Rachel Braig, known as Essy, hadn’t written on her family’s piano in seven years. When she sat down to play again, during this year’s pandemic lockdown, inspiration naturally struck like a bolt of lightning. “Stardust,” a sparkling dose of singer/songwriter pop, emits an electric ambiance, a rush of emotion so intense you can’t help but listen.
“I used to spend hours a day after school learning how to write music and attempting to translate my life experiences into something poetic,” Braig tells American Songwriter. “It felt very organic and full-circle to write [this song] on the same keys I played growing up. It makes the song more personal for me.”
“I was a sequin mess, damsel in distress / Coming home from the party / You were a heartbreak king / Running from the scene / When you first saw me,” she unwraps lyrical pageantry. Her songwriting, painted with stunningly romantic imagery, is plush and vivid. Braig’s voice appears to drape across the words with a certain richness, too.
It all vines together for a palpable and irresistible emotional experience. “I intentionally experimented with bright, muted synth textures to create this evanescent vibe. I wanted listeners to feel like they were in some sort of time capsule, as if they were experiencing the story first-hand,” she explains. “The emotional journey goes from reminiscent to melancholic to hopeful to this twinge of disappointment.”
As many creatives have endured, 2020 has been a year of relentless anxieties and creative roadblocks. In the early days, Braig, who’d moved back home to Williamsburg, Virginia and quarantined with her parents, soon found a trove of energy from “just spending time with myself. I dove into production pretty heavily, which I never really had time to do before. I found myself experimenting with sound design and song structure. In all honesty, the pandemic inspired a whole new level of creativity I never knew possible.”
“It was very grounding being home ─ almost like a break I didn’t know I needed. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by a loving and supportive family,” she says. “So I spent a lot of time reconnecting with the things most important to me.”
That includes appreciating deep human connections unlike never before. “I often write about relationships and friendships and how they’ve affected me in my own music. Certainly this year has heightened my appreciation for human connection. We all need it.”
Braig learned piano and began writing songs at 11 years old. She attended various songwriting programs at Berklee College and New York University’s Steinhardt School, later going to University of Virginia to study media and psychology. Before long, music called her back again, and she soon landed cuts in the EDM world and began writing with the likes of Mike Pappas (Meghan Trainor), Paris Carney (Adam Lambert), and country juggernaut Hunter Hayes.
Such a pedigree could never have prepared her for this year, however. With 2020 finally coming to a close, she reflects on what she’s learned most. “Sometimes it’s better to listen. I have always been the one to quick fix the problem, but the pandemic has taught me to slow down, breathe, listen. Sometimes people just need to be heard without any resolution,” she remarks.
Her songwriting saw a cataclysmic shift, as well, directly related to the pandemic. “In becoming an active listener, I’ve learned about issues I never really knew about. I’ve taken in new perspectives and adjusted my own. It has greatly impacted how I approach songwriting. I made a point to channel a lot of outside stories, perspectives, and thoughts on my next EP to tackle topics like femininity and toxic masculinity.”
All things considered, Braig has unlocked a greater peace in her everyday life. “I used to be one of those people who ran from uncertainty or tried to control it in some way. I quickly realized that was an unhealthy approach to living life. I find peace in not knowing what’s going to happen, who I’m going to meet, or what tomorrow looks like. That uncertainty is so beautiful and makes life so exciting. I try to find a glimpse of peace in every ounce of uncertainty I experience.”
“Stardust” anchors her forthcoming EP, tentatively expected in 2021, and it emerges as the “the glue to the whole record,” she says.” It’s actually the reason the record even exists. I think when you go through some life-jolting hardship it shakes the ground you walk on. It shifts your perspective on life, love, and sense of self. I truly needed this experience in my life to be able to delve into topics like female empowerment, body confidence, self love.”