A Minor is the saddest chord. For this and more, Rachael Pollard is exactly right.
Three years ago I was sitting in the dark on the dirty floor at Monkey Mania. In front of the stage was a messy array of bodies sitting cross-legged in the half-light – their heads all tilted upward. Never before this night, or since, have I seen a group of punk rock shirts sitting so quietly, or with such reverence. The usually chaotic warehouse was, in this hour, fixated only on the stunning sound coming from the stage.
Sitting on a stool with only a guitar, a microphone stand and a backwash of light was a girl named Rachael Pollard.
I was timid then. After the show I had no reason to approach her. So I asked Amy Fantastic. I asked Josh Taylor. I asked anyone: Who was that girl?
I hadn’t heard of Rachael Pollard before that night and it would take me three years of questions and inquiry to hear from Rachael Pollard again. For the subsequent time in-between my introduction to this ghostly girl and seeing her figure in the world again, I asked around. The answers I received were mostly in tune with: No, she doesn’t play out much. No, she doesn’t have any recordings.
Now, a lifetime and an intimate reintroduction later, I am sitting in the dark again – this time with a series of recorded songs. And I am thinking that I may be listening to the best singer and songwriter in Denver. The mysterious Rachael Pollard: The best? Yes.
Honestly, I don’t know how to measure greatness. I just know it when I hear it. But the thing is that, with Rachael Pollard, it’s not that strict of a sensation. No, take a listen and it requires more than just ears. More than a mouth. More than the right equation. It requires something that you may not even have a name for.
Complex, spacious and chiming with a ghostly air, Pollard’s music is everything that one could ask from a musician. Her songs are honest, complicated, poignant, and even funny. Each sounds as though it came both from the most overwhelmingly sad, and the most reverent place in the human condition. Each of her pieces feel as though they were composed sitting atop a loved one’s tombstone in some dreamy oceanside graveyard. In the dark, I picture Pollard and her guitar peering down and into the sea, keeping watch over the millions of desolate acres beyond the horizon, with her haunting voice mourning each square yard. But, in reality, my little image of her couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dreamy, yes. But in a graveyard, no.
In seeking answers to the questions of why she hasn’t played out much, why she isn’t touring and why she isn’t recording with reckless fervor – I found that whole other side of life. In this, I found the litany of suitable reasons for: Why, Rachael Pollard?
The truth is that Pollard hasn’t played out much, save from small gatherings, benefits, charities, coffee shops and occasional guest spots on playbills. Part of the reason for this is wrapped-up in the fact that this oddly shy, incredibly sweet girl might just be self-conscious about her abilities. And the reasons are probably justified on account of the necessary tenderness that is involved in her craft. A craft which demands the release of everything personal and heartfelt out and into the world for all the judging eyes and ears to, well… judge.
Sit with her though, and it won’t take you long to notice that she doesn’t have the luxury of having been born with a heart hidden from sight. No, Rachael Pollard walks through the world in the most vulnerable of ways – with her emotions in easy sight, dripping down her sleeve.
And while it can be painful to walk through the world with your chest open – Rachael Pollard has capitalized on what she has felt and learned, in her music and in her washes of accomplishment.
After my odyssey and protracted search to find Pollard, the thought of learning about her songwriting process was a little bit like discovering how the magician levitates. I mean, in the end, does anybody really want to know how a magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat? Grimacing – yes. Of course.
But just as is the case with the wonder of learning about the magician’s craft, there was no disappointment in hearing about Pollard’s process. Something as raw, ethereal and wondrous as her sound could come from nothing other than life; the everyday and the emotions that someone so tender can pick-up on – and articulate.
For Pollard, the music comes from all the processes that compose a day. At all times she is driving through the world, with one ear out the window. And in trying to find the right equation, she often finds melodies in the simple moments: when she’s mopping the floor, or when she’s in the back, baking. Her lyrics float around her head like tiny bubbles. And in the tradition of everything truly magical, Pollard feels her process become solidified when her lyrics meet the music that has been coursing through her for days – sometimes weeks. As a listener you can hear this: Her lyrics are like glue.
And then there’s another tradition – that one which states that the greatest and most triumphant of things comes from the personal struggle with an uncaring universe. In short, the story goes like this: Pollard became pregnant, but then she and her then-boyfriend Nate Marcey (drummer of Killfix, former guitarist for The Risk) were told that they couldn’t hope for a perfect baby. After a series of risky surgeries, baby Ava is now whole and healthy and beautiful. And while the emotions that filled Pollard and her husband in this time may not be explicitly found in her songs – they are there. They have to be.
Alas I think that I may have found the reason for Pollard’s love of A Minor.
And so, while I picture Rachael Pollard composing under the moonlight in cemeteries, nothing could be further from the truth. Pollard has embraced life and her accomplishments reflect this: As a writer, a baker, a mother, a wife, a roller-skating dance queen, a retired Rocky Mountain Rollergirl, a stand-up comedian and yes, as a musician.
As for Pollard’s musical future, it is as open and wild as the Wyoming skies. The only thing that will inhibit the world from hearing her music is the fact that standing in the right place at the right time can often be so tiring, so deliberate and so unfeeling. And while this may be the grand fault of a finicky industry, getting her music out and into the world should take shape as Denver’s elite talent, as well as some national acts, look to pair-up with the immensely talented Pollard on future bills. Because, in the end, she should be playing the big venues. She should be touring the country. Because, yes – she is that talented and that accessible.
In every way, I agree: A Minor is the saddest chord. And yes, A Minor is Rachael Pollard's favorite chord. But this is why A Minor is also the most beautiful chord – because redemption begins here. From this place everything sweeps upward, to B Flat, C Major and the heart-shaped chord of D.