Behind the Music: Interview with Rosie Frater-Taylor

‘If you start making music with the goal of getting positive industry feedback, you’re in danger of diluting the writing.’

With her forthcoming 12-track album ‘Bloom’ (out 4th June 2021) officially announced, we chatted with Rosie Frater-Taylor to discover more about the release, the importance of dealing with musical rejection in a healthy way, and who she would love to collaborate with on future tracks.

Describe your sound in no more than 5 words.
Folk-jazz-soul-pop crossover.

What are your biggest musical influences?
I’ll approach this question by giving you five albums that I feel have defined my playing and writing, that’s probably the best way to offer some insight into the different pillars of influences for me: ‘Every Kingdom’ – Ben Howard, ‘Weightless’ – Becca Stevens, ‘Still Life: Talking’ – Pat Metheny/‘Breezin’ – George Benson – I couldn’t decide between them!, ‘Blood’ – Lianne La Havas, and ‘Stoned, Pt 1’ – Lewis Taylor

What does your songwriting process normally involve?
For ‘On My Mind’ (2018) and ‘Bloom’ all the tracks were written on the guitar. In terms of blurring genre lines (jazz/folk/pop/soul) and layering up string parts and harmonies, guitar consistently gives me the most inspiration and scope. Chords, riffs, parts, or lines are usually followed by or written in conjunction with melodies and lyrics. I love to layer my tracks with ukuleles, vocals, or different textures; I actively search for unusual or moving harmonies and qualities.

So how does your approach change when creating a cover of a track such as Seal’s ‘Crazy’?
To be honest, my approach doesn’t change much except the melody and lyrics have already been written for me, so I tend to focus a little more on re-harmonising and embellishing what’s already there. I think a crucial part of arranging covers for me is that my process generally remains the same, almost like my ‘musical stamp’ if that makes sense. By combining a well-known cover with my authentic process, I can take risks and still create something that is quite accessible to whoever is listening – it’s easy to hear precisely how the artist has altered what’s there if you already know the track well. That’s why I love arranging covers.

Reflecting on your career so far, when did you first realise that jazz was a musical direction you wanted to head in?
I don’t really consider my music or direction to be jazz, more a collection of genres that appeal to me of which jazz is one. I was raised in a very musical household – both my parents are professional musicians – we’d have super eclectic music about the house: Al Jarreau, Lewis Taylor, Tania Maria and George Duke which opened my young ears to jazz music and beyond. My dad started teaching me drums at about the age of 8 which I would say created some strong rhythmic foundations for my future writing and guitar playing. Soon after this, I picked up one of my mum’s guitars.

I was very into acoustic pop music (Ben Howard, Tom Odell) initially, in fact, I only found my roots in jazz at about 16 while studying at Tomorrow’s Warriors, NYJO & the Royal Academy of Music. At this time, I was also avidly checking out some awesomely unique songwriters : Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato and Emily King. Then at 17, I started laying out multi-layered guitar-based demos on Cubase, combining all of these influences, including jazz, into my own songwriting.

‘My forthcoming album Bloom was a journey to solidifying ‘my sound’, realising why I write the way I do, and then doing it with as much intention as I can.’

You’ve already had some incredible feedback from key people in the industry. As a young singer-songwriter, how does it feel to get this?
It’s always amazing to receive compliments from people I respect in the industry for sure. However, as much as there is some great feedback on the music, there’s a degree of rejection too. Coping with harsh feedback is an interesting experience – all efficiently compiled in a spreadsheet by my lovely manager might I add! I’m trying to deal with both the successes and rejections in a healthy way.

I’m finding that no matter how much positive feedback you receive, the most important thing is to, in the words of Bill Withers, ‘do what you do and do it good’, and aim to have a degree of confidence and intention in your vision that is un-wavered by positive or negative feedback. If you start making music with the goal of getting positive industry feedback, you’re in danger of diluting the writing and focusing on trends rather than trying to do something wholly personal. It’s something I’m still learning, but this industry can be savage as hell! As lovely as positive industry feedback is, it’s not the goal for me.

