ITS video, once watched, really gets into the head!
It was only right I spoke with Rookes about the new single, The Heel of My Hand, and that awesome video. She chats about her transition into music and the evolution of her sound; the artists that have been instrumental in her growth; what new music will arrive – some cool new artists that are worthy of more time.
Rookes lets me know about the music scene in Birmingham and why she relocated; whether she will get time to wind-down this Christmas; a few albums that have been especially impactful – and whether there is an interesting story behind the name, ‘Rookes’.
Hi, Rookes. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! I’m well, thanks
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Yes. My name is Rookes (A.K.A., Jenny Bulcraig) and I am an Indie-Pop artist from Birmingham - currently living in London.
Is there a particular inspiration behind that name, ‘Rookes’?
I’ve always been fascinated by dark birds – they would pop up in my work as a visual artist back in the day. A lot of my music has a darker edge to it, so it seemed fitting...
Putting the ‘e’ in the word just makes it feel more like a name.
The Heel of My Hand is your current single. Can you tell me about its story and origins?
That makes it sound a bit like an X-Men Origins story (which I enjoy)! The Heel of My Hand threads quite tightly in with the rest of my songs on my upcoming E.P.; which all circle around the pivotal experience of falling love with a woman for the first time and then losing her. It was a very difficult period - and making this record allowed me to process the pain, plus my burgeoning queer identity.
T.H.o.M.H. is the track that channels most of the deep frustration I felt about the whole situation - as well as the residue of my suppressed sexuality.
The video is out there. What is it like to shoot music videos? Is it something you enjoy doing?
It is out there, indeed!
It wasn’t the first shoot I’ve been involved with, or even the first one I’ve organised and directed, so I did have some idea of what to expect. Having a good team is absolutely key; so we got the team set up, the venue booked and then shot the whole thing in twelve hours. My director of photography (Marshall Mowbray) and myself have an ongoing creative partnership - which was a helpful element to keep things running smoothly on what is otherwise a very long, hectic day. Practically, things will always go wrong but you have to keep moving forward. Marshall is brilliant at facilitating my ideas without steamrolling them - that makes the process much more enjoyable.
It’s always wonderful to see something you have planned with meticulous care come to life.
The Game & the River is your forthcoming E.P. Can you tell me about the stories and themes you will explore throughout it?
It’s a love-and-loss record, but I do try to write as innovatively as I can; it’s good to try to write about such an old, familiar topic in a new way. I draw on a few different themes to illustrate the arc of the story although, admittedly, the track listing does not follow that sequence. The title of the E.P. - and one of the tracks - connect the game and gambling imagery that pops up, lyrically, in every single song – because, of course, falling in love is a massive gamble.
It’s going to be fun watching people spotting those metaphors...
Birmingham is where you are from. I know there is a productive and impressive music scene there. Is it somewhere you recommend people check out?
I would. You might have to dig for the good stuff - but it’s there. Birmingham has a wonderful history: Reggae, Ska; Britpop, Folk – it’s just so diverse. The folk music scene, in particular, is very well-established. I would recommend checking out the Moseley Folk events and festivals and the Ukulele Orchestra Moselele.
Plus; there are a few stand-out bands that have emerged from Birmingham who I really love – like Kioko and the Electric Swing Circus.
What drove the decision to relocate from Birmingham? Did you feel there were too few opportunities there?!
Actually, it was completely unrelated to music. I was in a band in the Midlands at the time - but we weren’t making enough money and I couldn’t get a job. Then, I was offered a job in London and, financially, I didn’t really have a B-Plan…so I had to take it. The band broke up about six months later and then becoming a solo artist just sort-of happened by itself - because I didn’t know any other musicians in London. Well, actually…I knew one. We made friends on Twitter and he ended up becoming one of my collaborative production team.
I’m actually talking to you from the studio - where I’m working with him right now.
Can you tell me the music you grew up on? Who are the artists you admired from a young age?
I promise you; there is not room to list them all here. I have always been around music. I actually just wrote a blurb about Annie Lennox - who has always been a constant source of inspiration - for Julie Hough (of the excellent band, HAWK); for an illustration project she’s doing. My parents gave me a lot of strong, melodic songwriters to listen to: Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan; Beverly Craven, Paul Simon; Joni Mitchell, Phil Collins; Paul McCartney, Chris Rea; Queen… and they made me watch Top of The Pops 2 and Later….with Jools Holland on the regular.
I got access to Michael Jackson at my best friend’s house, and later came Arcade Fire, Alanis Morissette and Elbow. I discovered David Bowie and Prince horribly late!
I know you have your own blog. Can you tell me what that is about and how it came to be? What other projects are you involved with?
It’s called AKA ROOKES. The blog came about because I worked, for a while bit, in academia - and I missed stretching that intellect.
I’ve always loved cultural analysis and I’ve dabbled in music journalism; so I set up the blog as an avenue for those skills – I then expanded it to a podcast as I started to meet more and more interesting people I wanted to dialogue with. I’m actually a Patreon artist (www.patreon.com/iamrookes) which allows my fans to sponsor my work. This covers the music - live performing, recording and everything in-between; the blog, the podcast; a collaborative songwriting project and the writing of a Folk-Opera. Some of the money I raised from my fans on Patreon actually enabled me to afford to make the music video for The Heel of My Hand – it paid for about 50% of it, in the end.
The more fans I can get to sponsor me, the more creative stuff I can afford to generate – and I just give it straight back to them.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tash Sultana/PHOTO CREDIT: @samgehrkephotography
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
There is a swarm of female artists that I currently love: Zeina, Tash Sultana; Tei Shi, Chagall; Art School Girlfriend, Kimberly Anne and Princess Nokia. Plus; my brilliant label-mates (Seahorse Music) Bryde, Little Rêd; Mere Child and Me for Queen - and DIDI; who’ll be supporting me live in the West Malvern Social Club this coming month.
IN THIS PHOTO: Little Rêd/PHOTO CREDIT: Kirsten McTernan
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Paul Simon – Graceland
Because it’s existed exactly the same length of time as I have.
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
Because it’s an album my parents and I all agree on.
Grimes – Art Angels
Because it put a rocket up my arse - at a time when I really needed one.
(You can read more elaborations on these and other albums on my blog).
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
- No-one actually knows what they’re doing - and mistakes are opportunities to learn. Don’t be afraid to try things and make stuff up as you go.
- Try not to dive straight into being a musician without any actual life-experience to write about. Go and live. Get a normal job; learn how to handle money. Have some adventures. Fall in love a bit. Help some people who need help. Read some poets…
- Work really hard - be really, really good – but make sure that you’re creating to please yourself rather than somebody else.
PHOTO CREDIT: Curious Rose Photography
What do you have in store for the remainder of 2017? Will you be planning next year’s releases or concentrating on gigs?
I have a lot of plotting to do. I’m playing a gig, booking some more; resting, making a new record; writing another one...
That’s plenty for a month, I think.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working?
I’ll be home with the family for Christmas. We’re a tight bunch.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love, if you please.
Because; if people don’t know who Kate Bush is, then that needs to change…