One year ago, top discoverer Going Solo introduced the fresh-faced London artist ROCH (pronounced “rock”) to us with this description: “London female singer/songwriter, reminiscent of Soak and Daughter. [...] she's currently working with Ben Christophers (Bat For Lashes), Richard Frenneaux (Laura Welsh), and Leo Abrahams (Wild Beasts).” Alongside the fact that ROCH is a sculpture student at Central St. Martin’s, that’s pretty much all the information on offer from this talent who shirks any unnecessary limelight.
Since that initial discovery, ROCH has released two more singles “Kintsugi” and “Vienna”, plus her first accompanying music video. These tracks further a sound of forlorn melodies, ice-cool guitar arrangements, a sprinkling of tambourine and percussion, and the singer’s gently soulful voice. It’s an atmospheric combination that the artist brings to her live set, honed on London’s fast-paced gig circuit, and sure to be seen on September 2nd at the free HumanHuman Showcase.
Whilst we do our part to keep ROCH’s biographical identity hidden, we do get to know more about this polymath on an creative level.
Easy first question, what have you been up to lately?
Today I’m in the studio with Blue Daisy, we’re just making some music and writing a new song. I’ve just come back from holiday, so I’m just getting back into it.
Let’s dive in and talk about your debut song “Closer”?
I wrote the song with no expectations really I had just started the project under the name ROCH and it was quite a personal one. I thought about putting it out, but I didn’t really want anything written about me at the time. It was really nice that people had such a good reaction, which encouraged me to write more and to write what I want to. I just keep putting my emotions down into my songs.
Is that how getting into music started for you, as an outlet for your emotions?
Well, I started playing guitar quite young and always sang along to that, so it seemed like a natural thing to do. When I started studying art, music became a way for me to look at the themes I was exploring in the studio in sculpture. It’s another outlook, another artform.
I would say one theme I’ve noticed in “Closer” is repeated reflections on the past.
Yeah! It’s about looking on the past and trying to find a way to communicate things that I wasn’t able to at the time.
Speaking of the past, what’s your earliest musical memory?
Probably listening to all the records that were played in the house and picking up my guitar for the first time. I learnt guitar when I was nine and I just really gravitated towards singing along to it. So yeah, the first time I picked up a musical instrument probably. After that, I started playing piano and drums, but guitar has always been my main instrument.
That still is the case with your music now, I guess?
Yeah, it is. Live I play guitar all the time, but in the studio I like having a go with anything that’s about. Any instrument that I can find, pick up and make a noise with.
Time for a cliche question, where did the name ROCH come from?
I was confirmed as Saint Roch and I just took the ‘saint’ off it and used the ‘roch’. That’s where it comes from!
Was there any particular reason for ditching the ‘saint’?
There’s been quite a lot of saints in music - Saint Vincent, Saint Raymond and so on. I didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon. I thought that ROCH was short, simple, gets to the point and it’s still the name I chose.
The song name “Kintsugi” obviously has a special meaning, taking inspiration from its Japanese origin. Would you like to explain that in your own words?
I wrote it with Ben Christophers and we were talking about different kinds of art, like ceramics and ways of building sculpture, because I do a sculpture course at university. We were just talking about what sculpture is, what it means, what materials it uses and then we broke off from that and started talking about my time at uni and how I feel about that. The different people you come across and how you can feel quite alone in such a big, creative space. It’s about feeling fragmented and like one of the lyrics “broken pottery reused”. That linked up to this Japanese word ‘kintsugi’, which is putting broken pottery back together using gold leaf. All the conversations we were having in the studio on sculpture, pottery and lyrics all just came together.
I read that the song was partly inspired by Grace Slick.
Oh, I had forgotten I said that! Yeah, I was listening to a lot of Grace Slick at the time and I think she’s got a really wicked voice. I was listening to Angel Olsen as well. I love all those drone guitars, which I was really inspired by. At the front of “Kintsugi”, I wanted a repetitive guitar part that turned into this droney space. Yeah, Grace Slick and Angel Olsen inspired that arrangement.
Two very good artists there. Is there anyone else you have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to Nico’s live performances. There’s this album which is just her live and it’s amazing! I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s really dark, sparse and her voice is really cool. You should check that out. Also Saint Vincent and Angel Olsen - I can’t wait for her new album to come out, she’s gone all synthy and it’s so cool. I’m also going to see PJ Harvey in October and I’m so excited about that, because I love seeing people live. I saw Angel Olsen live before I actually heard her music. I think that the live aspect is really important. I like to see musicians live before I listen to their music.
Wow, so you use live settings as a way of discovering new music?
Yeah, just because I think live is really raw. It’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get and you can tell from there whether you connect with that person or whatever the songs connect with you. It’s a great way of finding new acts. You can also take what you do on stage and reflect on what other people do.
Anyone who is familiar with your background will know that you make performance and video art, we’ve already spoken about the sculpture course. Would you say that these artforms have influenced your music?
Yeah, I think they’re pretty symbiotic. They work off each other, especially with the themes. My videos are usually me performing in front of a camera, it’s quite a DIY, non-high-tech video, but the things that I look at with video and performance, I translate that into lyrics for my music. Things that I talk about in my music or how I perform sometimes weave their way into my art. They play off each other. They have to keep going like that - if I stop one then the other dies.
Are there any key differences between your music?
I don’t use any music in my art, well so far I haven’t. In that way I suppose they are quite separate, but theme-wise they are very much the same.
I guess the most obvious place for any artistic crossover would be with music videos. You recently released a video for “Vienna” - what was the idea behind that?
I had seen a lot of these videos recently that have been portrait shoots, really simple, but I think they’re quite capturing and alarming in some of the videos I’ve been looking at. It’s the first video I’ve put out and I wanted a simple video portrait. I filmed it with the music and if you switch the music off it also works. It’s just me in front of the camera.
Did you have the song in your head while you were filming?
No, I wanted it to be just capturing what I do in front of the camera and how I react to that. The whole idea of a video is to be an instant reaction, so I didn’t want to think about the song and react off that emotionally. I just wanted it to be an instant of what I do in front of the camera. It was a bit awkward because I wasn’t that comfortable with it. It’s a portrait, just a snapshot.
As for the song itself, the lyrics and instrumentation seem to be filled with longing. Was there a particular moment or thought that sparked “Vienna”?
It’s about wanting to get somewhere, but at the time something doesn’t feel right or something pulls you back and not getting there. Then on reflection, maybe I should have done that. It’s about longing to be somewhere, but then making decisions that counteract that.
Now you’re based in London, a place famed for its live music scene. What’s the last great gig you went to?
You know what I haven’t seen anyone live in a while, I’ve just been gigging loads. Oh! I saw Benjamin Clementine, I thought he was really good, his voice is just something else! I usually go see friends’ bands at little venues around Basildon.
You said you’ve been gigging a lot, and has your live performance changed over that time?
I think so, yeah. I just did a South London residency and did gigs in Peckham, New Cross, Deptford and you have to change, because you have to get used to the venue you’re in, you have to be really comfortable with your set so that you can switch between venues quickly and not get distracted by them. Me and my band are pretty comfortable with the set and change it often, to keep it exciting, It’s been good doing the residency and hopefully I’ll be doing another gig at the end of the year in London.
And of course, you’ll be in Antwerp on September 2nd! Will there be any unheard material on the night?
Yeah, there will be, three more songs in fact! There will be three different songs on the set which we will try out to see if people like them. I’m excited to play Antwerp and see the other acts as well, it should be good!