Scarlett Rabe, a classically trained pianist-turned-pop star, has risen to fame with haunting riffs and empowering words. Her song "Battle Cry," inspired us with a chord pounding message as strong as the words of Sheryl Sandberg with a Tori Amos flair. With an atypical story about breaking away from the pressures of family, society, and expectations, Rabe writes herself into her lyrics, giving women a new anthem to live by. We chatted with the pop star about her story and what is behind her Marie Claire exclusive release of her music video "Battle Cry."
Marie Claire: You were raised as a classical pianist, so how did you begin merging this skill with pop music?
Scarlett Rabe: I always craved pop music but wasn't really allowed to have any pop culture in my life because my parents were very strict. One time on a field trip, I heard "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel and everybody on the bus was singing. I secretly wrote songs and always fancied myself like a pop star. I knew I had to openly pursue it. This dissapointed of a lot of people, I guess because they had hoped that I would be tour the world classically, which is also really wonderful, but not my complete passion.
MC: It is interesting to hear that you didn't listen to pop music when you were younger because it is as if you crafted your own totally unique sound.
Scarlett: Well, I started experiencing pop music all at once. I didn't get to experience it in a typical fashion. When I started listening, it was through the context of piano theory and chord progression. I don't know how it would have been if had I experienced pop music a different way.
MC: In your lyrics for "Battle Cry," you have a strong female point of view. Who are the strong women you look up to?
SR: Some of the inspiration comes from females who are actually powerful and have achieved great things, but truthfully, a lot of it comes from a place of seeing the need for that kind of a strength. For females, it is unfortunate that in so many ways we have to fight harder and stand stronger. I think it's really a beautiful time for women and for being a female because we are so powerful and so strong, but it's a different kind of strength that is also fragile and vulnerable but immensely powerful.
SR: I have always been a very strong spirited girl, and I wouldn't want to throw my parents under the bus, but my family dynamic wasn't necessarily conducive to [my passion]. I was the first of eight children and there was this huge amount of pressure to be completely perfect—to be "the example." And, with my success as a classical pianist and the pressure of all that— everyone had a picture of me and my life — my own spirit wasn't necessarily welcome in that decision. It was a major clash. I lost my family for a period of time because they didn't agree with the voice that I found and the decision that I finally made. It gets to a point where you're actually not afraid of losing anything anymore because what you have already lost is greater than what you could actually lose. You are taking a step, so there comes a tipping point, when the pain you have experienced and the darkness that you have felt is already worse. Even though you lose so much love, support, or friends, you're better off where you are anyway even if you are alone.
That was a completely pivotal moment in my life and it actually was really dramatic because in my family's eyes I was abandoning all of them. They are very religious and had very strong opinions about how the choices I was going to make were going to eternally ruin my soul. I can't blame them because they had a lot of fear and that's one of the reasons why the chorus is "I'm not afraid." I feel now that those fears were fake, yet they rule your life. But when you do cross that line of fear, all of a sudden you realize "wow," I am the same person and I have the same heart, the same strengths, the same weakness, and the same imperfections.
MC: As someone who has completely followed her own path, what would you advise young women who are being somewhat shoved into a box?
SR: There is a quiet little voice that should always be the biggest focus. I've come to moments in my life where every single thing has told me to quit, stop, back up, or you're crazy. Yea, that little tiny voice is always just saying, "This is where you belong." You just have to make your choices around that little voice. I've never been sorry when that was the source of my power, but anytime I go against that voice and I listen to reason or convention or advice, then all of a sudden you are so sorry.
MC: You're like a musical of Sheryl Sandberg!
SR: I've never heard that before but I love that!
MC: What artists influence you?
SR: Tori Amos, Regina Spencer, and FionaApple. Fiona and Tori are really dear to me because they are the ones that I heard first. Also all the piano players, like Billy Joel and Elton John [are influences]. And, Jeff Buckley just stabs you in the heart with what he gave to the world.
Watch the EXCLUSIVE video premiere of "Battle Cry"