Rosie Alena: The Cinematic Side

Rosie Alena is a singer-songwriter from London who has recently released her debut mini album Pixelated Images. The album explores her poetic meditations on her perception of self and personal growth across six impressively atmospheric songs. Her music is characterised by her angelic vocals and tender layers of orchestral instruments. Each song is a world in itself and perhaps represents versions of herself that she has tried to understand and, in the process, has immortalised in verse.

As a performer, Rosie is also a spectacle to behold. A few weeks after the interview, I was lucky enough to see her perform live at Soup Kitchen in Manchester as a support act for Indigo de Souza. It was a cool Sunday evening but within the dim basement of the venue, the packed perspiring crowd was eager for the set ahead. Rosie and guitarist Casper Miles, both adorned in matching red outfits beneath a flood of crimson limelight, charmed and captivated the crowd. Her performance upheld the solar system of worlds that she has intricately crafted in her mini album and left us all with entranced smiles.

I caught Rosie in-between shifts over Zoom on a beautiful Friday afternoon before the bank holiday weekend. She spoke to me from her home in London which she had only recently returned to after being away for her first ever tour, something she was eager to discuss the experience of along with her love for musical theatre and her innate pull to be a performer. We also discussed the way university has impacted her progress as a musician and she shared the importance of community to her as a musician, and we bonded over the artist’s way, relating to each other over the creative writing process and our persistent pursuit to achieve discipline in our craft.

You’ve just come back from a three-week European tour, which also happens to be your first time on tour – how was that for you?

It was honestly the best thing ever, it was literally incredible. It’s so different in Europe – they look after you so well! Even as a support artist you get so much food; you get catering and you get way more free drinks. I feel like in the UK there’s just not enough money in music. It was incredible playing Paris and Berlin, it’s literally been my dream for such a long time. Some of the venues have over a thousand people in, so that was pretty crazy, and Alex Cameron, who I was supporting was so lovely and so accommodating and we’ve just become friends as well which was really nice

Do you have a memory that stands out to you?

I mean Paris or Berlin were my favourite shows, but Berlin was so fun. It was completely sold out, and people were there from the beginning. That’s another thing about Europe as well – people really get down early for the support acts. The audience was incredible and then we had this massive after party at this club called Loophole in Berlin where I DJed as well. So yeah, Berlin was just by far the best show.

Most of your songs begin as ‘inner monologues’ – what was the common theme of the inner monologues that made the album?

Well, most of my songs are about my feelings and how I view the world. I guess a lot of it stems from processing my own feelings and my own emotions, wanting to be liked and wanting to present yourself in a certain way. I think this whole EP was just an amalgamation of all my different thoughts about social situations and how I want to be perceived, but also learning that you can’t control how you’re perceived and how you’ve just gotta do your thing and people will just think of you how they want to think of you. I don’t know if that’s like the whole meaning of the EP but that’s definitely an aspect of it. Especially ‘Adore Me’ – that’s definitely about wanting to be a part of everything and not wanting to miss out on things. It’s definitely a process of me just figuring out how I am feeling, if that can be a theme.

Your music has been described as ‘cinematic’ – how do you think you inspire that atmosphere in your songs and your performance? Why do you think you are drawn to creating that atmosphere whether that be consciously or not?

I grew up listening to a lot of musical theatre and my mum went to musical theatre school and was involved in theatre production. When I was younger, I did want to be in musical theatre. Performing has always been a massive thing for me – I think I would say that I am a performer first. Before I was writing, I was always performing. That’s always been my main passion, like, singing in stage in front of people. [On stage is] weirdly where I feel like I’m most secure. I think I’ve always been drawn to drama, and musical theatre obviously is very dramatic and things are way more exaggerated. I think it just stems from that, I’d say, that cinematic, kind of dramatic side to my music. It’s definitely come from my inspiration from musical theatre.

In terms of how I create that, I think it just comes from me, because I write all of the music and I can kind of make it as dramatic as I want to. You can take an inner monologue and it might not seem that crazy, but you can turn it into something that’s more emotive through music.

I also feel like your style plays a big contributing role to that effect in your music as well. You wore an incredible dress in your performance with Stolen Sessions!

Yeah, I think that’s what it is. I love just standing and performing. I do play guitar and piano but I feel like I have more of a stage presence and I can give that extra performance when I am just ‘being’. Well, I hope anyway, that I have a strong presence on stage and I feel like that adds to the drama. I take a lot of interest in how I look, like you said, my dresses. I always wear dresses, like big kind of ball gowns (laughs) so that definitely helps create the worlds that I am trying to achieve, for sure.

The artwork for the album and singles are amazing – they’re extravagant, surreal and ultra-feminine. what was the inspiration behind them? How do you think they complement the songs within the album because they really stood out to me.

Aw, thank you! I’m really happy with how they turned out. I think I just wanted to create – well, I think this is why I called it a mini-album rather than an EP – because it felt more conceptual and it was six songs which is quite a long EP. I think I just wanted to make the whole thing very cohesive and create like a world, almost. That’s why I wanted everything to be finished before we started releasing. I wanted all the artworks to be done so it could feel consistent, so it wouldn’t be like each artwork was random and the songs won’t feel like they’re just flung together. I had the same producer for the whole thing and similar instruments across it. Sound-wise and artistically I just wanted to create a whole world, and I think each song, even though they all relate together, are actually all very different. I feel like each song could fit into different genres, and I wanted the artwork to seem similar but exist on their own in their own little world as well. The whole artwork is an amalgamation of everything.

