A complex and beautiful record will arrive on August 30th. ‘Without Why’, the solo debut from everybody’s favourite Pipette will delight and enthral fans of literate, emotive and stirring indie music. In this interview, Rose explains how the album came into being, reflects on some of the more trying times of being a Pipette and gives a wider context to the music she makes. With an infectious laugh and an endearing honesty, she is a delight to talk with and I hope that comes across when written on a screen in front of you.
With the album being self-released it must feel different to when The Pipettes debut came out. Does it feel odd? Are you nervous?
Yeah, both of those things. I feel really proud, that’s maybe not quite the right word, but it definitively feels like a bit of an achievement to actually manage to get this whole thing off the ground and happening. I suppose that at times over the last couple of years there are definitely sacrifices you make, like having to do everything on your own, and sometimes things seem to take longer and obviously money is always a useful thing. I feel really lucky that it’s all been able to be achieved first on my own terms and, second, it doesn’t actually feel like I’ve rushed anything out in any way. I found the experience I had of major labels a very difficult one. There was the opportunity to work with other labels for this record, but I just thought, I’ve made this whole thing on my own with the help of a couple of very dedicated people and it felt like it didn’t feel relevant to then hand it over to a label who hadn’t had anything to do with the whole thing coming to fruition. I’m really glad that I’m doing it like this.
Picking up on what you said about money, does that partly explain that amount of time taken in getting the album ready?
I guess so. A lot of the work was done during my producer’s down time, so I had to work around his schedule quite a lot, which is totally fair enough. I really wanted to make sure that I didn’t just rush into anything, because it took me quite a while to get myself together again after that whole Pipettes experience, which was kind of mental, and so it was a little bit of a recovery process and I had to write these songs! I also just really wanted to make sure, without sounding too pretentious, to find a sort of aesthetic for myself, which takes a while to carve out, and there was a lot of trial and error in that process. A lot of the songs have gone through various incarnations. I really wanted to make sure that I pulled everything apart and found out what the actual kernels of all the songs were. That was a really exciting learning process and I feel like all the decisions are the right ones now.
Does that mean there are numerous different sounding versions of the album tracks loitering about in the archives?
All kinds of different things! For ages, ‘Third Attempt’ was a full band kind of thrash-a-long. Then, at the last minute, we decided that it was losing the song in this and did a new version in the afternoon of just me, a keyboard and a guitar. Those kind of decisions were being made all the time; I really love that. But that should also give credit to my producer Lee [Baker] who gave me the freedom to explore all those different ideas.
Around the release of your first single, ‘Another Version Of Pop Song’, you gave interviews in which you expressed some sense of self-doubt. Do you struggle with confidence when it comes to releasing your own material?
I think, probably, a lot of those interviews were done whilst I was still in the midst of making the thing. So, now that it’s made, I can look back at it and see it for what it is and a body of work is there, a tangible thing, it exists, so I feel a lot more stable about the whole thing now. I think, for anyone who endeavours to get involved in these sort of things, it is a constant dialogue and I’d be worried about myself if I thought I was doing the right thing all the time and it probably wouldn’t be very interesting either! I suppose I’ll always have that part of me, but I definitely really believe in what I’ve made and I wouldn’t want to be all coy about the thing!
In a way, the slow build with this record and the gradual drip-feed of singles has allowed a natural momentum to gather, something which doesn’t really happen much these days when labels want instant response and instant success.
I agree. I think it’s a shame that more emphasis isn’t put on the idea of development and I know that the idea of being in this as a long-term business doesn’t really exist anymore and that’s not the point for me. I want to do this for as long as I can. I want there to be some longevity; I’m already writing the next record. I want to keep moving forward but I want it to develop in an organic way. I mean, that was one of the luxuries of not having some fat, balding man breathing down my neck asking me “where’s the fucking record?!” and that kind of shit. I know for a fact that that’s allowed me to make a better record.
After carefully packaged single releases, including the white vinyl pressing of ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’, is the physical product still important to you? Does it still matter and is it important for you to find a way to do both?
I think it probably is a balance between the two, yes. The idea of the object will always be important; if you’re going to put more stuff out into the world you want them to be nice things. I do care about that, although the next single we’re putting out is just on download! But I care about the paper we’re printing the sleevenotes on for the album and I want it to be a nice thing. I think people still care about that, and it’s one of the ways in which this whole music business can survive. Bands are surviving through keeping people interested by making things that people want to have and hold and that means buying them and I’m all for that.
It’s always nice when you encounter a record shop that cares as much about the product as its customers. I remember Norman Records in Leeds flagging up your marvellous early single pressings…
There’s nothing nicer than spending three hours in a record shop run by people who really, really give a shit. You get to find out more things but I find the internet quite alienating in a lot of ways. I find it hard to know where to look because it’s a kind of infinite world and there’s no sense of editing or value or quality, just reams and reams of stuff that I can’t engage with very well.
By that token, did the announcement regarding the survival of 6 Music prove to be welcome news?
Oh yeah! I don’t know who else would bloody play me! I’m very pleased about that, totally. I don’t really understand why it was ever in question. It costs fuck all for the budget anyway and it’s one of the only outlets in any media forums for independent music or music that isn’t just about getting 12 year old girls to jump up and down and (brief pause and giggle) erm, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was in The Pipettes for christ’s sake!
A lot of Just Played readers lover their vinyl. Will ‘Without Why’ be appearing in that format?
It will be, but not straight away. It basically comes down to money. I’m definitely going to make it happen somehow. My manager’s not very keen on the idea right now!
The song ‘Watching’ is genuinely astounding. It has a wonderfully sinister tone, with lyrics which could create a totally different atmosphere if set to a different backing. How did you get it to sound how it does?
I think that that song was quite a pivotal moment for me in the writing of the record. I’d never really written a song like that before which was really based on a drone and using the voice in a different way, with choral harmonies and things. It’s kind of about when you’re involved in a sort of destructive relationship of some kind. There’s something a little bit of sinister about just watching, and there is something sort of creepy about when you watch the object of your affection just kind of move and walk around you find yourself involved in just their physicality. Also, I was working in a bar when I was writing this record and it’s a really interesting place to really get into the nitty gritty of what it is to be human – all kinds of things, people drunk and the way you behave. Some girl would walk in the bar then there’d be this bloke that would be eyeing her up all night and you can see the way that they move together around the bar and made they’d eventually end up together or maybe the girl would tell him to fuck off or whatever and that came from it. And just literally lusting after someone I used to know but never had the guts to talk to! All of those things combined, I suppose.
How autobiographical are the songs on the record? Are they based on these observations or is it more personal?
I’d say that about 80% of it is me, but maybe veiled through certain other things. I definitely didn’t want to make it a record that was so impenetrably personal that it was just sort of me vomiting up all this stuff. I want there to be room for a listener to engage with it and create a space for them to bring their own ideas about where the songs come from. I know that’s what everyone says, but I really felt like that! The whole process was very internal and I wrote it all in my bedroom at the top of this house I live in. I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off after being in The Pipettes, where there were six other people who were like an instant editing team, and I didn’t have any of that. Learning to trust my own ideas was a big part of the whole thing. Obviously, once Lee came on board and then I got a band together so there’s been more and more people getting involved in it. It was inevitable that it would end up being quite a personal record, but that’s what I wanted out of it. That’s what led me to leave The Pipettes because I needed that I guess.
There’s plenty of melancholy across the album but, like the best indie records, it’s almost a good ache, something to enjoy wallowing in.
I think there’s something hopeful in the record really. I finished it in January and all the songs were written long before that and I can start to look back on it, even though it hasn’t come out yet. I think the person that was writing that was very uncertain and a little bit lonely. I was 21,22,23 when I was writing all that stuff and just getting to grips with what the hell was going to happen for the next few years, so I think there’s hope in there too. I think!
A track like ‘Find Me Out’ also explores sound and is quite woozy at times. You mentioned spending lots of time on some songs – was this one a tricky one to pin down?
