The singer/songwriter talks Ashley Manning through the songs that inspire her
“I realised that this was me and this was what I wanted to do, but all of the shiny parts had gone and left me with the gritty side of it all.”
When Lucy Rose first began making music, everything seemed so overly simplified; it was just herself and her guitar. But during the past few years, as Rose has experienced what she describes as a "musical education", her connection with music has surpassed the superficial and developed into something much deeper.
As with most of the artists she’s selected in her song choices, Rose’s most successful work to date was born out of a difficult period of her life. Her latest album, No Words Left, is a candid narrative of a woman laid bare, gutting the crevices of an inner world that had long been overlooked. Both lyrically and melodically, it’s a record that reveals a tension between the self-consciousness of being seen and the compulsion to recklessly abandon.
When we speak, Rose is at her home in Brighton, facing the seafront. “I used to think I was more eclectic with my taste,” she laughs as we begin chatting, “but I’ve learnt that I’m not. I really only like a small proportion of music!” That might be so, but the songs she has chosen, from Joni Mitchell, to Neil Young to Nick Drake, are undoubtedly exemplars of great experimentation, boldness and in many ways, a reflection of the darker side of living
“If I’m talking about music that speaks to me on a deeper level, then for some reason Joni Mitchell is the only female artist that does that; she’s affected me musically and personally.
“She so clearly doesn’t stay in the boundaries of what people expect, and to see someone be so bold musically, that in itself is so inspirational to see. Someone asked Joni if there was anything she was ever proud of musically and she said she couldn’t think of anything, which was really sad for me to hear.
“I discovered this song quite recently and to say she’s one of the greatest artists of all time - and I’m embarrassingly behind - there’s so much to delve into when listening to her records. This came out in 2000 and I’ve been playing catch-up, I started listening to this record within the last two years.
“She wrote this song when she was so young, but “Both Sides Now” only truly made sense to her later on in life, when she did an arrangement of it with Judy Collins. I feel so powerfully sad that she’s singing this song at this point in her life. She got the inspiration for it from looking out of the window of a flight that she took and the pilot said, ‘You’re going to be the first generation to see clouds from the sky’.
“Lyrically, it’s so clever and so poignant. Musically, she’s gone through her acoustic stage, then her jazzier stage, then her more experimental stage and then she came back to this version of it, which is so simple and beautiful.
“It shows class songwriting at its best. It’s so multi-layered in its depth, but then also so immediate. You could play it to anyone at any time and it’s still a beautiful song, but it keeps growing and you keep learning from it.”
“Jeff Buckley was a really tricky one for me, because when I was 15 or 16 my first stoner boyfriend used to listen to him, and I was like ‘I don’t really get it’. It was at a point in my life when I had no musical education beyond Radio One; I’d listen to whatever was on the radio or whatever my friends were telling me to listen to.
“He was trying to introduce me to Jeff Buckley and I was totally unaware of how incredible his music was. I do remember it was my early insecurities about understanding music that held me back initially, and knowing there was something really amazing there that I just didn’t understand.
“Lilac Wine" is a cover version, and I used to be really snobby about covers and have such an issue with people not writing their own songs. People would ask me to do a cover and I’d be like ‘What the fuck?’ Then learning that this was a cover, I had to rethink my opinion on that.
“Then this record became more and more a part of my life and became a more poignant song, and weirdly, going full circle, when I met my husband and we were swapping music, I ended up introducing him to Jeff Buckley.
“It’s gone from me not knowing who he was to me being ‘You really need to listen to this’. Grace was one of those records we were both listening to at the same time earlier on in our relationship. Sometimes records can represent a moment; we were both really into this record and it solidified this moment in time.
“The lyrics are beautiful, I like anything that talks about somebody’s love and the feelings they have for somebody. It has a sort of bitter sweetness to it. As everyone knows, true love isn’t Disney stuff, and I think that’s what I’m into.”
