There’s a timeline in which Rosie Bans would have been expected to fade into the background.
A fiery singer-songwriter with the voice of a Prohibition-era jazz chanteuse, Bans’ prodigious musical talent has allowed her to carve out a living as a pianist-for-hire at functions, in bars and restaurants, while she also led a ceilidh and function band during the years she spent away from her native Glasgow, living and working in the south east of England. But her own music, showcased to dramatic effect on her recently-released debut full-length Identify Yourself, could not be further removed from after-dinner background music: it’s a thought-provoking, beautifully-written and often intense collection of songs which grapple with ideas as diverse as identity, the meaning of home and standing up for yourself, whether against playground bullies or indifferent men.
Live, Bans wears her heart on her sleeve – as I can attest, having had the privilege of seeing her perform early versions of some of the songs that make up the album at an intimate house show. Her stage presence, behind the keyboard, can best be compared to the likes of Amanda Palmer: by turns playful and passionate, reeling from joking to confessional in the time it takes for an anecdote about being called “ginger pubes” at 14 years old to turn into the fiery (sorry) anti-bullying anthem “I Won’t Fade Into The Shade”. The heart-rending “Home”, written in a bout of homesickness during Bans’ year living in Berlin, gets a gorgeous boost on the album thanks to the addition of Jack Smedley of Rura’s lush fiddle part while “London”, a multi-layered rock ballad for electric piano, touches on some of the same themes, casting Bans’ time in the capital in the role of an abusive lover.
Recorded with the help of funding from Creative Scotland, and the support of a committed online fanbase cultivated by Bans during her time in Berlin, Identify Yourself is a cohesive calling card from a songwriter who, after four EPs, is at the peak of her powers. Catch her live at Bloc+ in Glasgow on Thursday night, and get the album right now on Bandcamp.
LAST YEAR’S GIRL: How did you get started writing music and performing?
ROSIE BANS: I’d say I have always performed – even when I was a very wee lassie I loved to talk to people a lot and loved telling stories. I’ve always enjoyed being the centre of attention. There was a lot of “get the wean out to sing us a song” at family parties so I quickly realised performing isn’t all about debut more about the enjoyment that others get from being engaged by it!
I wrote my first full song when I was 15. I was madly in love (again) and was getting into playing guitar and wanted to impress my boyfriend with a soppy love song. It totally worked (yas!). I was really into No Doubt and Gwen Stafani at the time so it was a little punky pop number!
Three words to describe your sound…
Jazzy Funky Pop
What influences you – both musically and otherwise?
Real life stories and particularly anything around vulnerability. I write as a way to explore my most uncomfortable feelings so the result is usually a pretty honest depiction of something that’s happened to me.
I love pop music and that will always be my first port of call. A simple, straightforward, well-written pop song that drags you into a hooky chorus against your will and spits you out three minutes later. In contrast to that I find I get a lot of goosebumps when listening to anything a little more challenging and progressive, particularly within the pop vein. That’s where my love for artists like Imogen Heap and Tori Amos stems from.
You’ve been releasing music in EP form since 2014, but Identify Yourself is your first album. What was it about this collection of songs that made you think the time was right?
I released an EP called Process on the 1st of January 2016 and I remember those songs feeling so irrelevant to my life at the time. The two years before that so much had changed in my life (I’d left London, worked through depression) and so I decided I wanted a collection of songs that represented what I think about life now, today, in this current incarnation.
I also really love the album format and after releasing so many EPs I just remember thinking that the next release has to be an album!
Your songwriting is deeply personal, tackling things like failed romantic relationships, homesickness and bullying. Has that always been the case – and is there anything you wouldn’t write about?
I don’t think there is anywhere I wouldn’t go. I have a few songs I am working on just now that are a lot more political-based and politics is perhaps place I am not as comfortable commenting on within my music. I think I have a fear of it coming across as a gimmick perhaps although maybe I should just release something and let other people decide!
You recently returned home to Glasgow after some time living in London and Berlin. How has it been settling back into the local music scene?
It’s been amazing. I am so in love with Glasgow! Always have been – however, the city has changed so much over the past ten years it just blows me away how perfect it is for me as a place to live. The music scene here is packed full of excellent artists and great venues. I have hooked up with a few other female singer-songwriters and we meet up every month to talk about how to support each other and to just share what is working for us. That in itself is proof to me of how special Glasgow (and Scotland in general!) really is and how much heart it has.
You were an enthusiastic adopter of Patreon, which you used to fund the demos for the album. What has that experience been like?
I started Patreon whilst I was living in Berlin. I was feeling so homesick and if I’m being honest I was really lost in my life at that time. I just knew I wanted to make this album and so I used Patreon as a way to structure creating the songs. I work well with outer accountability and Patreon gave me that as well as instant feedback on my songs from the exact people who would be listening to it.
Patreon allows artists to create their own space online with their followers and for me it is a safe place to share new raw material.
Tell me about the musicians you worked with on this album. Is that a sound you hope to be able to recreate at your live shows?
On the album you hear my ‘core band’ which is Doug Kemp (bass) and Bren Neil (drums). Me and Doug met way back in college in 2005 and I met Bren upon my return to Glasgow from London, he is a familiar face in the Southside of Glasgow music scene. Everyone else on the record I asked to play because they are excellent musicians and I really like what they do and how they play. It was such a pleasure to be able to have the funding from Creative Scotland to actually do that!
There will be a full band tour in the New Year which is a mega exciting prospect as I have never played my own music live with a band before! I am really excited to recreate the album tracks, perhaps with a new spin for the live shows!
Do you have any gigs planned around the album launch, or anything else you would like to promote?
I am playing on November 2nd at Bloc and then on November 16th at Glad Cafe. All I would like at this stage with the launch is to get people to listen to the record and really just connect with me online (and share with their pals!!).
And what are you listening to at the moment?
I am absolutely LOVING the Moulettes’ album Preternatural. It’s all the things I love about music, it’s proggy and poppy with absolutely beautiful harmonies! Mega fun and exciting album by a bunch of highly skilled musicians. Please everyone go listen to them as soon as you read this!
Rosie Bans photos by Jannica Honey.