# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Rosie Thomas - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 29 / 11 / 2005

Rosie Thomas - Interview


Seattle-based singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas has recently released her third album 'If Songs Could Be Held' on Sub Pop. She chats to Ben Howarth about it, touring and her other alternative career as a stand-up comediain.

The Bush Hall in London looks like nothing much from the outside. In fact, I walked right past it when I was arriving for this interview and again in the evening when I was hoping to see the concert. But when people call it a hidden treasure, they aren’t lying. A grand piano greets you upon entry, and then you walk into a medium sized hall, with a few tables and chairs to the side, music-themed artwork on the walls and a raised stage at one end, with chandeliers on the ceilings. It is beautiful, and is thus an appropriate venue for tonight’s headliner Rosie Thomas. I meet Rosie as she is arriving at the venue and unloading the tour van. She arrives with her four backing musicians, support act Ester Drang and her soundman. We go upstairs to do the interview (so I’ll be able to hear the voices on the tape) and into a balcony room that is as stunning as the main hall. Rosie seems genuinely delighted to be playing in such a great venue, and seems giddy with excitement. I like her straight away. Rosie, who is based in Seattle, is in Britain to tour and to promote her new album 'If Songs Could Be Held', which has come out on Sub Pop. It is her third, and her best to date. It is a folk/pop album with truly lovely melodies, and Rosie’s voice is simply outstanding. Her previous two albums, 'When We Were Small' and 'Only With Laughter Can You Win', have some standout moments, but this is the most consistent album she has made. This is an album that only the hard of heart won’t admire, and should reach music lovers that releases on Sub Pop usually don’t. I can’t honestly say I have found someone any easier to interview, and I’ve chosen to present our taped conversation almost in full here. Rosie’s infectious laughter hasn’t survived the tape to page process, but I can assure readers that there was plenty of it, which is not surprising when I remember that she has a background in stand-up comedy (with a character called Sheila, who is a pizza delivery girl with a neck brace). PB : It's been out for a couple of months now, so to begin I wanted to ask how you feel about ‘If Songs Could Be Held’ now? RT : Oh, wonderful. I think it is the closest I’ve come to finding my niche, or maybe my own sound. I’m very proud of it. It is very different and much more progressive. I like that when I’m performing the songs I can actually move to them. It is refreshing. I was getting into a certain rhythm of what I was writing, and it was nice to push myself a bit with what I was writing. It was challenging, but worth it. PB : How did you come to do the duet with Ed Harcourt on 'If Songs Could Be Held' ? How did you meet him? RT : Oh yeah, I met Ed a couple of years ago at this radio thing that Sub Pop had sent me too. He was there and we all stayed in the same hotel and there was Ed playing the piano for everybody in the hotel until four in the morning and I thought, “there’s a good guy, there’s a guy I love”. I love his music so much, and, when he played a show in town, I thought “perfect”. I was looking for someone to sing on the album, and his voice is unbelievable. I told him he couldn’t sing anymore in front of me or I might try and marry him, though I think he just got married so… PB : Do you feel comfortable in the studio? RT : Mmm, yeah, because it is your chance. You write and you write. This is your chance to put it down on paper. I imagine it is like a painter coming up with ideas and then finally getting to put it on a canvas. You just think “yeah, there it is”. Sometimes you look at the canvas and think “that’s not what I envisaged but it is beautiful in a different way”. I love the time in the studio because it’s a break, it's your time to be creative. It is easier than performing in a way, because you can hide and you don’t need to look good. But I love it because the songs always go beyond what you thought they would sound like. PB : Do the people who come in and play with you offer a lot to the writing process? RT : Oh, absolutely in so many different ways. I can come up with the idea, and say this song needs strings or a bass, but not until the people come in and add their parts. Unbelievable! You couldn’t feel prouder. When the string players came into the studio I cried. These people give their time, and I never thought I would write a song that these phenomenal string players would be playing on. I just feel so grateful. They all add such a touch, and I really enforce that. I want people to add their part. Everybody adds to the songs with the talent they have to give. PB : How do you go about finding them, and how did you recruit the touring band? RT : I pay them a lot of money, haha! No, not really. Well, my brother plays piano so that’s an easy one. The rest are friends. I have a very close group of friends in Seattle who are all friends, so it is really easy to find people in that group. I can just go “Damien, you know a good drummer?”, and he’ll go(adopts growly