Interview: A Conversation with Rose Gray
Rose Gray is a hidden gem in the world of music. Prior to her ‘BLUE, LATELY’ EP which was released on Friday 22nd March, she only had a few songs available online, two of which are on the aforementioned EP. ‘blue’ and ‘good life’ showcase her stunning vocals in equal measure, and also display her ability to strike a chord with her listeners, given how personal the content of her music is. The thought-provoking project intertwines experiences of close friends and relatives with her own view on the world, delivered in Rose’s poetic style that allows her to evoke emotion through her lyrics in addition to her powerful singing. Inspired by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill and Dr Dre to name but a few, the variety of her taste in music is evident in her own work, and ‘BLUE, LATELY’ is just the beginning for the young songstress in showing what she is capable of with regards to her diverse sound. With a debut headline gig in her native Walthamstow and a show at Royal Albert Hall supporting Tom Grennan for Teenage Cancer Trust both fast approaching, Rose doesn’t seem to want to take any breaks despite just finishing the tiring process of releasing a project. I had the chance to speak with her about a number of topics including her start in singing, thoughts on Childish Gambino, the meaning behind the songs on her EP, mental health and more:
What was it like for you growing up in Walthamstow?
Honestly, I love Walthamstow. I grew up in an area quite close by called Highams Park, but no one ever knows what Highams park is (laughs), but yeah I’ve proper seen it change, but I love it and feel very connected to it.
Are your parents also from there?
Yeah my mum is a Chingford girl, from north east London, but I grew up really close to Walthamstow.
Yeah I can definitely tell from the accent… so your parents are working actors, would you say that’s where your creative side comes from?
Yeah I think I grew up in a house where, I just thought it was normal, but yeah they were really creative. They didn’t push me to do anything within the arts, but I was always around it, so I just thought it was normal to make art of some kind.
So you were experimenting with different types of art growing up?
Yeah! Yeah, I just think I was that kid – it’s funny because I’ve got two other siblings and they’re not really artistically inclined, but I think I might have just had it in my blood maybe (laughs). But I always just loved singing and was always drawn to singing.
What was it about singing? Did you know you were good from a young age?
(Laughs), I don’t think many children are that good when they’re mad young but my step dad, my pops, he can really sing and he used to sort of like… not give me lessons, but we’d put a song on and he’d be like “try this little riff”, and I’d try and sing like the artist.
Going on to your earlier stuff, you did a really beautiful cover of ‘Redbone’ – that’s a big song to choose, given that it’s Childish Gambino, but you really did it justice – what made you want to choose that song?
I first heard it in the film ‘Get Out’, and I was like “whoa”. It’s the first song that plays in the film, and I just think it’s such a sick song, it’s beautifully made and the writing is so clever. He’s a poet, Childish Gambino.
He’s just a genius on every front, I just can’t believe someone could be that talented
He’s an actor as well, and a writer-
Have you seen Atlanta by any chance?
I spent a bit of time in Atlanta actually, and I was trying to get into it when I was out there, but I didn’t really have the time to watch it when I was out there, but I feel like I should watch it, have you seen it?
Yeah, I don’t really watch many shows, but Atlanta is something I’d recommend to everyone… it’s ridiculous how clever he is, and how many messages he has in the show. It’s funny also, so I’d definitely recommend it.
Yeah, I think he’s great
Speaking of Childish Gambino, he’s very well known for ‘This Is America’, which is a very political song – would you ever put political messages in your own music?
Yeah definitely, I’ve already written a few songs that are political, but they just haven’t come out yet. Yeah, I’m not afraid to be political, or… I don’t put any limits on myself on what I’d sing about or write about.
What kind of things would you speak about, or want to speak about?
So on my EP, I talk a lot about social media, egos – I think at the moment it’s not on the top of my list to delve into things politically, but I would think about stuff like that
I did realise on ‘Good Life’, you were talking about self image… I guess it didn’t click to me on there you were talking about social media
Yeah I had a line, “in this age of the socials, egos flying around, you need a bulletproof vest, out here now”
That’s a sick line
So yeah going on to the EP, it’s quite melancholic… in terms of emotion used in your music, would you say that pain is one of the biggest ones or your primary muse?
Yeah I mean, I’m definitely a very emotional person, I use my writing and my music to express, and get things off my chest. Not necessarily… but yeah, I guess pain…
Why do you feel pain is the main emotion?
I think the EP is representative of one period of my life, and I don’t know if I necessarily feel like that right now. It just felt really right for that to come out in that body of work. And it felt like a moment – right now, the music I’m making is not as sad, I’m in a different phase of my life. Not as sad (laughs)
(Laughs) it’s good when an artist puts out music, and it’s completely authentic in what their emotional state is at that time, it doesn’t sound contrived.
I’m really honest about what I’m saying
Do you find that difficult? Do you make a personal song, and find it difficult to put out because you feel other people are going to listen to very personal things about you?
Yeah, it is quite difficult and also I think when you’re writing music, you can be in the studio and you’re writing a song about something that happened a couple of months ago, that you’re trying to get over, and it brings it all back up. And you have to – I find that when I’m in full studio mode, I can be quite strange (laughs)
You get really into your head… I think for me, that’s definitely my process in how I write at my best, I need to go to that place
I think like a lot of artists today- even Michael B Jordan from Black Panther, I saw an interview with him recently, he was feeling quite low after Black Panther, just because the character he had to get into, was quite a dark character so… I guess it’s like a sacrifice for artists to have to do that…
Yeah! And also, I write a lot about my friends and what you were saying before, I have to have conversations with friends to make sure it’s ok to bring my music out as some of it is quite close to home
If you write something about your friends, what’s their reaction? Like even when you have that conversation with them about putting something out about them, how does that go?
