Trust the creative process. There is no need to rush the creating or the feeling or the sharing or the healing. When I first started writing music, some songs felt like they wrote themselves, while others have remained unfinished to this day. That’s okay, and both joy and frustration in the creative process are natural. Practice acceptance for whatever arises because whatever energy needs to flow, flows.
As part of my series featuring the rising stars in the music industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter Rae du Soleil. Raelyn Kaplan, known by her stage name Rae du Soleil, is a talented indie artist hailing from San Francisco, CA. She’s currently a sophomore in college where she is designing her own BA degree, working on an interactive book of poetry and performing regularly in the Pacific Northwest. Rae du Soleil has played at several music festivals along the West Coast and was a finalist in Western’s Got Talent. She is known for singing in both French and English and has performed at local restaurants, markets and events since high school.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! My mom still tells me the story of how, at three years old, I looked up at her with a big grin and said, “I want to be on a stage.” I was fortunate to grow up with frequent performance opportunities, but it was years before I became a ‘songwriter.’ The story of what landed me on this path is one that takes some courage to tell and I am so grateful to be able to tell it:
On an afternoon almost exactly three years ago, the words “you are not going home,” pulled the rug of my life right out from under me. At 17, I had been debilitated by my struggle with mental health and had just dropped out of school, only a month into my junior year. A therapeutic boarding school in Arizona awaited my arrival and I had no choice in the matter. Life as I knew it would be no longer. My friends, my family, and my involvements back home — and the identity I had constructed around these things — shattered in an instant. I was devastated and (I can now say this with a sense of humor) was quite dramatic that afternoon. I spent hours sobbing outside in the frozen grass of the facility I was already in, longing to be on the other side of its chain link fence. When it was time to bring my pity-party inside for the evening, a fierce wave of focus washed over me without warning. Suddenly, I could hear a melody. All I knew in that moment was that I needed my guitar. I sat in the monitored hallway, still sniffling a little, and the first song I ever wrote, “How I Feel,” felt like it wrote itself. Heads began popping out of doorways as the sound of my song traveled through the facility. Soon, almost every kid in the place had joined me in that hall. We were not going home, and we were losing things about our lives we hadn’t even realized we had loved until we lost. We sang together the lyrics of “So if this is goodbye, how regretful am I, to have never told you, how I feel…” and cried together. We found comfort in each other and sank into that tender (bitter)sweet spot of what I now call ‘creation for connection.’ We felt just enough hope.
Since that pivotal moment, music has remained one of my favorite unconditional, internal superpowers that no external circumstance can rattle. I wrote nearly thirty songs the following year in Arizona, but I like to say that those songs wrote me. Having such radical time and space to heal was a privilege that allowed me to start the journey home to myself — through music.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
When I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to live abroad in Paris, France for one year with my family. When we moved, I spoke no French but was quickly immersed in the language and culture in a French public school. I’ll never forget the TV in our flat that was constantly playing ‘NRJ,’ (basically the French equivalent of MTV), and it wasn’t long before I was both speaking, and singing, the new language. When my family returned to California at the end of that year, I wanted to learn guitar. The teacher I stumbled upon in the Bay Area happened to specialize in French gypsy jazz music. It felt like total serendipity and he became a very influential mentor. Our guitar lessons were often in French, and some of my earliest performances at restaurants and private parties were alongside his band, Duo Gadjo. It was also fun to experience the jazz scene of the SF Bay Area, and to return to Paris a few years later to buy an authentic gypsy jazz guitar. As a dual French-American citizen, I’m grateful that these opportunities aligned throughout my life so that I can integrate both cultures into my music career.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently preparing to release my first album, self-designing my BA degree, facilitating Modern Goddess Retreats and creating a book of poetry with an original soundtrack. For the past year, I have been collaborating with a local Child Development Center during their ‘Music and Movement’ program. I bring my guitar and a new song every week to play with the group. There is so much to learn from kids with their shameless creativity and free imaginations. (As part of my major, I am studying the shift in developmental psychology from this inborn creative confidence to the formulation of self-limiting beliefs, and how one can reclaim creative liberation. I truly believe that everyone is born creative, and that sustaining/rediscovering the creative self throughout one’s lifetime is a form of embodied resilience.)
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
On my first day back at college this past fall, one of my favorite professors led us through an exercise in empathy. Each student found a partner, who we sat across from as the professor guided us to stare into each others’ eyes and to not look away. The goal was to maintain openness despite the discomfort of such vulnerability. She led us with prompts such as, “What are you most afraid of? Let your partner see your fear,” and, “Now, let your partner see your love.”
“It felt like we were making a song,” my partner told me as we hugged after the activity. I knew exactly what she meant; as we sat there, pushing the boundaries of our openness together, there was undeniable music erupting in the space between us. Both of us could feel it.
