Rebecca Loebe hails from Sandy Springs, GA, just outside Atlanta, but you’d never know it from hearing her talk. “Atlanta has a lot of transplants,” she says. “People move in and out. I know people who were born and raised in Atlanta and don’t sound Southern. Of course, when you go 50 miles outside of Atlanta, it’s a different story.”
Loebe, who goes by Becca most of the time, will be performing on Saturday, July 18, at Indie Music Night at Griggstown Pavilion, 373 Bunker Hill Road (take Nassau Street/Route 27 north through Kingston and past Route 518, then turn left on Bunker Hill Road). A friend of Loebe’s, who also plays and sings guitar, came to Atlanta to perform, and stayed with Loebe. She turned Loebe on to Sarah Donner, the singer-songwriter who has become quite a Princeton area impresario with her Indie Music Nights, and Donner booked Loebe (pronounced LOW-bee) for the show. “It’s sort of a heard-it-through-the grapevine thing,” says Loebe, who recently won the 2009 Grassy Hill Kerrville New Folk Contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
Loebe was born in Washington, DC, and then moved to Atlanta as a child when her father, Albert, left his job at a Washington law firm and began working at Coca-Cola. Her mother works as a paralegal. “Growing up, she kind of struggled between wanting to be a full-time mom and a contributing member of the work force,” says Loebe. Her dad retired from Coca-Cola and is now a high school teacher. He also plays sax in a jazz band. “It’s wonderful that he is rediscovering music,” Loebe says.
Loebe, the oldest of four siblings (one sister, two brothers, “We’re all very close,” she says), can’t remember when she was not playing music or being fanatical about it. “The first time I remember performing was when I was six years old, at a summer camp talent show,” she says. “I sang a song from ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and then was involved in chorus, and whatever I could do in elementary school and middle school. In middle school, I started playing guitar, and writing songs, and then by high school I was kind of serious about it.”
After graduating from high school, Loebe went to Berklee College of Music, where she studied audio engineering. Berklee, the now-venerable jazz- and pop-music industry incubator in Boston, was a great place for Loebe to learn all about the music business, she says. “I loved it. It was such a frenetic, chaotic place, with so many creative people and so much talent. I was really young when I went there, 17, and 20 when I graduated. I was way below the median age of students who are there, which I think is 25, but I definitely enjoyed it a lot. And I learned so much about a lot of different topics that I would never have if I had not have gone there.” She mentions music theory, musicology, synthesis and electronic music, and Afro-Cuban drumming as courses she enjoyed.
Once pop-folk icon James Taylor showed up in one of Loebe’s classes, which happened to be taught by Taylor’s brother, Livingston, a Berklee professor, on a day when Loebe was scheduled to sing for the class. “That was a pretty big deal,” she says.
Another big deal was the opportunity Loebe got after she left school. “As soon as school ended, I was hired by a local recording studio to sing Americana songs for an educational company. While I was doing that, one of the engineers — they were running around under deadline — commented on how they didn’t have enough (audio) editors to get the songs put into their audiobook program in order get it out to their publishers in time. And I’m sitting there, and I said, ‘I can edit that,’ and they were like, ‘Really?’ I took the files and dropped it into the special program and put it on a CD. Then they asked me if I wanted a job. I started the Monday after I graduated from college. It was a total stroke of luck.”
At the same time, Loebe was speaking with one of her audio engineering professors who encouraged her not to just be a recording engineer, but maybe also think about being a recording artist. “I had thought that I was just going to be an engineer, or a sound designer,” she says. “But he encouraged me to do something a lot more creative than that; he thought I would be happier to be doing something different than what he had chosen to do. I thought that was really poignant. Either he really believed that I had some talent as a musician, or he was trying to tell me I wasn’t a very good engineer.”
In any case, Loebe began playing her guitar, singing, and composing intensely, and started getting some gigs in and around Boston, while continuing to work in different recording studios. Eventually, she built up enough of a following that she began working and touring to the point that she couldn’t work at the studio, so she became a full-time musician. In 2004, she put out an EP called “Hey, It’s A Lonely World,” and in 2007 her first full CD, “The Brooklyn Series,” came out. She plans on releasing her third disc, “Mystery Prize,” early next year.
“It’s gotten easier as it’s gone along,” she says. “I don’t live in my car anymore, and I have an apartment in Atlanta.”
Loebe describes the kind of music she plays as “post-modern, acoustic indie-folk punk. That’s the genre I try to push.” Actually, she does have lots of folk emphasis and roots, but is adamant when she says, “It’s not Woody Guthrie. It’s a modern pop approach.”
Loebe has performed as many as 100 shows a year, but she now spends more time in Atlanta writing and working on her recordings. Last year, for example, she did 75 shows; this year she started a tour in late January and has been working on and off the road ever since. Her tour this summer is taking her to the Southwest and the South. “It really varies,” she says. “I love it. I love sharing the music I wrote, and the music I love with the audience. It’s challenging, but it’s not tough. It’s only challenging if it’s hard,” she says.
Indie Music Night, Griggstown Pavilion, 373 Bunkerhill Road, Princeton. Saturday, July 18, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Atlanta-based Rebecca Loebe, Arkansas-based Shannon Wurst, Brooklyn-based Rebecca Pronsky, and more. Free. 609-672-1813 or www.sarahdonner.com.