THE British/Jamaican/Nigerian singer-songwriter Bianca Rose has been writing and…
composing for a decade now. In 2007, her self-released but E.P. (Truth and Tiny Tragedies) arrived and marked her out as a singular songwriting talent. Following that, she continued to write her own material whilst collaborating with others. Bianca Rose has – whilst accompanying herself on guitar and ukulele – performed sets for Sofar Sounds, Tigmus and the CrimeJazz Festival in The Netherlands (among others). This year finds the London-based artist step out alone and release some new material – stuff she has been working on for a long time now. Because of Love sees Bianca Rose collaborating with award-nominated cellist/songwriter Ayanna Witter-Johnson. The combination is stunning and is the second single to be taken from Bianca Rose’s forthcoming debut album. With so much going on, I leapt at the chance to speak with the songwriter about her new material but also her upbringing and musical tastes. She talks about her new single and her hopes for 2017.
Hi Bianca. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey! I’m doing really well, thank you. My week is going fine: have a load of plates spinning in the run-up to the release of the album – but it’s fun; I’m enjoying the process.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself please?
Well. I’m a London-based singer-songwriter. I’ve been making music for quite a few years now; writing for myself and others and about to release my debut album, No Fear Here.
Because of Love is your latest single and featured the talent of Ayanna Witter-Johnson. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the song and how you came to work with Ayanna?
This song is essentially about love and what one might do; or how far one might go when compelled by a perfect love.
Working with Ayanna was a joy. We’ve been friends for some years now and happened to be a part of an artist retreat a few years ago. We wrote this song whilst there, and as I was creating this album, I thought it would fit nicely in its themes and overall soundscape.
It is the second single to be drawn from your forthcoming album, No Fear Here (due on 30th January). Can you reveal the themes/type of songs we can expect from the L.P.?
The songs on this album have a very bright and optimistic outlook despite being born out of a difficult time. I went through a period of time where I couldn’t create. It was very painful, and when I drilled down to find the whys, I met fear and doubt at the base of the tree. Confronting these forces and learning how to not be controlled by them helped me move out and through this dark time – and thankfully into a place where I could create again. 80% of this album is the first songs I wrote when could write again: therefore the songs house the thoughts and emotions I was living with at that time.
Was it a difficult album to create, emotionally, or was it quite an easy and smooth process?
It was very easy actually. Writing (I think) comes easier to me than singing, so after having my ability to write return to me after that challenging time, the songs just poured out.
You have said, when explaining the album’s inclusion of fear in various forms, you try to destroy all traces of fear from your daily life. Has that become harder given the way the political world is transforming and how important is music in fighting fear and prejudice?
That’s an interesting question.
The political climate doesn’t (or hasn’t) affected my ability to use the tools I’ve learnt to root out and keep fear at bay on a personal level. It’s never been the wider or bigger issues that have ever induced fear in me; rather local or more internal neuroses.
I do think it has been, and continues to be, the responsibility of the artist to make sense of the things that are happening both internally and externally to us all – and to attempt to comment on it. Be it art about love, politics; the environment or everyday observation. We can express things in a song that may be impossible to say in a conversation. That is such a gift. I’m so excited to grow in this area as I continue to create more music.
PHOTO CREDIT: Cat Lane
After the album is released do you have plans for tours or any goals for the rest of 2017?
YES! I love sharing music live. A tour is being scheduled for later this year but I will be gigging as much as I can until then.
Your debut E.P., Truth and Tiny Tragedies, was released ten years ago. What have you learnt from the past decade and how would you say you’ve evolved as an artist?
Mostly I think I’ve learnt how to live and allow life to inform art. I’ve learnt about timing – and there is a time to write and time not to. There is a time to champion the artists around you and help them establish their place and a time to step forward. I say all of that (to say that) whilst still being ambitious. I’ve become more accepting of the journey of being an artist.
In the ensuing period (between your debut E.P. and debut album) you have performed a range of gigs, from Sofar Sounds to CrimeJazz Festival (in Holland). Which gigs have been particular memorable and how important is touring to you?
You know, I just love gigging. Every moment I get in front of a crowd and share my stories and songs is such a joy – so I don’t really have a stand-out show.
Being locked in a moment with the audience is an incredibly thrilling experience for me and I do it every chance I can get.
PHOTO CREDIT: Cat Lane
You are a lyricist in the Ready Riters songwriting collective – and co-wrote X-Factor contestant Annastasia Baker’s debut album (resulting in Annastasia’s 2014 Mobo nomination). Is it hard writing for others and how do you adjust, in terms of discipline, getting inside someone else’s head and writing from their point-of-view?
Writing for others exercises a different muscle. When I’m writing for me, I allow the thoughts and melodies to flow. To an extent, there are moments when writing for others that I must allow that flow to happen. As I’m usually in the room with at least two people (often more) who are also contributing to the process, I’ve had to learn to collaborate well – which was difficult in the beginning. If I lead with empathy and understanding it’s relatively easy to understand someone else’s heart and motivation.
Take me back to your upbringing. I know you have British, Jamaican and Nigerian heritage. How do your African roots, for instance, enforce your songwriting and outlook on life?
I think my heritage is less something that enforces my songwriting but is more a foundation that underpins it all.
Like a foundation, I’m not conscious of its presence in my songwriting, but I know it’s there – a vague answer but that’s how I feel about it.
What were the kind of albums you grew up listening to? Which artists filled your young ears?
I came from a Christian home so I grew up listening to a lot of Gospel music (which I love). I loved R’n’B and Garage in my teens but discovering music from singer-songwriter like John Mayer, Lisa Hannigan; Lizz Wright and Foy Vance flipped the script for me. Discovering Jazz music for myself (not what was taught at school or second-hand) was also pivotal.
If you had to select three albums that have, as a child or adult, meant the most to you, what would they be and why?
John Mayer – Room for Squares. It was so important in my development. I discovered this album and it changed how I approached songwriting. It was the first time I had heard someone capture everyday moments in a song. I was used to the stereotypical relationship melodrama found in the R’n’B music and this was a marked departure.
Dinah Washington – I had a best-of album of hers which I played and played constantly for a long period of time. Just the way she expressed the words she sang just pulls you in close.
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. It was an album I didn’t expect to love. I couldn’t listen to anything else for about a month. The songs talk about their lives, their small town; their mentality in such a convicting way that I could put myself in their lives. The last song on the album – A Certain Romance – always makes me emotional. Listening to this album the first time, I knew I wanted to write music that made people feel like I felt.
A lot of websites have published their list of musicians to watch this year. Which acts would you suggest we keep a close eye on?
Ayanna Witter-Johnson – she recording an album right now that I cannot wait to have in my collection
Is there any advice you’d offer new songwriters coming through at the moment?
Read books. Read poetry. Crucial.
Listen to music that is nothing like what you make. Then, put all of that down and write, write, write. Disengage from social media often (I’m sill learning to do this).
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you want (not one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll include it here.
Clair de Lune from Rick Wakeman’s stunning new album, Piano Portraits
Follow Bianca Rose
PHOTO CREDIT: Lesley Lau Photography