Rachel Ana Dobken learned from a young age that she should listen, quite literally, to her gut; her father was a doctor and an infectious disease specialist after all.
But she also learned to trust her gut, generally speaking, especially when it came to music. The multi-instrumentalist indie soul artist began to show symptoms of a love for music when she found old tapes of the Ed Sullivan Show.
“My mom was much more into rock and roll, and when I was very, very young, she gave me a ‘Best of Ed Sullivan’ tape,” recalls Dobken. “Which was The Beatles, Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, and the Rolling Stones. And I remember seeing these amazing musicians performing live, and having no doubt in my mind that’s what I’m gonna do with my life.”
Dobken followed through on it. She has her own solo music career, was a big part in making Transparent Clinch what it is now, plays drums in Low Cut Connie, and is preparing to release a new record and getting ready to play showcases at SXSW in Austin. The road for the Shore-area native wasn’t always easy, as she had to overcome anxiety and stage fright to get to where she is today.
“I had to put down music for a while because of it,” sats Dobken, “but I would always listen to my Walkman or CD player and have those visualizations in my head.”
Dobken is also a very spiritual person, and is a believer that sometimes there are just signs in life. One of those signs was a visit to a psychic when she was around 20 years old and which, she says, confirmed her path in life.
“I had a psychic tell me when I was about 20 years old when I was starting to sing in my classes … ‘You need to keep doing this,’” remembers Dobken. “‘This is gonna take you far and will be part of your journey.’”
Even though the anxiety about music has subsided for Dobken, she still uses it as an outlet for her mental health, and views sharing and performing music as therapeutic.
“I think that music is my way of coping with external reality,” explains Dobken. “And I would say a lot of artists feel the same way. Music comes to me when I feel like I have something to say or something to get out. And a lot of times when I’m going through hard times in life, that is when things come out because I’m very cerebral. I have a lot of thoughts going in my head all the time and if I don’t have a way to get them out, they will fester in there. I feel like part of my purpose on this planet as an artist is that I have the ability to take the human condition, human relationships and human comfort and communicate them in a way that other people can feel and relate to.”
Dobken does that on her LP titled When It Happens To You released in 2018, and in particular with the song “Learning How to Let Go.”
“So that song is pretty self-explanatory,” says Dobken. “The title is essentially the concept of not being able to let go and being compulsively obsessive about certain things. And knowing that people are telling you, ‘Hey man, you gotta relax and you get to let this go,’ and you know that, but still can’t help it.”
In the song “Beneath” off of the same LP, Dobken explores the topic of fakeness and, in particular, social media.
“That song is about humans as a whole,” explains Dobken. “We kind of exist in this facade-like world, right? We’re on social media and we choose what to broadcast to the world as a society and culture. There’s this Hollywood type of fakeness and nobody even really understands what they believe in. They think they believe in things, but are just following the trends. I’m here as a person trying to exist in a genuine way and I am hoping other people do too. A lot of people are trying to do that, but they’re either completely out of touch with themselves or they don’t understand that, or they don’t wanna live that way because they’re choosing to live the surface life.’
“But essentially, if you put it out there that you are a certain way and that you wanna find genuineness and you wanna find the real shit in life, and the real deep people and moments… I think that’s why life is meant to be lived, right? Life, it’s not meant for us to be sitting around grinding nine to five living these surface existences and having these surface relationships. All the people in my life are people that I’m like, I wanna be down in the trenches with you and that’s the relationships I have. So that’s kind of what that song is like; an ode to me reminding people like, ‘Hey, be your most authentic self. Like, who cares about the rest?’ Because you’ll find those people and they will appreciate you more for being who you are.”
Dobken is looking forward to the future, and even though When it Happens To You serves as a timestamp for her, she’s excited about her upcoming release, Acceptance. She has been playing songs off of the record at recent shows like those at The Stone Pony and Bond Street Bar. Dobken worked with Paul Ritchie (The Parlor Mob) and Erik Kase Romero (The Front Bottoms), and bandmates Dan Haase (bass) and Erik Rudik (guitar) on Acceptance, and she’s excited about some of the special guests who appear on the record as well.
“I’m just thinking in every single way this record is superior to anything I have put out before,” says Dobken. “The music is a lot more refined and a lot heavier. It feels like I have trimmed the fat and am getting closer to the sound I want.
“I kind of did things piecemeal because I wanted to take chances in a different way. I was trying to work on batches of songs with different people. The music has kind of a little bit of everything. It’s like, heavier, grittier, and has my kind of sound with a more heavy, psychedelic experience.
“There’s a lot more fuzzed-out guitar, double vocals, etc., and my playing as a drummer, guitar player, and vocalist has gotten exponentially better.”