WORDS BETH CUTTING - PHOTOGRAPHY JACOB HOPEWELL
Rosie Lowe has been on our radios for over half a decade, since her debut album Control. Her latest mixtape Now, You Know is out now. Rosie describes the mixtape as a ‘curation of me’.
*Disclosure* Beth (interviewer) directed the visuals for one of the songs on the mixtape Paris, Texas, which they discuss later in the article.
Beth Cutting: Hi Rosie... So, tell me where it all began?
Rosie Lowe: Well, I’m always hesitant to go into my childhood because previously my story got warped into some kind of Von Trapp situation. I’m the youngest of 6 siblings and we grew up in Devon, but it wasn’t all rolling through the hills singing. However, my dad being a musician, meant that we did all grow up around music and it became the way we (myself and my siblings) communicated. I learnt to express myself through music more than words, and we all bonded through our shared love for music.
B.C: Do they all love music as well?
R.L: Yeah, we’re all obsessed. We’d compete to see who could find the best songs or artists, we loved such a variety of sounds from The Roots to En Vogue.
B.C: Do any of them work in music now?
R.L: No, (laughs), they’re all much wiser than that, it’s just me who works in it now.
B.C: And when did you start writing music?
R.L: I started writing it at a really young age, I found song writing so interesting. I loved Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King and Joni Mitchell… I never dreamed of being an artist, I didn’t dream of getting a record deal or being famous but it became clear from a young age that there was never anything else for me. It was obvious it was what I was going to do.
I have songs I wrote when I was 12 or 13; I professionally recorded a song when I was 13, I actually got a manager at 14.
B.C: A manager at 14? Wow. And when did you get a record deal?
R.L: I came out of Goldsmiths University, started writing music and got a record deal straight away. The process behind this mixtape actually reminds me of that period, because it’s the first time since then I have been really working on my own, it feels like it’s come full circle.
When I begun writing this mixtape I had just left a big record label [Universal], then lockdown happened and everything shut down so I went into a room on my own and started writing. I began producing some stuff myself, in a space on my own, writing for no other reason. This project has been the first time I’ve been able to go back into that part of myself.
This is the first time I’ve had to see everything through on my own, it’s been a real exercise of my freedom.
B.C: You started writing the mixtape when lockdown 1.0 happened?
R.L: Yes, at the start of lockdown I had just got back from Sierra Leone writing with my friend Duval Timothy. I was due to go to America for some tour dates and suddenly I was out of campaign, I had parted ways with my label, and it felt like the right time. And then I went to Devon, to my little shed that I’ve converted into a studio and began working on some vocals.
Normally the process would begin with a team of people, producers, people I’d love to collaborate with, and we’d start together but this time I got to start on my own; then I could handpick people to collaborate whenever I felt like it was the right time. I had a complete vision of where I wanted it to go.
It was much more of a curation of me.
B.C: Did you feel less pressure beginning the process alone?
R.L: When you release on a major label you have much bigger budgets, big studios, big production budgets, big musicians, but without that I was able to be more imperfect. I was able to give my audience something more undone at the seams, I always wanted to give that to my audience. A glimpse into the process without it being polished.
For me, music is such a deep thing. It’s also second nature to me now, I’m really in tune when something feels uncomfortable. It’s a sacred part of me, I’m not going to fuck with that. I protect it a lot, I protect my process a lot. But there is pressure though, a lot of pressure. And I felt so free being able to leave and write away with no expectations.
I was able to do things ad-hoc, more left-field. I didn’t give a shit if things would be played on the radio. I was just writing, and it’s kind of why I called it a mixtape. It felt more relaxed, with no pressure. With an album there’s higher expectations.
B.C: A bit more raw?
R.L: Yeah more raw, and I’m in more of a raw place. That’s where I’m at. I’m at a place where that’s what I love listening to. And I want to reflect where I’m at. It was done on a much lower budget, and working with people I don’t always get the opportunity to work with, but because we were working remotely we got to do it. I was actually so lucky with the timing.
B.C: So did you physically work side by side with people or was it all really remotely?
R.L: On Paris, Texas I went in with my friend Nathan Adams, and we had some wine and played around with some of the melodies. And I got to work with Andrew Sarlo, this amazing mix engineer in America, and because of lockdown we all got used to working remotely, and overseas. And it worked really well for me; it gives you more space to decide where you want it to go, and to not overthink things, or be persuaded in the moment.
B.C: Do you think you’ll work more remotely in the future now?
