You are five-years-old and you are standing among the trees that line your favourite playground. You are standing alone and pushing around some sand with your toe, hoping that someone notices you. They do, and they wander over. You already know that the first thing they are going to ask you is your name.
You know this even before they approach because you have practiced this at home a million times. It is one of the easiest and conjoined hardest things you have ever had to do in your life. Because what is in a name anyway? Besides some letters, it’s everything.
“I was very against performing under my given name. I wanted a magical, safety blanket moniker, and that came to me in the form of Fern. My initials re-arranged. Still me, but safer.”
Meet Rachel Elizabeth, the songwriter formerly known as Fern. She debuted her new performance name, which is essentially her actual name, this week. And we tip our hats off to her in doing so. Public identity changes aren’t always an easy thing to grapple with.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of the things I accomplished as Fern. I’ve grown immensely as an artist over the past years. I’ve worked with some amazing people and put a lot of effort into my career. I’ve also realized that Fern represents some things that are just not ‘me’ anymore. I have no interest in pretending that my art is completely separate from the intersections of my identity.”
If birds were to help you get dressed in the morning, Rachel’s music would be the soundtrack playing in the background. Ultrasoft and that sort of sweet that won’t rot your teeth. The difference between eating grandma’s perfect pie crust and attempting to unwrap a log of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. And on “The Spendthrift and the Swallow,” her latest single and collaboration with Juniperus (Jeffrey Popiel), she lithely dips into the world of arcane folk that relies equally on storytelling as it does in pitch-perfect delivery. Rachel Elizabeth will remind you of everything that is okay with the world and then some. And oh man, that voice.
You are now six and you are learning how to read on your own. Your favorite book is the The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and even though you are young and your brain is still developing you totally get the concept behind the book. Things grow and progress and as time goes on anything can transform into anything. Life is about evolving.
We all evolve and the possibilities are endless.
“When I started performing as Fern around 2011, I was in a pretty fragile state. I had just graduated from university, moved out of my parent’s house, ended a long term relationship and overall, made some very poor life decisions. I was broke, teetering on the soft edges of alcohol abuse, in constant crisis. Music was coping, it was life.”
“Now I rarely drink, I sometimes write songs about love.”
With all transformations there comes a time to let go. To shed that thick layer of skin the others get so accustomed to seeing us wear, and more importantly to shed that layer of skin that we just assume we are to wear for eternity. Sometimes we just need to hit a reset button.
“I’d stumble home from Lydia’s and wake up the next morning with bruised legs from my guitar case banging against them on the walk.”
You are now seven and learning how to ride a bike. You accidentally make too sharp of a turn and crash land on the sidewalk. Legs scabbed, pants in tatters, but you’ll be okay.
So what is in a name? Besides how everyone is going to perceive you, it’s everything.
“The boundary between Fern and Rachel had become even more blurred. My peers called me Fern, hell some of my good friends in the music scene started calling me Fern. I was uncomfortable, even if I didn’t show it. I felt like Fern was a concept, but I was a person who happened to be a songwriter. Maybe that would be exciting to some people, but given my life-long history of being called the wrong name, I was getting tired of saying, ‘You can call me Rachel’.”
You get your first job as a burger fry cook and your boss hands you a tag with the wrong name on it. Even though it eventually gets corrected, people still refer to you as ”FRANK” for years to come.
“I was slowly getting my life back together after the literal shit storm that was 2011. I was making progress with my mental health struggles and trying to be more accountable for my actions. I was finding words for my feminism and cementing friendships with amazing women who have had my back in so many ways.
“I knew I wanted, needed, to change my band name and felt that the timing was right. So here I am! Writing songs that are exciting to me, even the love songs, under a name that feels good.”
Make sure to catch Rachel Elizabeth live:
May 27th Creative Common YXE
May 28th Fort Qu’Appelle, Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts
May 29th Regina, Regina Public Library
– Contributed by Joanna Graves. All quotes originally published at RachelElizabethMusic.com
Photo Credit: Megan Van Buskirk © 2014