Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Rox: Rox Solid

Rox Rox Rox Rox

I first met the lovely Rox at the Charlotte Street Blues bar where coincidently we were both performing. I remember her short but inspiring set and thought "Phew this girl's going to be big!"

Already Rox has appeared on 'Later' with Jools Holland and she's got the same company backing her who pushed Duffy onto the international stage. Things are looking up for this warm down to earth Norbury girl with bags of charm. So, Fast forwarding, I'm sitting in the Rough Trade offices excited and about to interview this rising star, plugging her new single "No Going Back".

Emrys: Interestingly enough you're half Iranian and half Jamacian, that's an exotic and unique blend! Can you tell us a little about your upbringing?

Rox: I grew up with my Jamacian mum and grandparents in South London. I was an only child but I had the whole bag of love! I'm very attached to my Jamacian side, the food, the music, the culture. I had a great childhood and as far as my iranian side, it's something I'm yet to discover.

Emrys: what were your musical influences when you were growing up?

Rox: My earliest memories are performimg in church, where I learnt so much about projection, we had no microphones, the guy at the back had to hear you. Singing in choirs taught me a lot about harmony. I love harmonies, any chance I can get to do a little harmony in my music then I'm on it. Being at home we used to have huge family gatherings that would end up in a good old sing song. My grandad sang the bass, my uncle sang even lower bass - I felt the vibrations! Good times indeed!

Emrys: You've already worked with big names such as Nitin Sawhney and Mark Ronson can you tell us your experiences working with guys such as these?

Rox: Working with Nitin was an amazing experience. I remember hearing Tina Grace singing 'No Letting Go' thinking to myself "Who the hell is behind this?" Then I found myself with the opportunity to write with him. He's a fascinating artist, it intrigued me as to how he can blend so many genres together. For instance he'll go from Bhangra to Dub, Latin to breakbeat and he makes the transformation so cohesive, joining it all into one glorious sound. He's a musician's musician through and through! I worked with him on his London Undersound album with some superb musicians and performed on the electric proms with him. I was still in the process of writing my own stuff and learning quickly, so I was very fortunate to hook up with Nitin early on.

Emrys: And the Mark Ronson thing?

Rox: Yes I met Mark two years ago. I covered a few of the songs for him when Amy couldn't be there (to perform 'Valerie'). The band Mark uses is phenomenal. The level of musicianship was sky high - there was so many people involved in his entourage, front and back! Out on stage he's got strings, horns, the band and six or seven singers!! Mark was cool, he just told me to do it my way and have fun with it.

Emrys: Can you tell us about your album, is it finished? And how come a girl from Norbury gets to go to America to record her debut?

Rox; I wrote the album over the course of two years, it was a great process. I had a lovely label manager who gave me the time to do what I had to do - I wasn't prepared to compromise the quality by dashing things out. So once the songs were written it was time to think of who would actually produce it. I chose Commissioner (Three times Grammy award-winning Producer and Engineer Gordon Williams (aka Commissioner Gordon) because of his excellent work with Lauryn Hill. I spent time in America working, funnily enough, with a lot of old school ex Bob Marley jamacian musicians - I was sitting in a room with them and all my childhood memories came flooding back. I was out there for five weeks and we got down some real rootsy sounding material. When I came back I worked with producer Al Shux who wrapped it up and gave it a big sound. He's so up and coming, it was so exciting to work with him. It was like we were going on an amazing journey together. He's so fresh and hungry for it, I can see why Jay-Z (Empire State Of The Mind) landed on his lap - that boy's on the up! I really enjoyed making this album using a different head space from playing live, but working too in the studio is so good!

Emrys: So we have the resolute Rox on your single 'No Going Back', the steady Eddie Rox on 'Rock Steady' and then we have the sorrow of 'Sad Eyes'. Your songs are very auto biographical seems like you've been through the thrill of love and the mill of love! Explain please.......

