When Rosie Lowe was studying music in London, she felt like she was the only student on the course who lacked a distinct sound. Nearing the end of her last year, she decided to step away from her specialisms--piano and guitar--learnt production instead, and began using her low yet light vocals as an instrument. Fast forward a few years and it's Rosie's sound of soul and stripped-back electronica that shines through. Just like that, she gained control by letting go.
When we meet at the start of summer, she is polishing off her awaited debut album, the first big release since her breakthrough EP Right Thing in 2013. Having hailed a cab through inner city congestion all the way from her South London home, Rosie arrives at my flat out of breath and late. Today is the day of her brother's wedding and everyone except Rosie is panicking. Amid frantic talk of braids and flowers and the quickest transport route to a walk-in hairdresser, she seems curiously comfortable and throws herself into our conversation unguardedly, shifting between self-deprecating jokes and emotional sincerity like the flick of a light switch.
"When I started working on the album, I was very single," she says smiling. "I was happy being single and put all my strength into my career. And towards the end I was in a loving relationship with someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. I struggled a lot with trying to stay in control of everything and then losing control."
"The album is about letting go of a lot of my life, referring to the music as well. Sometimes you have to step back and let other people come in and I find that difficult, because I like to see it through to the end."
Rosie is a couple of weeks from finishing the album when we meet. Or at least that was her plan. Two months after the interview she tweets: “1 am and I’m just starting vocalling my last album song. Gonna be a long ol’ night.” At the time of writing the album release has been pushed back from September to January and her October tour postponed until February.
"It's very hard to close the door because you can always write more and I want it to be the best it can be at this point in my life," she says. "I've just asked for a few more weeks. I’ve spent the last few months working on this one song, because I felt there was one more in me that needed to be the final touch."
Still, her music feels far from contrived. Earlier songs like How’d You Like It and Who's That Girl? are measured and sparse, but not clinically so. The beats and loops follow the subtle pitch changes like waves on top a deep, dark river. As a listener, you get caught in the thick flow of her distorted R&B.
"The music I love is vulnerable, where the artist is honest, exposed and transparent. It’s what I’m trying to do with this album, put myself out on a plate," she explains. "Right Thing is one song that I can get back into with the click of a finger. I wrote that in two hours. I remember that night, but I don’t remember really writing it. I was in a very vulnerable place and I remember the feeling more than anything else. I hope I will be singing that for the rest of my career."
The track wrestles with the idea of being totally unconditional with someone: "I thought I made the right choice / Then you came / In spite of me / We’re what remains / And you are beautiful." Billie Holiday's All of Me comes to mind, where the breakdown of a relationship constitutes not only the loss of love, but mind, body and soul.
A vocal feminist backed by an all-female band, Rosie’s casual approach to vulnerability comes as a surprise as much as it strikes me as natural. It’s easy to forget how much strength it takes to be vulnerable. “I don’t think vulnerability is a bad thing,” Rosie says, shaking her head. “I’m hugely vulnerable and I want to show people that it’s not scary. If we were all honest, we wouldn’t have so many problems and gender wouldn’t be such a divide." Perhaps we should rather ask ourselves why emotional vulnerability is even misconstrued as weakness, especially in the context of womanhood.
While getting ready for our shoot in a t-shirt with the words "LEADERS SUCK" emblazoned on the front, Rosie points to an image of Patti Smith on the wall--the one Robert Mapplethorpe shot for the cover of Horses--and exclaims, a wide smile across her face: "Anyone who likes Patti is my kind of girl!" Weeks later, as I scroll through an old review, I notice that one of her photos, all angular androgyny and slicked back hair, bears an uncanny likeness to that same picture.
This interview was originally published in issue 27 of Oh Comely.