Given the flurry of pop soul divas in recent years it’s no surprise that Rox was tipped for big things in 2010. Yet the twenty-one year old South Londoner didn’t forge her sound with a cynical eye on the charts; her own brand of motown infused soul stems from Saturdays spent singing gospel in church, the rhythms of her Jamaican heritage, and the pain of a messy break-up. Rox spoke to Faux about her debut album ‘Memoirs’, performing with Paul Weller, and why soul music didn’t begin with Amy Winehouse.
So you released your debut album in June. Was it along process getting there?
Yeah, I mean especially the recording process was long. I think originally we said it was going to take, well should of taken, five weeks, but it ended up being something crazy like six months or something. So you know it was quite frustrating, but I wanted to get it right and be happy with it.
Were you happy with the final product?
I was happier than what it was before, but I think there’s always an element, especially for me, that I think stuff can be better. I always think something else could have been done differently, but on the whole yeah I am happy.
You were tipped as a rising star at the start of 2010, was this a confidence boost or did you feel any pressure?
I think it was a bit of both to be honest, obviously when your tipped for the year a lot more people are aware of you who may not have been from the start. But on the flipside people are watching that bit more closely, so yeah I think I felt a bit of both. But I try not to really concentrate on those things, because to me the fans connecting with the record, those are the real things. The thing with press and media hype is as quick as they are to hype you up, they’re quick to rip you down. So I didn’t really concentrate on that, so yeah, it is what it is really.
Has music always been a big part of your life?
Yeah definitely, singing always has from the very beginning, from the age of four or five I was singing at home with Mum and my grandparents, mostly gospel music and stuff. Then I started singing more at church, it was mainly gospel and choral stuff, and I did a bit of theatre stuff. I think when I really grew into myself as an artist was at about fourteen years of age when my mum bought me a guitar, and I wanted to become the black Alanis Morissette (laughs). From that age I started to write a bit more, and started being a bit more creative, experimenting with sounds and words.
Your half Jamaican, half Iranian, and you grew up in Norbury in South London. Was this an influence on your music and your creative upbringing?
Yeah I think for anyone, wherever you are, or whoever you are, your surroundings, will influence you in many different ways. I can’t really pinpoint my music and say, you know, that’s from that and that’s from that. My love for harmonies is definitely from church. There are so many different things, I’ve got a reggae track on the album, that was me, you know, venturing to that world and me showing where my roots come from – I hadn’t really done that before. I hadn’t really done a reggae song, and when I finally did it, it felt right – I wasn’t pretending to do something, it was already in me.
What music has influenced you?
I listened to a lot of Lauren Hill and Sade when I was growing up, Alanis as I said before, Rufus Wainwright, I have a huge soft spot for him I think he’s an amazing vocalist and an amazing songwriter, also Fleetwood Mac in particular. Yeah loads of people, I just like good music, I like listening to people that are talented and that can move me, it doesn’t really matter what genre it is, as long as it has some depth to it, I like it.
You’ve said that you write your music like you were writing a diary, is it important for you that music is personal?
Yeah I mean especially for this album I think where I was at that time, my frame of mind, I was quite vulnerable, very reflective, very frustrated and that resulted in me writing very personal songs about relationships.
Is that where you get a lot of inspiration for songs from, relationships?
Well yeah for this album, I’m not saying that’s all I’ll ever write about, I mean, but for this album. You know I can only write from personal experience, whether that be directly through me or through someone else, and also through what’s effecting me most at the time, and it just so happens that was a messy relationship, so I ended up writing the album about that really.
Is there a process you use to write songs?
I think its definitely something that happens naturally, I’ve tried to plan things and go in with a particular idea, or a lyric idea, and it’s always been the hardest way for me. You know the best songs are usually just sitting in the studio and you think of a melody, then a couple hours later you’ve got a song. I mean I don’t think that’s everyone’s way of writing, its different for different people, but certainly for me that’s my way. I quite like the spontaneity of it, just turning up and seeing what happens.
Does it irritate you when comparisons are made with artists like Duffy, Adele and Amy Winehouse?
I wouldn’t like to use the word irritate, I think it’s more, let me think of a better word. All those people you mentioned, Adele I think is amazingly talented, Amy the same, Duffy is not really honestly my thing but I see why people like her. So you know to be compared to her isn’t offensive, I’m not upset by it, but you know I think some people are quite lazy with their comparisons. When a new artist is out, people are so quick to pigeonhole them, but I think that’s just how we are as people, it makes it easier to get our head round things and process things, you know its easier to process things if we analyse it, break it down and put it into sections. It’s just easier for us, and I think that’s just what we do with people, I even do it. If I hear someone I’m like she’s bits of this, and bit’s of that. But we do have things in common, we do make soul music, we are from the UK, we are females. But for me if I heard me I would say I had elements of Sade in me, all those people that I references before that I listen to. Because you know I listen to Amy Winehouse occasionally but you I don’t really listen to her that much. But I think the other thing with the whole Amy comparison is that every single soul musician that has come out has been compared to her, but I think that it’s an important thing to remember she didn’t create soul music, it’s always been around, a million people have done it before Amy, I think that’s what people need to remember. That’s my gas over (laughs).
PHOTO: David Emery (Via. Thisisrox.com)
So what was it like to perform with Mark Ronson before you’d even been signed?
I did a few gigs on the Ronson tour before I was at Rough Trade – that was wicked because I hadn’t really written any of the album at that point, everything was really fresh. I hadn’t really had that much experience performing in front of big crowds, I was literally dropped in the deep end there, but I got the call and it was wicked – I got to meet Mark and got to play with him and travel quite a bit.
What was Mark like?
Wicked! Mark is wicked, he’s just a guy, a normal guy, but he’s very very talented, and has done very well for himself. I saw him actually the other day at Loveboxx and he’s got his new hairstyle going, it’s quite cool. But you know it was great confidence booster at the time, it made me really hungry for it, all these people singing along to his songs, I mean not his songs, but his covers, and I thought eventually I want that to happen to me.
You’ve recently performed Paul Weller, how did that come about?
Through Weller really, he heard about me somehow, somewhere and contacted my management and asked if I would sing with him. Initially I thought it was a joke, I was like are you sure he hasn’t got the wrong person, and they were like yeah he did ring and ask and he wants to meet you. I met him and went to rehearsal, was so so nervous, I didn’t really know what to do. I was thinking what to say to him and I just loved the way he broke the ice, just came over and was like ‘lovely to meet you love, you want a cup of tea’, and so he made me a cup of tea and it was the best cup of tea I’ve ever had! So yeah it was wicked, I only did two performances with him at the Radio 2 thing, and the last thing was at the Royal Albert Hall, so yeah a pretty good one.
What do you hope the future holds for you?
You know my goal is to be a household name, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be, so I’m just working hard and taking each step at a time. Eventually in a few months I’d like to move onto the second album, because the first album was a great stepping-stone but I’m in a completely different headspace now. I have so much more that I want to write about, and sounds I want to experiment with, so I’d love to get started on the second album, and tour more, you know I love to tour, I love travelling. I’d love to do a series of dates in London, because I was thinking about it the other day and I’ve only done a few headline shows in London. I’d like to do one in Brixton Academy, that would be good, a bit local as well, so yeah you know, collaborate with more people, I’d definitely love to do that.
Is there anyone particular you’d like to collaborate with?
Well I’ve always had a thing for Paolo Nutini, ever since his first album. I think he’s got such a beautiful, gritty, troubling voice like they had back in the proper days of soul. I just think he’s a true musician, and I’d love to collaborate with him. I think he’s doing V festival as well so I’m hoping we might bump into each other and he might ask me to do a duet! Unlikely, but I can dream.
Rox releases live favourite ‘Rocksteady’ as a single through Rough Trade Records on September 6th. The single is available as a limited edition 7” vinyl single and download. You can also check out a quick video & acoustic performance she did for Rough Trade below, or find out more about her at Thisisrox.com
LEAD PHOTO: David Richardson (Via. Thisisrox.com)