Actually, weirdly, it was one of the easiest songs on the record! It started as like a tiny, one and half minute thing that I did on a Casio with like two chords and a bossa nova, shitty Casio beat underneath but it grew into this whole thing. But it was one of those songs that kind of led me and Lee and showed itself as to what it needed to be quite quickly. I was listening to a lot of Hope Sandoval at the time, so I guess that’s a reference point that everyone could make. I hope the record has a bit of a cinematic quality to it and I guess it was really nice to have a moment where it all sort of breathed and wasn’t so frenetic. I think that’s a natural impulse of mine, to just cram stuff in, and learning how to be simple is quite a difficult thing.
The album as a whole has a very wide soundscape, it doesn’t sound compressed and needlessly loud like so many recent releases. Was that intentional?
Totally, I was very aware of that. Whether it be fashionable or not, I don’t really have any interest in listening to those kind of records and so it didn’t make any sense for me to make a record that sounded like that either. The intention of it, and there were a lot of intentions behind it, but it wasn’t like deliberately made for in a ‘this is going to be my radio song, so let’s do this’ kind of way. The songs were just ‘these are my songs, this is how they’re gonna be’ and we’ll see what happens afterwards.
You mentioned cinematic sound earlier and there’s a touch of that on the enjoyable tinny, in a good way, late-Eighties/early-Nineties indie approach of ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’ isn’t there?
Yes, I’m a massive fan of that sound myself so that definitely came through. I kind of feel like the whole record is just like a huge collection of all the records I’ve ever owned in a way. I think that was also another freedom I had from doing this independently and also because it has been quite a slow build, I wanted to make sure that each time I did put something out that it reflected like another side to what this album was about. I’m interested in albums in an old-fashioned way, with LPs being a body of work that has a bit of movement to it and something to keep your ear interested, with quite a bit of light and shade. That was what I wanted to effect in the choice of singles. I mean, putting ‘Find Me Out’ out was, in a lot of people’s minds, fucking stupid because it’s four minutes long and really slow, but actually I really loved doing that and what’s to stop me?! Actually, it worked out quite well for that as I ended up getting played on daytime Radio 1 at one point, which was hilarious; what a coup! I do kind of feel like a lot of this is about pushing your luck and seeing what you can get away with. I think that’s what really bores me about the industry is that people aren’t interested in taking any risks and that’s quite a new thing that. I mean, I know there’s always been major labels that want to do things by the book, but it seems that even indies, independent bastions of culture, still want to tell you ‘well, you need to tick this box and this box and this box’ and that’s always been a little bit disappointing to me, because I think the people that listen to me don’t give a shit about that stuff. Maybe they do, I dunno, but it’s not for me, so we’ll see where that gets me!!
Some people have compared parts of your music to that of Stereolab. While it’s not something I particularly relate to, I got a sense of it on ‘May Holiday’, though it’s more the overall sound rather than a particular thing. Were you aiming for a particular feel to it?
I think it’s a definite feeling which I couldn’t possibly know how to describe otherwise I’d write and not make music! I mean Stereolab is a band which I really loved when I was younger and some of their melody lines I think I could probably reference across, but in terms of that jazzy thing they do I don’t think that really features prominently. I dunno, you kind of have a magpie thing and wanting to try and find something that felt like mine and not be too overly referential.
You’ve mentioned before the importance of Britpop. Was it musically inspiring or more just motivational in terms of convincing you to make music of any kind?
A bit of both, I think. It was definitely the first time I saw people that were something to do with my generation making really exciting music and it didn’t have to be about the Spice Girls, you could do it like this. There had been a lot of music going on around me as I was growing up and my mum and dad played records all the time so I was aware of bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and all that stuff. But then I suddenly saw how all of that older stuff was relating to this fresher music and that was really exciting to me. And I thought they all looked fucking cool and were obviously all having a great time and though, I wanna do that! I’ve just finished reading Luke Haines’ ‘Bad Vibes’ which is just about the best thing ever but I was so glad that could only read it now and not at that time, because it would have crushed me to read about what a wanker Damon Albarn was. So, I guess it’s interesting to look back at. A lot of it is fucking awful, but songwriting became quite prominent and that’s important for me really.
Ah, the age old Albarn debate. Wanker or genius?
