My Inspiration: Rookes – POPNOTPOP | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Birmingham music maker and producer, Rookes, drops her debut album, POPNOTPOP. The release is a feast of moreish pop bangers complete with immersive and sharply produced electronic soundscapes, grinding beats and Rookes’ soulful, harmonious vocals. 

Here, the artist sheds some light on the inspiration behind it…

POPNOTPOP started and has remained a huge experiment. It began in January of 2020, when I somehow managed to wipe my external hard drive with all my demo projects on; every music maker’s nightmare. We tried to get the data back, but we couldn’t. My manager at that time was trying to console me on Facetime while I lay on the floor of my home studio screaming into a pillow. I still had the songs to rebuild, so that night we came up with the concept of POPNOTPOP – for me to produce an LP for the first time that sounded like the pop music that I wanted but couldn’t find in the charts. Moaning about my boredom with current pop music was a regular habit of mine, so this was an opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. 

Then the pandemic hit two months later and I found myself trapped in one room for 18 months with nothing else to do but lean into becoming a record producer, not just for me but for other artists too. The cabin feverishness of that time made its way onto the record, but my new production knowledge informed a more expansive sonic landscape, and when Katie Tavini stepped into the mixing process with me (by then we could actually leave our houses, so some of the mixing was at Katie’s Weird Jungle studio in Brighton) the record was getting tight and sharp. 

Every song on the record is about a very specific, uncomfortable experience, because if I’ve learned anything in the past few years it’s this: on some level, every specific experience can become universal. And I love talking about uncomfortable experiences, so crafting these songs to dance on and wail to felt like the ultimate catharsis. 

It’s tough to list the artists who I have found myself inspired by and referencing during POPNOTPOP, because my palette is wildly broad. As a bit of a cheat, I’ve compiled a playlist of the specific tracks I drew from here. A few of the obvious ones I’ll unpack with the album singles below. There were other pop culture influences though, which added fuel to the fire. The movie Promising Young Woman, the Final Girls podcast, the book King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, and the poetry of Kae Tempest are a few. 

A word about the artwork for the LP: music made by women can be reduced to a tedious handful of words, and I didn’t want to give people that option if I could help it. The album artwork had to reflect this; something punk in spirit, but also mesmerising. I called on the formidable skills of Keziah Cooper for this; one of the most talented self-taught photographers I know. I had a close-shaven pandemic DIY haircut, so we did my makeup and then spent an afternoon dunking me over and over in my bathtub, in the company of Keziah’s greyhound, Anna. Anna was very anxious about the dunking, and it’s actually her that you can see me speaking to over my left shoulder, trying to soothe. The light caught me at that moment and the result is the accidentally beatific shot on the LP cover. 

I have opted to plan livestreams to promote this record rather than a tour, as touring is no longer financially feasible for me but also small venues are generally difficult in terms of accessibility. Look out for livestream announcements on the 20th November. 

The title indicates a lot. Consent was inspired by my recovery from an abusive relationship, framed almost as a wish to complain to the customer service desk of that relationship. I threw myself into danceable rock influences during its development – particularly PVRIS, who I had only recently discovered through the ‘Hallucinations’ EP, and Grimes’ single ‘We Appreciate Power’. Consent was written on my acoustic guitar within a couple of hours in my lock-down bedroom in the summer of 2020. I was waiting for a stretch of therapy to begin and stewing in my PTSD, so writing this offered some short-term relief. 

Paint draws primarily from Prince – particularly ‘Kiss’, which I have argued is the perfect pop song – and Lizzo, with a little Billie Eilish thrown in. I developed the foundations – particularly that bass line – in an iOS loop-building app. I had written a bunch of lyrics already that were circling the theme of romantic ambiguity – something I have far too much experience in – and luckily the first two lines sat comfortably in the first loop. I wanted to make something playful and hot, like an episode of Sex In The City (when it was more good than problematic) in music form with a bisexual twist, and I think that’s what we got in the end.

Sweat is a disco banger is losing my faith in the church and finding it again in gay bars. I had been listening to Jessie Ware’s ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ all through 2020, so disco was bound to get involved at some point. Sweat reflects the mixed experiences I had of conditional acceptance in church environments – as a woman and as a queer person – but then in the queer community my acceptance was immediate and unquestionable. I even sampled the word ‘church’ and used it many times in the production – chopped, reversed, pitch shifted, played… all over the place! I have a theology degree and I worked for the church for a long time, but I was always questioning the status quo, which got me into trouble sometimes, and the hypocrisy and insensitivity I encountered is also reflected in the lyrics. Anyone who knows their biblical metaphors will be able to spot the Easter eggs.

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