I was really inspired – especially the one for ‘The Light’ – by The Wizard of Oz, again more musical theatre inspiration and I guess just creating a dream world as well.

You have been making music since before you went to university – I’m curious as to how uni has shaped and influenced your songwriting.

I mean, when I first started uni, I kind of hated it, like why did I do this to myself? But it definitely was really beneficial and I’m so glad I did it and stuck it out because – I went to Goldsmiths and it is quite a creative uni and I think it is not just about the degree. I just got to meet so many people. Through being at uni was how I got my first two gigs and open mic nights and from there you just meet more new people and you create your community. I think Goldsmiths as well has its own little scene but it’s also part of the wider London music scene so it definitely helps in terms of making friends with people and forming future collaborations. I think the best way to make contacts, or to network, is to make friends and hang out with people. I wouldn’t like to force those kinds of things and I think that uni is just the perfect way, because you’re all in the same boat and people aren’t making money so it was just a good way for us to all work together and meet people, basically.

[University] intellectualised my practice as well. It made me think critically about why I do things and what I’m doing it for – like the greater meaning behind things rather than just doing things for the sake of doing them, which of course, you can do. It was nice to do things in a different way and think critically about what I was doing. We had to do a lot of reflection. When we did performances and when we’ve written pieces of music we had to do a lot of reflective writing which I think really helped me as a musician.

When and how did you know the album was finished? Why a mini album, rather than a longer one?

I guess I had a lot of songs that could have been on it but I think it was about choosing. I think it’s quite eclectic in style but also seems quite cohesive at the same time. I wanted songs that showed my different assets, like different parts of me as a songwriter and also as a singer. Some of the songs are upbeat like ‘God’s Garden’ and ‘The Light’, they are upbeat and joyous and fun songs, and then ‘Adore Me’ is more vulnerable. I would say that’s definitely one of my most vulnerable songs. ‘Cruel Lover’ is definitely more rocky and has darker undertones to it. I think it was just about showing me as a person and all the sides of my personality and trying that put it across in one album. It was quite tricky, because there were lots of songs that I wanted to be on it and that I really loved, but didn’t quite fit what I was trying to do.

In terms of how I knew it was finished, that’s always hard to know when it’s done. I think that’s what’s good about working with other people. I worked with a producer called Oli [Barton-Wood] and we worked really well together and really respected each other. It’s hard to know when things are finished but I guess you just have to get to a point where you have don’t work on it. I know people that have been working on things for years and they just want to tweak that one thing, and I think it’s just about becoming comfortable with the fact that you’re always gonna make something else. You can’t perfect your first thing, there’s no point just going back and wishing you did this because it captures you in that moment. There’s definitely times when I listen back to songs and I think ‘oh, I don’t really sing it like this anymore, but I think it’s nice that it’s captured me then’ and that the next album will capture me whenever that is as well. It’s a hard one, it is hard finishing for sure.

What motivates you to make music? I relate to you in the sense that you have a part-time job while pursuing music. What keeps you going?

I guess I’ve just always wanted to do music, that’s always been my career path. I will do whatever it takes to get there, even if I have to work at a few random different jobs. I’ve been quite lucky in the sense that I’ve always known that I wanted to do music, and I think what motivates me still is even when things feel like ‘oh my god, I literally don’t make any money off this’, it’s knowing that I am slowly getting closer and closer to being able to achieve being financially stable off music so I don’t know. I guess what motivates me is that I’m achieving little things more and more, even doing my first tour and my first festival. Even if it’s not happening really fast, the gradual goals that are being met keep me motivated. Also listening to other people’s music and going to gigs. I’m always so inspired after going to other people’s gigs and just try to experience as much as possible. I always try to write. If I am feeling emotional, if I am feeling a certain way, I always try and act on that straight away. I rarely just sit down and think ‘today I’m going to write a song’. I’m not really disciplined like that with my songwriting. I usually just write when I feel like I need to write.

I’ve recently tried to make myself write just 25 minutes a day. Before I’d say to myself that I only want to write when I feel inspired, but sometimes that just doesn’t come and I spend ages not writing.

Yeah, it’s really hard as a writer and to value that it’s your work as well. I feel like I still haven’t got to that point where I’m like, ‘oh, it’s my job’.

That’s great!

Well, when I say it’s my job, I mean viewing it as work but not in a bad way. Before music would be like a hobby, but no – this is what I’m trying to do. Have you heard of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? It’s really good, I’ve just started reading it, but one of the exercises to do is morning pages. As soon as you wake up, you just write everything that’s in your head so it’s like a stream-of-consciousness and you write for three pages and then you stop. That’s been an amazing thing, so I’ve been writing loads more doing that.

Any other exciting projects going on? Can be a hobby and completely unrelated to music!

I would say one thing that’s really cool that we haven’t done in a while – well, me and my friend Louise (from the band Prima Queen) – we started this project called Good Egg Presents. It’s like a little collective and we’ve been putting on gigs and we haven’t done anything in a while because we’ve been busy doing our own thing but we’re going to start it up again. Basically, we just put on nights and we want to make it pretty diverse in terms of music genres and people playing, having women on the forefront. We also want to do not just music but also dance events – my sister’s a choreographer so we’d have her showcase some of her choreography. It’s paused for now but we will come back!

Words: Weng-U Pun // Photos: Holly Whitaker

‘Pixelated Images’ is out now via untitled (recs). Stream or purchase the album via Bandcamp.

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