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A Tradition Of Evolution: An Interview With Rosali

Photo by Chris Frisina
3 April 2022

Photo by Chris Frisina

North Carolina-based artist Rosali Middleman makes songs that take their time in revealing their full power. What might first appear to be restrained, introspective compositions will stretch slowly outward, snagging your attention with a subtly sideways guitar lead or an exceptionally raw lyric you didn’t catch the first time around. A child of two musicians, Rosali grew up as part of a large family that sang together and taught themselves various instruments, finding the earliest forms of her musical voice harmonizing and making up songs with her sisters. As an adult, Rosali merged this musical upbringing with an active involvement in Philly’s experimental and D.I.Y. community. Her 2016 solo debut Out of Love was released on Siltbreeze, a long-running label that champions abstract noise and challenging listening. While Rosali’s earliest work was far nearer to folk-informed rock than harsh sonics, it held an intensity of its own in its strange angles and unexpected vulnerability. Second album Trouble Anyway (released on Scissor Tail / Spinster), expanded on the debut with clearer production and more involved arrangements. A host of friends from Philly’s freak scene contributed to the album, including appearances from ambient harpist/pianist Mary Lattimore, Purling Hiss*/*Birds of Maya shredder Mike Polizze, glistening lap-steel from Mike Sobel, understated percussion from The War On Drugs drummer Charlie Hall, and several others. Trouble Anyway brought Rosali a new level of exposure, with a flood of positive critical press and tours supporting acts like The Weather Station and J Mascis. Along with her solo work, Rosali’s output has materialized as a broad spectrum of disparate collaborations, including the hypnotic garage trio Long Hots, slow-burning psych scrawl in duo Monocot with Cloud Nothings drummer Jayson Gerycz, and Wandering Shade, a three-guitar improv act with Headroom’s Kryssi Battalene and Thrill Jockey artist Sarah Louise. Aspects of the more free-floating side of Rosali’s oeuvre inform her songwriting process, with songs often emerging from the ether of lengthy improvisation sessions, new ideas congealing through a boundless exploration of possibilities. Brought to life with help from Omaha’s David Nance Group as the backing band, 2021’s song-centered No Medium (also on Spinster) was a sharply realized example of Rosali’s distinctive synthesis of metered songwriting and unfettered searching. Around the same time, she offered a completely separate side of her craft with a cassette release called Chokeweed (on Unifactor Tapes), a collection of auburn-hued solo guitar improvisations. In whatever form it takes, Rosali’s softly glowing music is malleable and deceptively fluid, able to appear patient and refined or at the edge of unraveling depending on how closely you choose to look. – Ground Control Touring

My appreciation to Rosali for her candor and the fun conversation!

James Broscheid: How did isolation treat you in your neck in the woods?

Rosali Middleman: I live in the middle of nowhere now so used to the isolation part. I guess more and more people are getting COVID, including people close to me, so that’s kind of new. Luckily I haven’t yet. Everything’s such a mess. It’s hard to make big plans and know what to do.

JB: A lot of the musicians I have talked to are really finding the pandemic to be an opportunity to be really prolific and start releasing a bunch of stuff, you know?

RM: Oh yeah, totally. We all had extra time during lockdown. Music helped me process a lot.

JB: Where are you now? Are you still in the Carolinas?

RM: Yep. I moved. So I live in a little town outside of Durham/Chapel Hill. I moved here in September (2021) but I have been on tour so it kind of feels like I just moved here.

JB: Were you touring for the new LP, No Medium? Well, I guess it’s not really new anymore, is it?

RM: It came out in May (2021) but with COVID I’m still considering it a new release. I first did a tour with my other band, Long Hots in October (2021) that was on the west coast. Then I recently did two weeks as Rosali, supporting Hiss Golden Messenger on the east coast.

JB: How’d that go?

RM: It was great, and so much fun. It’s incredible to play shows again, and nobody got sick, which was awesome and it felt pretty safe, but I think we were in that sweet spot. We finished just before the Omicron variant was starting.

JB: Right before winter 2021 hit?

RM: Yeah. Our last show was I think, on December 11. So kind of got through it in the nick of time.

JB: Maybe that’s our new normal. We get hit with some kind of variant every winter, but maybe we can go to shows in the spring, summer and fall.

