After an incredible debut album, rising pop powerhouse Rosie Lowe has upped the ante with YU. A tastefully diverse collection of moving arrangements, Lowe has delved deeper into her subconscious, pondering power struggles, religion and perspectives.
With a collection of A-list vocalists and London jazz prodigies spread across the album, Rosie Lowe has pushed her identity as a musician in unique and interesting ways. After YU dropped we caught up with the artist for a chat about religion, the power of perspective, and the musical side of psychotherapy.
“I tried to write a song from Eve’s perspective because you never hear Eve’s perspective”: we caught up with Rosie Lowe to dive into her latest album YU.
HAPPY: YU is a stunning album of self-inquest and power but even more so, a blend of varied influences. The contrast of vintage blues and jazz with modern pop is a beautiful confluence. Tell us a bit about this relationship.
ROSIE: Yeah, I’m really glad to hear that. When we were making music generally on this album it wasn’t ever a conscious thing that we would meld this music together. But I collaborated with Dave Okumu (The Invisible, Grace Jones, Kwabs, Jessie Ware) and he’s very much a come upper in jazz music. He’s like the funkiest guy I know. As a child a lot of my training was in jazz also but I’m really passionate about pop songwriting structure. I think it’s probably just Dave and I naturally coming together and our influences, even if they are subconscious, collaborating.
HAPPY: I love Birdsong and how it describes that singing you hear at the crack of dawn. Everybody has a different relationship with those bird sounds. How do you feel when you hear the birds sing in the morning?
ROSIE: It’s the most comforting sound in the world. I grew up in the deep countryside of Devon in the South West of England and those sounds, especially of particular birds, really make me feel like I’m home and I’m safe. To me it’s the best feeling in the world, unless I’ve been on a night out and I’m walking home and I hear the birds, then I hate the birds. When I was younger I had quite bad insomnia from an early age, so the bird song is something I have hear quite a lot through my life, particularly the dawn. But it has never felt like an anxiety driven thing, it has always felt like a comfort within my moments of silence.
HAPPY: As a student of psychotherapy, does a deeper understanding of neurological pathways and treatment of disorder allow you to analyse yourself under the musical microscope?
ROSIE: One thousand percent, I’ve only just started on a long path of training. I’ve got four more years until I’ll be qualified. But it has made a really big difference, it’s meant that I have been able to recognise my musical anxieties in a deeper way and it has given me a structure to deal with it, instead of suppressing. It also means I now hold myself accountable in ways that I didn’t before, when you don’t really understand or you’re not going deeper into yourself it’s very easy to ignore things or brush them aside, but in my study you really can’t do that because you have to be very present with yourself. So it has allowed me to tackle my own faults head on and push myself in ways that feel scary because that’s okay.
HAPPY: Does this forensic approach to the mind make it hard to turn off?
ROSIE: No not really, it’s funny when people hear that you are studying psychotherapy they think you are analysing them all the time and it’s absolutely not the case. I guess it has made me more inquisitive to look into myself but I’m still very early in my training. My way of switching that stuff off, ironically, is making music. When my mind feels busy or I’m overthinking, I just write and it helps calm me and switch that side of my mind off.
HAPPY: There some religious motifs and questioning throughout YU, particularly in Pharaoh. Have you ever had any religious experiences or breakthrough moments in your life?
ROSIE: I was brought up an atheist and seven years ago I met my partner who was brought up as an incredibly strict Christian. I have a lot of religious friends and friends who have converted to Islam and stuff but this was the first time I have been able to delve really deep into someone’s faith. I really trie to understand his relationship with God and the afterlife, in a way that I have never had an opportunity to before. I’ve always been deeply spiritual and I love Bible stories, so this really opened up my view of religion and what that means to them. One person’s idea of Christianity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same as someone else’s Christianity, as one person’s Islam isn’t always the same as another’s, so I guess it really opened me to the possibility of faith. I wouldn’t say I am religious though I would say I’m quite spiritual, and now I’m open, I’m open to faith.
HAPPY: You turn that common phrase of “What would Jesus do?” into “What would Cleopatra do?” Is she a role model of sorts?
ROSIE: No, when I was given Pharaoh by my producer I dove into ancient Egyptian symbolism and I was really interested in the figures and the Book of the Dead. When I was reading about Cleopatra and Nefertiti I was blown away by all those really strong, important women from that time. I don’t think Cleopatra was a role model as such, I was just taken aback by her strength in a very male dominated sphere. I just found the ancient Egyptian stories very beautiful, but very problematic I might add. Much like the Bible stories and Adam and Eve, that’s why I tried to write a song from Eve’s perspective, because you never hear Eve’s perspective. You just hear how Eve took the apple and therefore humanity into sin, and that’s quite a lot weight to have on one person’s shoulders.
HAPPY: YU continues Control’s exploration of your identity as a feminist. Has this evolved from album to album?
ROSIE: Absolutely, I think my feminism changes everyday. Although I wouldn’t say that YU is really an exploration of my feminism. On Control I was vocal and about being a feminist ’cause I wanted to use that word in a way that wasn’t loaded and problematic, in the way that people assume being a feminist is about hating men, but I wanted to say “no, that’s not what it means”. But ironically that then became such a huge part of the campaign, and people were just asking me about my feminism and not about my music anymore, which felt super ironic. In this album that definitely was a part of my mind because I think I was going through other things that weren’t particularly tied in with my feminism, it was more about love and my relationships. I think that my feminism is definitely more inclusive now though. I’m just wary that my version of feminism may not be everybody’s version of feminism as a white, middle-class woman from the west, compared to women of colour or someone who has transitioned. That has been a really big part of my last few years in just learning a bit more about other people’s version of feminism.
HAPPY: Or even perhaps Cleopatra’s version of feminism.
ROSIE: Exactly, even compared to Nefertiti’s.
HAPPY: Great. Well I’d just like to know what you have in store for the future?
ROSIE: I’m really hoping to get out to Australia and do a few gigs over the new year. I’m also back in the studio writing and doing a lot of gigging. I’m really just trying to carry on. Between Control and YU I stepped back, but now I’m just really trying to stay connected with my audience while carrying on writing.
YU is out now.