Rose Elinor Dougall

I liked Rose Elinor Dougall’s new album for many reasons. One of them, added as the days went by and the weather got hotter, is how its sound matches the season, after a rather troublesome winter we've had. Perfect timing for the coming of spring, with a record that is warm and loaded with nostalgic melodies. The album entitled "A New Illusion" is actually far from what the artist wrote and presented in the album "Stellular", back in 2017. The synthesizers and electronic sounds have given way to pianos, saxophones, strings and real drum sounds, which is an undoubtedly clever move that will lead to avoidance of repetition and of the danger the album’s narrative becoming tiresome. As she stated during our conversation, "I found myself gravitating towards the piano a lot more", when describing the need to create something more tangible and humane, that will simultaneously represent the musicians that participated in the recording process.

Simplicity coexisting with boldness, this is the heart of "A New Illusion". Even though the complex frequencies and the electric keyboards of the last album were left behind, it is in this new record that the strings and brass provide it with a natural feel and embody the artist, not only as the creator, but as a display of her own entity. Dougall herself chose to get involved in the production of her third album along with her partner and friend for years, Matthew Twaites. It was as if she took full control of something that was left in the hands of others until today, a challenge that finally rewarded her with more confidence and us with a finely constructed album.

The songs "Wordlessly" and "Something Real" are rooted in 60's folk music and filled with Rose's soft acoustic guitars and ethereal vocals, with which she seems perfectly at ease. Everything unnecessary has been removed and all that is left is the sincerity and originality of the music and the landscape, as it also appears in the album's cover. There, the photograph taken by her friend, James Kelly, presents the illusion of a tree bent by the wind but standing still, forming a resilient shape. Simple and organic compositions coexist with strong tracks such as "That's Where The Trouble Started" and "Take What You Can Get", the latter taking me back to the sound of "Stellular". In this particular track, Rose has written some of her most sentimental lyrics: "I spent the day with you in the ether, existing within smashed moments together". In the Richard Howley-sounding, "Too Much Of Not Enough", the echo and the atmosphere created by her voice are captivating. When asked about "Christina In Red", she reveals the beautiful story behind the exquisite track: it was inspired by a series of photographs taken by an amateur photographer in 1913, portraying his daughter in a red dress.

In "A New Illusion", using carefully picked lyrics and raw honesty, Dougall skilfully explains the promises people make and the turbulence they create. The British artist's third album is indeed full of piano; a musical instrument that can break or mend hearts, send you to the deepest, most isolated parts of your soul or have you singing along, celebrating and hugging friends. This is why this album touched me, precisely because it can be many things at the same time. If listened carefully, it is alive and breathing. 

Here's our very interesting Q&A with Rose...

A New Illusion (out April 5 via Vermilion)


The Basement: Hello Rose, thank you for joining us! Third LP "A New Illusion" out on April 5th, what is this new record about?
It’s about trying to find ways through the chaotic times we live in, it’s about relationships, it’s about looking for hope and love in bleak situations, it’s about my fears of the future, a reflection of some of the intimacies I have experienced over the past few years… and other ideas…

The Basement: What is your past before starting making music? Tell us about your childhood.
I’ve been making music since I was very young, I think I wrote my first song when I was 9 or something. Apparently, I was singing before I could talk properly, so I don’t think there really is a past before music. I always had it around me as my parents are both very musical.

I spent my teenage years in Brighton which was a very creative town to grow up in. There was so much going on musically there at that time that I think it had a big influence on me, I found the courage to pursue my music there.

I always loved drawing and painting and went to art college for a couple of years after I left school to do a fine art degree, but by that point, I was already in The Pipettes, so I ended up dropping out as we were on tour so much. Perhaps I might have been a painter or something if I wasn’t a musician.

The Basement: Rose I really love your voice but apart from an obvious talent, what were the music studies that got you here?
I had piano lessons from the age of about 6 but I regrettably quit them when I was 15. I’ve forgotten all of my music theory now, and sometimes I’m really sorry not to have that at my disposal, but mostly I manage to get along just by having spent so many years playing music with other people, you learn a lot that way.

The Basement: Synthesizers like the ones you used in "Stellular" are almost gone and piano, saxophone and real drums take over. Tell us more about what you had in mind for "A New Illusion".
I wanted to create a more natural organic sound. I found myself gravitating towards the piano a lot more. I’ve always written on piano initially, but often I’ll replace it with other sounds, but this time I wanted to maintain the essential qualities of my writing and playing and have that be the central sound of the album. I wanted this album to feel more human and tactile, and represent the great musicians I had playing on it too.

