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Shire Folk Album of 2019
Josienne Clarke album
Lucy Rose: No Words Left, Plenty To Say
Since her debut solo album in 2012, this perceptive songwriter has journeyed a long way from her days with Bombay Bicycle Club. Jettisoning indie pop in favour of starkly reflective, acutely personal waters, Lucy Rose has been buffeted by life on a major label, only to emerge a stronger and more determined artist. She toured South America on her own, travelling independently and arranging fan-gigs, and the experience proved life changing. Her new album, this year’s No Words Left, reclaims her artistic identity and is out now on Communion Records. Here Lucy chats with Nicholas John.
SF: Your last album, 2017’s Something’s Changing, was described as ‘a re-discovery of your voice’, suggesting you’d been on something of a journey, both literally and artistically. How does No Words Left move that journey along?
LR: I guess it’s been a musical journey, yes! I think that, after the second record website, I did lose my way and Something’s Changing and the trip around South America helped me rediscover myself, both personally and as a musician. Before then, I worried too much about labels and getting hung up on what people wanted. I came to the idea that people didn’t want sad music from me, or at all.
SF: It’s interesting that you’d think that…
LR: Albums need light and shade, so you’d have one or two slow ones but not too many! Then I went on this trip and all the songs that people wanted to hear, were shouting out for, were the songs that I connected to the most. ‘Shiver’ and ‘Night Bus’ and stuff from the first record which really were a part of me. And that helped me rediscover the fact that they like me the way I am, which was a massive confidence boost. And that led to me being able to make this record and have the courage to talk about things that are, for me, deeply embedded.
SF: Do you think that your time on a major label, with Columbia…
LR: (Interrupts) Oh, that was very difficult, yeah. Because you have that analytic examination of your music going on: ‘oh, we like this song, because it’s upbeat and Radio 1 might play it’ or ‘this one’s a bit miserable isn’t it?’ – those kind of conversations! With the team of people I have around me now, I can deliver a finished record, instead of having constant feedback about what they thought of it and what they thought it needed.
SF: Dissecting everything you do…
LR: Yeah, always trying to make it into a commercial, profit-making thing, which is not what music is about, full stop. But for big, corporate companies that is what it’s all about, making money. With my second album, I thought it was finished and Columbia kept saying, ‘there aren’t enough tracks that radio will play’ and until you write those kind of songs, they put your musical life on hold. I don’t have that now: I’m licensing my records and I deliver a finished album when I’m happy with it. I have complete creative control. All this led me to believe that there were people out there who liked my music and I was able to use that to have a real voice on this record.
SF: Do you find the whole songwriting process difficult? I’m guessing you do?
LR: I think it’s the most difficult, natural thing, which sounds weird! A big part is having patience: the song will come when it comes. It’s a consciousness, but also subconscious: losing yourself in the writing. A lot of the songs I can’t really remember writing. For me, when I wait for that moment when a feeling is utterly overwhelming, when it’s almost too big to talk about to anyone, that’s when I sit down at the piano or with the guitar…
SF: How do you go about the actual recording?
LR: I really like the musicians I work with to have creative freedom: that’s the best part of it – having musicians you truly think are brilliant – work on your music. With this record, it started with Ben website. The bass is probably the most important addition I could put on my music; it adds so much emotion – especially the way Ben plays! The interplay between the instruments is really important. It’s difficult for him, because I push him hard, out of his comfort zone. There were times when I asked him not to play any root notes! I love Joni Mitchell’s Hejira record and Jaco Pastorius’s bass playing and Ben is saying, ‘you are literally referencing the best bass player in the world!’ And I was saying, ‘I realise that’s not exactly helpful!’
SF: You are setting the bar quite high…
LR: The bass was often the starting point to get the feel of a song. I was pretty much asking him to solo, which was scary for him but it allowed us to set the songs in one direction and then add the strings and then the piano and keys. And the guitar player from my first record, Bjorn Agren, came and played on some songs. He plays guitar in a very ambient way; it’s all about atmosphere and making the guitar not sound like a guitar. I love him bending notes beyond the fretboard – he does amazing things.
SF: You really trust your musicians don’t you? So they can see what you want and hear what you want and deliver something that’s going to work.
LR: You have to be patient. You get excited about this new noise that’s on your track, but you have to let them find themselves, without direction. You have a broad conversation about what you want and then let them be creative. This record, more than ever, was about having the freedom to put down parts and then I could choose what worked and what didn’t.
SF: Has this whole process for you changed over the four studio albums you’ve recorded?
LR: Definitely. And it’s changing all the time – hopefully for the better (laughs). I think I’m softening up and learning how to get the best out of people and myself in a creative environment. It’s really important that everyone feels heard and respected in their views. I’m a lot more relaxed in the process.
SF: The studio can be a giant toy box can’t it?
LR: Yeah, ‘let’s do this’, ‘let’s try this!’ I think I was very much like that on my first album. On this album, I had a lot of different ideas about mic techniques and things I wanted to try. And my producer was open to trying everything, which meant that the set-up time was quite long. And Martin loaned me six guitars, so I had them all over the place and every time we started a new track, I recorded it on six different guitars to see which one suited the song best.
SF: Tell us how you ended up playing on Paul Weller’s new album, True Meanings?
LR: He’s been flitting musically in and out of my life since my first album in 2012. My mum said she’d heard him say on Radio 2 that he listened to my music and then I toured with him in the US for a month, so got to know him quite well. And we did a John Martyn tribute, doing ‘Sweet Little Mystery’ together. I think my lack of confidence can be frustrating to some people but he’s been so supportive, so when he asked me to sing on his album, he kept on at me till I couldn’t say no!
SF: Final question, Lucy: the one album you’d take as your Desert Island Disc?
LR: Pink Moon by Nick Drake, but don’t make me over-think it!