It could be the plot for a character-driven seventies film. Bouncing between states, “indie soul” singer and songwriter Arum Rae went from performing on any stage possible—including dive bars, mental hospitals, and organic produce markets—to landing a high-profile placement on ABC’s Nashville, touring with the likes of Gary Clark, Jr. and B.B. King, and independently releasing her 2014 Warranted Queen EP acclaimed by Noisey, Spin, Paste, and more. On that road, she came face-to-face with addiction, loss, heartbreak, and everything in between. Her inspiration derives from a diverse musical palette including Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Outkast, Bill Withers and ultimately creating a multi-faceted musical experience for the listener. On the heels of her recent Loners EP and forthcoming unplugged collection entitled Sub Rosa, Arum’s story comes into focus on her debut full-length album, slated for release in fall 2017.
“It’s a spiritual thing for me,” she says. “I’m not a religious person, but I begged the Universe and God to give me a purpose in life. I started writing music. Once I did, I felt encouraged. Different doors began to open for me.”
Truth is, Arum (“Water Lily” in Latin) began subconsciously working towards this path as a child. Born into an “extremely Christian” household, she recalls, “There was never any music playing in the car. We weren’t even able to listen to it until I was seven.”
Growing up in Colorado Springs, she found herself enrolled in school music programs at a young age. Kicked out of her first high school and quickly leaving the second, a music teacher at the third school recognized her gift. He eventually helped the budding songstress receive a scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. Upon graduating, she cut her teeth on the road and penned what would become 2005’s Arum Rae inside a tiny Virginia cabin. She quietly honed her craft and toured under the name White Dress alongside Clark and The Civil Wars in addition to gracing bills with Willie Nelson, Dan Auerbach, and more. During a break in 2012, she received a serendipitous call.
“I was waitressing at a diner in Austin, a little bummed out because that was my first job and now here I was again,” she goes on. “I got a call from Disney that they wanted to use ‘If I Didn’t Know Better’—which I wrote years before with John Paul White [The Civil Wars]—on Nashville. It was enough money that I could quit and move to New York City.”
Relocating to Brooklyn, her writing success continued, with her music being featured on shows ranging from Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars to Girlfriends Guide to Divorce and American Idol. Notably, her song “Something’s Happening to Me” soundtracked a Microsoft campaign for the Surface Pro 3, which debuted during the GRAMMY Awards, while “Waving Wild” appeared prominently on ABC’s The Catch. However, tragedy struck her family with the overdose of her brother Haven.
“I was broken,” she sighs. “I took a year off to go back to Virginia. I was so close to him, and he couldn’t stop even though he knew it was killing him.”
She draws upon that experience in “Wasn’t My Time,” the standout single from Loners. Tempering a Southern-inspired blues strut and sweeping strings with her robust jazzy delivery, the track remains gorgeously haunting. Produced by Ken Lewis [Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar], it opens up the world of Loners.
“I was actually in a relationship with somebody who survived his addiction,” she continues. “We were having a conversation, and he told me if he used one more time, he would die. The song’s message is, ‘I made it out. I actually overcame that.’ Not everyone makes it through. It doesn’t happen to everybody. Addiction’s always been close to me. I can’t say I’m an angel, but it’s not my struggle.”
Arum produced the rest of the EP in addition to performing most of the instruments. It’s distinctly her vision. “Heaven” trumpets a gospel-size chant over delicate pluck and airy hum dedicated to her brother. Spurred on by her obsession with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, “War” paints a portrait of unrest amidst the natural yearning for love written over the course of seven years.
“When we went to war in Iraq, I remember thinking, ‘Humans all just want to be loved,’” she comments. “The ego thing comes in. I compare it to two hearts. Two sets of people want to kill each other because they’re so attached to their beliefs. I was in a serious relationship with someone who fought in Iraq and lost his eye. You think about it and feel dead and alive at the same time.”
Then, there’s the stirring title track, which takes flight on a nylon string guitar and her impressive delivery. “Loners have a slight insecurity, but also a lot of pride,” she smiles. “I’m a very independent person. I’m writing about that sense of detachment that creates comfort.”
Now, Arum’s stories have the power to resound with listeners worldwide on Loners. “I hope when people hear my music they can find a sense of themselves in it,” she leaves off. “Maybe they can relate to it, and it might move them.”