Episode 1: Rachelle Call
Rachelle Call’s life has been an emotional rollercoaster of ecstatic highs punctuated by gut-punching lows. A musician formerly represented by R Legacy Entertainment, Rachelle “fell from grace” when she left both her husband of 17 years and the church that composed her entire community. As a survivor of domestic abuse, the rapid dissolution of her marriage left her with nothing but her three kids, her clothes, and a car, resulting in a stint at a women’s shelter. However, this moment fueled Rachelle to become her best self, where she embraced her righteous anger to write her strongest music yet and rebuilt her life from scratch.
Content Advisory: Domestic Abuse
Jared Ruga: Welcome to episode one of Inflection, a podcast about turning points, powerful stories, and occasionally art. Hi, I'm Jared Ruga. I am a filmmaker, media executive, and general all-around scallywag. I like long walks on the beach. Wow, you literally choked on my words there. So who is Kristy's Johnson? Excuse me. Kristy Johnson.
Kristy Johnson: Oh, that's just a really heavy question. Thanks.
Jared Ruga: How would you describe yourself?
Kristy Johnson: I love comedy. I love making people laugh. I love sharing stories, because they're true stories, which is unbelievable.
Jared Ruga: It really is. I mean, we'll dig into that, our esteemed listeners, how Kristy's life is quite stranger than fiction.
Kristy Johnson: And it has been for my whole life, every part of my life. Growing up, being a mom, dating now, just walking down the street.
Jared Ruga: I've lived a very anxiety-ridden conservative life. And so I don't tend to make decisions that expose me to kind of those crazy situations. It's just a lot of being frustrated with my email inbox.
Kristy Johnson: But my life from the time I was born, there was always something nutty going on, literally. And I've always, I mean, when I was younger growing up, we would sit around the dinner table and it'd be like, "All right, Kristy, lets hear it. What happened today?"
Jared Ruga: What happened today?
Kristy Johnson: But I always had a story.
Jared Ruga: Should we introduce the format of this show?
Kristy Johnson: Yeah.
Jared Ruga: I think we wanted a forum to talk to people more in depth about those pivot points in their lives, those inflection points where you don't know when you're going through it, how things will turn out. But in talking to people who have been through that, which I think we all have several times probably over the course of our lives, talking to people about where they came out on the other side of that anxiety-ridden moment. I think it's interesting to have people identify what that moment was for them.
Kristy Johnson: Yeah. Cause you get to a point where life starts to really hit you sometimes and you get a little anxious because you don't know what tomorrow holds and you have a decision to make. Do you stay in bed? Do you put the covers over your head? And sometimes that's okay for a day or something. But eventually you got to get up and make a decision to face the world and live in that uncertainty and make the decision to go on and not knowing what's going to happen.
Jared Ruga: Absolutely. Yeah. So I think... what to expect from this podcast, a lot. It's a little bit of a smorgasbord. There will be some witty banter occasionally, once an episode if we're lucky. There may be some sex jokes. This is probably not an appropriate program for children because we use naughty words sometimes and we don't bleep them out. But in general, I think what the listeners of this podcast will really get from it is a sense of camaraderie with people they've never met, a sense of belonging, and recognizing that your experiences are, while they may feel unique to your circumstances, they're quintessentially human. We've all been through that and we've all made it through the other side.
Kristy Johnson: Yeah. And we all just need to learn from one another and know that we are never alone. Never.
Jared Ruga: Tonight our guest is Rachelle Call who is a recovering Mormon, former Mormon-famous musician.
Rachelle Call: Thanks for having me guys.
Jared Ruga: Thank you for being here, Rachelle.
Rachelle Call: Yeah.
Jared Ruga: You used to be kind of famous and you probably still are to a certain extent.
Rachelle Call: Wow. You know what I guess it's Utah famous. I don't even know what that means.
Jared Ruga: Mormon famous.
Rachelle Call: It might be that.
Jared Ruga: Mormon famous.
Rachelle Call: It's probably that and that's its own little thing. Little thing is what that is.
Jared Ruga: You were touring for a while.
Rachelle Call: So I was with a company called R Legacy Entertainment. In the LDS music scene, there's one label, which is Deseret Book, historically. And then there was a couple others that would pop up. And then another label popped up about maybe, I don't know, 10 years ago, and it was R Legacy Entertainment and this guy wanted to bring the rebel, the rebellion, into the LDS music industry.
