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Jeannie Rak is Seattle's newest shining star

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Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

Seattle is no stranger to musical talents. From Pearl Jam to Jimi Hendrix to Macklemore, some of the industry's finest talents have risen to fame right here on the city's rain-soaked streets.

One of the newest talents in the industry, Jeannie Rak, is hoping to make a name for herself in the way other Seattle artistsde have done.

Before following her passion for music, Rak was a teacher in White Center, but after finishing her master's program at the University of Washington and teaching fifth grade for a year, she realized music was the true path she wanted her life to follow.

Although she is new to the recording end of the business, Rak has been performing for the last few years, making a living at the city's historic Pike Place Market. "I am not primarily a recording artist. Before I started recording in a studio, I was actually a busker — it's basically just a street musician, or street performer in general — and I was doing that full-time for two years at Pike Place Market," Rak explained.

Rak was successfully making a living in the market until the pandemic hit. "I was first and foremost a live performer, so I needed the crowds at Pike Place Market to make a living, and really what went away when the pandemic hit was that. So recording was my way of responding to COVID. So yeah, it's a little backwards for me."

After being forced to reevaluate her career yet again, Rak decided to go in the direction of recording original music in the studio. Her first single, Heart, Broken was released earlier this year on all streaming platforms, and she plans also released a new cover, That Girl. Beyond that, she is looking to drop an album in September.

Making the transition from busker to recorder was difficult for Rak at first. "I have a whole folder of songs I curated as a busker, because you learn very quickly, 'Oh, okay, people will tip me if I sing these songs,'" she explained. Some of her favorite covers to perform are works from Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer.

"[Being a busker] influenced and taught me, in a really positive way, how to be an engaging performer, but it hasn't really had much of an impact on the music that I write and create for myself," Rak said, "so when I transitioned from being a live performer in Pike Place doing only covers to being a recording artist in a studio and having a producer and recording my own original music. That was like wearing two completely different hats. I had to actually reverse a lot of the habits I had picked up as a busker."

One challenge Rak faced in the studio was releasing a song she had written seven years ago. "Heart, Broken" was originally a song about one of her first heartbreaks back in college. Revisiting the single as a now happily married woman in a much different headspace was a strange feeling for Rak.

"What's interesting is that you change as a person," she explained, "and having written material so long ago, and then wanting to produce it in the studio, part of the difficulty was putting myself back in the headspace and trying to understand what I was feeling when I wrote the song." Luckily, Rak's producer was there to help, even suggesting she add in a bridge to bring the song into 2021.

Musical inspirations
Rak draws much of her musical inspiration from Top 40 hits, and isn't ashamed to admit one of her favorite bands is Maroon 5. "They straddle this really cool line of kind of funk and pop and rock in a way that makes acoustic songs very rhythmic. His voice is amazing, too. He sings in my register, and he's a man, Adam Levine.

"My taste is very mid 2000s, singers like Usher and Neo," she added, "and then there's the obvious ones like Jason Mraz and Sarah Bareilles, but then, on top of that, my mom really loved listening to Bill Withers, so I love his music, too."

While many artists might find inspiration in unique and alternative artists, Rak is proud to be a fan of Maroon 5 and other mainstream pop artists. As she explained the origins of her music taste, "I think a lot of the reason I love Top 40 is because I grew up in a country that doesn't primarily speak English. But because I did, I listened to all the Top 40 English radio stations. But there weren't people around me to educate me on punk rock and ska and all these alternative forms of music, so that is very much newer to me. I didn't even listen to Nirvana."

Rak grew up in Thailand with her mother, father, and brother, who, she explained, were her original music teachers. "Growing up in Thailand was wonderful," she gushed. "I learned music from both of my parents — my mom taught me my first four chords on guitar, and she's got an amazing voice."

She was never short on performance opportunities in Thailand, either. Her school would use her talent as an example of the excellence they were able to produce, often having her perform for school functions.

Moving to North America
When it came time for her to choose a college, however, Rak looked to get as far away from Thailand as possible. She found a wonderful university in Canada, inspired by its liberal arts programs, but her desire to move to North America was also deeply rooted in wanting to find a community that would accept her for who she was.

