Rachel Austin Comes of Age

The US-born songwriter prepares to finish off a trilogy of EPs

'It felt a little ropey at times. We hadn’t rehearsed for a couple of weeks. But I really enjoyed it, overall.'

Viriginia-born singer-songwriter Rachel Austin has just finished entertaining an 'engaging' audience at the Waterside Theatre in Derry~Londonderry as part of the Stripes & Stars Americana Festival. She's a little short of breath – the adrenaline still pumping – but she's fluent and expressive nonetheless.

'The thought of performing at such a festival here, in Derry, was really exciting for me,' she explains. 'When I met Martin Mullan [the festival’s organiser], his driving passion for the event really sold me on the idea of singing here.'

But the Rachel we see on stage today is rather different from the one Glasgowbury revellers saw in 2008.

Back then, Austin was coming off the release of her debut album, Hello, My Uglies, singing easy listening folk while strumming away on an acoustic guitar. And while she was 'pretty happy' with her Glasgowbury performance at the time, she admits now that she felt that there was still some way to go.

'I learned so much from the recording process,' she says. 'But, compared to the recording itself, my live performances didn’t quite feel up to scratch.'

The album gathered a mixed response. 'Because I was an up-and-comer, press at the time was pretty limited,' Austin admits. 'But fans and friends were all very supportive. They kept me going. Everyone I knew who heard the album liked it. It was just a matter of getting it out there.'

At that point, with a debut album under her belt and a world of choices to choose from, she had to ask herself the big question – where to go from here?

'I decided to set about improving my stature as an artist. I had grown up listening mostly to metal, punk and avant garde rock. So after Hello, My Uglies, I wondered to myself, "why am I playing acoustic music that I never really paid much heed to before?" It’s a great media for me to write in, but not so much to perform in.

'I was urged to start gigging with an electric guitar instead. And so, around a year and a half ago, I gathered together double bassist Anthony Devenney and drummer Michael Sampson. I’ve been touring with them ever since, throughout the UK, Ireland and France. The whole thing has been very much like an organic creative procedure.'

So far, Austin's new sound and back up band have helped to spawn two new recordings: the Age Of Wisdom EP (released in July 2010) and the Age Of Love EP (released in April 2011 – listen to the track 'Babydoll' below).

Both EPs, described by Austin as examples of what she calls 'dark folk', have a much bigger emphasis on Americana, and are influenced by the likes of Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits.

This autumn, Austin, Devenney and Sampson will journey to Austin, Texas to record the final part of Austin's Ages trilogy, the Age Of Reason EP, which will also be released on VM Records.

'The EP will be produced by Brian Beattie,' Austin beams, 'who has a great track record, especially with low-fi songwriters. Then we’ll release more singles and carry on touring. Things are definitely looking up. I’m very excited about the future.'

Rachel Austin plays the North Down Museum, Bangor on August 5 and the Sunflower Festival, Hillsborough on August 20.