“Nick Drake, the saddest story ever! I guess when you’re gone people start appreciating your music, but I think it’s terrible that he continuously put out great art that felt under-appreciated for his whole life.
“He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and grew up in Warrick, which is a 10-minute drive from where I grew up. One of my friend’s Dad’s mates was one of Nick Drake’s best friends. I asked him what it was like to be friends with him and he said it was hard, because he was down all the time, because no one understood his music.
“He’s an inspiration musically but also personally, because that’s what a true artist is; when no one gets you and no one understands you, but you are still relentlessly yourself - that’s true art and it’s a reminder to me. Obviously his lyrics are beautiful, his music is ridiculous and with the arrangement and orchestration there's an interesting discord, it sounds real.
“This rawness filters in when I made No Words Left. Having gone through the making of this record, it’s something I’d never wish upon myself again. It’s really complex, because it’s the thing that feels the most like me and it’s the part I don’t want to explore anymore. Everyone is looking for happiness and actually, happiness is a lot more complex.
“If I’m playing this stuff live, I don’t necessarily feel happy. However, what I’m doing in the long-term is writing that comes from a deep part of me, parts that are covered up in everyday life and I’m uncovering myself in my music. Whether it’s cathartic, or it makes me feel good, that’s difficult to know.”
“Alejandro Arras is my friend from Mexico, I put him in here because when I was thinking of the music that inspires me, he really does. On my last America trip we were in a small apartment with a Spanish guitar and he just did it for me. He used to do folk covers and has since made a couple of records and an EP.
“He supported me when I went back to Mexico a few months ago, even though he’d never played a live gig before. I had all of these flashbacks of how rubbish I was for about a year when I first started out, but he sat down and played like he’d been doing it for 20 years. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
“Out of the music that’s coming out now, when I talk to him it’s like he’s been living in a time capsule and not really existed in the modern-day music culture - he’s managed to do this truly authentic thing. It’s like he lives in this world of folk music and he’s going back in time, there’s loads of potential in it.”
“Neil Young is the ultimate hero, although potentially he’s the hero you don’t need. It was so difficult to choose a song of his because there are so many, but “The Needle and the Damage Done’ is the one that has affected me the most. It’s a beautiful song and it’s off one of my top records, Harvest.
“I like it because it’s not afraid to talk about the things that are important; it talks about heroin addiction and losing people that he loved through drugs. I really respect anyone who can talk about things like that in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. It’s so brave and so difficult and important. He’s an absolute legend.
“Probably the best gig of my life was seeing him play in person. I’ve seen him three times, but there was something about the first time I saw him. I felt the closest I’ve felt to ecstasy when watching him playing.”
“This used to be my walk-on song for a long time! It’s mad really, I’d have one of the most epic songs ever and then I’d go out and play really soft acoustics. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it was good for me to hear it before I went onstage.
“Pink Floyd were a ridiculous band, and for me, I love this song for Clare Torry. I can relate to her situation of when a session singer comes in - you’re paid £100 to sing on a track and you leave having no idea whether it’s any good. That’s how she felt when she left the session with Pink Floyd, which is shocking, because if I was ever in the room with someone who sang how she did I’d be like ‘Fuck me, you’re incredible.’ But that didn’t happen and that’s astonishing.
“It was so out there, so different and so brilliant. I respect her for suing Pink Floyd later on for some credit, but from a musical point of view it’s weird that she’s not mentioned, that it’s not ‘featuring Clare Torry’ because for me, that whole song, the instrumentation, is a really lovely, heart-wrenching performance.
“To be able to let yourself go like that is a great inspiration to me, because to a certain degree I’ve always been so scared of singing in tune. In the past I’ve struggled to let myself feel things, let myself go and not be scared about sounding bad, and I think it was her performance that gave me the courage to try to sing outside of the box.
“It 100% influenced “Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” on the album. At the time it wasn’t ‘Let’s do a version of this’, but when I imagined the instrumental pieces of music, this was it. The tracks were recorded on two separate evenings and on “Pt. 1” I was at a particularly low point of not understanding myself and my own feelings, and we ran through it three or four times.
