What a difference a few years can make.
In 2002, singer/songwriter Rosey made her debut with Dirty Child, released on Island/Def Jam. Since then, she’s put pop music on the back burner in order to pursue jazz.
The result is Luckiest Girl. Originally released in 2006, a different version of the album (complete with different artwork) is due this month on the Quango label.
Medleyville.us: Given the direction you’ve taken with Luckiest Girl, does your Dirty Child album seem like it was made by somebody else?
Rosey: “I definitely have grown a lot in the time between records, as a musician and as a person. I think I’ll still make more beat-driven albums. . . . I like to be able to do that stuff no matter. I’m a big fan of hypnotic beats, and I think dancing in a club is one of my most favorite things in the world — more than singing or playing guitar.
“A year after my first record came out, I got heavily into co-writing with other artists. It took over my whole scope for a while, and I needed to get back into my own work. I think I just got super burned out on pop music because when you’re in a co-writing situation, you’re really going for it — you’re trying to get big pop hits. . . . Being in that world for years started to kill my spirit, and I really longed for something different.”
So why jazz?
Rosey: “People always told me, ‘Your voice would be great for jazz.’ And I always loved jazz growing up. Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald were some of my greatest teachers, just singing along with them and trying to learn their inflections. It definitely helped mold my technique.
“I don’t feel comfortable at this stage of this game to make a standards album, and for a while there, it seemed like the thing that everyone was doing. And I thought, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m another person making a standards album.’ Also, songwriting is so important to me. And although I relate to those beautiful, old songs so much — sometimes painfully so — if I’m going to make an album, it’s going to be of original songs. It’s something I felt I had to do.
“I definitely was not a jazz singer, and I don’t know if I would call myself one now (laughs). I came from more of a blues background; those were the people who really touched me the most. I would have been happy to just play guitar like John Lee Hooker — that was always my dream, and I love blues, but there’s something so amazing about jazz that’s really allowed me to relax in my head and my body and sing quietly for once. I felt like for years I was screaming at the top of my lungs. It was so great to start to understand how to sing jazz and the approach you can take. It’s so hard. At first, I didn’t think I could pull it off.”
What were some of the other challenges jazz presented to you, as a singer and a songwriter?
Rosey: “I really wanted the melodies to be special. Writing a pop song, there are those three chords, going back and forth. With jazz, I think the hardest thing for me was to come up with those really special melodies that hadn’t been done a million times.”
Did you find yourself using more chords because it was jazz?
Rosey: “Yeah, and that was another reason why I had to make a jazz record. The style I was writing was R&B stuff, and the decline of R&B has been so painful. From where it started to where it is now, it hurts me — two chords, back and forth. I would find myself writing verse, pre-chorus and chorus to two chords, so I’d have to really work hard to come up with interesting melodies to go with monotonous chords. So I wanted to get as far away from that as possible, and jazz totally set me up with an incredible palette of choices.”
The danger of it, though, is that you can take it to the other extreme and have way too many chords and way too many changes, and all of a sudden, the average music listener can’t grab onto something.
Rosey: “Yeah, and those songs didn’t make it on the record (laughs). . . . I went to New York to write the record. I knew some guys there who played jazz, and I said, ‘Hey, let’s hang out and write – show me some of your tricks.’ Because I’m not a jazz guitar player, I would play a progression on the guitar, and I’d have one of these incredible jazz musicians help me transpose those chords into jazz chords. That’s how I learned more about writing actual songs. And the words all came pretty quickly. . . . I think with my first record, I had all of these songs about my childhood and how [messed up] it was, and then some time away from that, settling into myself as a person and finding some happiness, I felt like I had so many more positive things to say now, and so that all came spilling out of me.”
How challenging was it producing the album?
Rosey: “I loved it — it was heaven. . . . The band stuff we mainly did live, so in the control room, I was overseeing the band, and I sang along to inspire them to play the songs with more feeling. And if it felt good to me, it was a take. We had rehearsals for a week solid, going through all the songs, and after that, the guys pretty much knew what they were doing. Once we got into the studio, we’d spend an hour on a song, and it was done.
“To me, that was so incredible because I was so used to doing something so piecemeal that it starts to lose the warmth and inspiration. It’s a bummer after a while, making a drummer play to a click track for hours. On my first record, I had Jim Keltner play drums. My producer hacked up everything he did. [Keltner] has this lazy, ’60s vibe that’s incredible, but we ended up not using it because it was cut up and put into the computer. It was stupid.
“I felt so lucky to produce something like this. We recorded to tape. We were relying on this analog tape that’s really old; we got them from some band from the ’80s. They’re a little shoddy and not reliable, but that’s the beauty of it — who knows what you’re going to come out with. Maybe it will be magic.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior