Words & pics by Ed King
“I can’t make the same record twice.”
I’m talking to Lucy Rose about her new album, Work it Out, which is set for release in mid July – the lead single, ‘Our Eyes’, scheduled for 3rd May. It’s about four hours before she gets on stage at the Birmingham Institute, in the last leg of an 18 date tour with little time off, and there are concerns between the lines.
“It’s been kind of ups and downs in places,” explains Rose, describing the past fortnight on the road, “because we’re playing nine new songs in the set. So it’s not just two or three, as you’d imagine – just putting out the feelers; at least half the set is new.” And with tonight’s count at gig No14, how have the audiences responded so far?
“Manchester was really good,” answering without pause, “it’s always good. But there have been a few gigs that have been unexpectedly brilliant – Cardiff was great. And Leeds was really good fun as well.
Then sometimes, like in Liverpool, it feels a little bit like the audience is waiting to see. It’s more of a challenge; I’m going to play a load of songs you don’t know, and you guys are going to make up your mind about them. But I guess that’s what you have to do as an artist, to evolve. Something different is always a bit risky.”
The curse of a good first impression. Like I Used To came out in September 2012, and despite “rejection after rejection when we were trying to get signed”, Columbia’s unfettered release of Lucy Rose’s home recorded first album was a clear success. The modern British Folk scene claimed a Harvest queen, and Rose’s subsequent gig schedule went to work cementing a loyal audience for her 11-15 track debut.
The last time I saw Lucy Rose, at the Institute in May 2013, there were already new songs on the set list. But the move off the stage and into the studio, and away from the “nuclear bomb shelter” (underneath her parent’s house) where much of Like I Used To was recorded, required the right producer. She would end up with Rich Cooper in her corner for Lucy Rose round two.
“It was really good,” describes Rose, “he’s (Rich Cooper) done a lot of engineering on records at British Grove (recording studios) and I think I was the first properly produced record that he’s done. He absolutely nailed it. I love the production on my next record. I think it’s great; he’s definitely got a style.”
The lead single, ‘Our Eyes’, is a clear step away from the acoustic ballads of Like I Used To. What can we expect from the rest of Work it Out?
“There’s nothing on the first record that’s even remotely similar to this new single (‘Our Eyes’) it’s got synths on it, and I guess it’s more Pop than some of my more acoustic stuff. It’s definitely less Folk and more Indie, but I don’t know if it’s a fair representation (of Work it Out) because a lot of the songs are really different on this record.
We’ve got piano ballads, I’ve still got acoustic ballads, then there’s some really rockin’ electric guitar mental songs like ‘Cover Up’, ‘Cologne’ and ‘Sheffield’. There’s even one called ‘Like An Arrow which is almost Country, so it’s a big mix of music. But I haven’t over thought it; I just sit at home, write music and whatever comes up comes up.”
And with a few years of recognition under her belt, alongside the opportunities/pressures that a major label can bring, what was the writing/recording process like this time around?
“It was very different,” admits Lucy Rose, “I guess when it came to Like I Use To I just wrote a load of songs and when I was happy with them, I recorded them. It was good because I had all the control and could say ‘yep, I’m happy with this album going out the way it is,’ but it was tough to keep trying at something when no one in the industry is remotely interested in what you’re doing.”
Less of a problem now, I suspect. Although it’ll be nearly three years between albums one and two; did the pressures ever turn into demands?
“I felt it (Work it Out) was done a while ago,” tells Rose, “ and wanted to release it. But my label kept saying ‘it’s not done, it hasn’t got strong enough songs on it yet, you need to keep going.’ And I was completely against doing co-writes; that was out of the question, I hate the thought of it. So then it was really down to me.
Then there was about a month where I just couldn’t write anything. I felt I was writing for all the wrong reasons, or I was writing to try and write ‘a hit’, and that was just not going to work. At that point I didn’t know what was going to happen.” The double edged sword of creative control; how did you break the deadlock?
“I went back to writing songs just for myself, at home. One of them was really slow, probably the slowest one on the record, and I thought this will never go on the album, but when they (Columbia) heard them they were like ‘that’s the shade we needed, that’s the light and the shade.’ It was tough, but in the long term great; I got pushed way harder than I would have pushed myself if I wasn’t on a major. And the record wouldn’t have had some of my favourite songs on it.”
We talk a bit more about the trials of ownership, nearly being trampled by a miniature Shetland pony, and the precarious business of moving jam jars across country. Then it’s time to end the interview; a sound check is imminent and two Twitter winners are eagerly waiting outside to claim their 5 minute prize.
I love Like I Used To, but remember feeling, when watching her last set, that an even brighter evolution was set to come from Lucy Rose – the line I landed on being ‘if this is the Lucy Rose of studio albums future, I’m keen to hear more.’ And I’m genuinely excited for the 13th July release, with the behind the scenes graft making it all the more tempting; is she happy with her sophomore result?
“There were a couple of really tough conversations whilst putting this together,” explains Rose, “like when the label wanted me to co-write something. I did one or two sessions and I really hated it. Everything about music that I loved wasn’t in that room.
I had to come to terms with the fact they might drop me, but they supported me on it and said ‘we genuinely believe you’ve got it in you, but you’ve got to work really hard.’ And now it’s done I do feel immensely proud to have gone through that, to get the record I needed to get. It was interesting to see how far I could get pushed, to the point where I didn’t even care if I’m not a ‘successful’ musician. I thought, this is not what it’s about.”
Then, in one of those rare and perfect endings, “…even if it flops and no one likes it, I stayed completely true to myself and didn’t compromise. So at least I can sleep at night.
For a Birmingham review of Lucy Rose’s gig at the Institute on 25th Match ’15, click here
Lucy Rose is set to release ‘Our Eyes’, the lead single from her sophomore album – Work it Out, on 3rd May. Work it Out is set for release on 13th July.
For more on Lucy Rose, including online purchase points, visit http://www.lucyrosemusic.com/