Roxanne de Bastion
“Trends come and go but a good song is always a good song”
Aug 21, 2021
Roxanne de Bastion is a singer/songwriter of exquisite distinction. Having released her debut long player Heirlooms & Hearsay back in 2017, she’s spent the ensuing years touring – some might say relentlessly – while adding to an already impressive catalogue of songs and memoirs. Currently based in London having grown up in both Berlin and the West Midlands of the UK respectively.
Next month (September 3rd) sees the release of her long-awaited follow-up You & Me, We Are The Same. A record that’s both cathartic and uplifting, You & Me, We Are The Same was written over the two year period Roxanne was losing her father. Produced by Bernard Butler, You & Me, We Are The Same occupies a similar space to The Anchoress’ The Art Of Losing or Regina Spektor’s Begin To Hope. Refreshingly honest while encapsulating a musical diversity that doesn’t stop at any one specific genre. It’s a record that will undoubtedly feature in many end of year “Best Of” lists.
With everything starting to reopen and shows beginning to happen, Under the Radar caught up with Roxanne on her travels between gigs and visiting family in Germany.
Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How was lockdown for you? Did it give you the time to be more creative in some ways?
Roxanne de Bastion: In some ways. It certainly gave me the break that I needed to grieve. Had lockdown not happened I know I wouldn’t have taken it. I’d have just continued gigging. That’s the positive that I’m taking out of it. It was very bizarre. I lost my dad and then it felt like the whole world had literally stopped. Everything just felt very surreal. I’m very grateful for that time. For that break. I definitely wasn’t one of those artists that was prolific throughout that time, but I really enjoyed jumping in with new technologies and just learning. I did a lot of live streaming and went on a little UK live stream tour.
How did that go? Did it feel weird playing to a virtual audience and is it something you see yourself doing in the future?
I think it went great! I sat on this album that I’d finished with Bernard (Butler) literally just before everything closed down. We finished mastering it in February 2020, and I’m so keen on not waiting. I just really wanted to share the music, so I was thinking about what I could do to find a new audience while I wasn’t playing shows. So, I essentially just did a social media takeover of independent venues and promoters I’d worked with previously, and it worked surprisingly well. I also had a small dedicated group of people who were there at every show – it hasn’t happened before in real life! – and it worked. It was a really nice way to continue that working relationship with promoters and venues, and find some new people. It was oddly similar to an actual tour because you had the same sort of awkward eating times and the stage times were the same every day. I tried to make it as much like a proper tour as possible.
It’s probably fair to say you’d been a very prolific live performer up to lockdown. Did the live stream tour feel like a continuation of that in some ways?
It did. I’m sure lots of artists can relate to this, but when gigs stopped. When it became evident things were going to be like this for a while, it was like an identity crisis. I had this thought of “who even am I?” if I’m not shovelling hummus on a chip backstage. So, I was really happy that I could find a way of communicating with people and playing music. It did feel very different. A whole different kind of nervousness. Hitting the “Go live” button rather than walking onto a stage. The key difference is you don’t see all that energy coming back. It is there, in different ways, but not quite the same either. But I definitely felt very lucky that I could continue. I’m going to keep live streaming to some degree.
Was there ever a point during lockdown where you thought being a musician wasn’t sustainable anymore? Particularly from a financial aspect.
No, never. I’ve never wanted to do anything else with my life. Maybe because my dad was a musician as well, and because I’m quite a stubborn person. I’ve never even considered anything else. I see that as a blessing, that I’ve never had to ask myself what am I going to do with my life. The downside to that is there is no plan B. There’s nothing else I can do or would want to do other than this. Also, lockdown wasn’t the thing that created any doubt because I felt I had such a sense of purpose with this album. For my dad, as well as for me. So, I felt strongly that I needed to keep pushing. That’s probably why lockdown worked really well music-wise for me. I managed to find a way to release music and kept playing live so the whole concept of doing anything else is just alien to me. The first industry person on my team was my lawyer, and I remember him once saying to me, “How long have you given yourself?” I didn’t know what he meant. So, he told me that some of his clients had a plan to achieve certain things within a certain time frame and if that doesn’t happen, they’ll pursue a different career away from music. I just looked at him and said I think you’re working with the wrong people! It’s so hard trying to create a career that’s sustainable out of music. If you do have other passions and can-do other things, then do other things. But I also think making music isn’t so much a career, but a vocation for people that feel they have to. What’s more, if anything throughout this time it’s become very clear how important music is to people’s health and wellbeing. I know my audience so much better now than I did before. We’re in touch much more and I know who they are. I know that it’s a reciprocated two-way street.
