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Neyla Pekarek on Leaving the Lumineers

“I feel really liberated to be releasing my own record and my own music,” sings singer and cellist Neyla Pekarek. She in October announced her resignation from folk group the Lumineers. She is now signing with S-Curve Records as a solo artist Her first album “Rattlesnake” drops Friday. “I would definitely call this record a feminist record, a women-empowering record.”

It’s possible to claim that Neyla Pekarek is shed her skin and adopting the new shape of “Rattlesnake,” which was inspired by the story that tells the story of Colorado the pioneer, Kate McHale Slaughterback. The story goes that Kate encountered the rattlesnake as she was searching for her supper in 1925. One snake turned into two and then Kate was in the midst of more than 140 snakes. As her son, who was three years old, and her horse watched the scene, she took on and killed every rattlesnake using only an unintentional roadside sign. Then she skinned them , and created a dress for herself.

When Neyla Pekarek discovered the tale, she was moved to create not only an original song about Kate’s life and her family, but an entire album. She collaborated with the singer-songwriter M. Ward of She & Him and Monsters of Folk produced, and Liza Nelson, a Los Angeles-based artist who designed the album’s art. Pekarek also plans to alter “Rattlesnake” for the stage. First, she’ll perform two solo performances – two at the Opry at the Ryman in Nashville, Tenn., and the second at Greeley, Colo., the place where she was born.

Variety spoke with Neyla Pekarek on the day of her album’s release.

Where did this fascination for Rattlesnake Kate start?

I was able to discover the story of this incredibly bizarre snake encounter, wherein she was famously known for clobbering 140 snakes in just two hours. The story inspired me to compose a song however, it wasn’t until I began to research the story that I was captivated by her. It was a tale that was not even known to people who are Colorado native. Even people who grew-up in Greeley this town that houses the museum most residents don’t know the tale too. It struck me that there’s a lot of stories about women from the west which have been left unrecorded.

Thus the attraction and the fact that she became my inspiration, began when I read the letters she had written. She maintained a forty-year relationship with a man from Iowa who was known as Buckskin Bill. He was the Colonel who sent her an affectionate letter following the encounter with the rattlesnake, and they created this bizarre romantic love correspondence. It was clear that she was not concerned with what others thought of her and was living her the way she believed she should as opposed to the opinions of other people. It was a difficult life, and she had to endure various events — like having lightning strike her while being a nurse during World War II, brewing moonshine in her goat’s pen to disguise it from the stink…

Do you see your self Do you see a little of yourself

I agree however, more so as I gained more knowledge about herlife, it felt I gained more confidence. I’m sure I’m not like her. of her. I am very concerned about what people believe. I’m not a very vocal person. This record has given me the confidence to be a bit open and brave, because these things aren’t something that come naturally for me. … There are a lot of women believe that there’s only one type of woman when telling this story of Rattlesnake Kate and her friends, often people would respond “Oh, just like Annie Oakley.” In fact, the truth is, I’m an Annie Oakley fan . In fact, the first musical I performed in included “Annie Get Your Gun.” It was a remarkable performance too, but she was a completely different person. Therefore, to put all the incredible badass women in the same story of one woman seemed like a bit of a sham.

You recently quit The Lumineers. Was that a difficult choice to take?
It was a struggle because it became my identity for the past eight years. I joined the group in the year 2010 and basically spent the rest of my twenties with the band, but I was time to go on. It was partly due to the fact that I was eager to discover a new persona as a musician and singer, and be focussed on an idea that carried my own personal mark on it. Certainly, quitting a huge and massive operation like The Lumineers isn’t an easy decision however, it was it was the right decision at the right time and I’m really happy to release my own album and own music.

How was it when you worked with M Ward?

This was a dream coming to life. I made the hard-headed decision that I would only want M Ward to produce my record. The record was sent to him via manager to manager, some demonstrations I had created and he had agreed to have a conversation with me. You shouldn’t meet your idols, as you’ll be disappointed and this wasn’t the case. He was exactly as I had imagined him and he was even more so. He was extremely cool and relaxed and helpful. I couldn’t think of a more convincing way to create this record, my first for solo. It was an arduous process of unease and a lack of confidence entering recording, and so getting the confidence of knowing that M Ward thought I was making good music, that was a huge relief to me. The record also was exactly how I imagined it to sound in my head — with the help of a number of producers, it’s not always take place in this manner. There are times when you’re forced to accept something that you’re not at ease with or the label wants to make it sound in a certain manner. I was able to be creative as well as M Ward played all the guitars in it. It was a fantastic added bonus.

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