Listening to her ethereal sound, you might not guess that Rachel Zeffira was classically trained as an opera singer. But on her solo debut, The Deserters, she's not just singing: She also plays piano, synthesizers, vibraphone, cathedral organ, violin, viola, oboe and English horn.
Zeffira makes her home in London now, but she grew up in a small town in rural British Columbia and began playing music at a young age.
"I think in some ways it's pretty idyllic to have a childhood where there's amazing nature and four distinct seasons," Zeffira says. "If there is a downside to that, it was tricky to find music teachers, so I had to travel to the States quite frequently to do violin lessons, and there wasn't an oboe teacher in the town, funny enough."
Zeffira strays far from her opera training on The Deserters, which includes a bold cover of My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When." Here, she speaks with NPR's Melissa Block about getting into a head space to make pop music.
On pop and opera's fundamental differences
"I guess they are completely opposite ways of singing. With opera it was all about projection and singing without a microphone. And with this album it's very intimate singing right into the microphone. I kind of had to forget everything I had learned about my opera training."
On the song "Silver City Days"
"A lot of people probably have [the feeling] when you can't wait to get out of your town, or where you grew up, or even your street or something — but then, once you're gone you do miss it sometimes. That's what that song is about. I've spent my entire adult life in London and Italy. But every once in a while I have sort of strong longings for my hometown, and I think of the river going through and missing the mountains and the snow."
On missing opera
"I guess it is kind of satisfying to scream and yell. ... I'm also aware that I'm really out of shape now because I haven't been practicing, and to be good at opera you can't get away with not practicing and doing technique every day and warming up properly. And so I feel that I've kind of sacrificed that now. There's so many talented sopranos out there. So if I did flex my muscles again, it would definitely be in the privacy of my own home."