“Dreamy,” “experimental,” and “blue” are just three words that come to mind for local indie artist Rachael Lawson when describing Pure Honey, her first full solo album and upcoming concept project that converges ideas of connectivity through bees and technological evolution. Lawson, an FSU music student, began writing her own songs in high school. Her experimentation on a Christmas-gifted ukulele eventually became the blueprint for her wistful, nostalgia-laced tune “Memory Lane.”
Since then, Lawson has released a wide selection of original music, including her EP Nowhere, USA and collaborative album called Bloom with folk musician Jessica Caviness. As a songwriter and trained flutist who cites inspiration from artists such as Joni Mitchell, Alice Phoebe Lou, Hiatus Kaiyote, Regina Spektor, Glass Animals, and Caamp, it is no surprise that Lawson’s discography is both diverse and innovative in the ways that it approaches storytelling.
“I like to explore genres at this point in my music-making,” Lawson says. “I am still trying to find my sound, and while I do cover several styles, the songs still feel related. Some moments are quite experimental, involve a variety of synths, a modern ‘80s sound, video game inspired, folky acoustic, and classical infused.”
For Pure Honey in particular, Lawson wanted to approach her sound from an angle that complemented both her lyrical compositions and the multidimensionality of the relationships that they portray. The reverbed, New Wave-adjacent and 8-bit style of many of her songs provides a backdrop that feels both electric and reflective of a previous movement in technological and musical invention.
“The core of the lyrics examine the relationship between humans and nature, humans and technology, and my own perspectives on the rapidly changing technologic landscape, including AI and social media,” Lawson says. “‘Pure Honey’ is the title track and it has a retro ’80s-inspired sound, but with soft indie-folk vocals. I am also trying out a sort of pseudo-rapping/speaking in the song ‘Hive Mind’ and I was inspired a lot by the artist Limbo, who both sings and speaks in her music.”
With titles like “Bees Bears Battlestar Galactica,” “digital n3ctar,” and “Meta Metamorphosis,” the songs on Pure Honey are similarly intuitive of their own moving parts, exploring the extent of language’s capabilities with attention to detail in ways that coincide with the album’s conceptual framework.
Lawson shares, “The hook of the chorus for ‘Pure Honey’ is ‘you’re pure honey, you’re pure honey, baby.’ Each of the four verses is themed with a season to describe a person I love. For example, ‘you’re an autumn red, you’re fresh baked bread / you’re pumpkin pie, you’re a lullaby.’”
Consequently, choosing bees as the album’s emphasis was a highly intentional creative choice for Lawson. For her, not only have bees been a longstanding subject of fascination, but she also insists that their roles in our natural world have existed in ways that are both philosophically and spiritually provocative.
“How can such tiny little creatures hold so much power, make the sweetest honey, yet also pack a sharp sting?” Lawson says. “I believe in God, and I think He has woven so much beauty and lessons in all of creation. Bees are vital to life, so they have a sting to protect the hive. In a way, the same sting protects us all, because we need bees to keep pollinating to keep sustaining life. When a bee uses its stinger, it sacrifices itself for the hive. I think God also has a sense of humor; bumble bees have a hilarious wings-to-body ratio.”
In regards to her songwriting process, Lawson explains that the words are often what comes first, which is appropriately understandable for an artist whose lyrics, though at times abstract, are equally abundant in sensory detail and narrative. “I write way more lyrics than I know I want to use,” she says. “I find the strongest phrases and experiment with turning it into a hook with a melody.”
The melody, for Lawson, is not necessarily something that must be created, but rather something that must be found, perhaps hidden deep somewhere in the opacity of the everyday. There are many ways that Lawson seeks to “find the melody” of her songs: playing flute, singing with chords on guitar or piano, or sometimes by sheer serendipity during moments of solitude. “Ideas for random songs and hooks with a melody often just come to me on long car rides, walks to school, or in the shower,” Lawson says. “I always try to record myself in a voice memo on my phone when ideas come to me.”
She asks herself a series of questions when including instrumentation: “Is it going to be an acoustic song with ukulele or guitar? Or an electronic song? Do I want to use rhythmic synth chords or dreamy pads?” Listening to songs with similar moods by artists she admires is often a helpful strategy when she isn’t clear on which direction to take.
“I am learning a lot as I go,” Lawson admits, in the true spirit of indie. “I compose the music, write the lyrics, play the instruments, and edit all my music myself. I am really grateful to live in a time where all I really need is a laptop, a basic microphone, and passion to create and distribute my music.”
As a frequent performer at local venues such as The Plant, Square Mug Cafe, or The Social Vegan, Lawson shares, “I have learned the most about my own music from performing or releasing it,” revealing a universal, yet well-kept artist’s secret: “You never feel ‘ready’ to share a song with someone. It’s a very vulnerable thing.” This vulnerability, however, is perhaps Lawson’s greatest strength in fostering authenticity through her musicianship, drawing attention to the human qualities in everything from matrix-like virtual realities to extinct Californian butterflies.