RM: Who knows what’s going on, but everybody’s trying to do their best, keep their heads up.

JB: I am really loving the hell out of No Medium. It’s my first run in with your work. So you mentioned Long Hots and I know you have two other albums before this one, so I’m trying to get familiar with all of that stuff, because I put the needle down on this record and was blown away by it! I did a little research and heard you went into isolation to write the tracks that make up No Medium. And you were gonna go on tour and it didn’t happen?

RM: Yeah. Well that tour was postponed. It was supposed to happen in January of 2019, but it got postponed until May, so I had that time off. A friend had a house that they rent out to artists really cheap, so I just decided to use that time that I’d already taken off work and kind of opened up my schedule to go write songs.

JB: And this was where? South Carolina?

RM: Yeah, the name of the town’s blank on me, but it’s just over the border. It’s about 45 minutes south of Asheville.

*JB: So pretty secluded then?

RM: Yeah, in the hills. I have to look up the name. I can’t believe I can’t remember! But it was deep in the country, so there wasn’t really anything around.

JB: I understand you were writing before that little excursion happened, right?

RM: I’m always writing, whenever I can find the time, but that was more of an intensive time period to really focus and shape the songs without distractions, you know? Out of the daily grind. I took things that I’d been working on and then also just wrote some brand new stuff when I was down there. And so I kind of came away from that two weeks with — I wouldn’t say finished finish because I definitely did some more work on them after the fact — but I like felt like I had like a cohesive collection of song skeletons.

JB: So did that solitude alter in any way, how you approach writing at all or did it alter any of the ideas that you were already working on?

RM: Hmm. I’m trying to think …

JB: I know it’s been forever, right?

RM: Yeah. I don’t know if it changed things necessarily, but I definitely think I realized that removing myself from my daily life and all the other other things going on that make it so hard to focus, was really helpful. That time definitely made me see that if I had this concerted effort to which I can dedicate time to writing songs, helped really sort out a lot of things that I was thinking and feeling instead it feeling like it’s all a jumbled mess, like a little of this going into this one song or that one song. And in a way, now that I don’t live in Philadelphia anymore, and spending time in the country and in the woods has become a huge part of my creativity now. And I have peace as a person. I felt that then, and it wasn’t so much the isolation, it’s just not having the kind of overstimulation of being in the city. That intensity of not being able to separate yourself from others.

JB: I find solitude like that and going out into the natural world really taps into the spiritual nature of who I am as a person. The quiet helps you tap into your core being.

RM: Absolutely. I feel like my brain has changed from the amount of time that I spend walking in the woods. I have a dog now too, and just through walking and observing nature, I can feel it on a cellular level and I don’t necessarily know the direct way in which its affecting my songwriting, but I do feel more at peace and grounded.

JB: I am reminded about a trip back during the Y2K era. A friend and I took a trip to the Smokeys and did the Appalachian trail. It’s like 72 miles or something like that. We did that over Y2K just to get the hell away from everything. That was quite a journey … just breaking away from people and civilization if just for a little while.

RM: It’s really incredible. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I loved living in Philadelphia. It really fueled me and my creativity for over a decade. Being around other people who were also artists, musicians, and thinkers – I was just so inspired by all that energy. Maybe it’s something like, you know, the older you get, you kind of, you don’t need as much of that input. I grew up in the country in Michigan, so it felt like a return home in a way, a reconnection with the elements that shaped me as a child.

JB: You can definitely hear it in your songs too. You’re universally described as a rock musician in all the press that I’ve read, which I thought was unusual. No Medium to me, harkens back to when I started getting into the alt-country movement of the early to mid-nineties. Stuff like Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and Bottle Rockets, The Silos and Jayhawks, all that stuff. And then combined with trailblazers like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Gene Clark. That’s why I love it so much. When you were recording with the band for this album, were you conscious of that, you know, the sounds that you achieve when recording or is that all an afterthought?

RM: Well for that record, I worked with an existing band, The David Nance Group. They’re from Omaha, and they’ve got a very Neil Young, garage-y sound to them. I consider myself a Midwesterner, even though I lived in Philly since forever, but going into it, I knew that that was definitely going to be part of the sonic nature of the record. We kicked around a lot of ideas prior to recording, but never settled on anything until we were actually doing it. I’m somebody who likes to approach the process without a lot of expectations, but rather think about the people and what they bring to the table, allowing what naturally comes out. Also we only had 10 days to record it, so we had to go with those immediate feelings that came out.