One of my friends, I sent an early demo, and said “I wrote this about you, it’s ok if you don’t want me to put this out because I know it’s so personal”, but they loved it… but my friends are like my biggest fans. I send them all my demos after sessions and they love it. Sometimes they don’t, they’re very honest (laughs), I’ve got like my five people that I send stuff to that are very honest.
Yeah I think honesty is so key, when you got friends around you-
Especially when you’re in the studio, what can happen is you can get really hyped over a song, and come away and it’s not as good as you thought (laughs)
Going back to the EP, ‘bad habits’, has beautiful high notes, and I really like the use of metaphors in the song – why do you feel we indulge in bad habits when in love?
The whole song for me is escapism, and when you’re unhappy or someone’s not treating you right, the first thing you do is escape. Bad habits for me are just all those little things you take on when you’re unhappy. I feel most people have been through that, and it’s mad how the first few things that you do is party and drink and… numb yourself completely from what’s actually happening. I feel it’s like where most people go when they’re broken, and I wanted to capture that in the song. Even my voice, I let it break and stuff, like I didn’t want it to be pretty.
That’s interesting that was intentional to fit the mood of that song – if you were in the same situation again, how would you react?
Probably the same (laughs)
(Laughs) I mean if it works, it works
Yeah I mean, I don’t know, it’s hard… now I’m out of it, it’s interesting, you see friends go through it, and do the same thing, partying etc.
Going on to ‘blue’, – I had a random question looking at the video, the song is in lower case, but on YouTube, the title is in capital letters, what made you want to do that?
I’ve decided that I want the EP title to be in capitals, and I don’t know I’ve just got a little thing, I normally write in lower case or capitals. Like, I don’t do any capital letters in my normal sentences
I don’t know if there was any mad intention behind that (laughs)
(Laughs) fair enough… so tell me about ‘blue’
‘blue’ is about one of my best mates, I grew up with them, and literally went through everything together, like had our first drink together, kissed our first boy together, like everything. He sort of, really inspired me to…. I created a little poem on my phone, and yeah, the song formed from there. And yeah it’s about someone really close to me…
Have you shared this with him?
Yeah, of course, I had to check with him before bringing this out, I sent him a really early demo
How’s he doing at the moment?
Yeah, he’s getting better, bless him
Yeah, you had a line on there saying “your mother always cries on a Sunday morning”, and that’s such a personal line
I know yeah, it’s such a sad line – I’ve been in rehearsals recently, and when I sing that song, it makes me feel so sad. I thought I’d be over it by now, but it makes me feel really emotional every time I hear it.
It must be super tough, and I think it’s good now that a lot of artists are speaking on mental health in their music
It’s mad though, I still feel there’s such a stigma… I love how art is now singing about it, but it just needs to push out in other mediums, not just music
What do you think needs to happen for it to completely change people’s perception, especially the older generation?
I don’t know if we can change the older generation, I think as young people, we need to all learn ways on how to go into ourselves, rather than out of ourselves. I’m trying to be quite spiritual, and I think that the only answer you can really get is to go into yourself and find happiness because otherwise, you’ll always just be looking for happiness. I think if you’re quite a determined person, you’re always going to be searching for it, and that’s dangerous. We always want more, and more, and more, so we can’t really depend on the older generation, we need to depend on ourselves.
So when you say searching, do you mean for success, or material things..?
With yourself, I assume you’re very ambitious with your craft, and achieving certain goals, what helps you gain perspective and grounding?
I just think, my family and friends, and trusting in your journey. It’s mad easy to compare yourself to people, but you just need to understand that it’s your journey. And also, as a songwriter/musician – I genuinely love the music I make now, and I’m proud of it, and if you have that, then it puts you… yeah, if you love what you’re doing then things will fall into place nicely.
Going back to ‘Good Life’, in the video, you’ve got loads of different shots, are those all family and friends?
Yeah, all family and friends, bless them.
You’ve touched on it briefly, what exactly is that song about?
I tried to write a song about, when someone has an inner beauty, that you can’t really explain. Like with some of my friends, no matter what happens in their life, and some really shit things have happened to them, they’ll manage to have this.. I can’t even explain it, it’s kind of like this fight. And going back to it, that’s what it’s about in a sentence.
So essentially, resilience?
Yeah, but like… I hate this phrase, but ‘living your best life’ (laughs)
(Laughs) I think it’s a great phase
I think it’s a great phase, I just think it’s overused (laughs)
Have you heard that song, ‘Best Life’ by Hardy Caprio and One Acen?
Yeah! “Living my best life” (sings) it’s a phrase and a half, I notice I see it a lot in hashtags (laughs)
Are you quite big on social media?
Yeah, I really enjoy it, I like expressing myself on there… I’m like wary of it, but I love it and hate it at the same time.
I think that’s most people’s relationship with social media
I think that’s everyone! It’s a very strange relationship that we have…
It’s a great tool, but can be addictive
I feel like everyone is going through it… I feel like in ten years there might be a limit, like twenty minutes a day… like a law
Yeah, but I feel with stuff like that, it just makes people want to do it more
(Laughs), I know it becomes like a drug
So generally, when I listen to your music, it feels quite abstract – do you want your listeners to have their own interpretation of what you’re talking about?
Oh yeah, definitely, I think that’s the beauty of bringing music out, it’s like, once you bring it out, it’s open to interpretation. It’s not just my little story, or my little bubble, it can be whatever you want it to be.
You’ve got a song called ‘Good Life’, but what’s a ‘Good Life’ for you?
Ahhh, I’ve been asked that question so many times! (Laughs)
Ah seriously?! I thought I was being original with that (laughs)
I think a Good Life is being happy… and content… contentment.
That’s a good answer… but Rose it’s been a pleasure
Follow Rose Gray @rosegray_ to hear more.