- Thu, 2010-03-18 15:24
Roxanne Tataei, better known simply as Rox, is about to take the world by storm with her powerful, soulful vocals. She’s only 21, but it’s old enough to have accrued sufficient life-experience to turn into a fantastic gospel- and R&B-tinged debut album, Memoirs.
I Like Music chatted to Rox about the inspiration behind the album, how it came together, the impact that traditional church music has had on her, and where she wants to take things next.
"I Like Music because… it likes me.” Rox
ILM: We've been watching the video for My Baby Left Me. What a lovely video! Did you have fun making it?
Rox: It was amazing! I worked with a great director called Emil Nava, who’s a really, really cool guy. He’s not really well-known but he’s done a few things before. I just love the way he works; he was so enthusiastic! With a six o’clock start, there aren’t many people who have a smile on their faces and are raring to go, but he was totally that guy. It was very infectious and just made everyone happy to be there. The whole concept was great. We were going for a really natural ‘day in the life of Rox’. It was me and the band on this amazing tour bus kitted out just like I want my future house to be! There were rugs and Moroccan cushions and incense burning. It was really cool. I really enjoyed it!
ILM: Yeah, it seemed very natural…
Rox: It would have been very easy to do the thing that a lot of artists do; the beauty thing and all performance to the camera. We could have gone down that route, but as an introduction I thought it was really cool to go with a more understated feel.
ILM: Are you very hands on with the image side of things, keeping control of your style etc.?
Rox: Oh, completely. I remember meeting with Emil and going through everything from the styling to what I was doing and how the bus was going to be decorated. It’s so important, especially being the artist that I am. I’m so hands on. At the end of the day, all of this is a reflection of me. I’d hate to be misinterpreted in any way or be seen as something that I wasn’t. That’s why it’s so important for me to make sure that it’s all going in the right direction.
ILM: It's much easier to maintatin something natural in the long run, otherwise you'd find your self having to play up to a character...
Rox: Exactly. I wouldn’t say that it was easy mind you! I take on more than I can handle sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy it, and I enjoy knowing exactly what I’m doing. It gives me peace of mind.
ILM: What can we expect from the debut album?
Rox: A few things! This album is an account of nearly three years of my life. Topic-wise it’s to do with love: being in it, being out of it; wanting it, not wanting it. You can also expect just a reflection of me really. Musically, it sort of varies. There are up-beat numbers which have big production and loads of instrumentation and vocals. Then there’s the complete opposite of that in the more vulnerable intimate moments, which are more stripped down. I just hope it takes the listener on a journey.
ILM: How would you describe the process of putting the album together?
Rox: If we’re going from the beginning, heart-ache had a lot to do with it. That was a lot of the inspiration for writing the album. I was in a sort of funny relationship and I was worrying quite a lot about that circumstance. I had about a year, or a year and a half, to write the actual album and then it took nearly a year to record it. I went to New Jersey to record with an amazing producer called Commissioner Gordon.
ILM: Awesome name!
Rox: Yeah, it’s hilarious! His name’s Gordon Williams, it’s not as amazing as Commissioner Gordon. I think he changed it. I remember writing the album and sitting down with management and label and asking ourselves who was going to take it to the next level. I just remember looking through albums that I love, and the Miseducation of Lauren Hill was one. We knew that Commissioner was involved; he had quite a big part in that. So we checked if he was available, it was sort of a no-brainer to be honest, a very easy decision to make. As soon as I met him we got on so, so well. I went up there for five or six weeks to record, and we recorded the basics of it. Then I came back to London and recorded the rest of it with Al Shux. That was great ‘cos Al was my friend before so it was so easy for us to record. And he’s not just a producer. He’s a musician and a writer too.
ILM: We're chatting before the album has been released, how are you feeling building up to the big day?
Rox: I’m really nervous! But I’m excited at the same time. This whole thing has been a long time coming. I’ve been doing music for a while so for my record finally to be seeing the light of day is such a relief in so many ways! The thing is, you never know how it’s gonna go. One day you could be getting such great receptions and another day you’re not too sure. I think ‘pressure’ is the wrong word. I don’t actually care about this whole thing with radio playlists and all this stuff. Ultimately, it can affect how your record goes, but I try not to dwell on that. I’ve never thought that my career was going to be based on how many plays I get on the radio per day. But there’s so much talk of that, it sort of does your head in after a while. But yeah, I’m excited!
ILM: What’s the live show like?
Rox: Usually it’s me and the six-piece band: two backing vocalists, guitarist, pianist, drummer, bassist. But for this little mini-tour that we’re doing I’m keeping it basic. It’s all about the vocals, and the guitar and backing vocalists. It’s nice to bring that variation, and I think it’s also the test of a good song. When you take away all the instrumentation and you’re just left with the lyric and the melody, if it still works then that’s great. I’m quite a visual artist and I like to entertain. I like to bring something new to the live shows. It’s great having the CD that people can listen to, but to make it interesting visually is important to me. And I like to have a good time with my band...