That whole afternoon following my class, melodies came through to me like floods. That night, I had a purely auditory dream for the first time in my life. I dreamed in unfamiliar instrumental music that came without stories or visuals. That week, I started writing three new songs rooted in this inspiration. The experience of sharing vulnerability with someone- being witnessed and truly seen, and holding the same space for another — can unlock wonders within.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I admire folks in history who have used their voices to disrupt dominant narratives (white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and whose art empowers others to speak their truths too. Among my favorite authors are Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou and I am inspired by the astounding records that Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin set in the music industry. Édith Piaf is another favorite musician.
I also look up to my French great grandmother, who is still thriving today, for giving my family the gift of aural storytelling through multiple generations. I especially love hearing stories about her mother’s success in the arts. As one of the first female professional photographers, my great-great grandmother, Georgette Chadourne, captured portraits of artists including Picasso and Matisse. Anyone in history who has challenged (and broken) the boundaries of hegemony has paved the way for the next wave of creative activists. My song, “The Gallery,” grapples with the question of, “Is feeling free worth painting me?” and the answer is YES. History proves that courage is key to cultivating change within ourselves and for others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the wisest mentors I know says, “Privilege is responsibility.” I am constantly intending to be conscious of my positionality and how I can use my emerging visibility to be of service to, engage with and elevate the people around me, within the body of a white, female-identifying, queer creator. I am passionate about the accessibility of the healing arts and am continuing to expand my work with youth and organizations that support folks in marginalized communities. To connect with people through the creative arts and open doors to self-empowerment is the intention that guides me through the world.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be intentional about cultivating self-love. Listen to your body and emotions. Offer yourself the same compassion you offer others. It’s okay to rest. Even when life feels like it’s falling apart at the seams, remember you’ve made it through every rough patch before. Trust in the unknown. Keep your sense of humor alive, even if it’s as small as laughing at a fart or a silly cat video. Connect with others by being brave and opening up. You are not alone. It might feel scary to be vulnerable, but it feels so good to let go. You deserve it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each
- You are on time with you. Trust the creative process. There is no need to rush the creating or the feeling or the sharing or the healing. When I first started writing music, some songs felt like they wrote themselves, while others have remained unfinished to this day. That’s okay, and both joy and frustration in the creative process are natural. Practice acceptance for whatever arises because whatever energy needs to flow, flows.
- If you don’t know, ask. I knew very little about the music industry at the beginning of my career, and I still have so much to learn. Don’t let fear of asking questions get in the way of learning. The people with the answers had to learn them somehow too. I have gained so much insight over the past few years from letting go of my ego and just embracing what I don’t know. As I sing in Another Road, “I never got a map for this.” We make our own maps by diving into the unknown.
- You are enough as you are- and you can work to be even better. As India.Arie so beautifully sings, “Every one of us is worthy.” This can be hard to remember when the culture around us thrives off insecurity. The consequences of fear and shame are dire for everyone but especially for folks pushed to the margins of society by white-supremacy and patriarchy. When I give power to my white fear and shame (conscious AND subconscious), I perpetuate these systems of oppression by disengaging from critical conversations and activism. Beginning to heal my racism, internalized sexism, internalized homophobia etc. has required what I call ‘shameless accountability.’ To authentically and honestly own my sh*t, and show up ready to work as an ally to Black and Indiginous People of Color, Queer, Trans and Disabled folk, I must know my worth and the worth of those around me; nothing can grow from shame.
- Be a goofball. “Keep your kid spirit,” is one of my favorite mantras from the boarding school I attended in Arizona. I muted my weirdness for a while trying to be an “adult” (whatever that means) but feel so much more vibrant when I’m being my authentic silly self. This may look like having a dance party in some funky sunglasses, seeking out the best hill in town to roll down, having pun wars with my pals or just laughing for no reason at all. Joy for no reason has become my favorite joy.
- You are love. I wish I’d always known that it’s no one’s job to love me, or my work, but my own. Receiving love from other people is wonderful but I cannot depend on love outside myself to define my own love for myself. Relying too heavily on external validation has left me doubting my own inner-knowing when it comes to my music. When artists release creativity into the world, there is a surrender of control that can feel more sacred than scary when it is backed by self-love. I now make it a point to journey inward at the start and end of every day and remind myself of this truth. In my song, “Learning to be Loved,” I sing, “I am love just cause I’m alive.”
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Cooking breakfast with Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach would be a dream come true! Especially if their dog Honey was there. Both Glennon and Abby are badass, brave individuals and they’re a total power couple. When I see their posts on social media, I’m always either cracking up or crying (sometimes both).
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Thank you for all of these great insights!