voice) “Yeah”. Andy Fitz has been a friend for many years. He’s a wonderful person and a great, great drummer. Justin on bass I have known for years. It is the same deal. You just get lucky. Touring can either make someone or be nothing at all, so I’m very grateful to the guys for coming along. It is really important to play with friends. Studio musicians are great too though. They’re lovely people. I don’t think I could afford them to tour with though. PB : Do you find touring to be something you really love, or is it a bit of an chore? RT : I took a break finally, after so long, and now I can’t wait to perform. It was important. There was a moment where I thought that maybe I would take a break and decide it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, which is ridiculous, because I couldn’t imagine enjoying doing anything other than performing. Giving myself and being vulnerable is so important. It was good to take a break though. But I think I’m getting better at it. The first time around I was so nervous and not sleeping was hard, but now I’m more relaxed and I’m enjoying it more. Its wonderful to think that doing something I love could bring me to London or Dublin or Edinburgh. That’s still ridiculous to me. I really love it. I like the shopping, I like the time alone and the time with other people, I love having my brother here. It’s exhausting, but who the hell I am to complain? PB : How is this particular tour going? RT : Well this is only our second show. The first was pretty traumatic actually. The power is all converted and all the stuff we brought went out, and the first band, Ester Drang, who we’ve brought over with us from Seattle… PB : I’ve heard some of their music. It's nice… RT : Oh, you’re going to love them. They’re amazing. Ridiculous musicians! But ridiculous in a good way. But, anyway, their power went out so they didn’t get to perform the other night, and ours went a bit whilst we were playing as well. But when people ask how are the shows going, to be honest, I always think it was wonderful. Every night, whatever you did, you are on the spot. Every show is wonderful. Each have failures in their own ways, but it is such a rush to perform, when you don’t know what is going to go wrong, and you think “oh, I’m gonna have to tell some terrible jokes now”. PB : But you do stand-up comedy as well. Am I right? RT : I did, I haven’t done it in a couple of years now, but I’m working on the Sheila stuff that I do. I’m working on a documentary, which hopefully will be done by springtime, so I should be able to bring it with me the next time around. It’s really fun! PB : Have you just not been able to do it because of the music? RT : In a way, because it has just taken such a presence in my life now. For a long time I just did everything at once, and for the first time I am just learning how to choose one solid thing. If someone asked me if I had to choose one or both, comedy or music, I would choose music hands down because it is such a more real part of myself. I would much rather give people value and substance than jokes. Now jokes are important and we all need them to ease up and enjoy life. But I would rather reach the core of somebody and then bring the jokes in, so music is much more important to me. During the performances I do like to tell stories and do jokes, so that is a way of doing both. But the Sheila thing is still in the works, which I am excited about. PB : When did you first start singing and writing songs? RT : Oh, gosh, when I was young. My parents were both musicians and I was always writing. When I was 12 I had to write my big hit, and I think it was called 'Walk In The Park'. Having parents as musicians meant I’ve always been doing it. I started on violin when I was three, and they really exposed us to music very early. They never forced us, but it was something my brothers and I naturally gravitated towards. So pretty young, but I suppose the first time I performed anything of substance was maybe 15 or 16 when I started playing guitar. But its always been there. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, not sure I knew I was going to be a songwriter, but we all surprise ourselves sometimes, right? PB: How then did you get in touch with Sub Pop? RT : Oh, I slept with some people… PB : Really?!! RT : Yeah, haha! No, it happened 4, no 5 years ago. It came through Damien Jurado. He is a good friend and we collaborated and he would bring me on tours when I didn’t even have records out, which really helped me get exposure. And then he was doing his record, ‘The Ghost of David, and he asked me to sing on it. I thought he just wanted me to sing harmonies, and it was not until the record came out that I realised he had taken his voice completely out and it was just me. I was like "Wow!" When he turned it into Sub Pop, they were asking who is this girl and does she do her own music. So I’m very thankful to him and I give him a lot of credit. He helped move things forward for me and I really appreciate that. He’ll say “Rosie, you would have got there anyway” but I’ll say “Well, you know, there are so many talented people”. I think that it would have found me, and I would have made sure to find it. It's something I really wanted to do, but I think he really helped me. So give credit to Damien! PB : That is such a good