JB: The stress of time constraints.

RM: Luckily, I had the benefit of working with a group of musicians that are used to playing with each other. They have their own language and comfort in how they play and relate to each other. So that helps because we’re already a step ahead and don’t have as many issues over communication or direction and the camaraderie that exists and the love between everybody is really strong. We’d run the song just a couple times just to get them down, but really we did a lot of it live in just a few takes. We obviously over dubbed extras, vocals, and things like that, but the core of it was done live. And so a lot of those are just like the second or third take. I wanted to make a record that had that raw live emotion to it. I feel like it fits the subject matter and kind of what I was internally feeling.

JB: It probably affords a chance to keep some happy accidents too.

RM: Absolutely, yeah. And those guys are all just incredible players and my co-producer, Jim Schroeder, he’s just a humble genius. He can play everything so well, and he recorded it in his basement in Omaha. He doesn’t have a lot of fancy gear, so a lot of it is just working with what you have in front of you. It removes distractions of all this fancy stuff you could try out. It comes down to just people playing and the ideas that would maybe come out. For example, there’s this banjo part on Mouth that came about when we invited over one of their friends — the pedal steel player, Colin Duckworth. We were listening back to tracks. When we played him Mouth, which was the first song we recorded, he just picked up a banjo that was sitting against the wall near him and started playing that part. We were all like, “Oh, let’s get that down!” Moments like that of having the energy of a new person coming in and allowing them to add what they’re inspired to do was just lovely. There’s a lot of that playfulness throughout the whole record and we didn’t really stress out a lot. It all flowed very naturally. That was really fun and exciting.

JB: Everyone knows each other well enough that the direction was universal …

RM: Yeah, and we were all hanging out and eating meals together. Just spending the whole ten days totally immersed in it.

JB: That’s great. And lyrically, that’s another draw to this album as it deals with a lot of heavy subject matter that I think a lot of people can make the connection to. You’re laying it all out there and being vulnerable, sharing your experiences via the lyrics. Was it difficult to write about such personal topics or was it more a cathartic experience and therefore a little easier?

RM: I guess the writing itself, it was very cathartic. I felt at a threshold, you know, in my life where there was a lot of upheaval, a lot of hard things going on, a lot of change. So it was a very transcendent process of actually writing it. And I wasn’t thinking too much about it at the time, I was just getting it out. “Okay, here’s the song.” And then the vulnerability and difficulty came when I realized, “Oh my God, I’m putting this record out in the world. This is really personal!” While I do feel writing songs that are emotionally charged helps people connect to it because they are the things we all experience and feel like that part is very important, but then there’s just the individual person who is … ME… I’m kind of reserved and shy and I can be guarded, but then with my art it’s the reverse. So in that moment of just being me, Rosali … “Oh my God, I’m about to do this!” I had kind of like a mini panic attack.

JB: Yeah, I can get that.

RM: But there’s strength in the bravery and vulnerability and people reach out to me and tell me how much a song helped them and this and that. So that it makes me feel, I don’t know, stronger and braver. I also definitely feel the songs helped me move beyond that point in my life and those feelings, they’ve been processed.

JB: You find that a lot of people have gone through the same type of experiences and have come out the other side too, you know?

RM: Absolutely. You know, it’s funny having made the record pre-pandemic. We finished mixing it literally the first week in March 2020! Then we waited, and I think in some ways it hit at the right time. People were feeling heavy things in this grander sense. I don’t know. It kind of made it less personal as an individual.

JB: My wife wants to know what was your first instrument growing up?

RM: Oh, well singing. But then I grew up in a musical family so we would all sing traditional songs. My parents have a, had a rock and roll band and I grew up singing. Oh – wait, I played tenor saxophone for two years in 5th and 6th grade. I was terrible at it, (laughs). But I was also in choir, and state honors choir, and then I started learning guitar around 13.

JB: Again, I get that sense listening to No Medium. Like it’s roots music, what Americana should be. I can make the connection to a musical family by listening to it, if that makes sense.

RM: Well, that’s cool for sure. I’m one of seven kids. My dad is classically trained and my mom was deep in the 60’s folk scene. I grew up listening to a lot of music and we sang a lot of ballads, but also rock and roll songs — my parents were deadheads (fans of the Grateful Dead). We also just sang all the time together, practicing harmonies with my sisters, and so that was all like learning a second language in a way, because I was doing it from such a young age.

JB: I was thinking the Carter Family!

RM: Yes! And it’s cool to know you hear that in it because it’s not something that I was necessarily aware of … that that would come through, but I think it’s special because it’s another part of who I am.

JB: Does the family still sing together? Maybe every once in a while?

RM: We try to get together once a year, but it’s hard to get everyone at the same time. We’re all kind of scattered and my siblings have kids and families and all of that.

JB: Do you ever think of using your sisters as backup singers?

RM: I really tried to get my little sister to sing on songs but she’s very shy. Pre-pandemic, I was trying to plan a fun short little tour and she could come and sing, and she said, yes. And then an hour later she said, no way. So maybe on a record someday, which would be great. My little brother is an incredible musician, total shredder on bass and guitar and I’ve also hoped he could be in the band at some point. But for him, it’s this something he does on the side now that he’s a new dad and all that.

JB: That would be kind of cool if it eventually happened!

RM: Yeah. My dad has expressed interest. He’s like, “Don’t forget, your dad can play guitar!”

JB: You mentioned he was classically trained?

RM: He played cello as a kid and then moved into playing guitar. But he’s great. And my mom too. They both still play as a duo, and they built their own guitars out of the same tree, which is so sweet.

JB: No way!

RM: Yeah, and they play at retirement homes and farmer’s markets. They mostly play jazz standards, but it’s so nice. I don’t know if I’m ready to take my parents on the road though!

JB: (Both laugh) Yeah. I like the idea of just bringing them into the studio.

RM: Studio would be best. They know my lifestyle and I’m pretty tame these days, but you know …

JB: You could write a book about that.

RM: Do a reality show.

JB: That would be funny! Coming up in a musical family, was there any song or moment that you can reflect upon that sparked your desire? I mean, obviously your family is supportive of it. Do you remember any standout moment or moments?

RM: Hmm, I don’t know. It was just always something we did. We had good friends who owned an old Grange hall that all the local musician friends would gather at on Friday nights and jam, which was very fun and formative. And I think early on, just that feeling I got from singing and that kind of exchange I had with audiences, you know, it’s, it’s a two way thing — it can get really addictive. I didn’t start releasing music until much later and in that sense, I’m kind of a late bloomer. I worked normal jobs and I made more weirdo music, improvisational stuff, and just kind of operated n a very low key way. But I kept hearing a little voice inside, telling me I have to do this, I have to do that. So I finally listened to it and made my first record in 2015. So it’s hard to say it was a certain song. It’s more of a calling, a compulsion.

Photo by Chris Frisina
Photo by Chris Frisina

JB Well, yeah. And you’re constantly surrounded by people doing it anyway, you know?

RM: I think it’s recognizing that when I’m in it and doing it, it’s when I feel the most myself. And I just can’t deny it.

JB: What did you get into as a kid?

RM: Musically?

JB: Yeah.

RM: Oh gosh, all over the place. I was really into traditional songs and ballads from a storytelling perspective, but having so many siblings they influenced me with their musical taste too. My older sisters gave me lot of tapes and took me to local punk shows at a young age. I had Nirvana and Misfits and Stooges and stuff like that. I also really loved top 40 radio and R&B – I’d sing along to Mariah Carey (who I still love). But I was also into British folk and then all the classics obviously like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Have you seen the Beatles documentary, Get Back?

JB: Yeah, loved it.

RM: I watched it this past week I was reminded again like how influential their songwriting and melodies were to me, I think I started learning guitar after listening to the Beatles. And it’s funny I’d kind of forgotten how much they did because The Beatles are so ubiquitous. And as I got older I moved on and got into heavier stuff, but was really nice to remember, “Oh yeah, like this was highly influential to me as a teenager!”

JB: Just watching the way they interacted.

RM: Yes!

JB: Especially (John) Lennon and (Paul) McCartney, those two could actually think what the other person was thinking, you know? It was amazing to see that.

RM: Yeah, it was so cool. And you know, I’m a huge George Harrison fan too. His songs are so powerful and I really connect with his spiritual side.

JB: He did put out the best solo album (All Things Must Pass) of all four of them, for sure. I don’t think it is even a contest!

RM: I don’t think so either, not at all. I think everyone knows which one is best.

JB: That’s what I’m bitter about with the Beatles because Harrison was starting to become a contributor and stepping into his own as a songwriter and then they break up. It seemed like he had a ton of ideas and Lennon and McCartney were starting to give him some room.

RM: Yeah.

JB: You wonder what would’ve come if they would’ve stuck around another decade.

RM: Yeah. Totally. Who knows? We can only speculate.

JB: So I did see there were some live dates coming up.

RM: Yeah. Well, unfortunately the tour I was supposed to do with The War On Drugs, they decided to not bring support because of COVID. So I’m not doing that tour anymore, which I’m super bummed about. But you know, the era we’re in right now, it’s kind of like, well, what can you do? It is what it is. I’m doing a month with Destroyer in later this month through May.

JB: Oh, nice!

RM: So I’m taking out the band that I made the record with so I’m super excited. It’s 27 shows in 32 days. So it’s gonna be a grind, but really looking forward to it.

JB: You heading this way?

RM: Yeah, I feel like we’re playing, I don’t know if we’re playing Tucson or Phoenix, but I think we’re playing one of the two. If you look up the Destroyer dates, I’m on all the dates that they’re doing (see below! – JB).

JB: Okay. Yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter if you play Phoenix, I’ll take the drive up there. It’s not that far. That’s one thing when listening to this record. These must be killer live and fun to play.

RM: Well that was such a bummer when COVID hit because when we were excited about playing it live and getting really excited for that. And then the feeling shifted to, “Oh no, we’re never going to be able to do this!” But hopefully this tour goes through. I’m assuming it is on as of now. And I think by late April, it’ll probably be calmer with COVID hopefully.

JB: Yeah. I mean, it was like that last year. I think by the time March hit, it started to level off.

RM: That’s gonna be really exciting and I’m really looking forward. When you play a bunch of shows together, by the end you become so good as a band. I think the songs will probably transform into a whole new animal which is very exciting to me. And I love those guys so much. I feel fortunate that I get along so well with them, they’re like my brothers.

JB: You’re going out with the David Nance Group?

RM: Yeah, it’ll be Dave, Jim (Schroeder), who co-produced and engineered the record, and the excellent drummer Kevin Donahue. They’re the core of Dave’s band. So we’ll be a four piece.

JB: Those three play on the album as well?

RM: Yeah, the three of those guys did and some others. Kev is the drummer on the record, Jim and Dave all traded on bass and guitar, song with another friend, Noah Sterbam who played some bass and guitar on a few songs. Colin Duckworth played pedal steel and banjo. Robbie Bennett, who is in The War On Drugs plays Wurlitzer and organ on a couple tracks, we overdubbed that later in Philly.

JB: Ah, so that’s where the connection comes in.

RM: Philly friends! Charlie Hall who plays drums in The War On Drugs and played percussion on my second record (Trouble Anyway, 2018). Who am I forgetting? Oh, Jim’s roommate Daniel Knapp, he plays the piano Waited All Day. I’d written that song on a piano, but I’m not a good enough player to actually hold it down. Also my friend, the amazing drummer, Matt Barrick, plays congas on Whisper. So yeah, that’s the band and I play guitar on all the songs obviously.

JB: How did you hook up with the Dave Nance Group in the first place?

RM: Long Hots did a tour with them in June/early July of 2019. We both had seven inches come out on Third Man Records. The tour was just so much fun. We all rode in the same van together and halfway through the tour Dave was like, “Rosi, we wanna be your backing band.” I was super excited and honored, so we hatched the plan and I went out to Omaha in November of that year. I had sent them songs that I’d been working on prior to my arrival so they could get familiar with them by the time I got there.

JB: Is Long Hots still active?

RM: Oh yes. That’s with my two of my greatest friends, Eva Killinger and Kathryn Lipman. I lived with Eva for four years in Philly and Kathryn lived across the street and that’s kind of how the band started. Eva and I were both going through major breakups and we were just hanging out. We’re like, “Man, we’re both sad and mad. Well, why don’t we just go play!” And then we realized we needed someone else to hold it together and Kathryn plays bass so we invited her over and the next thing we knew, we were a band! We’ll probably always be a band. Hopefully we’re gonna put a record out soon.

JB: What does that band’s sound like?

RM: We call it basement boogie, it’s like primal garage rock. Real simple drums; floor tom and snare and Eva does most of the singing, Kathryn on a few. I play a lot of riffs and leads and Kathryn’s bass holds us together. We put out a tape that is more representative of what we sound like. There’s a couple songs on Spotify from the seven inch. We have a mix of some short kind of poppier songs and then more long-form, boogie songs.

JB: I’ll definitely have to check it out. Cause when I first heard No Medium, I immediately tried to find your previous solo albums. You’ve got me entranced!

RM: Good!

JB: I was reading an interview online where you discussed composing for No Medium when you were in isolation on acoustic and electric. It was discussed that the backing band and adding layers of guitar and all that when it came time to record properly. And what’s striking to me about this record particularly is that I think it could come across just as strongly with you sitting on a stool with a mic and acoustic guitar. Like I said, I mean, it goes back to roots music for me with a lot of folk influence and that’s obviously mostly acoustic-based. Were those subtle nuances of adding instrumentation in the back of your mind or did it all came up when the band got together, particularly with a track like Bones.

RM: I knew I wanted to make it like a full band record. Again, I didn’t really know what the sound would be when I was writing them, but I think when I play them alone it’s kind of closer to their original version, they get a little more open, I guess, open-ended in a way. I think the way I sing contains the same kind of emotion that the guitars would fill up, a little looser, still raw. It’s kind of idiosyncratic. I play with tempos and can draw things out. I really like playing with a band because of the support you have on stage, but there is something about when you play alone, if you’re able to kind of drop into the center of yourself and really get into the song, it’s really freeing. I’ve been kind of just working at a place to feel comfortable playing them. Now I’m so used to hearing the songs as they are on the record and trying to figure them out again, like, “Oh, how did I do this one?” I’m just trying to get back to that and sink into the feeling, reconnecting with it in that way.

JB: You know, going back to when we were talking about the heavy subject matter and what you just said about it being freeing and I mean, when you revisit these tracks in a live setting, do all the feelings you had when you wrote them come back to you or are you able to let it go?

RM: Totally able to let it go. Yeah, and that’s awesome. It’s not like the songs are a hundred percent personal. They are sentiments, they’re not exactly confessionals either. You have to emote in the way that the song is but I also feel that they are uplifting tunes. And so I’m leaning more to that side of it — the transcendent, joyful side. Even if I’m singing a song that I wrote when I was mad, I don’t feel that anger anymore, you know?

JB: Yeah. I mean even a song like Your Shadow dealing with loss, but at the end there’s a moment of optimism and me being a pessimist, what is that secret to seeing a brighter future or brighter side of things? Cause I try and I try.

RM: (Laughs) I mean, I think we have to be optimists. It’s hard, especially now when bad news keepings piling up.

JB: I don’t know, people constantly let me down!

RM: Maybe a role I take on as an artist is wanting to bring light and help people feel better. And with that I guess I am an optimist, which is sometimes hard to remember personally when you’re in the shit! It’s hard to see that light, but I do believe that. I mean it can be optimism for any kind of thing, even just a glimmer. That helps lift you out of something, to keep you going a little bit longer. And I don’t know, that song is about the death of a friend. When you lose somebody … it makes you reflect on life in general; memories and regrets and all of that. And that’s kind of the place I went there with in the song. Trying to get to that moment of believing that there is something bigger and greater at play, and that maybe our struggles are there to teach us and to grow from.

JB: Makes it all worth it in the end. What were some of your takeaways from those two weeks in seclusion when you were writing, I mean are there things that you can carry with you or you learned about yourself?

RM: I think that was the longest time I’d ever spent alone! The only people I talked to were in line at the grocery store. I had some like kind of far out supernatural experiences. I don’t know if I really wanna get in into, but stuff that would kind of make me think, “Man, should I leave? Should I go home? Wow!” But I stuck it out and worked through that, and I think if there’s one thing I learned is that I have guts and I’m brave and I’m willing to see things through. And saying, “Oh, I went and wrote these songs in two weeks,” makes it sound like it was easy. It was not, it was a really hard two weeks. I was struggling. I was struggling on an emotional level, from all angles. One, trying to get this stuff out and two, being totally alone. I was drinking a lot. I am sober now, but at the time I was in this really weird state and in the midst of writing the songs feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing. Questioning a lot of things and that self-doubt and being disappointed. I was totally criticizing and judging what I was doing and feeling like I wasn’t being productive enough and on the other side of it being like, wow, that whole awful process of doing that, you gotta just be in the moment and maybe those feelings are worth it. You can’t help them in a way, but maybe hash ‘em out. Hash them out and just be productive enough. What does that even mean? What is productivity? Where is this push coming from? Who are you doing this for? Like that kind of far out process.

JB: It was far out like more like a meditative state or a spiritual journey?

RM: Like the hermit and totally vision quest kind of moments! Like battling demons that are self-created and to try to do this work that is extremely important to me that I consider it to be my life’s calling and purpose. And still not having faith and in that, like in the moment, even though I know it’s a personal struggle. It’s like the Odyssey, (laughs).

JB: Well, look how you came out the other side and found the strength in yourself.

RM: Yeah.

JB: You know that’s great and made it worth it.

RM: That feels really good to be looking back years later be like, “Oh, okay. That’s what that was for!” Even though I know I’m starting to write again for the next record and here we go again!

JB: Back to the cabin in the woods! (Both laugh).

RM: Yeah. What am I gonna dredge up now?!

JB: Well, that process produced the killer record, so whatever you did it, it, it was worth it, I think.

RM: Well, thank you. I think it was worth it too.

Photo by Chris Frisina
Photo by Chris Frisina

JB: Do you know of Glenn Donaldson of The Reds Pinks and Purples amongst many others …

RM: Not personally, but yes.

JB: He writes a blog for Freeform Freakout and it’s called The Failure Of All Pop. That’s how I was introduced to you and No Medium. He had it listed as one of the best of the year. He’s got great taste, so I immediately sought out the album! Not knowing your earlier work, how does No Medium differ, if at all, from your previous two?

RM: Well, I think there’s obviously a sonic kind of element in that it’s a really cohesive rock record, but I think the songs are maybe more direct. My previous writing, it still kind of deals with similar subject matter but I’m a little more poetic or elusive in what I’m writing. I’m using my lyricism whereas this one’s just kind of plainly said. In some ways I was like, “Man, is this not smart enough?” And you know, just my own personal critique, could I say this better, but I don’t know, being direct is really effective and obviously it hits and maybe that’s just what was necessary. How to say it and maybe coming to the end point of a process from years of reflection on these things and actually ready to move past it. The directness is simply put, this is what it is. I’m not really mulling it over anymore. The first record is mostly acoustic guitar and some electric, a little drums, but it’s pretty even, a little low-fi. Then my second record, it’s a little more lush and all the players are like some of my favorite Philly musicians. I think this one is much more raw.

JB: It sounds like a band that’s been together for a long time, in the best possible way.

RM: Yeah, for sure. And they are. Those guys have been playing together for years and I feel super lucky that I dropped in and fit in with them in that way. We all just really have a lot of trust and respect and love for each other. So I felt really held by them to be able to do what we did. It’s not really an easy task.

JB: You brought up Philadelphia a few times. Are there any other bands, local artists that you could recommend?

RM: God, there’s so many! So my friend, Eva has a son (Uriah Killinger) and he’s been putting out music. He’s great. He’s 21 and just an incredible player. He goes by Urideath and it’s kind of like early Dinosaur Jr stuff. Just like a killer player. He was a teenager when I lived with Eva and he would practice all the time. I’m really excited to see where he goes. There’s just so many players.

JB: How did you end up in North Carolina from Philly?

