INTERVIEW

The promising 25-year-old songwriter talks about therapy, her own honesty and loosening her grip on ‘Control’.

rosie-lowe-for-web-1

Rosie Lowe orders a mint tea, slowly leans back and begins to talk. Her openness is immediate. “Ask her anything,” her PR had said and within seconds it certainly feels like I could. So after niceties about the jazz playing softly from the speaker above, we move on to her regular therapy, with Rosie’s bright smile inviting the abrupt change in tone. “Oh well, we can talk about that… I need it to deal with the music industry!” she says. “I’d say that music helps me to understand how I am feeling and therapy helps me understand me. A lot of it is linked to music – this industry is a struggle but my sessions have helped me find peace with it.”

Therapy seems to be doing the trick, and on the surface, at least, Lowe seems relaxed and ready for anything. With her debut album, ‘Control’, due for release in 2016, the artist and the woman in front of me is heading for a great release in both real and metaphysical terms. “It’s probably the same stuff on my record that I talk about in my therapy,” she says.

“It’s been amazing as it’s been such an incredible tool for keeping tabs on myself, in dealing with all those voices that are so negative, especially when you are putting yourself in such a vulnerable position through music, so it releases a lot of stuff for me.”

The 25-year old’s debut album is a remarkable synth-soul confession that’s instrumentally sparse yet thick with rich lyrical content. Like Rosie, the album glows with warmth and like Rosie it feels bold and outspoken. She’s called it ‘Control’ for a reason. “Basically, 80% of the songs have control in the lyrics, it wasn’t thought about at all,” she says. “It must be something that I am dealing with a lot and I am still dealing with. Not trying to control everything is a struggle for me, it’s all based on fear and the only time when I have no control is when I am writing music.”

rosie-lowe-for-web-2

I ask her what that feels like.

“Well I totally forget,” she says. “I go into a complete daze and I never remember after. The whole feeling around being controlling and letting go and trying to adhere to this idea of perfection, which of course doesn’t exist, has been a huge theme to the writing process of the last two years, so that had to be the name for the album. I wrote the song ‘Control’ towards the end of the process. I was in Devon and I had a big debate with my Dad about how controlling he was, not with me but with himself – he wanted to control stuff after he dies and put everything in place. I told him to have some faith in your kids, let’s not talk about you dying! We had this heated debate and I wrote the song from the hours of 4am till 7am and watched the sun rise. The next day when I listened to it I remember the feeling very well.”

Such an atmospherically dense album could only have been written by escaping to the country, right? Rosie laughs before explaining: “That’s why I go back to Devon to write – I feel like I need that space. That mental space to actually get right in and think what’s going on here, without all that noise going on physically and mentally. When I am in solitude, that’s when I know I can really set my mind to something and can think properly.”

rowie-lowe-for-web-3

Now, this house in Devon isn’t your normal two up, two down – when Rosie mentions solitude, it really is just that.
“Yes. Dad still lives in the house that we grew up in and that he built. It’s honestly going back to the opposite of my life in London, which is really nice. It’s got electricity now, finally. It didn’t have when we were really young. There is still no heating though, so you have to light a fire, or any hot water, you light the fire for that too. Even with the washing up, you need to boil up some water. It’s like camping but it’s actually really annoying. I’m like: ‘Dad can you just get it sorted? Come on.’ He loves it but I don’t know what he is going to do when he is 80.

“I do think that if you have lived in the city all of your life and you have never had to make heat yourself you do take that switch for granted. I still think it’s bonkers; it’s like the best invention ever. I have heating on all the time!”

Rosie jokes that it’s getting a little like therapy now, talking about her parents, but her family’s influence and sense of roots is an obvious through-line on ‘Control’. “Definitely!” she gesticulates wildly. “There was a lot of jazz in the house – I became very obsessed with it at a very young age. I used to sit in my dad’s car and break down Ella Fitzgerald tracks for hours and hours. My mum also had a massive influence on me too: Dad was jazz and world music and Mum was very much soul and RnB, so she used to dance round the kitchen to Sade and Annie Lennox and Erykah Badu, who has been a huge influence on me throughout my career and still is.