“I felt like that was the only time I’d ever be able to do this, because up until that point I was so lost that I had nothing to lose. I guess it was 100% listening to her that gave me ideas of how I could use my voice and make it more acrobatic than I had done before.”
“If I thought I could get away with it, I’d probably choose nine Joni songs!
“I’m sure you can hear the influences from this song in my record. This music and hearing someone that I truly value using bass and having it ‘sing’ gave me the courage to pursue it.
“For me, the bass is such an emotive instrument and it doesn’t have to be rooting down something. When you have drums, the bass has to follow and it has a lot less freedom, which is another reason why I wanted to get rid of all the drums and allow it to ‘sing’. I guess this song does exactly that, it interweaves between Joni’s vocals and the sounds and the way she plays the guitar.
“It’s progressed from her earlier stuff and moved forward, and as always she’s written a song about something truly important to her - about heartbreak and breaking up with her percussion player who had been on the record.
“I think she said it was hard to write this track, and it still makes me sad that the songs that are the hardest for the artist to write are the most enjoyable for everyone else. Why is that the case? It seems so unfair!”
“Who doesn’t love Radiohead? Amazing band. Again, it’s about me navigating my way through the industry, contemporary art and pop culture. You can so easily see how people can be led down different paths and how bands become different to how they started out.
“I think when I talk about personality - not just musically - it’s because people fork out their own paths, and I think that’s what Radiohead have done. They’re a band that have been so successful commercially, but have at no point compromised, they’ve always been pushing boundaries.
“There’s a lot of people who are making weird music because they think that’s cool, but it’s just not authentic. People go ‘Oh I really love Radiohead, so I’m making this really weird record’ but I don’t think at any point Radiohead ever thought they were weird. They probably thought everyone else was weird, which is how it should be.
“They were able to go and try all these things and then come back and write a song like this. It’s just an acoustic guitar, a really interesting vocal and a string arrangement, and I think that’s definitely influenced me. “Faust Arp” is an example of when the narrative doesn’t just have to be beautiful; it’s beautiful and interesting and discordant.
“It came out when I was 18 years old and I remember it keeping me company as I worked at a pub in the evening - they’d put on open mic nights and I was on the door charging people £5 to get in. It was quite a long walk from my house to the pub and this record, for a huge period of time, is what got me there and back.
“I know it sounds a lot, but it was a big thing in helping me to put one foot in front of the other, feel good and get excited about working on the door and listening to other people play music. It was an important record to me.
“Like Radiohead, I aspire to be more abstract. It’s difficult to find the balance between being abstract, not saying anything, and avoiding clichés, but he can talk about the ocean and it doesn’t sound twee. However, I do aspire to explore, to not describe things in the way that you’ve heard before, to describe things that make you feel something, but you have no idea what they’re really talking about. That’s amazing.”
“In my ignorant teenage years at school I was listening to terrible music for a long period of time. But Radio One started to play "Elusive" and it was the first song that really gave me an indication of some sort of identity as a musician.
“I’d bought an acoustic guitar a few years before, but this song spoke to me immediately. It was like seeing who you wanted to be, but you didn’t realise it. It was the longing of trying to find out who you are when you’re a kid, especially if you’re writing songs in your bedroom trying to discover your identity.
“I went to see Scott play in London at Camden Crawl in The Enterprise, there were 20 people there and I was like ‘Wow, I’m here watching my favourite artist’. I think what happened then was that I spoke to his violin player, he asked me to come backstage and I played Scott a terrible song on my guitar. To this day he doesn’t know it was me, and he cannot know it was me!
“He’s been inspirational with his journey too, it’s incredible. He just spits out really good records because it’s a big part of who he is and he isn’t deterred by anything. There are some musicians that can carve out their own path outside of the mainstream, commercial aspect of the industry and it proved to someone like me that there are multiple ways of being an artist and being successful.”