NASHVILLE, TN—A vocally gifted Sibley native is on the rise in the music capital of the United States with original melodies evoking her Midwest upbringing and the natural beauty to be found in the region.
Rochelle Riser is a Nashville-based, 29-year-old singer and songwriter who recently recorded and released a single titled “Superior.” In the song, she reminisces about her trips to Lake Superior through the years and the awe the massive body of water inspires in her.
“I feel like when we’re up there, it makes everybody feel really relaxed and at ease and like the other little stuff of life doesn’t matter as much,” said Riser, a 2010 graduate of Sibley-Ocheyedan High School in Sibley who later attended Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
She has lived in the Tennessee metropolis since graduating with her bachelor’s degree in music in 2014. Riser released a four-song extended play titled “What Was on My Mind” in 2017 and has since continued composing and performing her own tunes.
She was born Rochelle Feldkamp to parents Paul and Lisa Feldkamp and married her husband, Harold Elie, earlier this summer.
However, she adopted the surname Riser as her stage name to avoid announcers mispronouncing Feldkamp — something that used to happen when she’d be about to perform live. Riser was the maiden name of her great-grandmother, which is how she chose it for her professional moniker.
She penned “Superior” in early 2019 and played it live at shows during a three-week tour she went on in the Midwest and Colorado. It wasn’t until last year that she recorded the song, which she also coproduced with her husband, Harold Elie, and had mixed by Justin Ryan Francis.
“Because of COVID, where I normally would have gone into the studio, the entire recording process was remote,” Riser said of recording the single.
During the four-minute acoustic song, Riser reflects on how she’s only visited the West Coast of the country a few times and has never been to places such as Portland, OR, or California cities such as Palm Springs or Santa Barbara.
She responds to that observation by then singing, “The only port I know well is a Minnesota harbor, and for me, it still takes my breath away.”
Her family farmed near Sibley her whole life, so vacations for her and her younger siblings weren’t always frequent or extravagant. Instead, the family would take camping trips at various state parks in Minnesota around Father’s Day.
She said her parents didn’t originally think their kids would enjoy spending time near the lake, but the opposite wound up being true.
“We ended up loving it and asking my parents if we could go back and saying, ‘Why don’t we take trips here?’” she said.
They typically would visit Minnesota cities along the North Shore of Superior, such as Duluth and Grand Marais. The latter community is also where Riser and her husband tied the knot in a small wedding ceremony.
“It’s only like 1,300 people or something, but it’s really cute and there are a lot of fun little things to do there,” Riser said.
Another memory she references about halfway through “Superior” is of a 60-mile hiking trip she and Elie took about five years ago.
“‘Walking for miles along the North Shore with everything I needed on my back’ is directly alluding to that,” Riser said of the lyrics.
As far as the song’s genre, Riser said it broadly fits into the category of folk Americana, though a more narrow description she gave to the kind of music she makes is “prairie wanderlust Americana.”
“The prairie is where I grew up, and so I really like to infuse an openness and sense of exploration and adventure into my music,” she said.
After Riser graduated college, she worked first at an elementary school and later as a nanny. However, since jobs often conflicted with her touring schedule, she started delivering groceries for people through the mobile app, Shipt.
“During the pandemic, because no touring was allowed, no shows were allowed, I pretty much had to fully depend on that for my income,” Riser said.
Despite the lockdown due to the pandemic, Riser’s vocals have been able to reach people around the world thanks to her recording of the song, “Out in the Open.” The song was included on the soundtrack to the movie, “Bigfoot Family,” which was released at a film festival last year before hitting Netflix in February.
The song’s composer — a Belgian band called Puggy — found Riser online, where she listed herself as a demo singer. The group needed an American vocalist for the recording and thought Riser’s voice fit perfectly.
She recorded the tune from her Nashville home and sent the audio to the group remotely. The band said the song was for a movie, but Riser hadn’t realized at the time it would eventually be released on a worldwide streaming platform.
“I’ll get messages from people from like Nigeria or Singapore and Russia, saying, ‘We love your song,’” she said.
“It’s really cool to be able to get that feedback all over the world because I feel like without this movie, I wouldn’t have had a chance to do that or it would have taken much longer.”
As the pandemic subsided this year, she’s been able to play more live shows — including a ticketed one in late July. She’s also participated in several, smaller concerts in Nashville called “Writers’ Rounds.” In those performances, three or four songwriters sit together on stage and take turns playing original songs.
“This is something that’s very unique to Nashville, although other cities have picked it up as well,” she said. “If people visit Nashville, they should make sure to check out a Writers’ Round some time because it’s a very unique experience.”
She plans to play more live shows in the fall — including some closer to her N’West Iowa home — though she didn’t yet have exact dates nailed down. Fans can also expect more new music from Riser, as she plans to enter the recording studio again this year.
“I am still in creation mode after releasing this, thinking about what I want to release next.”