I actually did used to think like that, but I’ve had a u-turn on it. I really love the fact that he’s constantly challenging himself and he’s an incredible musician and some of the stuff he’s done with Gorillaz is fucking brilliant and I even liked moments in The Good, The Bad & The Queen. He obviously has an ego the size of a planet but it clearly drives him and for someone to still be making stuff that’s fresh and relevant after such an era defining record is fucking great. I’ve always loved his voice and I really love his melodies and I think he’s great. And I still…love him, dearly, and I can never get rid of that 12 year old part of me.
I gather you have a role to play with regard to the new Mark Ronson album. How involved with it are you?
I’m singing a song that Jason from The Drums was involved in the writing of and I wrote a song for the record where I collaborated with Charlie from The Rumble Strips and Alex Greenwald. I’m really proud of it actually and I’m really thrilled that it’s made it onto the record. I’m also singing a couple of other things including a song that the Mystery Jets wrote. I’m sort of part of his live band too and we did our first show last night at The 100 Club and that is like the absolute antithesis of what I’ve been doing for the last few years and the way that that whole thing happened was completely unplanned. I got an email out of the blue from Mark last August when I was very much entrenched in my own record and a little bit weary of it; it seemed a little bit neverending. He said do you fancy coming to New York for a few weeks and just seeing what happens, and he actually mentioned the Gorillaz to me and Portishead and a few others bands and how he wanted to make a record that had nothing to do with his last one. It was an opportunity for me to write and I was really up for it. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I love pop music and I was sort of interested in the fact that he was clearly really trying to push himself out of what he found himself being completely defined by and that was a really great creative opportunity for me, which I feel really, really happy to be involved in. It’s nerve-wracking because it’s such a high profile thing and it’s re-entering that pop world after leaving it with disgust (laugh) two and a half years ago! But I feel much more at ease with the whole thing now I’ve got this record made and it’s coming out. I always want to do collaborations, but it’s kind of mental the whole thing!
Similar to what we were saying about Damon earlier, Mark Ronson is a man who does suffer a little as a result of people’s perception of him. Did you get a sense of him wanting to move on?
I’m always really interested in the choices that he’s made in terms of who he works with and where he works. For example, when I got to New York I really didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen, I hadn’t heard any music, I’d just had a very brief chat with him and I don’t think he really knew what was going to happen himself, but we turned up and we working in this amazing little studio in a bit of a rough part of Brooklyn. It was beautiful, really simple but everything that was in it was the best stuff, like a really beautiful desk and a lovely fucking jazz kit and everything was just really nice and heartfelt and the musicians playing on it were there for the right reasons. He’s worked his arse off to make a record he really cares about and I can’t fault that sort of thing. That’s what it’s all about and he got some really interesting, different people to work on that record. Boy George is on it, so is D’Angelo and so am I! So, I’m just kind of getting to grips with the whole thing and I’ve been rehearsing solidly for the last three weeks and I’ve barely slept a wink and in between I had to go to New York and do this massive Rolling Stone shoot with him… oh god! But, also he’s been very, very supportive of my record and like ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’ was what led him to want to work with me and I’m playing a version of it which we’ve worked out with his band in his set and he’s going to take my band on tour with him in September. So, hopefully there’s a way of doing the two. It’s going to be busy! I would literally kill myself if I was trying to make a record in the way he did. It’s mental! But he did it. It’s definitely pop music, but it’s not straight-forward and it’s musically sophisticated.
And, finally, will there be more releases from the album to come? Where next?
Maybe, we might do something, depending on what happens, at the beginning of next year. The way we’ve gone about it is to kind of play it by ear and see what happens. I’m planning to get in the studio again before the end of the year. I’d really like to have another record out next year. I think the next thing I do is not going to be quite as sort of painful, not quite as slow as this one. I just want to keep doing things and also I’ve been writing with my band which might offer a different side to the coin. I don’t want to start getting throwaway about what I put out but I feel a little bit more like I’ve found my feet a bit more and, also, the money’s gonna run out at some point soon and you’ve gotta do it while you can!! (laughs) It feels like this is the time for me to do this now and that’s hopefully what I’m going to try to do.
‘Without Why’ is released by Scarlett Music on August 30th. A detailed review will appear on this site next week.