New Friends: Joe Rainey

Joe Rainey is a Pow Wow singer from what is now called Minnesota and Wisconsin. We spent some time before the release of his new album to chat through his process, history and collaborations. 


- Tell us about yourself, what’s your background both artistically and outside of music?

I was born and raised in Southside Minneapolis. I now live in Oneida, WI with my wife Alicia and our three children. However I’m a father of five children whom I love very much. Music has always been a part of my life and I feel the same way about sports. I’ve wasted so much time watching Minnesota sports it’s really not that funny, but I’ve leaned to love where I come from no matter what. Minneapolis is embedded into my code.

Pow wow singing is the same way. I’ve been around this very small part of native culture since I was young. Being from the city I was involved with different programs that offered pow wow singing and dancing classes that helped me develop a love for it. I have to say recording pow wow music and listening to it nonstop at a young age pushed my love for it more than the after school programs.

Going through public school the music teachers always somehow found out I sang, but it was pow wow singing. So I would find myself at these different school music functions as someone who did something totally different than what “regular” music was. Fast forward to this project and I find myself in somewhat the same spot. I’m not in a different space. I’m doing my thing in someone else’s.

- I love the outlook on staying true to your craft but working within someone else’s space. How did the creative process change when you went out of the normal confines of pow wow music? 

The creative process for this album didn’t start as a concept for an actual album. It was between two friends that were both down to fuse genres. 
I would listen to what a Broder sent me and immerse myself in that moment. If it were a song I had already made or feeling my way through what came out on top of my head. I allowed the vibe and bones of the song maintain my pace for singing my vocables over them. 

I recorded all of these vocals from home. I’m proud of how they turned out. Broder is a genius with how he built around my vocals. 

- Tell us about your new album. When did you begin writing the songs / recording? Any themes?

This album started out as something strictly between Andrew and I. Two homies bouncing and bending genres. The beginning of this thought started in 2018. At Eaux Claires music festival Broder had a set in the woods. In which he invited us (Iron Boy and the pow wow dancers accompanying) to come and take part. There was a moment in Broder’s set where he played some electronic vibes. One of our dancers spontaneously went out front and started dancing. It was there I thought to myself that it could be done. That is pow wow singing that’s not sampled or scribbled.

Two years ago I approached Broder about sending me some vibes like how my brother was dancing to. He was timid at first because indeed it was that new of a thought and Broder is super respectful of our culture. He got back to me and said he understood what I was asking, let’s do it.

He sends a cluster of tempos and loops that I immediately sit down and listen to. I would listen to them for a while before I actually recorded anything. I recorded the vocals in my open area basement. Non studio. I yell upstairs that I need quiet on the set and the fam knows what I mean. I get 5 mins to put some ideas down before my youngest is jumping around from Mario Kart. Shout out to parents that record at home.

The making of it was all done while we were on national quarantine. There was time for us all to maybe better ourselves if you felt like making a change. Grief was something I was dealing with going into that time period and today. The album was a tool to help fix that part of my mind that needed servicing. Losing people close to myself and my family was hard on all of us. I try to carry on like how we are taught, but it became very difficult. Niineta helped me express myself artistically to combat grief in a way I didn’t expect. When Broder sent back ‘Bezhigo’ we both knew we should probably let people hear this.

- What do you hope people take away from the album? 

Personally I want people to know that everything they heard was intentional. If it scared you, and you turned it off? Hell yea. Me and Broder couldn’t be happier with scaring you. On some Halloween shit. We want to make your hair stand up. If you react the opposite and are soothed by what’s going on? Same emphasis on the hell yea. All intentions included with this sonic smack. 

- Can you speak to the history of Pow Wow music? Are their general themes, stories, intentions behind the music? Did you want to stay true to those with your album or did you feel more creative freedom because of collaboration with others?

Pow wow singing is a huge part of my life as a singer and an archivist. The sound of Pow Wow has changed over the decades. Right now it’s all power through voice on top of the drum. Women singers are side by side with the men in terms of power and control. There are many women and men singers I’ve had the pleasure of singing with. Each with their own flavor. I couldn’t speak for the much earlier Pow wow years, but the music has come a long way. 

There is a Pow wow song form. I did want to stay with that form. There were a few songs that went off on their own and didn’t necessarily have a form. On this project there are many firsts. Combining electronic elements with voice has been done. What I’m saying is the level of Pow Wow tape samples haven’t been out there yet. Including them throughout the album helped put this on its own. 

I felt comfortable with collaborating with Broder because I knew we could achieve what I seen in my mind. Which was vocables over a tempo. The way I head it in my head. Not scratched up or scribbled. What I’ve done with other artists also made it easier to jump in and think of vocables on the spot. Sometimes it works out good. Sometimes it might seem rushed. I credit the mindset I was in at the time. 

- You recently signed with 37d03d. What drew you to that label? How was the collaboration process with the members of the label?

Broder had this vision as he was developing that he wanted to add live strings. Along with the possibly of approaching someone to help us project this somehow. We knew to start with 37d03d because of our mutual relationship with them. Mr. Vernon is a good friend of the drum groups I’ve been a part of Midnite Express and Iron Boy. He’s sampled us on a few albums and has always been a great friend to us. But when he heard this I’m sure he knew immediately also, He wanted to help.

 - The 37d03d family seems to be closely knit group of like minded individuals. What do you think makes this label different and did being on 37d03d push your creative process that another label may not have encouraged? 

Justin Vernon is a friend of both of ours. There are also other mutual friends we had that were at the label or worked with them. We approached them with a good handful already mixed. 

I’ll be the first to say we didn’t plan it this way. It was something between Broder and I. After the first couple we sent back and forth, we had an inkling about maybe putting this out. It wasn’t until we had the mixes where Broder brought the idea of releasing first. We shared the same thoughts which was really cool. We thought people should hear this. 

Being a part of a drum group I never intended to go “solo” ever in my life. I’m not the type to put myself above the team. I was grieving along with our drum brothers some key losses of drum brothers over the last few years. This was a way for me to express myself artistically in a way I didn’t expect. It started the healing process. Broder understood this completely. He gave me time to think about it and I decided to let everyone hear. Regardless of what my peers might think about the selfish scope it might put on me. I had something in my head that needed to get out. In the process I’ve learned a lot about myself and my ability to heal through musical, cultural , artistic expression. 

It’s been easy working with every involved because of the Bon family. They’ve been nothing but respectful of who we are as indigenous people. 
So when we approached the label we didn’t know what they were gonna think. We knew we were gonna put this out regardless at that point. And here we are , very happy to be releasing with 37d30d. We are super stoked for what’s ahead. 

- What’s in store for you this year? After release will you be touring?

We are having our release show in Minneapolis at 7th Street Entry June 27th. After that we are planning things for maybe fall and winter. We are being approached now with stuff down the road but we’ll see after the release show. We wanna rock this one first.

- The singles from your album are very percussion heavy. What we’re some of the instruments / recording techniques you used?

I only recorded my voice. I mentioned my recording environment and doing it from home. I am proud that I made this from home. In a space where I felt creative. During a weird time for everyone we fused genres. Without being in the same room. Some recording techniques I had was to turn of the furnace and sump pump and have vintage NBA basketball game in the background on mute. Make sure you turn all that stuff back on to avoid any ear pulling by wife.

- Are there any other pow wow albums you can recommend for those not familiar with the genre? 

There are many Pow Wow albums people should check out. 
- Eyabay - 4 Life
- The Boyz - The Life & Times of TBZ
- Midnite Express - Band of Brothers 
- Northern Cree - Here To Stay
- Bear Creek - LIVE
- Mountain Soul - In the Valley of the Sun
- High Noon - Live at Taos
So many more I could go on and on. 

Please visit my SoundCloud for ad-free pow wow music as well. 

Listen to Joe's new album Niineta here
Purchase the vinyl here