The Basement: Who was responsible for the production? Sound is excellent and so natural.
I co-produced it with my very old friend and collaborator Matthew Twaites. I’ve known Matt since I was 16 in Brighton, and he has played guitar in my band for years. We’ve done quite a lot of recording together over the years, and I really trust him, so it felt like the right time to tackle something bigger. I was so grateful he gave me the opportunity to produce alongside him, and I feel like I have had the most control over this album compared to my previous ones. It was a daunting challenge but hugely rewarding.

The Basement: Do you trust Rose more now, after finishing the new album? For me, this looks like a self-consciousness process that took part.
Yes, I definitely feel like I trust in my instincts more having finished this album. I feel like I have found a natural sonic space in ‘A New Illusion’, and I’m looking forward to finding out how this informs the music I’m going to make in the future.

The Basement: Do you somehow feel that you exposed more of yourself through this album? I mean, compared to the first two of yours…
Yes, I think I have. I feel that in many ways, in the sound of the record, the process making it, the way the songs are written, the lyrics. Perhaps there is less to hide behind than on my previous albums, I wanted the album to be stripped of anything superfluous. I feel I’m existing naturally on this record. I also feel more in control than I have before, so it’s a strange combination of being vulnerable but also empowered.


The Basement: Does the cover has something to do with "illusions"? Who made this photo? Was this your idea?
The photo was taken by my very talented friend James Kelly. We shot lots of images near where my mother lives on the Sussex coast at a place called Cuckmere Haven. We both saw the tree and thought it was really interesting, contorted and strange. It relates well to the title. I wanted the cover art to reflect the English landscape too.

The Basement: I'm stuck with "Cristina in Red", I think it's my favourite together with "That's Where The Trouble Started". After 3:30 min, it turns into a feast of sounds. Give us the story for this one.
This is probably one of the oldest songs on the album. I started writing it a couple of years ago. It was initially inspired by a photography series I came across from 1913, an amateur photographer had taken a series of portraits of his daughter in a red dress, and I found the images really evocative and wistful. I began to create a character for a song. I brought the demo to my friend Euan Hinshelwood’s house, (he plays a lot of guitar and saxophone on the album), and we ended up messing around with it. It was his idea to add the drums and extend the instrumental outro, which made the whole song open up and become this much more expansive thing.

The Basement: We know about your many collaborations with artists that actually are friends of yours. Do you in that way draw some energy?
Yes definitely, one of the things I love about music the most is the opportunity to collaborate with other people. You learn so much more that way, music can evolve into new shapes, it helps you not get too stuck in your own head. It’s a wonderful thing when you forge creative relationships that you can trust in, and I am very lucky to be surrounded by some amazingly talented people that are prepared to share their time and energy with my music.

The Basement: Economic crisis in Greece made us think more, take things as they are and not as the media wanted us to believe. Did Brexit have such an impact on you? What are your thoughts?
Yes absolutely. It’s been a really bleak few years in the UK, and globally, sometimes it feels like making things like records is utterly futile. But then I think people turn to music and art more in times of crisis, so I think it’s important not to lose heart. I am so disgusted with the whole Brexit campaign, how it harnessed the frustration people felt at the economic injustice in this country and then contorted and twisted it with a load of lies and bigotry. It’s hugely depressing. It makes me feel so dislocated from my culture. I just hope that it has politicised people to be more aware of what’s actually going on! I don’t know what else to say!

The Basement: How's Tom? :) Does he ask your opinion on music? What is your musical relationship with him?
Tom’s great, he’s just got off tour with Toy promoting their fourth album. We’ve always been really supportive of each other’s work. He doesn’t love everything I’ve done and we both try to be honest with each other, but I think this record is his favourite thing I’ve made. He plays some beautiful guitar on a couple of songs, and it’s always great when we can play together. We talk to each other about each other’s music quite a lot, but I’m always careful not to get too opinionated about it, as hard as that is for me!

The Basement: Are you playing any gigs in the next few months? Any plans?
Yes, we have a small UK tour coming up at the end of May, which I’m really looking forward to. I have a brilliant band behind me so I can’t wait.

The Basement: Say something to your fans in Greece :)
I hope one day I can come and play in your beautiful country!! 

The Basement: Rose, thank you for this excellent album! Good luck!


* Many thanks to Kiki Silkoglou for the help to have this interview done.

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