How has having the opportunity to perform at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s impacted your development as an artist?
I’ve played the last record (On My Mind) live a lot since its release in 2018 and as a result have gained a lot more facility as a player and singer. It’s the number one thing I can recommend to take your playing to the next level – performance – often in quite intense situations with poor monitoring set-ups. I am actually super happy with my live show at the moment. Playing live will always be my favourite part of this job that we musicians have all had to try and make work virtually for a bloody long time, and performing at Ronnie’s last week was such a release; it took me back to the basics of why I do this job in the first place, where music-making makes the most sense to me and that is ‘in the flesh’, where sparks fly. Regarding the new record, there is a sort of natural elevation in the playing in comparison to the last, but I love to see that sort of thing. All the shows I’ve done are with the same band that recorded the album, so I’d say the project has a very cohesive ‘band’ sound as a result.

So has the increase of streamed shows affected how you shape your live sets?
Not at all – I just have to remember to ask people for donations now!

Turning to your beautiful forthcoming album ‘Bloom’, how did it first come about and who else was involved in its creation?
This is my second self-produced album, a collection of 12 new tracks (inc 2 covers) from the heart. For me, in retrospect, this project really has a ‘coming of age’ feel in both the degree of my musicality, production and playing, as well as the songwriting and lyrical content. Those three years between 18-21 are super formative and they happen to encompass the period in which I’ve created this album. I’ll be 22 about the time of release! This album was really a journey to solidifying ‘my sound’, realising what that is, why I write the way I do and am drawn to certain sounds and genres and then doing it with as much intention as I can. I mostly worked with my band and friends/colleagues from the Royal Academy. Matt Carter, Chris Hyson (piano), Seth Tackaberry, Hugo Piper (bass) and my dad Steve Taylor (drums, percussion). I perform all of the guitars, ukuleles, and vocals on the album. 

With there being such wonderful diversity on the album, how did you go about deciding the balance of sub-genres, as well as the notated and improvised elements?
At this point, it is more an ‘inner-sense’ of what works and what doesn’t. I’m inspired by so much great music, so easily accessible at any time of day. On top of that, I’ve taken down so much genius guitar music in the decade I’ve been playing: Ben Howard, George Benson, Pat Metheny, Tom Misch, John Mayer. The palette is there for me, I can draw from it and combine it with my own vision.

So which track was the most rewarding or most enjoyable to record and why?
Interesting question. ‘Dreams’ my arrangement of Stevie Nicks’ track was a fun one because it all came together very easily, in a matter of hours in fact, and I think you can hear that on the recording –
the natural ebb and flow of all the individual parts, guitars and vocals. Then I got Chris Hyson to record some piano and sonics, he sent them back to me, and it was some of the most beautiful piano playing I’ve ever heard. It’s really a privilege to have him on the album. I’m pretty proud of the whole thing though to be honest, it’s all joyful at the recording stage, it’s everything that comes after – mixing, mastering, releasing – that can get tedious.

What are your musical hopes and wishes for 2021? 
I want to gig, write and collaborate – all the things we’ve been completely barred from doing this last year, and I want to get ‘Bloom’ into as many ears as possible!

And finally, if you could collaborate with another artist on one of your tracks, who would you choose, what would be the chosen track?
I don’t know if I could choose something from ‘Bloom’ for this, the whole record is so intertwined with me and my personal production and writing process. In fact, it’s on the next album that I’m becoming more and more curious to collaborate with other artists – it’s a short-term goal of mine to do so. On the next record, some of the people I’d love to collaborate with would be Becca Stevens, Snarky Puppy, This Is The Kit, Lianne La Havas, Brotherly, Alfamist, Tom Misch, Gretchen Parlato, Richard Spaven, and Rosie Lowe to name a few.

Thanks Rosie Frater-Taylor for chatting with Listen to Discover

Photography by Arthur Attenborough and RotoSound
Album Artwork by Tamara Ablameiko

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