BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe and Grace Pettis are Nobody's Girl
Talk to the three members of Nobody’s Girl for a few minutes, and it quickly becomes apparent they’re a tightly knit band. They bat answers to questions back-and-forth with ease, recount past adventures with howls of laughter, and support each other’s perspectives when the conversation digs deeper.
The thing is, there wasn’t supposed to be a band at all.
The trio now known as Nobody’s Girl began as a one-off, three-week package tour called “Sirens of South Austin.” Singer-songwriters Rebecca Loebe and Grace Pettis came up with the idea, then recruited their friend BettySoo to complete the tour lineup.
The genesis is captured in a November 2017 video shot at Cedar Creek Studios of the three women singing Tracy Chapman’s 1988 smash “Fast Car,” trading off lead vocals in the verses and harmonizing in the chorus.
“We just wanted to have a video of what it sounded like when we were singing together, because we had never done it before,” Loebe says. “We wanted venues to have something to share on their websites to show audiences why they should be buying these tickets. So the first moments of us singing together are actually that video.”
Among those who saw it were Tracie and Pat Drennon, who own and operate a recording facility near New Braunfels called the Studios at Fischer. The property also includes a guest artists suite, which they offered to the trio for a fateful night in December 2017. They planned to co-write one song to play together at the end of their shows on the tour, but ended up writing three.
One of them, “What’ll I Do,” was an immediately catchy folk-pop tune. “The next morning, the owners of the studio brought us breakfast tacos, and we played them the song we just wrote,” Loebe says. “And they said — I’m not making this up, because you wouldn't believe me if I did — ‘That sounds great. Would you guys like a record deal?’”
It just so happened that the Drennons were preparing to launch a record label, Lucky Hound. Pettis and BettySoo laugh at the surreal memory as Loebe finishes the story: “None of us wanted to stop the train that was obviously moving, so we decided to go for it. We wrote a few more songs, made up a band name and recorded an EP out there that was done by the time we went out on that original tour.”
The seven-song “Waterline” came out in 2018 and significantly raised the ante for this band that wasn’t intended to be a band. Lucky Hound brought aboard ace Austin keyboardist Michael Ramos as their in-house producer, and Ramos in turn recruited an all-star backing crew that included guitarist David Grissom, bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer J.J. Johnson.
The EP’s title track and “What’ll I Do” are revisited on the self-titled full-length debut from Nobody’s Girl, which comes out July 30 on Lucky Hound. It doubles down on the EP's promise, blending instantly catchy electric pop tunes such as "Kansas" and "Promised Land" with more contemplative acoustic numbers such as "Birthright" and "Lark." Ramos brought in additional ringers for these sessions, including guitarists Charlie Sexton and David Pulkingham.
Our Austin360 Artist of the Month for July celebrates the album's release with a July 29 performance at the Long Center Terrace as part of the venue's weekly summer series “The Drop-In.” Free tickets to the concert will be available via the Long Center's website starting July 23.
Nobody’s Girl also recently confirmed a release-day livestream performance from Waterloo Records, which is fitting for a group that got very active with livestreaming while waiting out the pandemic. Their album initially was set to be released in July 2020, but they decided to wait a year under the circumstances.
Livestreams with multiple singers can be tricky, as timing issues can make it hard to pull off harmony vocals. But the format was well-suited to passing vocal leads between members from one verse or chorus to the next, which happened to be how Nobody’s Girl had arranged many of the songs on their album.
In addition to livestreams with Nobody’s Girl, BettySoo had been doing her own streams with special guests in which she’d been passing verses back and forth with her guest performer. “And then I was like, oh, we already have the songs that are arranged for us to swap leads,” she says. “We should just be doing that on our livestream.”
Though each member has a distinct vocal quality, their ranges are similar enough that the transitions between singers come off seamlessly, both in livestreams and on their album. “We sort of tap into becoming one voice together,” Loebe says. "Even our moms can’t tell who’s singing most of the time.”
It’s a fitting bond for three women whose mutual respect has grown for more than a decade. They became friends through the Kerrville Folk Festival, where each of them won the fest’s prestigious New Folk contest (BettySoo in 2008, Loebe in 2009, Pettis in 2011).
BettySoo has been in Austin the longest, moving from the Houston suburb of Spring in 1996 to attend the University of Texas. “At that time, I didn't have any designs of becoming a musician as a profession, (though) I certainly had a deep love of the Texas songwriting tradition,” she says. “I just wanted to be around that.”
Soon she was playing at campus-area joints such as Cactus Cafe and Hole in the Wall. She started releasing her own records in 2005, working with noted local producers such as Stephen Doster and Gurf Morlix.
Pettis grew up in Georgia and Alabama — her father, Pierce Pettis, is an accomplished singer-songwriter — before coming to Austin for college. She graduated from St. Edward’s University in 2010, a year after releasing her debut album. When she got to know Loebe and BettySoo at Kerrville in 2008, “they were both these incredible, put-together, shining examples,” she recalls.
To which Loebe quickly interjects, with a laugh: “Well, I was living in my car at the time.” Raised in Atlanta, Loebe attended Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music, earning a degree in music production. While working as an engineer at a Boston studio, she recorded her debut album, which came out in 2004.
She tells a hilarious story about sleeping in a Red Bull promotional RV during South by Southwest during her first visit to Austin in 2006. Subsequent trips to SXSW and the Kerrville fest eventually prompted her to move here in 2011.
That same year, she appeared on NBC’s “The Voice.” At Kerrville that summer, Pettis remembers how “everybody wanted to be Rebecca’s friend, because she had just been on TV. And she was so nice to everybody. She would give you a list of venues to contact, and she’d give you advice about booking college gigs or whatever.”
Even as Nobody’s Girl has become a focal point over the past couple of years, all three women continue to pursue solo projects. Loebe released the full-length “Give Up Your Ghosts” on Houston label Blue Corn in 2019; Pettis just issued a new album, “Working Woman,” in May on Mpress Records. BettySoo’s last album, “When We’re Gone,” came out in 2014, but she has plans to record in Memphis this summer with former Austinite Will Sexton producing.
In the meantime, they're looking forward to finally playing shows as a trio again this summer and fall to promote the Nobody’s Girl album. After the Austin gigs in late July, they’ll play record-release shows in Houston and Dallas in August, plus a trip to West Virginia to appear on the National Public Radio show “Mountain Stage.” A string of Northeast and West Coast dates will follow in the fall.
“I think we’re all really focused on the moment at hand,” Pettis says. “We’re really excited about being able to play and sing together.”
An extra motivation, BettySoo adds, is being able to play for fans who helped support them both financially and emotionally during the pandemic through the livestream performances.
“There’s no way we could have survived this past year without the stalwart support of so many music lovers,” she says. “We got so many encouraging notes from people telling us to hang in there, and they'll stick with us. The ability to be able to come to their towns this year and see them and thank them is going to be such a meaningful experience.”
Austin360 Artist of the Month: Nobody's Girl
Members: BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis
Releases: self-titled album, due out July 30; "Waterline" EP, 2018
Performances: 8 p.m. July 29 at Long Center Terrace; 9:30 p.m. July 30 livestream from Waterloo Records.
More information: wearenobodysgirl.com