Rox: (a big sigh) Yeeaaah! I've tried to write songs with subjects close to my heart. I try to write them like my diary, and at one stage all I kept writing about was my broken heart when would it ever end. It's really the only way I know how to write, if I did it any other way it would be contrived and not me. It's a hard process writing about what means so much to you
and that's why i'ts so important for me, anyway, to collaborate with others who are sensitive and totally get you. Writing is a very intimate and emotional artform for me. I remember playing a song to a neighbour of mine, with quite a touchy subject, I just remember retreating curled up in a ball and shrivelling in my seat as I sang it. It was so strange, I kept thinking "I can't believe I'm doing this, I'm letting people right in to the core!" I felt so exposed, it was the strangest feeling. This is the compromise I have to make because I want to share it and for people to connect with it.

Emrys: It's hard to classify your music, which I think is a good thing are you challenged by people's perception of you needing to put you in a genre so to speak?
Rox: No! Not at all. I was fortunate to have been exposed to a vast heap of different music that has rubbed off on me, country, gospel, Hip Hop, Trip Hop - all kinds really. For me, as much as I can reflect all of those influences in my music, the better I am for it. Whatever happens I'm always going to be pigeon holed. I can't control that - but as long as I don't concentrate on that too much and I can do what I want to do, then they can say and do what ever they want. I've had the Amy comparisons, you just learn to live with it and I don't take offence it's a complement. Let's face it, Amy is one of the best things to have come out of Britain in a long long while.

Emrys: What contemporary music do you like to listen to?

Rox: Yes there's been a few things that have really got to me - Maxwell's latest album Black Summer's Night is one. I grew up listening to him and every year I use to ask myself is this gonna be the year Maxwell releases another album? When it came I was so excited, he didn't dissappoint either and I saw him at the Apollo. Total showmanship coupled with all the emotions under the sun, I was on the edge of my seat. I cried, I screamed, I laughed and danced in the space for an hour - totally exhilarating.......

Another Artist who I think is so special is Diane Birch. She's one of the most amazing writers I've heard for so long following in the tradition of such greats as Joni Mitchell and Carol King. Sometimes when your listening to albums you get songs just chucked together but this girl's whole album, called 'Bible Belt' tells a story and I can relate to her as we both have a similar backgrounds. Do listen to it, it's such a well written piece of work! Others Q tip 'The Renaissance', love that album! I could go on and on.......

Emrys: What's your writing process, how do you go about it - do you play?

I have a guitar which was my main source but now I'm bang into wurlies! (Wurlitzer piano as played by Donny Hathaway) I've bought one, I love it's beautiful soulful tone to. The sound and it's warmth is a total inspiration to me and you can't, to my mind, emulate that. I'm exploring it all now and I shall be definately playing it on the next album. I shared the writing experience with loads of different people, I wasn't always like that - I used to be very precious about my songs but I have learnt so much about myself, from joining forces with other people... I love it!

Emrys : So finally, what is the Rox sound and what are your plans?

Rox: I like to think of my music as soulful, not soul but soulful! The live sound kind of dictates what's going on. There's reggae in there ('Rock Steady') I'm not hung up on genre naming, I just let it happen and let it be. I'm in a happy space right now, the doom and gloom songs have been written and dealt with... ha! ha!

My plans? To keep as much of my life as private as possible, that's what I admire about people like Sade and Lauryn Hill. They don't have any compunction to reveal all. You don't need to know, I don't need to know and I don't have any desire to know about their personal lives. All I know is they are great musicians and they make great music, and that's what I hope I can do and aspire to. Other plans? Get on the festival circuit - I really want to play lattitude, I've been a couple of times, Glastonbury I imagine would be a great experience too but I'm a big fan of the smaller festivals. The boutique festivals, they are the ones that get me!

Emrys: Great, I hope to see you in your catsuit a muddy field somewhere this summer!

Rox: Catsuits are great, as long as they don't split, God forbid! I couldn't possibly dream of performing in a skirt, yes I look forward to our next meeting - roll on the summer!

Rox's debut album 'Memoirs’ will be out in spring 2010 on Rough Trade records. Her single 'No Going Back' is out now.
Words Emrys Baird

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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