Interview: Rosie Lowe on the Art of Collaboration

Thursday, June 6, 2019

When you listen to Rosie Lowe's music, all your senses can feel it. Last month, she unveiled her sophomore album YU — the album saw her collaborate once again with longtime creative partner Dave Okumu. We spoke with Rosie about how they created the album, their organic style of collaboration, the challenges she encountered and how her studies in psychotherapy have changed the way she approaches her artistry.

The album saw you work with Dave Okumu once again — how has your creative partnership evolved over the years?

That's a really good question. We've been working together for a long time. He's my long-term collaborator, but this time around we wrote together, which is the first time we've ever written together. So that was a really big change. It was quite clear that that was going to happen and that we both wanted that to happen so I remember feeling quite apprehensive about it because I just really wanted it to work. And it really did. It was totally natural — as is our whole relationship. It's a very natural, easy transition from before to now.

So I'd say that this album is a lot more of a collaboration between us. In terms of our relationship, there have been so many things that have happened, like he became a dad, so that's changed quite a lot. Everything kind of changes, but I think the reason why it just works whilst everything is changing is because there's a really deep level of trust between us — we give each other a lot of space to work on music. We don't rush the process and we have an open dialogue if we're struggling with anything.

So yeah, our relationship is always changing, but it kind of feels like it just gets deeper and better. And this album is a really good representation of our collaborative relationship.

Was it a little bit nerve-wracking having someone else in the songwriting process when you did it on your own with Control?

I'm a really collaborative musician, so I've always enjoyed collaborating. So on Control, that was a quite abstract thing to me, just writing on my own and it was something that I really felt like I needed to do. But in terms of this album being more collaborative, I feel like that was much more of a natural process for me. That's how I naturally love to make music — by collaborating and bouncing off other people. So no, I wouldn't say it felt harder, it probably felt easier actually.

From a listener's perspective, when I listen to the album, it feels like it came from a natural place. It's not overproduced, it's all very feeling-driven. Would you say that the process of working on YU was organic?

Oh yeah, one thousand percent,  it really was. It was also because of the structure of how we were working — it happened over a longer period of time. It wasn't like an intense period of getting in the studio and creating stuff in a month. It was done over a period of two years. Then we'd have space to step back and reevaluate and keep perspective on it and then come back. So it felt very natural in that way, but it wasn't like this push, like, "Oh we must get this out," or, "We must finish this." The songs were formed in a really natural way and yeah, it did feel very organic.

Dave and I are incredibly passionate about representing the songs and the production, supporting the songs, and it not being the other way round. So that's just part of our taste in terms of phonics. And then once the songs were formed, we'd get our favourite musicians in and we'd just try stuff out with them. So even that situation felt very organic as well. We weren't getting musicians in and being like, "Right, you play this, exactly." Or like, "This is exactly how you want to sound." We were more like, "This is the feeling we're trying to create." And then we were open to their contribution. It felt like a very natural and open process.

Some of the sounds that we can hear are bright and very vibrant, especially songs like 'ITILY'. Was it an enjoyable record to work on?

Absolutely. It represents where I've been mentally and physically in my life and being in a much better place and I always want my music to be a representation of where I'm at. I never set out to make the best album in the world. I'm not interested in that. I always just want it to be a version of my truth at that point in my life and to represent where I'm at. So it definitely did do that.

I mean, for me to say that that process was really easy, I feel is kind of a bit misleading as well because there was really hard stuff within that, and at one point in the process, everything kind of came unstitched at the seams and I was going through some changes in myself and I was challenging the way that I approached things and that meant that everything kind of came to a halt with the music as well and then I needed to go back in and reapproach everything.

I feel often with music, audiences get to see the end-product and then the artist is often like, "Oh yeah it was amazing, it was so easy." That's not my experience of it. It's always challenging and it's always very revealing. I find music and the process incredibly revealing, but that's why I love it, it's because I can't hide behind my music and it's the best output in the world, I feel.

As an artist and a creative, how do you get yourself out of those moments when you're not feeling the music?

I step away. I don't try and push it. I think that pushing through when feeling uninspired or stuck, for me, I think is dangerous. It can be dangerous to fuck around with something that's so deep. So usually I walk away from the situation and be really kind to myself and do some stuff that inspires me, like go and have dinner with my girlfriends or go to a gallery or walk through London or go to the countryside for a few days. I think that this feeling of having to push through when things are hard isn't always the best idea — I think it's important to push through, to stay present with whatever's going on, but I also think like, "No, this song has to be written right now and I have to be brilliant," I think that stuff for me is just like a way to make myself kind of paralysed. So my version of that is just stepping away and being as kind to myself in those moments as possible.

When you're creating, do you find yourself listening to other music or making a playlist if you're feeling stuck — or does that hinder your vision and process even more?