ILM: When did your passion for music begin?
Rox: I learnt how to sing at church. I went there from quite a young age because my Grandad was a pastor. I lived with my Grandparents and my Mum so I was always encouraged to go. Singing at church is a huge deal. The services are mostly filled up with singing songs as opposed to preaching. Don’t get me wrong, they still do the preaching thing for nearly two hours! But it was mostly singing. I remember there was a choir master there called Rubin, and I suppose he saw potential in me. I didn’t really understand at the time, but he would always get me by the piano and go through scales with me and teach me songs.
ILM: And you took to it immediately?
Rox: Actually, at the time I didn’t really appreciate it. I was quite annoyed to be honest! I just wanted to play with my friends and eat food! At lunchtime all I wanted to do after a really long service of the preacher going on was to have fun with my friends. Then every week, he’d get me to perform the song that he’d taught me the week before. I’d be cringing in my seat with my heart beating so fast, and I would be thinking “why’s he doing this to me?” It was due to the confidence thing. I hadn’t really performed much before. But the more that I did it, the more that I grew to love it and the more that I wanted to be at the front singing away. So church definitely taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about harmony and projecting my voice, and all those things that are so important in singing.
ILM: Has church music had a big impact upon the way you write songs now?
Rox: Yeah, definitely. The songs that I used to sing at church were country gospel songs, more like hymns, as opposed to the R&Bish gospel that you hear now. That’s definitely had an impact on my music, especially on the more intimate songs with the narrative and the lyrical progression. And I really, really love harmony and try to use it a lot, which I think is due to that music. Again, I didn’t really appreciate that when I was young. I wanted to listen to what my friends were listening to, like Spice Girls! But my Grandad was playing country music, which I used to call ‘barn music’! Hahahah! He used to get really annoyed!
ILM: Speaking of harmony, you’ve got some wicked backing singers! Are they with you on the tour?
Rox: Yeah, actually one of them just got on the bus this second with about a million DVDs! Hahahahah! I don’t think we’re going to be getting bored!
ILM: It sounds like you’re having a great time!
Rox: Yeah, it’s important to. Especially when you’re going to be on the road for who knows how long. When you’re gonna be with your band members day-in, day-out it’s important that you get along!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Rox: The most recent thing that’s in the charts that I’ve been listening to is Paolo Nutini. I remember when he came out with his first album I totally fell in love with his voice. I thought he was completely underrated and didn’t understand what was going on. I remember watching a couple of his videos and it seemed like he was being forced to be something that he wasn’t. Then with this new album he’s totally grown into his own. I love that song Candy. It’s a song that I can particularly relate to, it’s got that country soul feel to it and that’s what I grew up listening to. I was so happy when his album went to number one! It showed there were people who still liked music and weren’t just listening to that weird dance R&B thing that’s happening at the moment. I don’t understand that, and I don’t think I ever will to be honest!
ILM: Out of all the live shows you've seen, which have been the most memorable?
Rox: There are two gigs that stand out as the best I’ve ever been to. One was Maxwell, who I went to see two months ago at Hammersmith Apollo. I think that’s the first time I’ve properly cried at a gig. I was ridiculously emotional! I grew up listening to him as a kid. My dad played a lot of Maxwell records when I was young so I’ve always loved him. He’s not just an amazing singer, he’s a showman. He really put on an amazing show. He totally, totally blew me away, and his band were so tight and in sync with each other. He was really respectful to the band. They were like a unit. It wasn’t just him and some session musicians at the back. That was the best gig ever.
ILM: And how about the second one?
Rox: The second is Anthony and the Johnsons. That was weird. I can’t really put that into words. I remember after I left I felt like I’d just seen a ghost. It was weird! Both the artists are really different but equally as great. Anthony really knows how to work the audience, but he’s really simple. He didn’t really talk much throughout the show, but he just has that amazing voice, and the orchestra behind him. Everything really worked. The lighting was really weird. It had this really strange feel to it. To be honest, Anthony’s quite a strange character, but it works. That was a really great show. I didn’t know what to say after I’d left, I was speechless!
ILM: What are your dream future plans, do you think that far ahead?
Rox: I think about that stuff every day! I’m quite ambitious and there are a few things that I’d like to achieve. For the near future, it’s just to get the album out there and have as many people as possible listen to it. I really would like to tour the world. I have a huge love for Latin America, and it would really mean something to tour there. And to do a second album would be amazing! That’s the joy of working with a label like Rough Trade. We’re already talking about that. It doesn’t really matter how many units I sell or anything like that. They definitely think of me as a long-term artist. But I’m just trying to take every day as it comes really. I have plans, but I try to keep them to myself!