C-K’s Work/Life: Rachel Colonna of Shi la Rosa.

C-K Work/Life features stories about the many hobbies, passion projects, side gigs, interests and hustles that C-Kers pursue in their lives.

Rachel Colonna is a creative studio designer at Cramer-Krasselt. When she’s not creating graphics and images for clients, she can be found in the recording studio making music under her moniker Shi la Rosa. Rachel also is the lead singer for C-K’s Battle of Hope band, Angry PiCKles. 

How did you get started in music?

It all started in a closet—my friend’s closet. At least, that was where I recorded vocals for the first time in my life. My friend’s clothes absorbed any echo and essentially sound-treated the space, so it wasn’t the worst place to start making music. It still makes me laugh to think about.

I’ve been singing since I can remember. I’d obsess over songs on the radio and would sing along to my dad’s Whitney Houston CDs in the car. I knew from a young age that I needed to make my own music but had no idea how. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland to a first-generation family, so I didn’t realize I could just go out and make music myself if I wanted to. It just didn’t seem accessible to me.

The dots connected when I moved to Chicago for college. My junior year, I began making friends with people in the music scene by going to local shows and events. We would meet up after class or on the weekends, goof off, and write a bunch of songs. It was all very DIY, too. Which brings me back to the closet.

Once I focused on writing original music, I started to take myself seriously as an artist. Thus, Shi la Rosa was born.

Shi la Rosa
Shi la Rosa

What or who inspires you most when you’re making music?

If I had to pick the person who’s inspired me most, it would have to be Lana Del Rey. She’s an incredible lyricist and never tries to be something she’s not for the sake of streams. She has this way of making poetry into dark, sometimes twisted, yet accessible music. Whenever my writing feels stuck, I try to channel her.

I remember the first time I heard her. I was almost disturbed at how low her voice was getting. Up until then, it felt like female vocalists in the mainstream were held to this standard of hitting the highest notes and belting the loudest. She wasn’t doing any of those things, yet it felt hypnotic. It completely changed the way I sing.

 What should we expect from Shi la Rosa in 2020?

I’ve been working nonstop getting ready for my next batch of releases. The first will be a music video for my song, “Space Queen,” that I made in collaboration with Ross Feighery, a talented photographer. The premise is that aliens come to earth and want to have fun the earthling way. So, naturally, they make me their Space Queen, call up their friends, and throw an alien disco space party. We’ve been working on it for way too long, so I’m excited to get it out into the world.

My next musical release will be in collaboration with a producer named CHO and singer/rapper Delance (formerly known as JDP), and mixed by Dino Zisis. The song is called “Talk (Make Up My Mind)” and will be out this April with a music video. It’s the first of two songs I wrote off CHO’s upcoming album and I’m really excited to hear what people think. Both songs live in the pop world, and CHO did an amazing job of creating these massive soundscapes for them.

I’ve also been working on a string of singles that are disco influenced – hoping to have three of them out this spring and summer as well. I got really into disco in college, because it was the only thing I could listen to that kept me awake and in a good mood while pulling all-nighters in the library. Nothing says “you can do it!” while designing for mid-terms at 3:00 AM like “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Shi la Rosa Band
Shi la Rosa Band

 How do you balance working full-time at C-K while creating music and performing?

Balancing work and music is a taxing yet rewarding thing. It feels like I have two full-time jobs. My schedule is usually booked out two weeks in advance, and I have to be really selective with my time. If I booked a session with a producer, that means no band practice. If I have a show, I can’t do a video edit. Keeping it to only one “activity” after work helps me stay sane and take care of my overall well-being.

I’ve also been expanding my team which has taken a huge emotional weight off my shoulders. Up until a few months ago, I was a one woman team and extremely overwhelmed. Luckily, I’ve connected with a woman also named Rachel who has been filling a manager-type roll. She’s already helped tremendously with organizing timelines and roll-out plans, connecting me with gigs, press coverage, merch supplies – she’s truly incredible. I’m still doing those things too, but it’s such a relief to have someone spearhead to-do’s, bounce ideas off of and help connect me to resources. Rachel has also introduced me to my current main producer, Yoshi. I’ll still work with other people, but for the bulk of what I’ve been working on recently, Yoshi has been the driving force. If my night is otherwise clear, Yoshi will come over and we’ll work until I need to go to sleep. My team is still a work in progress and I’m always looking to expand my resources. As I grow, next steps would be to find people that specialize in things like PR, paid social, booking, styling, etc., that believe in what I’m doing and want to join in. It’s nice to have people that are there to help me amidst the crazy when I’m just trying to do my best and live my fullest life. I do enjoy it though, because it feels like I’m living two lives, following two passions that intersect a lot. I take what I learn in both worlds and apply it to the other.

What’s the greatest gift music has given you?

Music has instilled a lot of confidence in myself and my ideas. I’m getting up in front of people to sing about my feelings and sharing things online that I’ve put all of my time and energy into. Beyond that, as I’m releasing new material, I have to figure out how to get people to hear or watch those things. That’s meant learning to trust, fight for, and cherish my ideas. It’s something I couldn’t always do and has impacted my ethos as a person. 

If you had to listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

If I had to listen to one album for the rest of my life it would be Needle Paw by Nai Palm, the lead singer of Hiatus Kaiyote. It’s one of the only albums I can listen to front to back without skipping a song. It’s also the album I put on if I’m stressed or upset and need to center myself. It’s brought me so much peace and healing, and I’m sure I’ll be needing to do a whole lot of that throughout the rest of my life.

Anything else you would like to add?

Live shows are one of my favorite parts of being a musician. I get to goof off and have the time of my life on stage with some of my favorite people. It’s one thing to write music and listen to it in the comfort of your own home but performing it all live and getting to feed off the energy of the people in the crowd gives it a whole new magic.