I avoid listening to other music when I'm in that process. Kind of purposefully actually, because I feel like influences can so easily come through and, you know, I've got a thousand influences from my childhood and my upbringing and things that I'm listening to on the way up to the album that I don't like to think about what other people are doing when I'm making music because I just don't find that it's a very helpful way of working for me.

But, on the way up to the album, when me and Dave start to work together on any project, he always encourages me to make a playlist of what I've been listening to, or what I'm liking at that very moment — so kind of what I've been listening to for the last few years or a lot of it always ends up being songs from my childhood that I grew up listening to. But he always encourages that because it's a way that he can get into my headspace of where I'm at and where I'm kind of at phonically more than anything.

We've never got into there and been like, "Oh, let's write a song like this song." That's just not the way that we like to approach it. But I do think that it's important to note and respect the influences that have gone before, or that have such a big part of who I am as a musician and Dave as a musician. So we're quite passionate about the process of noting what's gone before.

Were there any songs particularly on the album that were a bit challenging to work on?

'Pharoah' was very challenging to work on because Dave had that song kind of fully formed when he gave it to me in terms of the harmony and the production. I remember the first time I heard it, I just loved it so much and it had such a deep emotional effect on me, that I knew that I had to do something as good as what he had given me. That felt terrifying and scary and very challenging. So that song took me probably four months to write. I was just going in and stepping away and going in and being like, "Actually no, I can do better than that. I know I can do better than that."

That song really changed my approach to songwriting, because I feel like some songs come in a few hours and it's an amazing feeling and it feels really easy, and while that is brilliant, I think working through the challenges of trying to find something better can also make you a much better songwriter. And it can make future challenges a lot less scary because you just have to be patient and, as I said before, just be kind to yourself and just keep on working. I think that also made me more accountable as a songwriter because I was like, "No, I can do better than this. No, I can do better than this. And I love this piece of music and I'm not going to stop until I feel like I've done it justice." So that was one of the songs that was a real challenge for me. But equally one of the ones that was the most satisfying.

On that, what are some of the other ways your songwriting process has now changed throughout both albums?

I hold myself a lot more accountable now as a songwriter. If something different comes straight away, I don't just chuck it away and be like, "Oh, it hasn't come, so that means it's not going to work." Or like, "It hasn't come instantly, so that means that it's not good enough or I'm not good enough." That's definitely changed. Now I'm like, "Okay, it hasn't come today and that's okay. Maybe it'll come tomorrow." Or, "Maybe I just need to step back from this song for a bit and come back to it."

Also, the other thing that's changed from the first one is that I would write and whatever came in that moment, I would stay pretty true to it. So I wouldn't really go back and change lyrics and melodies and stuff. But with this album, I was going back months later and being like "Actually those lyrics aren't really my truth now because that situation has changed so I'm going to change those lyrics so they represent where I'm at now instead of two months ago." So that was a really big difference in my approach to songwriting as well — which I think I would have been really scared to have done before because I would have been worried that I might not have done something as good or I might have messed up the song. I think that I'm probably a lot less precious now than I was on my first album.

I read that you study psychotherapy, which is really interesting. Has that had any impact now on how you approach music?

Yeah, definitely, I'm still studying and I've got quite a way to go. I think it's a big part of the change in my process. I think that it's allowed me to be a lot more self-compassionate and to understand that knowing things takes time and notice when I need space and I know when Dave needs space. So I guess it's helped become a little bit more self-aware, when songwriting and the whole job in terms of playing live and stuff, it's been really helpful to know when I'm feeling fear — to be able to sit with that and kind of work out where that fear is coming from.

It's been helpful to be able to challenge myself and be compassionate with myself to be able to move past that fear. And it's had a huge effect on my relationship with live performances and being more forgiving of mistakes, which are an inevitable part of live performance. So yeah, it's had a huge effect throughout all of the aspects of being a musician.

And now that YU's out in the world, what's next?

I'm doing lots of shows with my band who I adore and that's something that I really want to be continuing as much as possible because it's the first time in a long time I'm really enjoying playing live again. I just want to be doing as much of that as possible and be performing these songs live. They kind of come to life in a different way and that really excites me. So lots of gigs. I'm back in the studio writing, so we'll see what comes from that and yeah, hopefully, come up to Australia at some point. I'm dying to come out.

That would be absolutely amazing. We would really love that. 

Yes. I'm really hoping to. Where are you based?

I'm in Melbourne.

My best friend lives in Melbourne and she's pregnant at the moment, so I've got to come out and do some baby duties ASAP.

Well, you're definitely due for a visit soon! Thanks so much for chatting with me, I really appreciate it.

Fantastic. Thank you very much Amy.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

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