Rachel Hickey, a 2020 UW Psychology graduate, had the urge to be creative, musically, since she was a little kid.
“[As a child], I would be making up random songs. I would just be playing by myself with my toys, and making songs and singing to myself,” she said.
Hickey was introduced to music as she grew up in church. She loved being able to sing in choir and in plays there.
“I think my parents kind of saw that I was interested in music,” she explained. “I have three brothers. My mom would literally make us do musical numbers and stuff for our families at weddings and get-togethers.”
Beyond that, her writing music started with piano compositions. “I begged my mom for piano lessons when I was like eight or nine. I started off on a Walmart piano keyboard, and then eventually got an upgrade in our house,” she said.
Hickey acknowledged that she was not always the best student. “I was terrible,” she joked. “I did not practice. I would come up for my piano lesson, and I’d say, ‘Mrs. Martin, I wrote a song about elephants, and they have hair and like, listen,’ and she’d say, ‘Did you practice your actual assignment?’ and I’d say no.”
Her piano lessons led to her learning how to play chords, and using that as a tool to songwrite. She says she first started songwriting when she was in grade 10.
Initially, she did not think she had enough life experience to write anything meaningful, so she would listen to some of her favorite artists and try to copy what they were doing. However as life went on, her life experiences started to find a place in her music. “I’d never been through heartbreak or any real-life challenging things, but, as you can probably imagine, life goes on and you have more experiences. And then, I started writing a lot more, just casually through high school and university. And then I didn’t actually start taking the actual career seriously until after I graduated,” she explained.
Her influences included artists like Bruce Springsteen, Simon and Garfunkel, and Shania Twain. Hickey recounted a childhood memory related to Twain. “I have this core memory. I’m singing and my dad’s vacuuming and we’re blasting Shania Twain. I’m really into it, and at the exact moment that she goes, ‘Man, I feel like a woman,’ he turned off the sound system and I’m just belting out to the living room and I was mortified. I was like, ‘how could you,’ but I love to perform, so it was good.”
As time went on, she started to listen to more folk artists like Joni Mitchell, and when she started writing songs, she was trying to copy artists like Gabrielle Aplin, Mumford and Sons, Norah Jones and Taylor Swift.
At UW, Hickey was part of the acapella club, where she met some of her friends with whom she started an alternative band called Midnight Shift. This gave her the opportunity to songwrite, co-write and perform in a different context.
In 2019, she participated in a singing contest called The Shot. “I thought it was just a singing contest, but [it] turned out that it was a songwriting contest. So then every week that I made it to the next round, you would have to write a new song or bring a new song, and I had no songs. So I wrote and wrote and wrote and had some songs there. I made it to the top eight, and then got eliminated. But that was the first moment I started thinking of myself as a musician, like an actual musician slash artist,” Hickey said.
In October 2021, Hickey released her first EP, Getting By, a collection of heartbreak-inspired songs that she wrote over the summer of 2020. She describes the process of recording Getting By as very hands-on. “I really learned that, even if you don’t have all the pieces together, just start and you’ll find your way. I wasn’t a great guitar player. I didn’t know how to do audio production, any of that stuff. But I just jumped into it and had a lot of supportive people around me to encourage [me]” she shared. One of the songs on the EP, “Easy”, needed the organ, but she didn’t know anyone who could play it so she learnt how to play the organ in 10 minutes.
Last month, Hickey released another song, “Home”, in which she collaborated with another local artist, Marshall Vernoni. “Home” is the first song from her upcoming EP, So Long, which comes out on July 14. “It’s a very, ‘moving on’ kind of EP. I think it fits very well. After the very heartbreak-inspired EP, this is kind of like a rebirth,” she explained.
Hickey will be playing live at the Kitchener Market Piazza on July 14 and at TWB Brewing Kitchener on July 15. To learn more about Hickey and her music, you can visit her Instagram account, @racheljhickey or her website, www.racheljhickey.com