Kristy Johnson: Scandalous.
Rachelle Call: Yeah, it was so scandalous. So he approached me and I'm like, "Oh really?" He thought I must've been rebellious. I was doing music on recovery and addiction. So maybe for that time it seemed, um, edgy.
Jared Ruga: And you have very dark hair.
Rachelle Call: And I have dark hair and I wear leather occasionally.
Kristy Johnson: Naughty.
Rachelle Call: So I maybe looked like I was a little bit off the cuff a little bit. And I ended up working with R Legacy for almost three years, but ultimately there was a lot of things in that company and in that experience that was incredibly difficult to deal with. Mainly that I was a Mormon artist and I was with a label that was trying to appeal to the Christian market because the Christian music industry is huge. It's really big and it's really lucrative. And if you're Mormon, you're stuck in this little corner-
Jared Ruga: You're like the Jan of Christian music.
Rachelle Call: Yes, yes.
Jared Ruga: The evangelicals are the Marcia.
Rachelle Call: Wow. You just nailed that. I have never heard that.
Kristy Johnson: That was brilliant. I got to give you that.
Rachelle Call: That is exactly what that is. And no one wants to be Jan. I'm not going to be Jan. Bye.
Kristy Johnson: Bye.
Rachelle Call: So yeah, exactly. And I think people were trying to get out and maybe still are. I really don't know because it's been so long since-
Jared Ruga: Get out really applies to a lot of Mormon women-
Rachelle Call: It really does. Get out of a lot of things and it's a bigger problem than you'd know until you're getting some distance and you're like, "Whoa, I was deep." I was deep into just not knowing who I was and not knowing I had the right to be who I wanted to be and that. I used to feel bad that I was writing music that said like, "I'm going to do what I want to do." I know. I'd put words that were kind of aggressive-
Jared Ruga: Put your apron back on.
Kristy Johnson: Free agency.
Jared Ruga: Get in that kitchen.
Rachelle Call: But it's funny because I never really was a kitchen type Mormon mom. I was like we ate out all the time because my ex was a consultant so we traveled a lot. So I wasn't really that type of a mom anyway. However, I was, because coming out of that I felt so guilty all the time. I felt guilty for putting those lyrics in. Anyway, yeah.
Jared Ruga: Then it all came crashing down when the FBI burst through the doors one day and seized a bunch of computers.
Rachelle Call: Oh you know the guy?
Jared Ruga: Was in the news.
Rachelle Call: Yeah, that was Gaylen.
Jared Ruga: A Ponzi scheme.
Rachelle Call: Yeah. So the guy who was in charge of that whole record label ended up being indicted on-
Kristy Johnson: What?
Jared Ruga: Mail fraud and securities fraud, all kinds of... so talk a little bit more about your fall from grace. What was the impetus behind that?
Rachelle Call: I'm so embarrassed.
Kristy Johnson: Oh no, don't be.
Rachelle Call: The fall from grace started as I was with R Legacy and I was married and they were trying to tout me as this Marie Osmond, that was part of my artist development, which was you're going to be this like Marie Osmond type person. You can do a talk show, you can sing, you can write music, you can do all this stuff. So that's what the plan was. I was also in a domestic violence situation with my husband at the time, who I was married to for 17 years with three children. With domestic violence you don't know what you're in, you don't understand it, especially in Utah, because we don't have language and we haven't had language for that up until very recently. Where you might be in some covert, like who knows what's going on and you're just flailing a little bit. So that was me probably the last couple of years of my marriage and that's when I was with R Legacy.
Rachelle Call: And so the more momentum I got and the more free I was getting from my marriage, the behavior and the danger of my ex-husband started to escalate, which happens with domestic violence because if someone's trying to get out and leave, someone's going to, "Nope, because your mine." And so the fall from grace really started with the two years that I was with R Legacy and knowing something's not right. This should be great. I should be happy that I've got all this success and people want me to come and do concerts but it was so dangerous.
