Where I Belong
BNA Records newcomer Rachel Proctor just might be the most seasoned pro you've ever met. With one listen to her debut album, Where I Belong, you hear the enormous musical diversity in her background. But although she sings a variety of styles well, Rachel knows exactly where she belongs.
"I was never completely happy doing any other styles, because I always sang country music growing up," says the Charleston, WV native. "I really started focusing on country when I was 17 and I thought, 'Oh man, this is cool.' Almost immediately, I started making trips back and forth to Nashville."
The daughter of a nursing assistant and a supermarket manager, Rachel Proctor has been performing full time since age 6. When she was in the second grade, her teacher noticed that she wouldn't sing along with the other children.
"My grandma came down and said, 'Oh honey, why aren't you singing? You've got to sing. This is part of your grade.' I went, 'Oh no. My voice wiggles when it comes out,' because I had a vibrato even then. And that sounded different from everybody else, so I wouldn't sing. And that's how they figured out that I could."
Her grandma taught her to sing Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" shortly thereafter. And her advice was always the same: "Sing it with feeling!"
When Rachel was in the fourth grade she appeared in a local production of the musical Annie. A year later came The Sound of Music. She competed in the talent portions of dozens of beauty pageants as a kid, just for the experience.
"When I was 17 and a senior in high school, a local band called me and asked me to start fronting the group because they had lost their female singer. What they did was all country. So suddenly I was singing [Patty Loveless's] 'Jealous Bone,' Kelly Willis songs, just wonderful things. And loving it."
Rachel Proctor honed her country style in the clubs, Moose Lodges, fairs and festivals of West Virginia. She was writing country songs by the time she graduated from high school and was making trips to Nashville to peddle them by age 18.
"I went to college for about a semester. But it wasn't what I wanted to do. I was sitting in class writing lyrics, thinking, 'Oh, I need to quit this.'"
Rachel's band, 40 West, competed on the same circuit as Rob Byus's band, Full House. One night, when he was watching her perform, he turned to his friend and said, "I'm going to marry that girl."
"When I got the call from Nashville about getting my first song-publishing deal, I had just met Rob. We had known each other maybe a month and all I could think about was, 'Oh, I can't move to Nashville. I can't leave Rob.' My mom said, 'Rachel Christine Proctor, you get your stuff packed! You are going!' So Rob came with me and we got married a few months later."
Back then, Blake Shelton, Rob and Rachel were all struggling unknowns, touring in a band together to keep bread on the table. Rachel's initial attempts to get a recording contract in 1995 had all been met with rejections, and after about five years together, the couple divorced in Music City in 1999.
"Getting turned down makes you think about your focus. I think I was always following trends, thinking about what sounds good on the radio now and wanting to do that. I know the reason that wasn't working was because that wasn't me. I should have had the attitude: 'This is what I do. You like it or you don't.' Plus, I got divorced and had to grow up a little bit. I was going through being separated from Rob, trying to learn how to be independent, pay my own bills and do all that kind of stuff. But I was missing him, and so I started writing all these songs. And they were really concise, and I felt they were better than anything I had ever written."
Her songwriting confidence grew when artists such as The Lynns, Kortney Kayle and Sonya Isaacs began recording her compositions. Then, in 2001, it all started coming together. First, Martina McBride recorded Rachel's song "Where Would You Be," which later became a gigantic hit.
BNA Records, sister label to McBride's RCA label, asked to hear the new songs she'd been writing. The company had rejected her twice previously, so Rachel wasn't counting on anything. But the third time turned out to be the charm, and she signed with BNA Records, part of the RCA Label Group, in 2002.
Her debut album, Where I Belong, produced by noted songwriter Chris Lindsey, showcases her vocals, songwriting and musical diversity. The album includes the powerful single "Me and Emily," and the wistful, quiet balladry of the title track. With its string quartet, pretty melody and contemplative tone, Rachel cites it as her favorite song on the CD. But don't count out her solidly country delivery of "Strong as an Oak," featuring a harmony vocal by Darryl Worley. "If That Chair Could Talk" is a gentle piano ballad and "Shame on Me" is a country romp with bouncing fiddle bows.
The loneliness of "So Close," and the rocking youthful adventure in "We Did It Our Way" are all part of the emotional tapestry on display. And then there's the soaring, torrid desolation of "Didn't I" juxtaposed by the attitude driven "I'm Gonna Get You Back," and "If You're Gonna Leave Me(Leave Me Alone).
"It's a good mix of sounds," says Rachel. "We started out doing the tightly-produced sounding things in the early sessions. But then I brought in 'Strong as an Oak,' which I had written. And that led to us finding 'Shame on Me' and some of the more country things."
"I feel like I have learned so much in Nashville. I can't imagine never having made the move. Singing is basically all I've ever done. There was nothing else for me to do, and nothing else I wanted to do."
--- from the official Rachel Proctor website