There are ten songs on You & Me, We Are The Same. Were there any others written over the same period of time and if so, will any of them be revisited in the future?
There were other songs that I wrote specifically to process everything that was going on that didn’t make it onto the album. It’s a very joyous album. It’s by far the happiest sounding collection of songs that I’ve made. I think that’s partly because it was such a strange time of really heightened emotion. So, whilst there was all this grief and darkness, I was so grateful for the time we had. The good moments and the love you just feel became so amplified. It does take over, which is why it sounds so upbeat. Some of the songs I wrote, I decided against putting them on the album. Because I felt they were more about me processing, so they served their purpose in that way. There are a few songs on the album that are like that. More direct and to do with losing someone. But I don’t think I’d have done my dad justice had it been a sad album. Because he was so amazing throughout not being well and had such a positive outlook on life. That was what definitely drove me. One thing that did happen, I wrote the final song “The Weight” right at the end of the process when we already had a lot of the album recorded. I wrote it one day before I had a singing session with Bernard. I didn’t play it to my dad, which was a first for me. He was always the first person to hear a new song. I just thought I’d practice what it’s like. I knew it was a good song so it became the final one on the album. This is how it ends.
How did Bernard Butler become involved and what did he bring to the process? “Molecules” is very reminiscent of “Yes”, the song Bernard made with David McAlmont many years ago. Particularly the production. Was that something that drew you towards working with him?
I love that song! That is one of the main reasons I wanted to work with him. I love that 1960s sensibility infused with electric guitar. Life’s just so funny sometimes. I don’t want to be too esoteric but it just happened and it was just meant to be. It was an offhand remark by a mutual friend. He said you should work with Bernard on your next record, and I thought, yes! You’re right, I should. So, I went home afterwards and some thoughts just don’t leave you alone. I sent him an email; just a cold email through his website, and he wrote back pretty immediately asking me to send him a demo, the rougher the better. It was actually “Molecules” and one other song off the album, “Delete Forget Repeat” that I sent him demos of. Then it just happened super quickly. We met for coffee at Bar Italia in Soho, and at that point he’d already decided he was going to work with me. I didn’t know that at the time, so I was keen to make a good first impression. So that’s how we started working together. I also had no idea at the time, but Bernard lost his dad very early as well. So, he was very sympathetic to the whole situation and there was just something really magical about that whole process. We recorded the album as and when we could, because I was travelling back and forth a lot to see my dad at that time. So that’s how he got involved. With “Molecules”, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted it to sound. What Bernard brought to that was just how much it builds. I loved his approach. The drums on that, it’s just us stomping and clapping on his floor. I don’t know how he managed to make it sound so big but it’s literally one floor tom and us stomping and clapping.
You’ve released three singles off the record so far (“Molecules”, “Heavy Lifting” and “I Remember Everything”). Are you planning to release any others?
“Ordinary Love” is coming out as a single later this month before the album lands in September.
Your music has been compared to The Anchoress among others, mainly because of the diversity in styles and genres you both adopt while also having released albums this year that deal with personal trauma and grief. Are there any other artists that particularly inspire you?
I’m largely inspired by a lot of my peers, Catherine (The Anchoress) absolutely being one of them. For their work ethic and how eloquently they curate their own space and build their own universe. I have a lot of admiration for that. Musically I tend to live in the past. I could never tire of listening to anything Beatles related. That’s just my world. There’s so much music out there that inspires me for different reasons. I am hugely into storytelling. That doesn’t have to be folk or singer/songwriting, but anything that tells a story or takes on a personal journey listening to the song. Also, thanks to Bernard, now I host a radio show every Monday morning on Boogaloo Radio. Despite not being a fan of early mornings! So, because of that, I now listen to more music than ever before. I’m a huge fan of Regina Spektor. She influenced me greatly just because she’s so free in what she does. As a singer/songwriter who doesn’t have a set band, why would you limit yourself to one genre of music? I get so bored so quickly listening to an album that is just an extension of the same song. I just write the song and I try very hard not to edit myself in that process. Even my half hour set will have something like “Molecules” in it next to a really sad song about feelings. I like playing with that light shade.
You’ve also had a book published entitled Tales From The Rails. Will there be a follow-up?
Yes. The moment I realised my writing doesn’t have to be confined to songs or that format was a good day. I love writing, so I intend to do more of that in the future. I would absolutely love to do a follow-up of Tales From The Rails. Hopefully I might not be on rails for that much longer. It’s OK to do every now and then, but it’s also very nice to be in a car! I just feel I need to go on a few more adventures and hit a couple of milestones before I can do the follow-up so I hope that will happen.
