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Premiere: Detroit’s Willa Rae & the Minor Arcana Travels from Heaven to Hell on their Self-Titled EP

May 13, 2016
Written by
Amanda Silberling
Photo by
Miles Marie

Singer-songwriter Willa Rae Adamo starts penning her songs with an acoustic guitar on the floor of her Detroit, Michigan home as she winds down after a long day of waitressing to pay her rent.

But once the classically-trained opera vocalist gets together with her band Willa Rae & the Minor Arcana, a project she started a year ago, her soulful tunes evolve into power-packed, folk with gloomy twists.

On Friday the 13th, Willa Rae will release her debut self-titled EP. It’s a fitting date to unleash her gothic, Americana sound. “This record is a celebration of emotions,” Adamo said. “There is no need to categorize the emotions into good and bad.”

Adamo is active in Detroit’s music scene, linking her passions for songwriting and creating community, and even co-founding the local chapter of Girls Rock Camp. “My role models and best friends are women I’ve met through open mics and the singer-songwriter community here in Detroit,” Adamo said.

With with dark, gritty imagery and sly self-awareness, Adamo distorts common expectations of folk love songs on her three-song EP. On the lustful opening track “Bad Ideas,” Adamo longs for a lover to come home and resists the temptation to call up someone from her “mental list of pretty little boys.” On the next song “Freight Train,” she mourns a lost relationship, comparing the unrelenting memories of a past love to a freight train roaring past her house at 3 AM each night.

“Whatever story I’m telling [on the EP] is transported to the desert, and everyone is suddenly wearing cowboy boots and has a pistol in their pocket,” Adamo said. The Minor Arcana features Craig Adams on electric guitar, Alexandria Berry on bass, Mackenzie Sato on drums, and Kaylan Mitchell on cello. “The music started with me, but has grown into so much more,” Adamo said.

An avid reader, Adamo draws influence from books as opposite as Dante’s Inferno and the Bible as literary texts – a marriage of heaven and hell.  “I come from a Roman Catholic family, and I’m a woman, so I experience so much inherent shame and guilt about my sexuality,” Adamo said. “The music exorcizes those demons, acknowledges, and even celebrates the darkness that exists in every human being. You have to acknowledge the bad if you want the good to come through too.”

The EP’s final track “Love’s Wastin’ My Time,” feels like it’s in conversation with the two other tracks on Willa Rae & the Minor Arcana, resigned to the fact that after a tumultuous relationship, pain only lingers if you allow it.  “The only goal, the only end-game when I sit down with my guitar, is to tell a story,” Adamo said. “I want to create a tiny glimpse of humanity.”

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