Rachelle Call: When I ended up divorcing my ex-husband, it was because things were so dangerous that I actually went to my record label and said I need to quit this tour that they had planned for the summer. I was like, "I have to quit. I cannot go out and do Recovery when I've got to divorce my husband this summer," is literally what I said. I'm like, "I have to divorce him." So I did that. And they're like, "We're going to be behind you. We'll support you." And I was thinking like that would happen. I'm like, "Okay, awesome." And I think I heard from them a little bit after that, but honestly I think that happened in June is when I pulled the plug and then by September of that year they had already started to like, "We're going to let Rachelle go."
Rachelle Call: Yeah, they had people come and say, "You know, it's not really the image we want to put out. When we signed, but when we were with you initially, you were the perfect person that would be out there. You've done Recovery. You're the wife that stuck through it. Well now it's not the image we want to put out to Mormon women because then they're all going to leave their husbands." And I'm like, "They should." I'm kidding of course.
Kristy Johnson: Wow that's interesting.
Rachelle Call: Did this just get dark and deep. I know. When people really want to know my story, I'm like, "It's really depressing. Are you sure?"
Kristy Johnson: No, it's not depressing. It's empowering to know that you stood up and that they have this image of what they think the perfect woman is. But the perfect woman is somebody like you who's empowered to leave a situation to save your children and yourself. That's the perfect person.
Rachelle Call: Oh, I've never heard anyone say that before. Thank you.
Kristy Johnson: You're welcome.
Rachelle Call: I would not see that because for me it didn't just stop there. It was almost like this spiral down. So once I lost the footing of the label and the music, I felt like, "Uh-oh, I don't have anything because guess what? I haven't worked in 17 years." I wrote myself out of the divorce. I literally, it was something that had to happen so fast because it was so dangerous that I'm like, "I want my Lexus and my kids and child support and two years of alimony and that's it. You get everything else 401k, you get the pension, you get everything. I just need to get out." And he was like, "Okay." So it happened that fast. And my divorce went through, I think it took three weeks, three or four weeks, and it was done. Yeah. And so I walked hoping it would all work out and thinking it would and it didn't.
Rachelle Call: So the fall from grace just kept happening over and over and I couldn't get my footing. I was living with..on my own. I couldn't pay my rent because I didn't know how to work. And then that ended up me having to leave. So that's where I ended up needing to leave the state. It was getting so bad and I was trying to do concerts and I was trying to do different things by myself without the label, but I could not. I was incapable of functioning on such a level that I actually couldn't even think straight. I could hardly form a sentence. And I remember one of the last concerts that I did and I couldn't form my sentences. I was like, "Hi. Like what are we doing here?" And people thought I was drunk. I'm like, "I'm not drunk." But what's going on.
Kristy Johnson: I'll have what she's having.
Rachelle Call: Down to the point where, you guys, they're like, "Rachelle, did you notify? You said you were going to contact so-and-so." I'm like, "Oh no, I didn't. I didn't do anything. I forgot." So my memory is starting to slip and I was losing my memory and I couldn't remember things.
Kristy Johnson: Stress.
Rachelle Call: It was cortisol. I later found that out. I didn't know this was happening to me, but the high levels of stress starts to jack your mind up big time. So I knew that I was in a desperate situation and I was worried that someone would find out and call me crazy because I was going crazy. I'm like, "I can't keep my thoughts together." Because I had custody of my kids, that's when I left the state. I'm like, "Well, we're all out and we're going to go and I've got to get help. I've got to be around family or somebody." I was exhausted and I was overwhelmed and I was about to crack and lose my mind. I could feel it. Have you ever been there anyone?
Jared Ruga: Oh yeah.
Rachelle Call: Because I don't know. Where you're like, "I think I'm going to lose my mind."
Jared Ruga: About twice a month.
Rachelle Call: Yeah.
Kristy Johnson: You know.
Rachelle Call: I'm used to it. Just get used to it, Rachelle. What's your problem? You have it one time?
Kristy Johnson: No, it is. I've been there too.
Jared Ruga: It's just called Wednesday.
Rachelle Call: That's exactly. That's five o'clock. Okay. Yeah, that's me never working. And see that's the thing about not working, is I did not have a muscle and I was not adapted to normal life. I was adapted to fantasy world where I had someone paying all my bills and I was working with a record label and I had this fun life and everyone's like, "Look at her." So the danger when people would say you're not going to make it, you're going to be poor. I had no reference point for what that meant.