You’re playing live again this month going out on tour with Nerina Pallot in October. How different is it supporting someone and playing to their audience to a headline show in front of your own crowd? Is there a difference in the way you prepare for each scenario?
I really enjoy opening for other artists. I really enjoy the challenge of having to win over a room. I feel I play better when I really need to work for people’s attention. I’m convinced that my best performances have been in terrible little pubs when no one listens. I really like that moment when you get to introduce yourself for the first time to a whole room of potential new friends and people who might support your music. I cannot wait for that tour with Nerina Pallot. I have followed her journey and her music for so long. It’s just so interesting to me that a music fan is a music fan. Music fans don’t really limit themselves by genre either. I opened for Marillion once which was amazing! I was amazed at how much time their audience gave me. They were so attentive and all sat at their seats throughout the performance. It was so nice to have people that keen to find something new. I think I’ve been really lucky having support slots where the audiences have been really kind and were in that mood to find something new. So, I wouldn’t say there’s any real difference in how I prepare for a support slot. There’s just a different vibe and mindset. With a headline slot and having that space to play to your own audience for an hour, there’s less pressure on having to introduce yourself, if that makes sense. But I also think that’s more of a mental thing for the artists rather than a reality.
Now that everything is starting to reopen and live shows are happening again, do you foresee a return to the “normal” people knew before the pandemic?
I played my first show since the pandemic yesterday and it was amazing. It was a festival here in Germany and it poured it down with rain throughout. Despite that, people came out and it was very moving. I had to pull myself together emotionally to get through it. It felt a bit like meeting a part of myself that I hadn’t seen in ages. So that was an odd experience, albeit a nice one. We’ve been starved of contact and all of the things we do to escape the mundanity of life; seeing our friends, dancing, live music; all those kinds of things. So hopefully, we’ll value these things a lot more in the future as a society. It’s definitely been interesting to see how much of an accelerator the last eighteen months have been from a social point of view. Whether that’s changes within the music industry, like the streaming enquiry. Or social movements that should have received attention decades ago and now are finally, that wouldn’t have happened had we all not been stuck at home. So, whilst I don’t want to be too flippant as the last eighteen months have been incredibly difficult for most people, it’s also been an interesting time collectively and hopefully an accelerator in the right direction. I know it doesn’t seem like that because we live in such a heightened, divided time but generally. That was the thought behind the album title as well, You & Me, We Are The Same. It’s a reference to my dad but I’m also making that wider point as well. We all have so much more in common with one another than what sets us apart. We are all victims of our upbringing, of circumstance, and if we all learn to listen and value each other a bit more that can only be a good thing.
Do you think there’s a growing sense of community emerging between musicians, artists in general and those that support the arts? Certainly, in light of the adversity and absolute disdain shown by the UK government throughout the pandemic and with Brexit.
That’s why I’m so grateful for organisations like the FAC (Featured Artist Coalition) and that they exist and work so hard to try and push things forward. It is usually artists who are at the forefront of creating change. So, within the music industry, whether its Tom Gray’s Broken Record campaign or Imogen Heap with Creative Passports. I take a lot of comfort in that there are artists who are fighting for all of us. I don’t know what I’d have done without the support of my fans and people who like and have supported my music over the last eighteen months. I set up a Patreon, which is not something I would ever have considered before. The monetary support is one thing, but the exchange and emotional support has been very moving. Let’s hope things don’t get too much worse in the UK before they start getting better. It’s been a very, very hard time for musicians in particular. It’s just not sustainable, this whole Brexit thing. It’s the biggest own goal in our history and I don’t think it will take too much longer for even the diehard Brexiters to see that. In a way, it was fortunate for the government that the pandemic hit when it did. I am certain that with the younger generation being able to vote, things will change.
What advice would you give to a new artist just starting out, especially in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world?
This probably doesn’t relate to Covid or Brexit, but if there’s one thing, I wish I’d known right from the start. It’s that the most important relationships are the ones with people who like my music and with other artists who do what I do. I’m such a believer of artists supporting artists and have definitely built my career around that. So, my advice to any artist would be to invest in building genuine friendships with people who do what you do, know what your life is like and understand what you’re going through. I had no money when I started. I just jobbed as a waitress or behind bars, and gigged. It’s not an easy existence but it’s possible. The most important thing is to have conviction and belief in yourself. Have something to say and be a nice person. Don’t compromise on your art and music, because if you do, that is heading down the road to unhappiness. A song should be a bi-product of your existence. Is what you’re saying genuine and is the song good? Trends come and go but a good song is always a good song.
You & Me, We Are The Same is out on all formats via ROM on Friday 3rd September.