It’s been a few months now since Gena Rose Bruce first came sauntering into our lives. With her dreamy brand of guitar-pop, she spent the first half of 2019 building a string of consistently great singles, all taken from her debut album Can’t Make You Love Me.
Shortly before she released the record, we caught up with Gena to chat all about it, a cold house in Warrnambool, and the visual side of music.
“It’s been almost two years since I started writing these songs, so I’ve kind of passed those personal feelings“: Gena Rose Bruce chats her debut album.
HAPPY: Congrats on getting the album done! How does it feel?
GENA: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. It’s been a long process. It’ll be a surreal feeling once it’s actually out, but yeah, I think I’m past the point of being nervous. I’m just really excited.
HAPPY: The way I generally hear people talk about debut albums is that when you’re writing and recording it, it belongs to you, but as soon as you release it, it no longer belongs to you. Are you prepared for that?
GENA: Yep, totally. It’s always going to have a connection to you, and to a time in your life, but I’m at a point now where I see them as songs, and I’m really excited about them. It makes it a little bit more fun.
HAPPY: Has it been difficult at all distancing yourself from the tracks? Have you had to step back and look at them objectively?
GENA: Yeah, at first I try not to do that. I like it to be raw, in a sense. But when you’re working with a producer and stuff, you do need to take a step back. And yeah, that can be a little challenging. Certain things can be close to your heart and not sound as good to other people. But yeah, it’s been almost two years since I started writing these songs, so I’ve kind of passed those personal feelings.
HAPPY: I’m interested in the timeline of this project. Because you’ve got a couple of singles out, and now you’re jumping straight into the full-length album. What was your musical output like before this solo project?
GENA: Yeah, so I had previously released an EP… but yeah, look, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. It’s something I’ve always done and always will do. Yeah, I don’t know. I had this realisation that all the artists I love have full albums… it’s always about the package. I really resonated with that. I also wanted to challenge myself by writing a full album. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. It was a long process though. There was a lot of demoing back and forth, which took a lot of time, but it’s important to get it right. There isn’t really any rush. But yeah, I’ve been playing live for a long time.
HAPPY: So you’ve always approached this album as one body of work?
GENA: Yeah, definitely.
HAPPY: For the writing, you went up to your Grandpa’s house in Warrnambool, right? Could you paint us a picture of that house?
GENA: Yeah, totally. Warrnambool is on the south coast of Victoria, and it’s not your ideal holiday place. It’s very cold, even in the summer. It’s very windy, but it has a beautiful charm about it. It’s very quiet because it’s a little too far out of Melbourne to go on a weekend, so it’s not as overpopulated. And the house is a very old house. I don’t want to quote this, but I feel like it could be heritage listed. It’s very dark and cold. But as a kid I was there all the time, so sentimentally, it’s a very special place for me. It felt right to go there by myself and focus.
HAPPY: Do you feel like that location and environment impacted the writing or the sound of the album?
GENA: Yeah, absolutely. I think throughout the album, water and the ocean is a big theme—musically and lyrically. A lot of the synth sounds are like water, and a few of my lyrics are about the ocean.
HAPPY: You say the place is very cold and dark, did that have any impact?
GENA: Yeah, yeah it did. But not in a negative way. It was romantic, in a way.
HAPPY: I read that whenever you write a song, you always start with lyrics…
HAPPY: And there’s a lot of poetry that influences your lyrics. Were there any particular poets you were reading when you wrote this album?
GENA: Yeah, I was reading a lot of Sylvia Plath… which isn’t really a positive thing.
HAPPY: Yeah, you’re painting a very bleak picture here…
GENA: (laughs) Yeah… but I also find a lot of poetry in other musicians. Nick Cave is a good example of that. George Harrison. Both of their lyrics are really poetic. I spent a lot of time studying their lyrics, which was really inspiring.
HAPPY: I also really love the visual side of everything you’ve put out. Is that a big consideration for you? Because everything feels really considered…
GENA: Honestly, yes and no. When I’m writing the album, I’m not thinking about that at all. It’s not until I’ve got the finished product that I start thinking about that. And I’m really lucky because my manager is a really visual person. But yeah, it’s nice that you said that, because I’ve always struggled with that side.
HAPPY: To me, your music feels quite cinematic… I think it’s really visual music.
GENA: Oh wow, thanks.
HAPPY: When you’re writing the music, do you ever see it in a visual way?
GENA: Yeah, I guess for me it’s more storytelling. So the words are very visual. There are a lot of metaphors, and that’s something I like to focus on. But I wouldn’t say it’s this huge visual experience…
HAPPY: It’s just something that happens naturally…
GENA: Yeah, and that’s cool.
HAPPY: Going back to when you first started on this record… it was the exiting of a relationship that kind of kickstarted everything, right?
HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about that point in your life?
GENA: Yeah, well obviously it was a pretty natural point in any young person’s life. I think it hit me pretty heavy at the time. At first, I was pretty knocked about and I was feeling quite lost, which naturally inspired creative output. I think it moved me along a little bit. It made me focus on myself, and songwriting is how I deal.
Can’t Make You Love Me is available now. Listen above.
Catch Gena Rose Bruce live at any of the following dates:
July 18th – Waywards, Sydney
July 31st – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
August 1st – The Junk Bar, Brisbane
More info here.