"For most songwriters, I think things start as a kind of outlet for a lot of things that are difficult to say out loud," says singer/guitarist Natasha Rorrer. The up-and-coming songwriter speaks with the same confident tone as her velvet singing voice -- usually delivered with an effectively delicate performing style. "That's my driving force. In person, I tend to avoid saying exactly what I'm thinking or feeling, because it's almost too vulnerable. But when I'm on stage, I have no problem just letting it all out there and being as vulnerable as possible and sharing the themes I've been meditating on. A huge theme is saying what we don't say, typically ... and encouraging myself to be honest."
The 20-year-old, South Carolina-raised songstress seems determined to explore the acoustic "folkie" corner of the music scene -- and encourage others to do the same. After spending her high school years in Myrtle Beach, she attended college in Columbia at U.S.C. before moving to the Big Apple and working for a short while at a busy guitar shop near Times Square in Manhattan. Rorrer returned to the Lowcountry last year and gradually made the rounds from cafes to clubs.
"I got affiliated with Red Tide Artists [www.redtideartists.com], based in New York," she says of her stint up North. "It's a great network of musicians from around the country ... like a musicians' guild."
In the fall, Red Tide, led by creative director Matt Quillen, released Rorrer's debut disc -- a limited-edition, four-song EP titled Broken Wide Open, produced by acclaimed engineer Jason Finkel (Jason Mraz, Alicia Keys, B.B. King, Cyndi Lauper). Her spare and gentle guitar style rolls comfortably beneath her breathy, impassioned singing. Some songs are peppered with light percussion from veteran jazz man Josh Dion.
The singer first started hitting the stage at the weekly "open mic" sessions at the East Bay Coffeehouse (a.k.a. the East Bay Meeting House) before booking her own solo shows around the area.
"I try to play around S.C. as much as I can -- places like Kudu in Charleston, Jammin' Java in Columbia, and Fresh Brewed in Myrtle Beach," she says. "Ryan [Brown] at the Map Room offered me a biweekly residency at the club, which has turned out to be really great. I'm trying to make it an opportunity for people who don't have a lot of experience to get on stage and get exposure."
Guests and collaborators at her increasingly popular Map Room gigs have included singer/guitarists Nathan Poole, Zach Fowler, Jordan Igoe, and Kristen McKrillis. Usually, Rorrer either backs her guests on guitar or collaborates in duets, stepping aside to share a bit of the spotlight. More often than not, her own vocal stylings -- dreamy, sincere, and gorgeous -- grab the attention of her varied audiences.
"The most common comparison I hear about my voice is to Natalie Merchant ... and teetering on the influences of Tracy Chapman and typical singer/songwriters like Sarah McLachlin and that kind of thing. I particularly enjoy having guests join in with vocal harmonies; having extra voices adds to the atmosphere."
Natasha Rorrer performs an acoustic "late happy hour gig" at the Map Room every other Friday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. or so.