Lucy Rose - When she jams, the results are definitely worth keeping
Lucy Rose sells preserves and tea at her gigs. But the lauded singer-songwriter is also bottling music, for her debut album, she tells Alexia Loundras
Friday 27 January 2012
Lucy Rose makes a cracking cup of tea: strong yet delicately flavoured and just milky enough. "I would be upset if I couldn't make a good cuppa," says the singer-songwriter, perched on a pew at the kitchen table of her childhood home. "My method at the moment is water, tea-bag for a while then milk before the bag is taken out. Then you can judge strength."
Within the realm of her fast-accumulating fanbase, Rose's knack for tea-making is already acclaimed. In lieu of other, more conventional merchandising fare like CDs or T-shirts, she has been selling her own tea blend – Builder Grey (two parts English breakfast tea, one part Earl Grey) – at her gigs alongside jars of her own-recipe rhubarb-and-ginger preserve.
"We had nothing to sell," she explains, a wry twinkle in her eye, "so I thought we could make something 'out there', like jam."
The charmingly confident singer had been due to make another batch of jam today, but, instead, she's applying her creative, DIY talents somewhere more pressing. January's new dawn has brought with it an urgency to finally record her debut album. And for the still-unsigned 22 year-old, this has meant she and her band driving up from their London flats to the genteel Warwickshire village Rose grew up in so they can record, on the cheap.
A sound desk has been set up on a wallpaper table in the hall of her idyllic family home, and although the nuclear bunker in the basement (built by a paranoid former owner) will host most of the actual recording, the rest of Rose's band are currently laying-down drum tracks in the village hall, hired for just £10 per hour. They will have to clear out before the History Club reconvenes in the morning.
"Everything is in place," smiles Rose, "all that's missing now, is an incredible record." Certainly the signs are that Rose is well capable of making one. Her beguiling, evocative songs are striking in both their quality and maturity, earning her inevitable comparisons to Laura Marling. And, while it's true that both are remarkably self-assured, guitar-wielding, young women of an acoustic persuasion, Rose is more pop than folk. Feist perhaps, to Marling's Joni Mitchell.
The flurry of excitement building around Rose's Neil Young-inspired music has come without the aid of a record label and its marketing machine. Instead, a proliferation of assured online sessions (a handful now with several hundred thousand views each) and the appearance of her cracked, wistful vocals on Flaws, a 2010 collaboration with indie stalwarts Bombay Bicycle Club, have left many early discoverers eager for more.
Now that word-of-mouth appreciation has begun entering the mainstream. Radio 1 seems particularly smitten, with Rose being championed by specialist DJs including Zane Lowe and Rob da Bank, and receiving daytime plays from Huw Stephens and Fearne Cotton. Perhaps that's how a strip-club in Stratford-on-Avon has also come to appreciate her music.
"A friend of a friend works there and rang to say people were stripping to [the jaunty ex-lover's riposte] "Middle of the Bed," says Rose, bemused. "I thought, how does that work?" She is, though, clearly pleased with the reaction her music has been eliciting. "It has been kind of incredible. I wasn't even the musical one in the family."
The youngest of three sisters, Rose's first attempt at songwriting, age 14, was an ode to her sick dog, written on the piano. But it was unintentionally thwarted by her older sister – piano grade eight – when she suggested that Rose's song would need a key change. "Key change?" she spits. "That was way too complicated! I thought I'd never write a song if it needs a key change!"
A year later, she bought herself a £50 guitar, and tried again, teaching herself in her bedroom. Tellingly, the guitar was an instrument her sisters couldn't play. "Once I'd learnt the guitar, it felt like I had freedom," she says. "I was doing my own thing."
Doing her own thing is key to Lucy Rose. From recording her own album to cutting her own hair, if something needs doing, she wants to do it herself, her way. "I just know what I don't want," she says a little shyly. "I'm too stubborn. I feel like I've come too far to ever compromise what this is for me."
Rose has a lot invested in her music, both financially – she has proudly self-funded the whole thing so far – and emotionally. After school she hot-footed it to London. But instead of taking her place at UCL, Rose embarked on an education of a different kind. Having never played a gig or even heard much music beyond Radio 1's playlist, the 18-year-old hauled herself across the capital playing open-mic nights and meeting musicians.
Consumed with the spirit of discovery, she played shows, booked other bands for a Camden venue which is now a squat, and listened to records. She also went out an awful lot. "It was an insane year," she says. She smiles, but she's reluctant to say too much ("My mother will read this!", she says, cross with herself for revealing anything at all). But it was, she will admit, a time of random acquaintances and lost nights. Of abandoning herself to whims and vices: parties and gambling.
It's hard to imagine Rose, now so completely self-possessed, ever letting go like that.
"I'm either fully in control or totally completely insanely out of control," she explains in hushed tones, lest her mother, in the next room, hears her. "And this was out of control. But I just felt this freedom. I was making friends with anyone and everyone or driving to casinos alone at one in the morning to play roulette. It was compulsive. But I'm over it now, parents!" she laughs.
Rose eventually had an epiphany when, feeling lonely and unfulfilled, she read a blogger's unfavourable review of one of her shows.
"I read it thinking, 'I can't remember anything about that gig at all, the whole thing is a blur,'" she says. She realised then that if she wanted to get anywhere with music, she'd need to work hard at it. "I couldn't just do the odd gig and party and write a song and think that was enough."
Drifting away from her party crowd, Rose focused anew on her music and it consumed her. Now, she speaks with the all the zeal of the rehabilitated.
"I don't even drink coffee because that also sends me insane," she says. But her experiences from that lost year – which had all been bottled up and preserved – certainly weren't wasted. They have been poured into her expressive songs. Love, loneliness, anger and loss, it's all there in spades.
"I'm the least emotional person you'll ever meet," she says. "So it really surprises me how it all comes out in my songwriting. It's my release."
While the elfin singer still can't entirely resist the illicit tug of Lady Luck (she sheepishly admits to recently buying three scratch-cards at a garage), she insists that her vices are few these days. Instead, fuelled by nothing more than home-made biscuits and some mugs of tea, her sights are firmly set on the job at hand.
"I want to make this album more than anything else," she grins. "Now, I'm addicted to work."
The song "Red Face" is available now on iTunes. Lucy Rose plays The Barfly, London, on 31 January and the Jazz Cafe, London, on 4 February
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