record, too, ‘The Ghost of David’. RT : Yeah, I think its one of my favourites now… PB : Mine too, although I really love ‘Where Shall You Take Me’ as well. You sing on that too, I believe. I love the song ‘Omaha’… RT : Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. That song is so good. Holy crap! He’s recording another album now.. PB : When you are writing, do you have ideas in your head about the sort of people who are going to be listening? RT : It depends. I tend to pay attention to people of allsorts. I see things on a common level, and I don’t think I have an age in mind or a group of people in mind. I can listen to people, but it is always filtered through our own life experiences; a broken heart, trying not to beat ourselves up as we all do, or thinking if only I could be prettier or better and life would be better, and realising that is complete bullshit, and I want so badly to share those things as I’m learning them. So I think I write for the most common people, because I’m a common person. I joke around and I goof around. I see things on the bottom level, because we’re all human beings who have to get up and brush our teeth and pay our rent. I like to speak to people who are open minded and open hearted, and who can be vulnerable. I can be vulnerable for them, then I hope they won’t be hidden in who they are. Why live your life hiding your insecurity? It’s important to reach out to me. I can work on who I am, and it's important to remain open hearted and grounded and humble. I pray for those things. I hope for people with something in their heart that is soft, the everyday common people, because everyone is amazing in their own way. PB : Just looking at this venue that you’re playing in tonight, I wonder how much the venue and perhaps the crowd as well affects the performance? RT : That’s a great question. We were talking about that the other night. I’ve played everywhere now, from the Royal Albert Hall to the Borderline, here at the Bush Hall and then places in Seattle that are dingy, smoky, crap clubs with bad sound and cranky sound guys. I have to say it does put you in a different mindset. For years I got so used to playing in those dingy clubs, and it's hard to feel like you’re performing. You feel more like you are in your friend’s punk rock basement, or band practice at your parents. I will say that a venue like tonight’s, which has character and you see the chandeliers and the architecture in an old building. It puts me in a different mood, and it makes me feel more of a performer. Not that I wouldn’t give it my all in any venue because I absolutely would, but it tends to make me feel more theatrical than an everyday club. If anything, it's just refreshing to know that tonight you’re going to be playing in a really nice place. PB : What sort of music do you like to listen to, not necessarily what inspires you, but what you enjoy hearing? RT : I love hip-hop. I love the Roots! I like the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, that stuff. I listen to Damien Rice, Bright Eyes, Sigur Ros, Damien Jurado, Azure Ray, the Cardigans. All over the map, everything! But I think the biggest place I started was Motown. I love all of that music. Growing up on that stuff, I had a father that would always want us to find our soul. And this new record is the one my Dad is most proud of, because he’ll say “there’s that voice, there it is”. But I love hip hop dancing, and I love folk music, so everything! PB : When you finish this British tour, what are your next plans? RT : After this, another tour! In the States, the west coast with Pedro The Lion. A week and a half, and then Christmas. A little family time! And then after that I’m going to move to New York for a while and record with Sufjan Stevens, who I’m sure you’re probably a big fan of (she’s right! -PB), and then Sam Beam - Iron & Wine. I’m going to go and stay with him for a while and record some music. And then there’s the Sheila documentary. Wow! That’s a lot. But I’m really looking forward to it. I have to say that, man. I’m probably the most content I’ve been in a long time. It was a long journey to get here, but it feels really good to be here and perform to people. PB : Finally, are there any long term ambitions that you really hope to achieve? RT : I’d really like to write a book someday. Perhaps I’d like to write childrens' books. I don’t know if I want to jump out of a plane or anything. Getting married would be big for me, and having children would be huge. For me those things would be like climbing Mount Everest. I feel that I’ve done so many fun things, so that would be such a step. But, maybe, 'Saturday Night Live!' If the music finally lies low, I’d have to send them a tape and say “you need me!” But I just want to keep impacting on some level. If it wasn’t music I’d want to do something that affected other people, but having a family would also be wonderful, if scary. We’ll see! PB : Thank you.

Picture Gallery:-
Rosie Thomas - Interview

Rosie Thomas - Interview

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit

digital downloads


If Songs Could Be Held (2005)
Unpretentious and exquisite third album from American acoustic rocker and Sub Pop signing Rosie Thomas

most viewed articles

most viewed reviews

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors