Philly/Michigan musician and singer-songwriter Rosali will release her third LP, “No Medium” May 7. It features Omaha’s David Nance Group as her backing band.
While the collection of songs on the album explores the often dark territory of loss, death, sexuality, self-sabotage and addiction, there is a surprising lightness to its sonic being. Rosali wades through the emotional mire with infectious, earworm melodies led by her luminous voice. With their rich, raw instrumentation, these rock ballads sound like the resilience discovered in facing one’s darkest moments, the assurance of the calm and clarity that comes after the storm.
PW recently caught up with Rosali to talk about the new album and her career.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Talk about some of your earliest influences in music. When did you decide this was the path you wanted to take in your life?
I grew up in a large, musical family, and we’d sing and play together all the time. We’d do traditional folk songs as well as make up our own. My parents had a rock n roll band and it totally normalized the routine of hauling gear and going to practice and gigging. The music I listened to was all over the map, from parents and older siblings. There was a strong British folk influence, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Vashti Bunyan, but also heavy on Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Buffy Sainte Marie, Bob Dylan, Bach, and Misfits, thanks to older sibling influence. When I was 12, my sister gave me a walkman with some Nirvana tapes, and I think the MTV Unplugged one had a huge impact on me, and I began to teach myself guitar around that time. My mom taught me how to play Nico’s, “I’ll be your Mirror” which opened me up to the Velvet Underground. Our family friends owned this really cool old Grange hall, and all the pickers and players in the area would show up on Friday nights and everyone would play into the night. It was a very musically formative and magical time.
I think somewhere in my gut I knew that this was my path, but I denied it for a long time even though I continued to make music all throughout my life, had bands in high school (including an all-women bluegrass band with me and my friend Jesse and three older women) and college. I think when you grow up so poor and see how hard it is to make a living from a musician’s life, it’s not something that registers as a plausible life path. But I just couldn’t deny the call, the compulsion to write songs, nor the life-affirming feeling I get from playing with people. So, here I am.
You wrote most of the songs for “No Medium” in January of 2019 while alone in an old farmhouse on a self-imposed two-week residency in the hills of South Carolina. Can you talk a little about that process, and how inspiration for these songs came about?
I was supposed to go on a UK tour, opening for J Mascis, in January 2019 that was pushed back to May – last minute – and since I’d already blocked out the time in my schedule I called up a friend of a friend who has family property that they rent out cheap to artists and writers, and I figured it was a good time to go write songs for my next album. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent two weeks completely alone in a rural setting, but it got intense. I had some supernatural experiences that will stay with me forever.
I had some supernatural experiences that will stay with me forever.– Rosali
The time without distraction opened up space for a lot of much-needed reflection and catharsis, and these little idea kernels came to the surface. I put myself on a schedule for both walking in nature and writing, morning walk, play guitar, write lyrics – type of cycle – recording everything so I could arrange and patch it together later. The lyrics for “Mouth” were inspired by lying in woods there, and “Your Shadow” is about a friend that passed away when he was 16, whose presence I strongly felt one morning while working on a chord progression.
I left that trip with the skeleton of the record but still no idea how it was going to sound. That came later while on a Long Hots tour with David Nance Group, when we were inspired to record the album together.
Is “No Medium” significantly different from your first two LPs? How will people be able to listen to it?
Well, I think a big difference was working with a group of musicians that were already a band that played together quite a bit so the chemistry was strong. Since I’d toured with them for a few weeks, we’d also formed a familial bond. The cohesiveness of the album is in this trust and in the ability to be raw and vulnerable, and you can hear that in the music.
The songs are definitely heavier than my previous albums. I’d traveled to Omaha to make it and we recorded it in just 10 days, so we relied a lot on the “first thought, best thought” principle. You have to go with what comes out, laid bare, and build from there. James Schroeder, who engineered it and plays on it, is a genius with his minimal basement studio set up and we work really well together. And Quentin Stoltzfus, who mixed it, heard and understood what we were going for. I really loved making this album and can’t wait to tour with these guys someday.
“No Medium” is available in physical form, LP/CD, which you can order through my label’s Bandcamp, Spinster Sounds, or pickup at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, and it’s digitally available and streaming on all platforms.
There are a number of Philadelphia ties to the album (Robbie Bennett and Matt Barrick perform, and “Whisper” was tracked at Philly’s Silent Partner Studio). What’s it like being part of the Philly music scene? Are there any other Philadelphia artists you’d like to collaborate with?
I love the Philly crew. We are blessed with so many incredible artists, we have the Arkestra, Marshall Allen, The Roots, War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and I’m a big fan of Moor Mother, who is making some important work.
When I first moved to the city in the mid-2000s, it felt like a tight-knit scene that supported all kinds of music going. You’d see the same people at a noise show that you saw at the folk show the night before. My friend, Brooke Sietinson, is a founding member of Espers, used to host shows in her backyard and cooked elaborate and amazing meals for the musicians. My first show here was at one of these events. I met a lot of musician friends through her, Jack Rose, Mary Lattimore, Meg Baird, etc.
The city and its music scene has grown exponentially since then, but I still think there’s a supportive vibe to it. I was lucky to sing on Robbie Bennett’s solo album, “Permanent World,” which you should check out, and I love Matt’s playing and vibe – he’s recently starting drumming in my live band. Matt and Quentin Stoltzfus are two of the founders of Silent Partner, a recording studio in Germantown. It’s a lovely place to track and mix, very cozy.
I really miss playing with people, especially with my dear friends, Eva Killinger and Kathryn Lipman, in Long Hots. We’re hopefully going to make an album sometime this year. There are so many incredible Philly musicians I’d love to work with, like Mike Polizze of Purling Hiss, who is one of my favorite guitarists. I loved this album Jason Henn recently put out, such a cool vibe, and the band Heavenly Bodies and I were supposed to play a show right when the pandemic hit, and I’d love to jam with them again. I was just starting to play with the talented pedal steel player, Zena Kay, and had found my perfect harmonizing singing partner in April Harkanson, so I hope that when the pandemic is over, we can pick it back up. I’d also been talking to Emily Robb a little about recording with her in the future. She’s a great guitarist and has a cool little recording set-up that’d be fun to play around in.
How did the pandemic impact your career? Did you lose a lot of live shows or did it affect the production of “No Medium?”
It brought everything to a complete halt. I had a show scheduled at Johnny Brenda’s in March and another at the TLA in early summer that was cancelled. Plus, I was planning a tour for the summer.
Luckily, “No Medium” was pretty much done. Quentin and I had a major mixing session in early March and we’d gotten most of the way there with it. The rest we finished up remotely, him sending me revisions on my notes, sometimes working real-time over the phone. I think the psychological impact of it was major too – to finish an album right as it was starting felt like running full speed into a wall. I know a lot of us questioned how to keep going. Did a lot of spiraling, not being able to play with others, thinking of all the small venues we’d played across the country that might close. Wondering about the value of putting out music, having to do all the promotion, while people are dying, and all the tumult that coincided. It’s still a big question mark. I’m really happy the album is finally coming out and I hope it brings some good feelings to everyone. I’m optimistic I’ll be able to pick up the pieces and tour again.
What’s ahead for you, assuming the pandemic eventually ends?
I hope that I can tour this record as much as possible. I love being on the road, playing every night. Your abilities elevate when you’re in that cycle and I usually start to write new songs. I do have a clutch of ideas for my next album, just have to clear the cobwebs and figure it out. Also, Long Hots will be recording and I hope to hit the road with them, too. Other than that, I got a puppy a few months ago, so I’m just wrangling her.