Jared Ruga: Do you think that contributed to your bravery to confront the situation?
Rachelle Call: What do you mean?
Jared Ruga: Like, if you had had a reference point and you knew what rock bottom might look like.
Rachelle Call: Oh, that's such a good question.
Jared Ruga: Would that have scared you out of making the choice.
Rachelle Call: Oh that's such a good question. No. Had I seen what was going to happen to me, I would have never done it because to endure falling into poverty, it's not the poverty, it's how people look at you. It's how people dismiss you and how you don't exist. And it's funny because maybe I had an inkling of that and I knew to keep my Lexus. And I still say to this point like had I not had that Lexus, I would possibly have died. And I don't mean to say that in a way that is arrogant or flippant, but because I'd show up and I still had some nice clothes and I still had that car, people perceived me in a way where the doors continued to open and I could still access things. And I was around girls that had nothing and never did have anything. And so they didn't even have that jumpstart and their lives and the way they were treated in services was horrifying. Absolutely horrifying in Utah. They were treated differently by-
Kristy Johnson: That's interesting, especially being in Utah because they always want to try to keep families together by the prominent religion and to keep families together. So when you step outside of that, I wonder if there's a little payback by not treating them very well. I don't know.
Rachelle Call: It's punishment.
Kristy Johnson: Just a thought.
Rachelle Call: There's so much punishment.
Rachelle Call: ("Something Wonderful" by Rachelle Call)
Jared Ruga: Since this podcast is called "Inflection" do you want to talk about that moment in time where you, in hindsight perhaps you didn't see it when it was happening, but in hindsight you look back and go, "Yeah, that was the moment." Was there a certain turning point?
Rachelle Call: I think I was leaving a lot of things and I think that there were a series of exits that led me to a final can't look back. And that series of exits were leaving my ex-husband. But I had left him multiple times. And I think I got to the point where I had told myself, "I know that I'll leave for good if my children are ever in danger." And that started to happen and it got to a point where I knew I would never be the mom that allowed that, no matter what.
Rachelle Call: And I said... it was actually Father's Day, and he was very unkind to my daughter. And it was almost like this calm came over me because usually I was so panicked, but this calm came over me and I said to my ex, "You need to drive back home and I'm going to let you out and you need to just get out, get out of the car." And he did. And right when he got out the car, I got in the driver seat and I had my three girls in that car. It was a big SUV. And I was like, "We're leaving." And I said to the girls, "I'm never going back and we just are going to keep driving right now."
Rachelle Call: And that was the moment, because I knew had I told my kids that I was leaving, I wouldn't go back. And I had never really told them that. It was always just, "There's mom again, staying at Nana's house." But this time I knew if I say it to my kids and I tell them how bad it is, I know I'll stand up to that and I'll keep going. And so that was the moment. I left and never looked back. And that was done.
Rachelle Call: If you're in a domestic violence situation or if you're in any situation where you're in danger. It's like if you don't get out now, something's going to happen. Something bad's going to happen. And that's where I was. I ended up just deducing the only way out is to give him as much as possible and just make it totally worth it for him and just get out. And I did and he agreed. But the only thing I wanted was I have to have full custody of my kids. So I got full custody and that's all I wanted and my car. I wanted that Lexus. So that was my never-look-back, write myself out of all the money, my 18-year history with him and that family, everything, I just walked away.
Jared Ruga: How long has it been?
Rachelle Call: It's been eight years.
Rachelle Call: ("Something Wonderful" by Rachelle Call)
Jared Ruga: Did you have a musical background? How did you just start writing songs?
Rachelle Call: I was born into a very fundamental-type modern Mormon family. And I say that because my dad was a bishop. My mom was very strict. I mean, I didn't have sugar growing up. I didn't have... my mom made our meat. So it was phony baloney.
Kristy Johnson: I'm sorry, can you back that train up a minute?
Rachelle Call: My mother made our meat. [crosstalk 00:19:01].
Jared Ruga: From the neighbors?
Rachelle Call: Listen Jared, from gluten. It's seasoned gluten.
Kristy Johnson: What the H?
Jared Ruga: Like seitan, is what we call that now.
Rachelle Call: Is that what you call it now?