R.L: Oh yeh 100%, I’ve learnt a lot about what I need as an artist and producer, half of it is finding confidence to release stuff. Instead of needing a huge team. The response to the undone stuff I’ve created on my own has been so positive that now I can lean into that side of me. And now I’ve started a process I’d like to continue with it.
It’s so easy to be taken away in the moment, in the excitement of things, when you collaborate in person, that this remote process has challenged that.
B.C: As you write music is it cathartic or do you learn about yourself as you write?
R.L: It’s definitely the latter, I never plan what I will write. I go to the studio and have no idea what will come out, I have to go with it, and be as playful as I can. The moment I start thinking about what it is my creativity stops in its tracks. The only way I get anything good, is letting my subconscious do the work, sometimes I won’t have lyrics, but I’ll have the melody for something and I’ll start singing it, then words will come. And I’m like “Oh shit, that’s what’s going on for me” but before beginning the process I hadn’t realised it.
B.C: And what’s the biggest hindrance? Do you have days you can’t write?
R.L: 100% sometimes there are days I just can’t go there. Even after 10 years of doing it professionally, I still get terrified of starting. As soon as I’m in there and doing it it’s the best feeling in the world but some days I’m not confident, and I’m frightened.
You know, there’s seasons where you are prolific, and seasons when I just need inspiration. I can be hard on myself when things aren’t coming, but I just have to remember to hang with my friends and read stuff, take a break, and trust it’s going to come.
You can’t get inspiration from working yourself into the ground. Some people I know write everyday, they continually flex that muscle. And I always wished I’m that person, but I do a lot outside of writing, so I try to be kind to myself. Good stuff comes when I’m not very stressed out.
B.C: Where do you get your inspiration?
R.L: Hanging out with friends, reading, sometimes listening to other music, but I don’t always do that. It’s honestly mainly chatting to friends, its daily life. It’s also my therapy, it’s another way of going inside myself and the further I understand myself the more I can lean into that stuff.
B.C: What inspired the latest mixtape specifically?
R.L: A lot of the mixtape it about responding to lockdown, afterlife is kind of about climate change (the other pandemic going on). Humans had stopped in lockdown, and nature seemed like it was thriving again. Natures going to be fine.
Paris, Texas was inspired by moments when things feel like they are standing still, when we’re almost holding a breath. Even though lockdown was terrible in some ways, there was a lot of peace. I Got You was inspired by not physically being there for people who need it. Freedom I wrote the day after Boris Johnsons first announcement, I woke up and the birds were singing so loudly, and I felt like it was a juxtaposition. So yeh, I think in most ways it was all just inspired by this period of Covid. Time stopping, it was a big out breath.
B.C: Do you have a favourite song?
R.L: Paris, Texas. As soon as I wrote it I couldn’t wait to get it out in the world. Paris, Texas felt like it really encapsulated me, it was so nice to get the visuals for that.
The song initially felt warm, like a summer evening, wanted to create that feeling of time standing still. Like a movie scene, when you’re lost in a movie and almost forget it’s going to end. and I’m obsessed with Wim Wenders and Paris, Texas is my favourite movie, I watched it about 3 times in the first lockdown. So then I got in touch with you & Jody from NoCowboys and asked you to direct. I loved the video you’d done before. And again, having separated from a larger label I was excited about working with a smaller crew, of seeing my vision through with music videos, it’s super important to me, I always pick the directors I want to work with.
I loved your visuals, and I thought it could work in a more home grown way, working more intimately.
B.C: I liked that when we ended up working together, you gave us space to interpret the song by ourselves.
R.L: I’ve always felt like I don’t have specific ideas but I have an idea of a colours or a feeling in my head. And when I go to directors I’ve always picked them, and said “you respond to this”. Because it’s what I love about music, it’s collaborative, you bounce off each other. It’s an extension of music, you extend the collaboration from music to visuals.
B.C: When we worked together we would often go away, work independently then come back together and bring our thoughts and interpretations to the table.
R.L: That’s how I love to work, it’s interesting how you find the right people at the right time. I really do trust in the process. I wouldn’t send a pitch out to 15 directors. The same as I wouldn’t do that with music - I wouldn’t reach out to loads of producers all at once and get them all to interpret it. You get the best out of people when you put some trust in, give them space to do what they do. Then come back and bounce around together. Lockdown gave us space to do that.
Before lockdown it would be like - give us a video in 4 weeks. Whereas now you have more time, you can work on something and develop it so it works for everyone involved.
B.C: What can we expect from you next?
R.L: I’m not gigging much, producing has taken a lot from me, but I want to stay in that zone. I have a collaborative album coming out in a month then I’ll be working on the next album. It’s just nice to be making music more consistently.
B.C: We can't wait.