“Read me wrong; you won’t be the first.” As a jarring string section emerges towards the end of new album opener ‘Conversation’, that lyric feels like a sentiment to sum up the whole of Lucy Rose’s fourth record. Immediately followed by a brief interlude of wordless vocals, classical guitar and fretless bass, Rose has once again reinvented how she presents her heartfelt, honest songs. After the indie riffs of second album ‘Work It Out’, Lucy spent time travelling South America with just her guitar and returned with a brilliant collection of classic songwriting, her third album ‘Something’s Changing’.
Two years later on ‘No Words Left’, Rose continues to ensure that nothing stays quite the same. ‘Solo(w)’’ builds from lone piano to a crooning sax solo, as the Warwick born singer tests her limits over eleven tracks. An album born out of hardship and tension, it’s a stark and at times brutal record.
“I finished touring in May last year, and I had a really weird summer, really odd summer of realisation about lots of things. I can’t remember writing much, but spending a lot of time on my own, sitting with a piano or a guitar and had no intention of making a record or writing a record in any way.”
But then the songs came, and Rose headed into the studio with the intention to capture them as they existed in that moment. After touring abroad as a three-piece, Lucy realised she wanted to make a record without any drums.
“Sometimes feels like when it’s more intimate it’s more intense than when there are lots of things going on onstage. When there’s like drums and everything, you can be distracted and enjoy all the different elements of it, but it’s not as intense as a more stripped back thing. And I was just enjoying that intensity and silence and being my own head of rhythm.
“I don’t enjoy playing to someone else’s beat,” Lucy admits with an assuredness. “I prefer to play by myself or with other musicians that is more free-flowing than you can be with drums. So with these new songs, I decided I don’t want someone just pounding a drumbeat all through it, straightening it. I wanted to pull and push and do it the way I wanted.”
That doesn’t mean it was just a matter of writing a clutch of folk songs on guitar and leaving out a drum kit in the studio; Rose needed to push herself in every capacity.
“With an acoustic record, I think it can end up being quite wet. I didn’t want a wet acoustic record; I wanted something that was quite interesting and different. It probably isn’t as soft and smooth [as the last record] because of how I was feeling at the time. There’s a lot of emotion, and that isn’t always just felt within the lyrics, the music’s also saying a lot.”
After a muddled few years writing and recording ‘Work It Out’, which she admits wasn’t the most natural creation, Rose is making music purely on her own terms. The songs are all the more potent for it.
“I gave up worrying a long time ago [what people think]. When it’s to do with music and the direction, it has to be instinct based, and it can’t be about worrying what other people think. It has to be where the music takes me, so I feel as long as I’m honest to that, the rest doesn’t matter.”
“Back then I probably wanted to be liked more than I do now,” Rose reflects of that second LP. “It’s hard to say that music wasn’t me. I guess I was for the first time enjoying playing gigs to my own fans after that first record; I was worried about it all ending somehow.
“Whereas now, I guess it sounds quite brutal, I just feel like there’s only one path that will lead me for the rest of my musical life, and it might not always be pleasant, but it’s the only thing I can do really.”
Like some of Lucy’s favourite records, ‘No Words Left’ is written to grow exponentially with every repeat listen, revealing new musical flourishes and harmonies. Standout track ‘Treat Me Like a Woman’ stems from Rose’s frustrations at the sexism she has experienced as a woman recording and touring music over the past ten years. While Rose can see progress being made, there are still moments Rose remains shocked at some of the attitudes she encounters in her work.
“I’m not going to name festivals, but last year I wanted to do a particular festival, they said they really like the record, really want to have Lucy along, but we’ve just filled our ‘quota’ or ‘allocation’ or something for women, so we’ve got to be careful. Because there were a few complaints last year that we had too many women on the bill.”
It’s safe to say Lucy won’t be taking them up on any future invitations.
“I was just infuriated that I would have been booked if I simply had a penis. It’s just total nonsense really. I’m fine if they don’t want to book me because I’m not a good fit musically, but ‘We love you. But you’re a woman, and we’ve got enough of those booked’.”
Lucy pauses to think over the experience, then continues abruptly.
“And then the people who are complaining? If someone complains that there’s a female pilot, you say ‘Get off the fucking plane’, you don’t say ‘We’ll hire fewer women now’. Nothing’s going to change unless you say, ‘Well don’t come to the festival then’.”
Warm welcomes haven’t been lacking elsewhere, however, and as well as touring the UK and EU with her band Lucy spent time supporting Paul Weller in the USA, and, while writing her third album, playing shows around South America.
“It’s important for me to feel like there are no boundaries to where you can or cannot play music, or where you should or shouldn’t be going, where you prioritise or don’t.”
Having this level of autonomy over her schedule is clearly something that Rose places great personal value in, conducting polls over social media where her fans can petition her to come and play shows in their towns, with one Thai fan plastering his village with fliers in a bid to attract more attention.
“I’m surprised everywhere that I go, even if it’s London I’m surprised, why would you want to come and see my sad show? Then you’ve got these other places that are so far from home, so different from what you know. When you go somewhere like that, and someone’s singing your song to you, and you’ve never been there… It’s a surreal and gratifying thing to be there with them to play that song.”
When she is in her home country, she’s recently preferred to find seated venues to showcase her more intimate recent records, having come through playing with a full band in the classic indie haunts. A fair few of those venues have been of a religious heritage, something which Rose is relaxed about.
“I don’t feel a godly, religious vibe; I just think, my feet aren’t sticking to the floor! Like it doesn’t stink of piss and B.O.,” she laughs. “Maybe that’s what makes me feel thankful. ‘Great! This venue isn’t horrific!’ Nice venue, nice seats, everyone can see. With my music, it’s just getting slower and slower, so it’s like god, give people a seat!
“They’ve got to endure it, let them rest their legs at least.”
“It’s an intense listen,” Lucy offers as a summary of the intent of the new record. “I’d like people to find comfort in its discomfort. That you have to push through a sort of pain barrier and then it’s one of the best things in life…” she suggests, laughing. “Like beer, olives or coffee!”
Taken as a whole, Lucy Rose’s career to date is ageing like a fine wine, her material growing in strength and fortitude as she crisscrosses the world in search of adventure and song.
“Travel is one of the most rewarding and soul-defining things that you can do. It’s very important for me, but I have to strike a balance because I don’t think I can live out of a suitcase for most of the year forever. So I’m doing it while I can, before I’m too haggard!”
Taken from the April issue of Dork. Lucy Rose’s album ‘No Words Left’ is out now.
Words: Dillon Eastoe