Last time we spoke with Lucy Rose, she was about to set sail on the good ship Thekla. Now, on the verge of releasing her sophomore album, Work It Out, Online Music Editor, Tristan Gatward, speaks with the Warwickshire songwriter about suits, recording and the gender imbalance in music.
“I think my emotions are on the table again, just this time with a bit of balls.”
Lucy Rose released her debut album Like I Used To in September 2012, having signed to Columbia Records a few months earlier. Three years since and she’s a weathered musician, Bombay Bicycle Club’s secret weapon, and alumna of Ronnie Scott’s and world tours. “I don’t remember a particular person or band or artist that I listened to who made me think I wanted to do this. I just remember growing up and playing in orchestras and with groups of friends and loving it. The enjoyment really came from feeling like I was good at something. Then I felt like I should write songs, so the more I played the more I wrote, and it was a gradual progression from there.” Almost beaming, “I’m so happy to be here!”
Not shying away from experimentation, she jokes her second album, due for release on 7 July this year is just a “series of little diary entries”. In the returning climate of concept albums, Rose is instead varying between songs: “some are definitely about loss, they’re quite serious. I’ve just written about things I’ve gone through in the last few years. But then as well as loss there’s love and exploring new things in my life.” She says, as if determined to appear cheerful, that touring the new songs won’t be as difficult for her, where her unflinching introspection may have been naïve when it came to live performances. “I found the first album really vulnerable to play live. Not just ‘Shiver’, but ‘Gamble’ and ‘Don’t You Worry’, there are a few that were just…” She pauses for a second, “and ‘Shiver’ is still hard to play at times if people are talking.”
Songs like ‘Shiver’, which donated its lyrics to the title of her first album, has become one of her best known songs, seeping in fragility. A performance on the Crypt Sessions seemed to physically display her curling up against a haunting falsetto and suitably minimalistic yet bluesy slide guitar. These aspects of performance always hinted a punchier result might be lying beneath, and here we have it. “I guess I wanted to have more songs that are just fun and wouldn’t take me always to that same place that a lot of those songs on my first record took me, which is usually some sort of guilt ridden feeling of not being good enough. So, no, it’s good. I’m not feeling as vulnerable on stage with these new songs. I can show a more confident side of me that perhaps hasn’t come out before.”
The lead single for Work It Out, ‘Our Eyes’, was dropped in March this year. The accompanying music video sees Rose in a suit made from bones and frankfurters, appeasing two Alsatians who seem naturally curious. “We had some really good costume designers, there were a few girls I met who did them, one of whom had just quit making music videos for women, in protest of all the reasons I wanted to make the music video stand against. She said she was just making sexy leather outfits for women to wear in music videos so that they could look desirable.” In later shots, Rose can be seen appeasing two Shetland ponies with a grass suit, and a flock of seagulls (not the 80s synthpop band) with a chip costume, like she were Björk ending a country walk with a pub lunch.
“There have been certain things defined in the trade which I’m just fed up about; things that aren’t realistic and things that definitely aren’t creative.” Mentioning again the scantily clad tendencies of selling oneself in a music video as a woman, “no one could wear these things in real life – not that anyone could wear the outfits I wore in real life either – but at least they were fun and wacky. I wanted to do something that showed I didn’t take myself too seriously. I don’t particularly care about the imagery of what I look like, whether I look cool, whether people think I look pretty, or any of those things that people plug in your head as being important. They shouldn’t be important. I’d much rather it was fun and I made people smile, and interested in the music without any of the image having to be associated with it.” I ask what kind of thing would be on a Lucy Rose suit: “Oh, marshmallows. I love marshmallows more than anything.”
“Rose can be seen appeasing two Shetland ponies with a grass suit, and a flock of seagulls with a chip costume, like she were Björk ending a country walk with a pub lunch.”
The second single from the album will share its release date with the record, though the music video has already graced screens, showing a one shot Birdman sequence of Rose skipping through a landscape then pencilling off a cliff into a lagoon. “It’s filmed about an hour and a half from Barcelona, but they only found that waterfall the day before we started shooting. There was a fair amount of miscommunication about what we wanted to do, and when I met the director I was adamant that I wanted it to be one take, because I wanted that look in my face of, ‘this is happening’, you know? At the end of this three minute roll, I will be jumping off a 10 metre cliff. I didn’t want it to be cut together, film half of it here and jump off a cliff somewhere else. So the director found that location, and only at 5pm the night before we started filming.”
