I’m with Scarlett Rabe standing in line at Donut Friend, a tiny shop in Los Angeles’ Highland Park — the quainter side of the city. Nude vanilla and chocolate donuts line up in a row in front of us. To the side are deep trays filled with the likes of Nutella, cut-up fruit, gruyère, goat cheese and coconut bacon. It’s one of those DIY joints that ask you to take control of your own destiny.
Scarlett’s eyeing the menu and without turning her head says to me, “Bacon is religion.”
I laugh. We pick a few cronut copycats and ask the lady behind the counter to stuff them with ricotta and caramel. We head outside and sit in front of a tattoo shop playing heavy metal. It’s sprinkling a little but the sun is still very bright. It’s California after all and she doesn’t seem to mind.
As we tuck into our post-lunch desserts, the child prodigy-turned-pop singer begins to tell her story.
On her professional debut at age 7
I played this big Mozart concerto. I was that kid. My feet didn’t even touch the pedals. I had a special box that had pedal extenders because I was too small.
On being the eldest in her family of 8 kids
Since I was first , I was the responsible one. My dad went in and out of having a job, so my mom paid the bills being a piano teacher. So I was kind of like the mom instead. So between that, 4 to 5 hours of piano every day, school and homework, there wasn’t time for anything else.
On growing up in a bubble
My parents were really strict. They were afraid of the world. We didn’t have friends. We didn’t have parties. We didn’t have a TV. We weren’t allowed to listen to any music except for classical music and Christmas music. It was like a cave almost.
On missing out on a chance of a lifetime
When I was 14, my piano coach said, ‘It’s time for her to quit school and come travel the world with me.’ So he talked to my parents and my mom got this vision of me going out into the big world and pulled out. She was basically, ‘No, Your future is you’re going to be a piano teacher like me. You’re going to have a lot of kids like me.’ That religious importance was more important than success as a pianist.
At that point, I was 14. I hadn’t yet found the strength inside myself to make a decision against her. So I partly just believed it, that the world was really crazy and that I needed to stay safe.
On crossing the line
When I came to California my parents drew a line and they were like, ‘You cross this line and you’re out.’
They thought this city was going to ruin me and I was going to lose all my morals. At that point, I was just like, ‘Well, I can’t live anymore. So, I’m going to cross the line and if you wanna be in my life you can, but drawing this line isn’t going to hold me in anymore’
I didn’t actually tell them that. I just left. They’re really strong, intense people. I wasn’t going to convince them. I knew that. I wasn’t allowed to take my dress off until sundown. That’s how intense their rules were. There were certain haircuts I wasn’t allowed to have. I couldn’t wear a pair of jeans if it had a tiny hole in the knee. I couldn’t wear a pair of shorts if it showed my knees. I wasn’t about to change their mind on something like this. So I just left.
I don’t think they thought I would go. So, they came around. They saw me, that I’m still the same person. I’m not a bad person because I live in a ‘bad’ city. Give me a break.
Maybe I proved it was the most important thing to me. They’re all really supportive now, especially my dad. He’s my biggest fan. I think he always was, he was just afraid.
On Billy Elliot
That’s why I wrote Battle Cry. Battle cry is the song about not being afraid of what’s inside you. That battle that burns inside you has to come out and you have to fight it and you have to win it. It doesn’t matter if I wanna be a ballerina and I’m Billy Elliot and my dad doesn’t want me to.
I was so afraid. You step out and you think everything is going to crash and you’re going to lose it all. Then it doesn’t. You’re like, ‘I was afraid for… why?‘ What held me back?’ Just a fear and at the end of the day it’s not even a real fear.
On the underdog
I know it sounds cheesy, but I root for anyone who is stuck or under. I feel like that is really the whole point of our existence. To fight and become what you are.
I live here and I work a lot here but I don’t go to clubs. I’m still kinda just in my work. The only time I have expectations [about LA] is when I expect people to be as committed as I am. Then I feel like there’s a lot of fakers.
On being the next Elton John
I don’t think I’ll ever stay in one place. I’m going to tour this EP. then I hope to be on the road touring for the rest of my life. I’m going to be like Elton John. I’m not ever going to stop this. There’s nothing else for me.