When one thinks of the Detroit music scene, garage rock is generally what comes to mind. Not so in the case of Americana outfit Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana. “There’s a home for any kind of music you want to play in Detroit; there’s a huge garage rock scene here, but there are country bands too!” says frontwoman Willa Rae Adamo. The band recently released their first EP, XIII, aptly named, as the record has a bit of a dark edge, focusing on themes of love gone bad and infidelity, with the low end anchored by ominously rich cello. “It’s got a different flavor to it. It’s folk music, but it comes from a different place,” says front woman Willa Rae. “It’s been amazing to witness songs I wrote on my porch with an acoustic guitar being fleshed out into these super pieces.”
Growing up in house where Fleetwood Mac and Red Hot Chili Peppers were the soundtrack, Willa Rae took an interest in music at an early age. “My parents started me on piano, but I really wanted to sing, so my dad found an open audition in the newspaper for a children’s choir at the Detroit Opera House; I went in there without ever taking vocal lesson and I totally tanked. I was dressed like a child, and all the other children looked like tiny adults,” she says with a laugh. “I just wanted to sing! So then my parents signed me up for classical vocal training.” Nowadays, her classical training has blended with her sassy outlaw-esque style, making Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana a band to watch.
Being a female frontwoman isn’t always easy, and heard frequently are the struggles that women face in the music industry. “When I started playing music, I was young; when I would go to the venue to start setting up, the sound guys would not address me, or they would assume I didn’t know how to work my gear, or other people would be quicker to approach and introduce themselves to the men in my group as opposed to me,” she explains. “It’s a quiet and insidious thing, because we think we live in a world that’s gotten past a lot of that stuff, but we don’t. It’s damaging. It’s also demonized to be emotional, which is crazy, because music is fueled by emotion, regardless of gender. It’s strange that you can’t be emotional and be respected as a professional.”
As a result, Willa Rae co-founded Girls Rock Detroit, a week-long summer camp for females ranging from 8 to 16 years of age. “A lot of the girls have never touched the instrument they’re playing before they get to camp. It’s a week of lessons, we put them in groups or ‘bands’, and by the end of the week they’ve written one original song and they perform it for an audience at a real Detroit music venue,” she explains. “Female-fronted bands get compared to and pitted against each other, even when their genres aren’t similar. What I love about Girls Rock is that it’s totally run by women who volunteer and are a part of the local music or art scene. It’s so valuable to teach the girls how to collaborate with each other; we have fully grown women networking and meeting each other too.”
Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana are planning to tour to support the release of XIII, so keep an eye on their schedule so you don’t miss a chance to witness this powerhouse in person.