Interview: Rookes | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Songwriter/performer Rookes has been winning over audiences left, right and centre with her dark, yet beautiful sounding brand of pop music, complete with straight to the point lyrics lyrical directness that fearlessly explores queer-female identity. Alongside writing her upcoming debut album, to follow up previous EP releases (Liminal and The Game And The River), the Birmingham born/London-based singer focuses her inquisitive mind on her artform in her YouTube series, #popnotpop. The shows discuss her volatile and complex relationship with pop as well as being an entertaining way to pass some of your plentiful lockdown time.

I catch up with Rookes, who I actually met once before, on a David Bowie tour around Berlin (just saying…), to find out more about her music and video project.

Tell us more about Rookes and the music you make.
I started Rookes as a solo project after my band fell apart. I was writing these desperately sad demos and needed somewhere to put them. Happily, I sent them to my mate Ben who helped me get them on the road. It started as folk music with an electronic edge, now it’s electro-pop. Myself, Rookes and the music all evolved. 

What is your new YouTube series, Pop Not Pop all about? Where can we see it?
As a songwriter I always found myself writing the music I wanted to hear and couldn’t find, and nothing’s changed since I started writing pop music. So, seeing as I’d decided to make my next record a full-length LP, I decided to explore my relationship with pop music at the same time as writing and producing this next record… and document it on the internet! We’re exploring my influences as well as watching me build every track from the ground up; playing every instrument, programming every beat. You can find an episode dropping on YouTube each Monday, in fact here’s a handy playlist for you to binge them all at once.

Which artist kickstarted your relationship with pop?
I grew up with massive voices in the house. Both my parents sing, and my mother used to blast power ballads in the afternoons and sing along: Annie Lennox, Jennifer Rush, Maria McKee. My father had a taste for Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Seal. These all fell into the realm of pop music when pop music was broader in its variety of sounds, when there were fewer genres and sub-categories around. I miss that, and I talk about it in the very first episode of #popnotpop. However, getting a little older, the Spice Girls really started a revolution for me – I had never seen or heard anything like it. 

In your opinion? What’s the best and worst thing about pop music?
I physically sighed just then, ha! To be honest, I also write pop music because it is ingrained in my consciousness. It is, and always has been, everywhere. Pop music is powerful – it digs hooks into your brain for days and has the potential to deliver unexpected joy or catharsis in a way that other genres don’t always manage. Consequently, it also has the potential to create paradigm shifts. But on the flip side, it has become desperately manufactured, which kills that spontaneity and makes the joy often feel forced. What’s more, it all starts to sound the same – every voice quality, beat and bass identical to the last; no longer being ‘influenced’, but mimicking. This makes the final products sinfully boring to me. 

Your Youtube series chronicles the creation of your debut album. How is that coming along? How has the current situation altered your plans?
Funnily enough, no plans have changed at all, because it was always going to be me making the LP alone in my home studio. Well, I say ‘alone’, but I’m not really because you lot are watching! Consequently, it’s coming along very well. We’re four songs deep now – there are nine fully written and three left to write. There are many benefits to making the album alongside a time-lined video project like this – the main one being that I have to take time in the week to write and produce the tracks, or I can’t shoot the videos, and the videos have deadlines. I take two episodes per song – one to explore the ‘origin story’ and the lyrics, and the second to show you how the track is developed musically. This means by the time the YouTube series ends in the summer, every track on the album will have already been developed to a decent stage of production, so I can spend the summer finessing and mixing (which, to me, sounds like the perfect summer) before dropping it. 

Do you think the social isolation situation and the use of technology to beam live music into people’s homes remotely will change how we consume music once this is over?
It’s very possible. It will change our relationship with music and our expectations of performers for sure, although I couldn’t predict the final outcome right now. Seeing pop stars in their private spaces has always thrilled their audiences, so having so much exposure to this may blur boundaries for a lot of fans and affect how they treat the artists they love – entitlement may become a greater issue than before. On the other hand, I think there is an exciting window of opportunity for independent artists to use their online platforms as prime real-estate to engage new audiences. In terms of affecting the experience of seeing artists ‘live’, I don’t think that’s an experience that can be replicated on screen in the same way (although Lord knows, we try!) and regular gig-goers will be hungry for that live experience again once the lockdown is over. 

Do you have any other future projects up your sleeve?
Always! I’m developing a couple of collaborations cooking with artists that I love. I’ve just successfully tested taking my whole live electric show online, which is wildly exciting, so expect announcements around that soon. There will always be side projects for my Patreon supporters – they can expect a juicy cover soon, among other treats. Anyone is free to join the Rookes Lab on Patreon. My Patreon platform is not a new thing – I’ve been running it since 2016, so we are a brilliant and focused community, now totally integral to how I develop my work. I’m also looking at expanding #popnotpop to show even more of the development process, and planning a second series exploring new territory. What’s more, I am really, REALLY looking forward to getting back to live shows. Stomping around a stage makes me so happy; the physicality of this is essential to me and my songs were built to be performed, so keep an eye open for fresh and rescheduled dates! 

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