Jared Ruga: Yeah, yeah. Not-
Rachelle Call: Not Satan.
Jared Ruga: Not like lord of hell but seitan. [crosstalk 00:19:17].
Rachelle Call: Not the real-
Kristy Johnson: Satan. We're here talking about Satan and meat?
Rachelle Call: So I was raised in this environment where my mom was extreme health, no sugar, no nothing. My dad was a bishop and we lived this interesting life. And so I just remember being six, seven years old and music, I was obsessed. I was obsessed with Fame. I was obsessed with Madonna. I was obsessed with MTV. I could not get enough of it. And I was grounded all the time because my dad was a bishop and I was supposed to not like that stuff. It's like my soul. It was like this is who I am. And so I would always dress like Madonna. I'd go to school, I'd cut all my skirts off and my family was always trying to like, "Get her. She is just off the rails." And I would have been and I was.
Rachelle Call: I snuck out of my house, I drank, I shunned whatever was going on with the Mormon crowd because I felt like they were boring. I was so confused. I'm like, "What's the big problem? Why is everyone so upset and worried and why can't I sing and why can't I dance and why can't I dress like that? What's the problem?" I really didn't think there was a problem with it, and I was confused that everyone wanted to control me more than anything. That was confusing to me. As I got older, all the controls just started clamping down and I stopped and got married. I went to BYU and lived the Mormon life.
Jared Ruga: So what's the anatomy of a song for you? How do you put one together? Do you do the music first, do you do the lyrics?
Rachelle Call: It just depends. The anatomy of a song. I am your typical shallow, mainstream Brittany Spears pop music lover.
Jared Ruga: Love it. Got it.
Rachelle Call: I love that stuff.
Jared Ruga: I'm with you.
Rachelle Call: And that mainstream vibe is always in my brain. I couldn't write an indie song if you paid me $1 million. I'm like, "I can't do that." I cannot do that. Like Adam Lambert music, like his big courses. I love that stuff. I like things that appeal to a lot of people and that are big and it's because I believe I was always trapped in domestic violence. It was always because I felt so constricted and I felt like if I could create something that was mainstream, I was thinking mainstream, it's got to be mainstream. It has to appeal to everyone because I felt so cornered out, that I was really locked in somewhere and I couldn't identify what it was or where it was or why.
Rachelle Call: So I would always find women that sang big Kelly Clarkson type vocals and I'd be like, "Sing that." So the format for me is the mainstream, that's my vibe. If I have lyrics, I'm probably going to fit them into something that sounds like it could be on the radio or something that could be in a Broadway play or something that is... appeals to masses. That's just how I think.
Jared Ruga: Do you have a particular song that's been produced that was about a turning point or served... the song itself served as a turning point, that inflection point?
Rachelle Call: Yes. It was "Still Bleeding."
Rachelle Call: ("Still Bleeding" by Rachelle Call).
Rachelle Call: So the song I wrote, it's called "Still Bleeding." It was when I left Utah and I had been here for a year and a half after my divorce, struggling it out, trying to keep music up, trying to be a single mom to three kids and it was impossible and I hadn't allowed myself to be angry ever. Because my anger, being raised in that you're not attached to your anger in a way that is healthy. You're either detached from it or you sound nice and you're-
Jared Ruga: Bury it.
Rachelle Call: You bury it.
Jared Ruga: The Utah passive aggression.
Rachelle Call: That's right. Very passive aggressive. And it was starting to leak out of me, my passive aggression, which I had down pretty well, like, "No, it's all good." That was starting to come undone. It wasn't just in my marriage, it was in the industry, it was in my ward. It was the way people were not being honest. But when it started to crash and my label let me go and then all this happened, I left Utah and it's almost like the freedom to be angry hit me. I got to Arizona and I literally went and sat to the piano and I went (singing) and I just sang it.
Jared Ruga: Lyrics and music, simultaneously.
Kristy Johnson: Dang.
Rachelle Call: All of it.
Jared Ruga: Channeling from the beyond.
Rachelle Call: Yep.
Kristy Johnson: Pure inspiration.
Rachelle Call: Yep.
Rachelle Call: ("Still Bleeding" by Rachelle Call)
Jared Ruga: It's interesting how effective and potent anger is as a motivator.
Rachelle Call: Yes.