“My dad was in a jazz band and my sister was singing,” she continues. “One day I stood in for her as she had tonsillitis and then that was that. I have less confidence now, though. I was young and it didn’t bother me; I knew jazz songs very well by that point – it must have been mad thinking about it! That’s how it started and I did it every weekend. When I was at Goldsmiths [College, London] I used to drive back to Devon every single weekend to do these gigs. It’s how I afforded to live as it was quite well paid by that point and it was just crazy. Now I think about it, it was actually mental how far I would drive. I remember one time from Devon back to London, 9 hours it took me! It was really good to train in the art of performing and everything that comes with it, the good and the bad. It was helpful for my work ethic and musical grounding.”

rosie-lowe-for-web-4

It was that very grounding and musical capability that drew Rosie to the Invisible’s Dave Okumu. After working with such singers as Jesse Ware and Anna Calvi, Okumu clearly combines well with strong-minded female artists and on that level Rosie is a perfect fit.

“Well, I am very funny about who I write with,” she says. “I really love collaborating but there are a few people who bring that same stuff out of me. I think 80% of the album I wrote on my own, and while I am writing I am recording onto Logic and trying to capture that feeling and that goes for all the raw elements – the piano sound, the drum feel – I just think that’s all as one and it’s trying to capture an emotion and then I take it as far as I can and then give it to Dave. He takes the stems and there is kind of an unspoken understanding with him. I don’t give him notes as to what I want; he just gets where I am going and it gives me the opportunity to stand back. I’m so sensitive and it’s really rare to find that sensitivity, he never overcrowds a song and he really considers the narrative; he picks up on the feeling and supports that. There are a lot of producers who fucking shove on 25 drum tracks – that’s not for me. It’s a really vulnerable situation to give someone a second baby, and a really raw one at that, so it’s just been amazing working with him; he gives my songs a home.”

Although passionate throughout our hour together, Rosie does draw back a little when comparisons are mentioned. I drop in the aforementioned Ware, who Rosie clearly shares her intimate RnB sound with, but also James Blake, an artist whose work is defined by the space allowed within it.

“It’s a generation thing isn’t it, comparing singers. I actually love the James Blake comparison because I can hear that, I can hear the space in the music, but I can also understand the Jesse Ware one, although it’s quite an easy one to make as Dave worked with us both – I can easily hear those influences and I love her music. I guess the thing I find really hard is when Rosie is the next Banks or whatever. I didn’t hear Banks’ music and think oh I am going to do that tomorrow; this has been evolving for years. There is a lot of music coming out right now that has a similar sound, we’re not copying each other, it’s because we have grown up with the same influences, like ’90s RnB, M-People, Lighthouse Family, that would have all been fed into our lives from a very young age and so we’re all playing on those things. There is always going to be comparisons, the thing that annoys me is when I am not compared musically. I am compared because I am a girl and I have long brown hair, and that’s lazy journalism. It’s a different world.”

rosie-lowe-for-web-5

Would lazy journalism also be calling her a feminist? Her music is certainly empowering and feminine tropes fill track after track (just check out her new single ‘Woman’, which plainly speaks of cosmetic pressures put upon women today – “I have analysed every single inch of my skin / And comparisons I can’t seem to break in my daily routine”) but as Rosie tells me, she is simply giving herself over to the music, isn’t she?

“I never wanted to make it a female-only album just an honest one,” she says. “I don’t want to alienate half my audience. I am a total advocate for female rights, any rights! It’s become a very loaded term right now but that’s fine as I am going to keep on calling myself a feminist, it’s quite simple really. I would feel quite concerned bringing a daughter into the world – maybe I would move to Devon and not show them any media. The expectations they put on you… it’s OK now because I have an amazing team around me but I see it happening to a lot of my incredible friends – they value their worth on how they look and not their intelligence. It’s such a controlled thing; I’m just so surprised this image of the perfect woman hasn’t changed for so many years. Surely we are due a shift, surely we are due a change? It’s still some kind of unrealistic shape, height and yeah I am tall and thin but I still find it tough. It’s tough out here!”

We find ourselves back at that word control again, something we both seem to acknowledge at once. Rosie smiles before revealing her parting shot.

“I am so excited about relinquishing control and giving it to other people,” she says. “I don’t want the album to sit on my computer anymore. I’m not up for controlling this music anymore; we’ve been doing writing sessions the last few weekends so I am reconnecting, it reminds me of why I am doing it, but this is my debut album. This is really key for me – I am a career artist, I am not interested in just getting music out there as quickly as possible and getting some PRS money to buy a house in Devon. I want to be doing this forever.”

dot