We are etching back onto the sound of the new record, with neither of the two singles remotely echoing the folkier version of herself of a few years ago. “Yeah, the definitely wasn’t conscious. Folk isn’t something I am trying to get away from, I do still love folk music, and listen to it a lot. I guess it was just me wanting to do something different. I mean, it would be boring if I just wrote the same kind of songs again and again, not just for you guys but for me personally. I just wanted to see what I’m capable of, and see what came out when I sat down at a piano, maybe pushing myself to go for a melody or a chord I might not have before. It’s not very shy, I think my emotions are on the table again, just this time with a bit of balls.”
I ask how much of this change is to do with Rich Cooper, who produced the album, and is famed for his work with artists like Banks, Mystery Jets and Josef Salvat. She sighs with pleasure, “aahh he brought so much to the record, he’s one of the best people I’ve worked with. He got me, and what I was trying to do, but pushed it. He always said “I know you’re trying to be brave, but let’s take it a step further than you could imagine”, and it never made me feel uncomfortable, I only ever thought how awesome it was. It was mostly only us two in the studio: he played drums and I’d play everything else. So it was very isolated between the two of us, and all was very quick; you’d finish a song in a day and then go back and change it. That was one thing we weren’t afraid of, going back and scrapping lots of stuff we’d done and starting again.”
There’s a busy summer ahead for Lucy Rose, having played two festivals already, with six in the pipeline. “Sometimes pressure’s off with festival audiences, they’re more accepting, but sometime’s it’s the complete opposite. There’ll be a crowd that haven’t heard me before so I have to make a good first impression, and try to capture and keep them there for the set. We’re just going round this summer to see what happens, we don’t want to over think anything! What will be will be.”
The final festival on her circuit is Reading + Leeds, which has been called out for its lack of female artists. I ask her opinion on the gender imbalance: “There definitely needs to be more of an effort made to bring female artists in. It would be nice if some of these festivals were a bit more equal. I mean if it’s a case of there not being great female musicians out there, then you’ve got to ask why. But there are so many great female artists out there. It still seems like there are more men than women in music. The big problem that I’ve found is that a lot of the time is because I’m a female who plays the guitar I’ve been pigeonholed into doing the same thing and playing the same music, and that’s not the case. You wouldn’t do the same with a guy playing an electric guitar and singing. You wouldn’t assume they’re all doing the same thing. Whereas there’s an assumption with women in music that we’ll all be singing the same songs in the same style, which is just not true.”
“More labels should be taking risks on girls, that would be really exciting. They should be signing more girls and developing them, I know they do this with guys but it doesn’t happen as much the other way round. I think the music industry as a whole is too safe. No one’s taking risks and signing people early, they’ll see someone and wait several years to see what they do, meaning that a lot of the time for the artist it becomes financially impossible. So you end up with this group of the elite privilege, those who can afford the expectations of putting in work without a reward, and never knowing if there will be a reward. I know for many people’s lifestyles, that’s just not feasible. Addressing it can be as simple as signing kids from many different backgrounds. It’s one dimensional at the moment. It would be nice for some kids to come up and play music that other kids can relate to, that makes them feel like that gap between them and music is lessened. The trouble is everyone’s reluctant to chuck money into something without it being a dead cert.”
“I feel like I played somewhere called the Lemon something.”
Changing topics somewhat to her November gig at Exeter’s Phoenix, she mentions her two sisters had both gone to the University of Bristol, making her no stranger to the South West and its customs. “We’ve always had amazing gigs in Bristol, it’s one of my favourite places to go to. The Thekla gig was really cool, I’m not sure if you went? Bristol crowds always seem really up for it. There was someone near the front last time, really off his face. There were all these noises in between songs and I was getting so confused, and then a voice came from below me somewhere slurring “Sorry… I’m really drunk.” She laughs, “he just had that moment of realisation at just how drunk he was”.
I explain Exeter’s perhaps unfairly conservative reputation. “Well we had a really great show in Cardiff last time that was really unexpected. You always get this, sometimes you play places you think will be buzzing and are dead, and sometimes you expect nothing of a gig an it’ll be great. But I’ve definitely done Exeter before and it was good fun… I feel like I played somewhere called the Lemon something.”
This time, Lucy Rose plays Exeter’s Phoenix on 2 November, tickets can be found here.
Tristan Gatward, Online Music Editor