Singer/Songwriter Rhea Francani grew up near Buffalo, New York in close knit musical family who exposed her to a wide variety of musical styles. This year, she released her debut EP, I Want You To Know, which includes her breakout song "Dizzy." Rhea is an honors graduate in Musical Theatre Performance from Wagner College, NYC and a soon-to-be alumna of Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC with a Master’s Degree in Music and Music Education. She graciously took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about her roots, recording her EP in Nashville and what's ahead.
Growing up, your family was not only very close knit, but also musical. Did that influence your decision to pursue music professionally?
Both of my parents are very passionate about music. My Dad plays piano and played in a band, so growing up it was always like a musical concert at our house! Dad would play and my sisters and I were always singing and performing everything from Motown to Country to Pop. My parents are now business owners, but I definitely got my passion for music from them and my sisters.
Having been exposed to various musical styles, what drew you to country?
Early on I studied jazz, but wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to do. In high school, I got involved in musicals. I became so passionate about that area it became my focus of study during my undergraduate years. I always loved country though. I gravitated to the lyrics in country music and the stories told through the songs and found that the more I listened to it, the more I started writing in the genre. I have been a fan of Carrie Underwood since American Idol and I really like to listen to Miranda, Blake and Lady Antebellum.
In addition to country, you have pop influences as well. Is there anyone specific you admire?
I have a wide array of influences. I love good music and that helps me appreciate a lot of different genres. I grew up on Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I love not only Michael Jackson’s music, but his abilities as a performer and his energy on stage are very inspirational to me.
Your debut EP, I Want You To Know, which you recorded in Nashville, was released on February 10th. You traveled from NYC to Nashville to record the project. How did that come about?
Recording those songs in Nashville, which has always been a dream of mine, was the most amazing experience! Once I got into country music, I started studying where people went to record. One day I just picked up the phone and called OmniSound Studios. I was so nervous because I did not know what the process was like, but I spoke with Chris Holloway and he was just so nice to me. He explained the process and made me feel very comfortable. He helped me set everything up. I went to Nashville and worked with Mike Walter, an amazing man with whom it was very easy to work. He who did such a fantastic job with everything including bringing in the best studio musicians for the project.
Being at OmniSound studios was both nerve wracking and mind blowing. I was intimidated, but everyone made me feel so comfortable and amazed me with their musical abilities. The experience really opened my mind to so many things. When I was down there I was able to meet many people including Ramona and Preston, who are a part of my team now. It’s so interesting to think this all happened because of a phone call and I can’t wait to do it again!
The first single from your EP is the fun, up-tempo, “Dizzy.” What is the story behind the song and the video?
“Dizzy” was inspired by a girls’ night out, in the vein of Shania’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” The melody came to me on a plane and when I got back home, the rest of the song just flowed out--which was the best feeling because sometimes some songs can take longer than others. After we recorded the song, I was put in touch with Jeff Johnson who is a fantastic videographer out of Nashville. The original vision I had for the video ran parallel with his and we took it from there. We shot it in Nashville in November when it was seventeen degrees outside at night so everyone was huddled up keeping warm in between takes. It was a lot of fun!
You are currently still in graduate school at Teacher’s College, Columbia University and will graduate in May. How do you balance that and your music career?
My family could not be any more supportive, especially with the traveling to and from Nashville. One of my sisters is a music teacher and the other is a theater teacher, which makes it even more amazing because I have the support of people who not only love me, but understand what I am pursuing.
Balancing school and music can be a crazy experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world! New York City has a certain something that makes me feel. Then, having the opportunity to go to Nashville and seeing another side of life, well, it’s just so amazing seeing people who share the same passion and are willing to help me learn.
Making the record and writing songs has really informed my teaching and allowed me to bridge the lives of teaching and recording. It as enabled me to break down boundaries a little bit and opened me up to create more. Rather than me simply lecturing my students [Rhea teaches in a Brooklyn middle school as part of her curriculum], I may improvise or look to do other things which can be great tools for teaching in the classroom.
In addition to graduation, what are your plans for the year ahead?
I am already planning my next trip to Nashville to record the next couple songs, hopefully before graduation. I haven’t had the chance to write with anyone yet, but I am looking into that. Nashville has so many wonderful writers with whom I would love to collaborate! I am really living the dream and am just really excited to begin the process again and record more music!
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Purchase I Want You To Know here