"Being queer in Thailand, it's not illegal, you don't necessary get harmed violently or physically, but it's not accepted in the same way that it is here, either. There was a lot of my own personality that was suppressed until I moved to North America," Rak shared.

From the age of 16, Rak knew she was Queer. "I was watching some videos of a pretty out Lesbian creator on YouTube. She's gone a little batshit crazy since, but at the time, her videos were pretty valuable when it came to processing what it meant to be a young queer person coming out. It was like someone hit me over the head with a bat, and I was like, 'Oh my fucking god, I'm gay!'

"And then I had to keep it a secret for the next two years, which was pretty rough."

Rak moved to Canada in August of 2011, and came out publicly in October of the same year. While she's been out to her parents and brother since then, she knows that the life she lives in North America is very different from the experiences of LGBTQ folks in Thailand. She acknowledges the privilege she has to live such an accepting place, and was candid about the impact her identity might have on younger listeners in Thailand.

"I have the privilege of living an out life because I am in a place that accepts me. It feels wrong to say that I can be that figurehead, because I'm not the one living an out life in Thailand in a place that represents harm or lack of safety. It's kind of facetious to be like, 'Oh, you'll be fine, just come out!' when I'm living in America and not Thailand," she said.

Falling in love
After college, Rak did attempt to return to Thailand for a little while, but the experience was difficult. While away at school, Rak had fallen in love with one of her close friends, Caleah Dean. Being across the world from Caleah was hard on Rak, and eventually, she made the decision to move back to North America, so she could be with her.

In order to obtain her visa, Rak went back to school, pursuing a master's in teaching. "It feels weird to say, but I picked teaching because I had to. Being a student is kind of a straight path to receiving a visa to the United States, and I moved here to be with Caleah."

Music may be Rak's passion, but the life she has made in Seattle with Dean seems to be her purpose. Rak's voice shone with emotion as she gushed about Dean. "We've been married since April of 2019, just a little over two years now," she said, as her voice echoed with joy.

Dean fully supports Rak's musical career. "She comes out to more of my shows than I ever expected her to," Rak said. "I'm like, 'Love, you know, I'm just going to sing the same songs I sang last week,' and she's just like 'Yeah, that's great!'"

When not performing, Rak and Dean love to explore the beautiful city of Seattle with their 15-year-old Corgi, Jackee. "For me it's this perfect blend of urban and green and new and old, and it feels like it's always keeping me on my toes. I feel like I can always learn to evolve in this city," Rak said.

Finding community and performing in Seattle
Since coming to Seattle, she has also been able to find communities of diversity. "Lately, since becoming a teacher in White Center, I found the pockets of brown people and queer people I wanted to connect with, and the more I find that, the more my music will continue to find an identity, and a color, quite literally."

Since moving to the city, Rak has also seen her talent skyrocket. She loves performing at Pike Place. "It has a lot of that old-school Seattle vibe to it, despite being a touristy area. It's very grunge, very punk, and it's like real people, you know, working hard to serve folks coming from out of state," she said.

Working in the heart of Seattle, Rak was able to hone her skills. "My voice got so much more powerful, because I was just doing that all the damn time. I could just practice guitar and learn new songs."

Whereas before her focus was to just make money and improve her musical talents, now Rak is looking toward an even brighter future, hoping to take her act from bar and restaurant gigs to entire venues just for her.

But no matter how big Rak gets, she will never lose sight of where her heart lies: right here, performing live in the center of Seattle. "When busking came back [to] Pike Place again finally, my cheeks were cramping from smiling so much, because I was so happy. When I play, I never perform better than when I can connect with the audience and see someone is vibing to the music and I am making their day better. It's such a straight path to someone else's heart, and that's what I love."

Jeannie Rak's first single, "Heart, Broken" can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, or anywhere you stream music. If you're interested in watching one of her amazing live performances, she will be featured at the Lowdown Ballroom on Saturday, September 4.