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Fuck You Attitude: Rachel Cion on her new country-inspired EP and pandemic escapism

Rachel Cion. Photo by Courtney Honors.
“I think what I like about her is just her attitude, which I noticed a lot more when I went back and listened as an adult. She’s just so fuck you and she’s not even trying to do it; it’s just so effortless.”

Rachel Cion (short for Cionitti) and I are sitting on a bench outside of Nigro’s Western Store on Merriam Lane discussing her renewed passion for the music of country superstar Miranda Lambert. Lambert’s solo catalog and that of her group Pistol Annies both served as inspiration for Rachel’s most recent EP, Wanted! While many suburbanites -- especially those in alternative and indie music circles -- snub their noses at the sounds, sights, and politics of country music, Wanted! is decidedly sincere in its homage to the genre, as short or long as Rachel’s flirtation with it may end up being.

Earnest as our interest in the western store’s culture and wares may have been, we did stick out like sore thumbs as we did some browsing before our interview. Our late May trip to the shop began with the lady at the counter assuring us we didn’t need to be wearing our masks inside, as everyone else in the shop went without. We also received a rambling but well-intentioned lecture from a fellow customer about the different cowboy hats we were viewing on the wall and the etiquette that corresponded with each variety -- among other things, the shape of the crease on the top of each hat is important.

The aforementioned fuck you attitude that Rachel channels on the song “What You’ve Done” is aimed at a certain type of guy she and her friends have encountered. “A lot of women I know deal with extremely overconfident men who have accomplished very little compared to those women and I think it’s about that toxic masculinity type thing where a certain group of men will expect women to be beautiful, accomplished, intelligent, funny, sexy, and they -- you can’t even start a list with them.”

It’s worth reminding that Rachel and the other members of her band Bigfatcat were adamant about writing and recording their debut EP on their own when it would’ve been easy enough to ask male peers of theirs for help in making it sound more professional. Wanted! was recorded alone in Rachel’s room in Lawrence. Like on past releases of hers, she often employs multi-tracked vocals. “I don’t like how my voice sounds when it’s all isolated,” she says. “I also feel like there can never be too [many] harmonies.”

Another prominent production decision was her use of MIDI drums. They add a colder feel to the songs, contrasting the warmth of her vocals, but complementing the menace in some of the lyrics. Rachel says she made the choice simply because her drumset was all the way at a parent’s house in Johnson County and that she could create slightly more complex rhythms via MIDI. It feels natural, though, given that Rachel posted her earliest songs first on SoundCloud, a platform dominated by hip-hop and other genres that opt for digital production. “I love that someone thinks my inability to play drums ended up adding something cool,” she laughs.

Photo by Courtney Honors.


While there are some louder, rock-n-roll moments on the EP (Rachel says the pandemic provided her a chance to immerse herself in lots of classic rock for the first time), the delivery of her attitude is often more understated. “There’s intimidating someone by being loud and then there’s that intimidating where you’re being really quiet,” she says. It makes sense that Lana Del Rey -- in particular her early Lizzy Grant album, which has a bit of a Southern charm to it -- was another main influence on Wanted!

“Heist,” the EP’s closing track, utilizes that quiet-but-cold delivery with precision. Goes the bridge: “I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, except for when I do / I don’t like to get red on these shoes, except for when I do.”

Though “Heist” and “What You’ve Done” enter moody territories, the EP isn’t all angst. The opening track, “Gunpowder Baby,” is a tribute to a fictional femme fatale. It’s a noteworthy moment in Rachel’s catalog as a singer-songwriter seeing that most of her music thus far has been more or less autobiographical. “I do not have a real life gunpowder baby, sadly, that was totally [a] fictional GF,” Rachel laments. “But it was nice to write because it scratched that same itch that watching those badass movies kinda did. That [song] was just born of [really wanting] to write a fictional song.”

One of the badass movies in question is Bonnie and Clyde (1967) starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the iconic Depression era outlaw couple. “I like how it looks and not every moment of the movie is that fuck you attitude,” Rachel says of the film. “It resolves with [them getting] their retribution ‘cause that’s what movies had to do at the time, but there are moments of it that felt really carefree and it just played with that idea of danger and exploring that side of people where it’s like, maybe people aren’t as good as they are.”

Rachel says she was attracted to the dark, perilous nature of Bonnie and Clyde due to the sheer mundanity of the past year’s COVID lockdowns. Evading law enforcement and robbing banks with your significant other is kind of the opposite of sitting on your couch eating fast food and watching Netflix. “I really like songs that are little fictional worlds. Like, worldbuilding,” Rachel laughs. “That’s such a nerdy word.”

She elaborates, “If you go back and listen to bulk of what I’ve written, which is only on SoundCloud because I’m embarrassed by it, starting freshman year of high school, I was extremely confessional. It was like my only way of dealing with relationship troubles. So yeah, I was definitely overly confessional; super raw and personal, which is good in some cases, but given the past year, escapism was the one thing that kept me afloat. Escapism through fiction. I’ve listened to a lot of artists who do that recently, so I just wanted to do that for myself.”

She’s also a fan of aestheticism -- “cool art for the sake of cool art.” And what’s a cooler image than a gun-toting outlaw on the run? If there is a cooler image, it might be whichever look, era, or subculture Rachel taps into next. “I don’t think I’ll ever settle down to a genre or a sound because I get bored too easily, and that’s probably a quality of many Gen Z individuals, and I think that’s kinda why we’re forgoing the idea of genre as it is.” Before this do-si-do with country, Rachel has crafted dance pop, indie rock, folk, and a couple sounds in between. 

Photo by Courtney Honors.


Another thing that allows Rachel to remain untethered to any one style is that she still only views her music as a hobby rather than a possible career. “The fact that people listen is an amazing and unexpected bonus,” she says. “I don’t really feel the need to find a sound since I’ll always just be doing what brings me joy, even if nobody else likes it.”

What does Rachel see herself doing for a career? She was very excited to tell me that she’s currently double majoring in physics and astronomy (which she assures me is not as impressive as it sounds since most of the courses required for each are the same) with the goal of working a 40/40/20 university job (40% of her time spent as a professor, 40% as a researcher, 20% doing various other department work) studying cosmology (which is similar to astrophysics, but focuses on the scale of entire galaxies). “That’s gonna take another 10 years of school, but I like school, so it’s fine,” she says in a casual tone.

Whether Rachel will become a star or simply continue to study the stars is yet to be determined, but she’ll be keeping busy either way. She hopes to recruit a band and play material from Wanted! live in the near future. Bigfatcat is also working on a new album to be completed this fall when band member Olivia Markey returns from Washington. Rachel divulges that the BFC LP will feature a lot of pop-punk energy; she’s been a huge Paramore fan since she was eight years old and counts herself a fan of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. Markey prefers Mark, Tom, and Travis (well, Mark, Matt, and Travis for now I guess).

Rachel Cion is a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll, and a little bit of a lot of other good things, too. As Beatty's Clyde Barrow might put it: Hell, she might be the best damn girl in Kansas.

Stream Wanted! now on Spotify and Apple Music.


[This article first appeared in Issue 3 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to order a copy online, or pick one up for free at locations around KC/Lawrence/JoCo.]     

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