RM: I went home to Michigan for nine months to help out some family and then I needed a new home base because I had a tour coming up and I didn’t know where to go. I have a dog now and that complicates everything and Philly’s gotten expensive. I didn’t want to rent an apartment there since I was going to be gone so much. While in Michigan I was back in the woods and feeling so connected with nature, I needed that. I almost moved to Vermont where my little brother lives but that felt really, really isolated! I was talking with my friend who just bought this house and Invited me to come down and live there. So the next thing I knew, I was in North CarolinaI. But it felt right too because I know a lot of people down here and having a group of friends, most of whom are musicians and artists while still having the rural setting is a major plus. I can do my solitude thing but be able to be part of a bigger scene, which is also important to me. I moved in September and it’s been really, really wonderful and my dog loves it. She’s got dog friends in the neighborhood. I see myself staying here at least for a while. It’s an easier place to be a musician. People are really supportive of each other, which is so important. No competitive energy. It’s more like a community.

JB: That’s what I love about what’s going on in the Bay Area now. That scene is it’s all about collaboration and a lot of the same players are in different bands.

RM: Right! Which I love. I’m into making a one-off record. We don’t have to do any contracts let’s just get together and play! It’s really vital as an artist to have that … the cosmos of all these individual artists kind of bumping into each other and sharing talents and ideas.

JB: None of that, “Hey, I wanna put out a solo album” and it breaks up the band, you know?
RM: No, no. I don’t think that there is any of that. It only adds dimension to what you’re doing and personally I feel like it only makes me better.

JB: So what are you listening to now?
RM: Um, let’s see. As far as like releases from this past year, I really like that Dry Cleaning record (New Long Leg on 4AD).

JB: Yeah. Isn’t that great?

RM: It’s so good. The guitar playing is so good, just the little statements he (Tom Dowse) makes. Really awesome. I’ve been revisiting … do you know Chuck Johnson?

JB: No.

RM: He’s a pedal steel player, but he plays in like very kind of atmospheric way. I’ve been returning to his records that he put out few years ago, several years ago now. Like I don’t know, five maybe, (Balsams on Vin Du Select Qualitite_/_Thin Wrist Recordings, 2016. They’re just really meditative and up-lifting at the same time. It’s funny because in Michigan where I spent a year, I barely listen to anything. I was out with my nephew who has autism and he likes music, but he is very particular about it. So it’s just reggae that he likes, he would not get into anything else. I was kind of in the zone of being okay with quiet. And then I, I fell out of the practice of listening to music and, I thought, “Oh, how do I return to it?” And yeah, it was like having to re-emerge into it. I just bought a bunch of records and I’m like, “What am I into?” There’s this compilation of, I think it’s Ghanaian, it’s like a four LP set and it’s really cool. I’ve been kind of gravitating to tranced out stuff that doesn’t have a lot of vocals. Also Nina Simone’s piano record (Nina Simone and Piano!, RCA Victor, 1969). It’s really great.

JB: Sounds like something I would enjoy! Well, thank you for your time. It was a real pleasure!

RM: Thank you so much. Yeah, we’ll talk soon. Have a good day!

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Rosali 2022 Tour Dates supporting Destroyer:

04/22 – Vancouver, BC at Vogue Theatre
04/23 – Seattle, WA at The Neptune Theatre
04/24 – Boise, ID at The Olympic
04/26 – Salt Lake City, UT at Urban Lounge
04/27 – Denver, CO at The Bluebird Theater
04/28 – Omaha, NE at The Waiting Room
04/29 – St. Louis, MO at Blueberry Hill Duck Room
04/30 – Nashville, TN at Mercy Lounge
05/02 – Carrboro, NC at Cat’s Cradle
05/04 – Asheville, NC at The Grey Eagle
05/05 – Washington, DC at Black Cat
05/06 – Philadelphia, PA at Underground Arts
05/07 – Brooklyn, NY at Brooklyn Steel
05/08 – Cambridge, MA at The Sinclair
05/09 – Montreal, QC at Theatre Fairmount
05/10 – Toronto, ON at Phoenix Concert Theatre
05/11 – Detroit, MI at El Club
05/12 – Chicago, IL at Thalia Hall
05/13 – St. Paul, MN at Amsterdam Bar & Hall
05/14 – Lawrence, KS at The Bottleneck
05/15 – Oklahoma City, OK at Beer City Music Hall
05/16 – Fort Worth, TX at Tulips
05/17 – Austin, TX at The Mohawk
05/19 – Phoenix, AZ at Crescent Ballroom
05/20 – Los Angeles, CA at The Belasco
05/21 – Berkeley, CA at The UC Theatre
05/22 – Portland, OR at Revolution Hall