cool to me because it's like a funnel. Something opens up, you just tap in and that's that.
Simply listening to the song "You're the Most" without watching the video doesn't give away that it's a nonbinary love song. Was that your intention?
The concept for the song, I didn't write it as a nonbinary love song, but it came about with the director Devon Kirkpatrick. Devon just found some amazing actors, and one who personally identifies as nonbinary, so we just kind of ran with that. It just made so much sense for this song and for this time and for this revolution of queerness and people discovering themselves and feeling the theme. I personally just understand the identity of nonbinary so much, it just makes so much sense to me that I feel like it just needs to be acknowledged and celebrated and normalized.
I know that I personally have a handful, plus of friends who identify like that and are just so at peace with that, you know? That, to me, you don't need to have the intellectual discussion. I just look at them and go, "OK, yeah" (laughs).
It's a very human thing to try and put things in a category or box, wouldn't you say?
I feel like we've always done that though, right? I feel like it's always been like that, and then you have to kind of unwind it (laughs). We went through it with the trans community. Even especially in the LGBT community. I used to be so uncomfortable with even the term queer and now I love it (laughs). Everyone's doing their growing as we're all learning these terms and understanding what it means and how it feels.
Speaking of that, you put out your first album in 2006, and 12 years ago the social landscape was very different. Were you out as a musician at that point? Has it gotten easier to be publicly gay?
I guess I thought I was, but I'm also just such a private person that I was completely out to my friends. But publicly I wasn't necessarily out, but I think I wasn't out to my parents either. Everything else was fine, everything else was open and free and no shame, but I didn't want it to get out there for my parents (laughs). As it evolved I think I came out in an AfterEllen article or something, and to me, it felt like a huge deal even though everybody knew. It was just kind of like, OK. I don't remember what year that was, but since then, and being married and having a community that's just so brave and open, there was this kind of like, "Get on board, get over it," kind of feeling. It's who I am and if I don't feel this way, I'm just going to feel ashamed and I don't want that (laughs), and I don't want other people to feel ashamed either.
In another interview, you mentioned that you wrote the songs on "Love Rush" from an "introvert's perspective." Would you say that you usually get inspired to write by self-reflecting independently?
Oh, completely. It's funny, I've never thought about that but it's so true. Yeah, it's funny, especially being in these topline writing sessions and you're writing for artists and young artists and they're talking about being at the club and smoking pot and doing all this stuff. That's such a kind of extroverted way of writing. I always thought it was like, "I'm not cool enough to write those kinds of songs," but I think you're exactly right, I think that's because I mostly live in my head and it's not about those outward things. But I like to dance, and I like to go out sometimes!
Are you currently working on any other projects?
I scored a documentary this past year that hopefully will be coming out soon. I think they're in the midst of negotiating some contracts. I'm sure it'll be on some streaming site. It's called "Zero Weeks" and it's about paid family medical leave in America and it's really intense and it's amazing and they're actually screening it to Congress this week. That's coming out. Harlan (Silverman) from Little Brutes and I have talked about writing some more songs, but I have stuff coming out on TV and film and I will post that as it comes out. Yeah, a lot of things are happening.
Love Rush is available now. More information about Rachael Cantu and her music can be found online at rachaelcantu.com.