Jared Ruga: And it's good. We have anger as an emotion for a reason. We need it. It's a tool in the toolkit that's got specific uses, but it's like... if the only tool in your kit is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Rachelle Call: Yes.
Jared Ruga: You have to constrain the anger because you will cross a threshold where now it's no longer helping but it's hurting you.
Rachelle Call: That's right.
Jared Ruga: And so it's like finding that balance and where it's appropriate for that to be your driving force.
Rachelle Call: That's right. And anger was and it still is. I have to remind myself to get angry because I will go back into passivity really easy because it's just the way I was made. Because I think that's part of the conditioning of just let it go, forgive it all. Forgive it all. Really, that only works for the person who has the power.
Jared Ruga: Right.
Kristy Johnson: Right. And you need to honor that anger and allow yourself to feel it without getting nutty. If you don't, this is exactly like what you said happens.
Rachelle Call: ("Still Bleeding" by Rachelle Call).
Rachelle Call: So yeah, that's been five years ago now since I wrote that song.
Kristy Johnson: So you had to stay in a place for a while until you felt strong enough to move forward?
Rachelle Call: Yeah. So it was just healing, layers of healing. So I was in Los Angeles, I was in a treatment program for victims of domestic violence there. And that was really all about just the marriage, the industry. I was kind of high. When you're in the industry or when you're in entertainment, everyone moves at such a fast pace. It's adrenaline.
Jared Ruga: Oh it's addictive.
Rachelle Call: Isn't it?
Jared Ruga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rachelle Call: I was like high and I knew that if I continued on this path, I would lose my kids because I would become washed up. I know it's cliché, but for me it wasn't an option for me to fail my kids, not an option. I stayed away from the spotlight. I stayed away from friends, anybody that would pull me back that way, because I was so vulnerable. I'm like, "Yes, I want to come back." But I was not strong enough to do it and be able to maintain my sense of self. I would've just crashed.
Rachelle Call: ("Still Bleeding" by Rachelle Call)
Jared Ruga: One question that I like to ask our guests is... knowing what you know now, what would you tell that younger version of yourself? Give her a piece of advice.
Rachelle Call: Oh my gosh. I would have told that girl, "Get help as fast as you can. This does not have to stretch out for 10 years. Don't wait around. Don't wait around for family. Don't wait around for anybody. Don't think someone's going to come around and see that you're really struggling. If they don't see it fast, that means they're not aware enough to even be in your world. Find people who are aware as fast as possible because it took me so long to get out and that's why." Because I was always-
Kristy Johnson: That's good. That's good stuff. Yeah.
Rachelle Call: That's why I'm impatient. I'm now more impatient. I'm like, "Oh, come on. It doesn't take that long." It's like literally write the person a damn check or whatever they need and I'm not talking thousands of dollars. I'm saying if someone needs some help, fricking give it to them. So yeah, don't be patient. Don't be patient. Get your needs met and do what you got to do. And don't give people years to catch on. Just move on. Is that mean? [crosstalk 00:28:33].
Kristy Johnson: No, I'm going to take that into the dating world.
Rachelle Call: Oh, you better. I learned that a long time ago. Like, "Nope. Nope. Nope."
Kristy Johnson: That's just pure advice for me.
Rachelle Call: Not you, not... oh yeah. Oh, you. It's a crapper.
Jared Ruga: And what a fantastic, uplifting note to end the podcast on.
Kristy Johnson: [crosstalk 00:28:50].
Jared Ruga: Give up and don't be patient.
Rachelle Call: Give up, screw everyone. Say bye.
Kristy Johnson: Bye.
Jared Ruga: Good. Well, words to live by. Thank you so much for being with us, Rachelle.
Rachelle Call: Thank you guys for having me. It's been so great.
Jared Ruga: This was fun.
Rachelle Call: Thank you.
Jared Ruga: Don't forget to check us out online at www.inflection.show, that's dot S-H-O-W, where you can learn more about Rachelle Call and hear her songs in full. And if you're experiencing domestic abuse or know someone who is, you can call the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or check out our website for links to additional resources. You are not alone and help is waiting. I'm Jared Ruga.
Kristy Johnson: And I'm Kristy Johnson.
Jared Ruga: And this is "Inflection." Thank you for listening.