Interview: Rose Cousins

Prince Edward Island, just off the coast of Nova Scotia, for a small place sure does punch above its weight in terms of musical talent. Rose Cousins, a native of that beautiful island now based on the mainland, released one of last year’s finest albums. A delicate, thoughtful, adventurous and at times fragile album, ‘Natural Conclusion‘ sees the folk pop songstress throw off the shackles and head into a project driven by notions of danger, vulnerability and creative exploration.  Americana-UK speaks to Cousins ahead of a short run of UK dates supporting John Smith.

From the opening bars of ‘Chosen’ it’s pretty clear that, besides the content and concept of the album, it just sounds beautiful! Tell me more about the production, and what Joe brought specifically to the album’s sonic make-up?
Joe brought trusted friends; Jay Bellerose (drummer), Dave Piltch (bass) and his engineer Ryan Freeland, his best teammates. He also brought a deep appreciation for the songs and words and their intention.

What led you to take the approach you have with this album – i.e. in the collaborative aspect of the record and the way you drew in other musicians from around the world to the project?
I’ve come to realise that music is how I connect. Though I perform quite often on my own, my favourite thing is to invite others to be a part of it both for the communion and for the unknown magic that can happen. My experiences of being a part of live records has been nothing but positive and inspiring. It brings the performance element to the studio because you’re playing WITH each other. It’s a living, breathing conversation, people/instruments making room for each other. I love the idea of these performances happening that once and it  being captured.

How much input did they all have? Or were their ideas and opinion formed in your own overall concept for the album?
I’m assuming you’re asking about the band here? There wasn’t any preparation. We all landed in the same place, I’d play through the song on my own with everyone there and talk structure and then we’d go for it. The only concept for the album was that it would be live and that we’d carefully choose who would be involved. 

What did you gain as an artist from the whole project in terms of possibilities and where you might head next as an artist?
Working with musicians of such a high calibre gave me a chance to rise in the studio and I think on stage. I’m proud of the record for many reasons but I like that it feels sophisticated. I hit some tough and dark topics and I remember feeling a bit nervous about that but I love how it turned out and that it is resonating with people. It’s the closest to bone I’ve gotten and I think I’ll continue to dig deep in whatever is next. 

PEI, for a relatively small musical community, seems to produce a standard of artist that many areas ten times its size rarely achieve. I’m thinking about likes of Dennis Ellsworth – who I love immensely – Whitney Rose, Catherine MacLennan, etc – there must be something in the air?  What does PEI bring to your music and sound?
The East Coast of Canada is just how supportive we are of each other. I truly think this makes a difference and a high concentration of great stuff coming out of the region. PEI is a tiny place with amazing music in every genre and the Atlantic region is as well. Community is important and so is collaboration. I think growing up in a small community teaches that.I love to write near the ocean and I always think PEI. I think my inner landscape looks like PEI.

Tell me a bit more about the songs? Are they all new songs or ones that you have been working on for a while?
The songs span the time between my last record and this. The last song written was ‘Tender is the Man’ which I finished the day before heading into the studio. I’m not prolific. I feel like I have to live in order to get songs because they really are a result of figuring out how to be alive. 

Is that sense of vulnerability a driving force for you as an artist?
Probably, although the idea of being vulnerable sends me running. Songs are the way I finally know how I feel about something.  Truth is important to me and yet it’s hard to live in it all the time. It’s so vulnerable. But yes, I think it’s the key to forward motion.

Where next? More collaboration work or something different? I sense there is a real air of musical adventure and a real willingness to explore. I don’t see you as an artist either happy or even contented in any one genre?
I like your read on me. I don’t know exactly what’s next but, for sure, collaboration till I’m dead. I’m hunting and gathering and working on songs and continue to work on how to be alive. I’ve got a few new songs I’m excited about and I like there to always be a portion of what’s next that I don’t know, so I’m open to spontaneous run-ins. I love the idea of writing in different genres. I’ll probably always love sad songs the most.

Which artists are you listening to Rose? Who provides the inspiration musically for you?
What’s inspiring me most these days is going  to see live music. It reminds me of the magic of being in an audience. I saw Phil Collins in early October and Anais Mitchell in London last week. Bahamas in Toronto and will see my friend Erin Costelo play this week in Halifax. I listen to a wide variety and have been loving Lucy Wainwright Roche’s new record ‘Little Beast,’ The Catapult, Oh Pep’s new single ‘Hurt Nobody.’ Erin Costelo’s ‘Sweet Marie,’ Mountain Man’s Magic Ship, Scott Hellman’s new single ‘Hang Ups.’ I get so much from listening to music. I’d be lost without it. 

Have you been to the UK before? What can we expect from the shows?
Only a couple times before. I think you can expect feelings and laughing.

Thanks again, best of luck with the record. It’s a really beautiful piece of work

Natural Conclusion‘ is out now on Outside Music

November Tour Dates:

14th – The Brook, SOUTHAMPTON
15th – St Pancras Old Church, LONDON
16th – Unitarian Church, BRIGHTON
17th – St Mary’s Church, GUILFORD

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