THIS interview finds me talking with...
Roxy Rawson about her album, Quenching the Kill, and the themes that inspired it. I ask if she has a favourite moment from the record and which musicians are important to her- she recommends some rising acts to look out for.
I ask Rawson whether there are plans for next year and how she got into music; if she has a favourite memory from her time in music and which three albums are most important – she ends the interview by selecting some good music.
Hi, Roxy. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi! Not bad, though I've had the flu! I spent four days inside; on the fifth day, I felt well enough to venture out and decided I wanted to go to a place called Indian Rock where I live in Berkeley. You can climb ancient stones and see the whole of the San Francisco bay from way up high.
I met a mathematician and we got talking. I was glad to have the flu. I knew it would pass and it was a reminder to slow down and pace myself (smiles). I had Lyme disease for five years and was housebound.. I'm well now and so the experience of a short normal illness and feeling better again was actually pretty awesome. I also got to see this magnificent sunset! It looked like the sky was fire!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Ok, hello - how are you? I'm Roxy...I make music that could be described as 'Femme-Freak-Folk'. ‘Femme’ because I love expressing myself as a woman and think women have a unique perspective to bring that's important to share. The ‘Freak Folk’ part describes a desire to express authentically, even if it gets a bit outlandish at times - and the ‘Folk’ part describes a dedication to the craft of instrumental playing.
Quenching the Kill is your new album. What sort of themes and ideas inspired the material?
The themes varied quite widely throughout the time I wrote the songs for Quenching the Kill, but a kind of common theme running through is about the survival anger that animals have; that's, in some ways, quite innocent, it's about survival - and vital. This album is the importance of just and rightful anger and the right to freedom of expression and to speak out against injustices that I experience or see.
For example, The Good Shepherd is about malignant love. I wrote it following witnessing a pretty intense scene of domestic violence in China, which I tried to intervene in, but there was threat of violence towards all those present so we had to retreat.
Other songs are about injustice in love (Black Eyed Soup and Born Again); the very human misrepresentation of God in the old testament (in God's Got Bones). Rounded Sound is about claiming and celebrating freedom of expression and joyful moments, following a trip seeing extended family and Teardrop for Rosa is about my grandmother, expressing some things for her about her life that not many people knew about and I feel like I'm singing a bit about some the injustices she experienced in her life and the ripple effect that had on her loved ones.
Do you have a personal favourite cut from the album?
I think one of my favourite moments is at the end of Bouncing Boots. The musicians and I were kind of riffing on that ending and just feeling where it should go, almost improvisational - and I think it made something quite beautiful.
Which artists inspired you to get into music? Did you grow up around a lot of music?
I definitely looked up to Tori Amos a lot as a young teen, but later on when I heard super-early recordings of Regina Spektor - before she became famous -; super lo-fi recordings my friend Jess had of Regina as they were friends...
Her innocent and authentic expression and voice timbre inspired me very much to think that I could do my own thing on my own terms and that an audience might deign to listen to it!
You are based in the San Francisco Bay area. Is it an inspiring place to create music in?
It is and it isn't...
It’s incredibly hard for artists and musicians to survive here - and thus the ones that really stick it out are very dedicated to their craft and expressing in an authentic and original way - and so the quality of music here is very high. It's hard to get anywhere beyond the Bay because it's so expensive to live here, so that part is quite demoralizing. I watched an amazing performer, Kendra McKinley, a few months back at the Independent and, despite it being packed, it was full of friends, no industry - and she is so ready to perform for big audiences. Her style is somewhere between Nikka Costa and Prince and her live show is perfectly choreographed. She deserves support and elevation and so do many other superb musicians here.
The tech sector has had such a profound impact on the local economy and they don't seem to care about the hollowing out of their local arts scene, because gradually people have to move away. It's really so hard to live here as a creator, unless you're in tech...
That is why I am founding a non-profit, with the aim of supporting musicians through (I hope) tech-sponsored events and scholarships.
Do you already have plans for 2019?
More work on this non-profit named the Arts and Music Catalyst Collective; a concert series of #femmefreakfolk and a new sub-genre I'm discovering #feralfreakfusion, which I think describes some other kinds of experimental, exciting; energetic music in the Bay...
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
Once I played for Gay Pride in London in Trafalgar Square - to probably over a thousand people and I remember rather than being terrified -; I felt enveloped and cared for by the crowd, the energy was so amazing....and the time just flew by as the music flowed through us all on stage.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
This is so hard! So many albums means so much to me but these were the first few that came to mind:
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
The mixing on this album is so beautiful and the musicality and arrangements inspired me so much in making my album. Beautiful sentiments too...
A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
I remember I had never properly listened to The Beatles until I was twenty-five. It was a long time to wait. At the time, I had a high fever and was in China! And I was sucked into this magical vortex of upbeat wonderful Rock and Roll. I listened for hours to everything I had on my phone downloaded, which were just the first few albums. I know there is a problem here with Rock and Roll being appropriated by white people...but The Beatles did make magic with this genre. There's something so innocent and lively that just captured my imagination and transported me back in time, to how people must have felt listening to these uplifting, energetic; hopping songs in the early-'60s.
Aimee Mann – Magnolia
This film was so important to me...and I know that the director wrote the film around her songs as well. The film is about redemption, atonement...
Can I have one more?
Egypt - Youssou N'Dour
This album is so beautiful. It was written with the Egyptian national orchestra and combines this Senegalese singer's upbeat beautiful melodies, combined with this different tradition of music and the results are so beautiful...a surprising cross over of genre; West African and Arab at the same time, if that's ok to say.
As Christmas is here; if you had to ask for one extra present (that you didn’t get this year) what would it be?
Healthy love and the wisdom to maintain my physical health by listening to my body frequently and valuing my life and myself to the extent that I will not settle for less than I deserve. I would wish this for everyone!
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I would love to support Regina Spektor because we are kind of connected already through our mutual friend, Jess - though this dream feels so far away!
A rider? That involves the snacks and drinks right? Well. I guess if it was just me, because of my health, my ideal rider would include lots of fresh vegetables! And tea! But, if I had bandmates, I'd want to make sure they had other more yummy things (smiles).
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Be true to yourself and make sure to put your body first. Health ALWAYS comes first.
Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?
I am playing locally in the S.F. Bay. I would love to tour...plans are not finalized yet as it's not clear my band can make the dates. Plus, it costs a lot to tour and I'm not sure I'd have the funds. I may run a fundraising campaign to tour; to tour would be a dream!
IN THIS PHOTO: My Brightest Diamond
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
The latest album by My Brightest Diamond is so wonderful. Powerful, distorted guitar licks with orchestral instruments! Another important artist I think is Laura Mvula. Both her albums are musically so interesting with beautiful arrangements; combining great rhythm with orchestral arrangements.
IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Mvula
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Well. I relax in a few diff ways depending on what I need at the time, but I love watching comedy on telly: The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and Kimmy Schmidt are my favourites right now. I also love looking at art books and sipping tea. I also do autogenic training with my good friend Chloe over the phone. It's a kind of deep body relaxation/meditation. If we are organized, we do it daily and my days always go better if I incorporate that in. My aim for the New Year is to definitely incorporate more meditation into my daily routine.
And also to eat super clean - as it helps with maintaining my health. I also aim to read more and carve out time for it. I only read four books this last year and it calms me down so much. I should do it every day..
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Oooh. Ok, please play for me Yank My Chain by Tanya Auclair. All her recordings are amazing. Ooh, and can I ask for one more? Eleanora by Baeilou. Her latest E.P. is so, so beautiful...
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