06.05.2009, Words by Charlie Jones

Blue Roses "I love sad songs."

There’s a good turnout in Pure Groove for such a sunny day. Sipping post-work bottled beer, an audience waits patiently for a small girl in a red dress with roses in her hair to take to the stage. She does so with such quiet politeness that when a startlingly clear voice cuts through the calm moments later eyebrows raise. The audience is here because they’ve heard her debut album Blue Roses so what’s with the surprise? Maybe our expectation levels for live music have been seriously dented by modern (over)production values. Either way, it’s not a space that Laura Groves, in her Blue Roses guise, occupies. She recorded the album, over three years, in various homes of family and friends in Yorkshire. The result is full of wonder, curiously both of another era and strikingly fresh, stitching together memories, moments, dreams and places. And at its heart is an astonishingly skilled storyteller. Despite one or two moments with a glitchy microphone, she never once loses the crowd’s gaze, returning smiles and weaving spells with the kind of unassuming ease that 21-year-olds from Bradford aren’t supposed to have. Set over, glass of wine in hand and a box of sold-out pre-orders to sign, Groves couldn’t be more smiley.

You’re very assured on stage…
I used to get very nervous but the more I’ve done it the easier it’s become. Especially now I’ve got people with me on stage. [Two musicians join her at various points, playing everything from thumb piano to electric violin.] Before I used to play solo all the time and it was totally different.

It does feel very much like a solo project though. Where did the name come from?
I’d been doing gigs under my name Laura Groves for two years maybe. Then when I started recording the album it became apparent that it was growing beyond what we’d anticipated. It wasn’t just this stripped down acoustic thing that the Laura thing had been for so long. It just seemed right to differentiate between what it was before and what it was becoming. Also it opens things up for the future. I’m just one person but Blue Roses could be anything.

There’s something quite magical about the name. Blue roses don’t exist in nature.
It came from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I read it at school. That was where I first came across it. It always stuck in my mind as a strong image. Then I started reading up about it, all the connotations. It was in Twin Peaks as well. I saw that and that was it.

Your songs often return to attempts to make the intangible, tangible – seeing electricity and photographing moods.
I think that lyrically I tend to write about actual things that have happened but there’s definitely that escapist thing too. That’s very important to me. That’s probably where some of those intangible things come in.

It sounds like the making of the album is quite a story in itself.
It’s always been really important to me to work with my friends, use their talents and give them opportunities. From the very beginning I’ve worked with a good friend of mine, Marco Pasquariello, who co-produced, engineered and mixed the album. We basically recorded it in his parents’ house in Bradford and various other places in Yorkshire. That just felt where it had to be. I didn’t want to come to London for a month, away from home where all the songs were written and all the things that inspired them. I didn’t want the atmosphere of being in one studio, under that pressure, ‘You’re out of this studio in two weeks, you’ve got to finish it by then’. I needed to give the songs space. They grew from nothing. They needed the space and time.

Did the pace at which you made the album mean you found yourself adding and removing a lot during the recording process?
We didn’t really demo any songs before we recorded the album. Two of them are quite old songs as well. I’m Leaving was the first song I ever wrote and that’s three years old now. We did a lot of making things up as we went along. I really enjoy doing that. Sometimes when you make a demo, it’s got something about it that is lost when you record it. I wanted to start from scratch and build things up. Especially a song like Doubtful Comforts, which was just an accident really. I was messing about with the thumb piano and I recorded a little melody at home and then added all the synths. That took everyone by surprise. I didn’t even think it was going to go on the album but we all liked it. I really like that process, that building up of layers. I’m not a prolific songwriter; I don’t really like writing songs that I don’t have any hope for. They have to be good for me to pursue them. I know some people write loads and loads of stuff and then pick out the best bits but I can’t really do it like that.

Where do your stories come from? There’s clearly some relationship stuff going on.
There is a bit of that in there. It’s that and a lot of where I was living at the time. Places are important to me. They sort of soak up what’s going on. There are places that will always remind you of certain things, become more meaningful because of what happened there. Then there are places that I like going to like the sea, the countryside, that’s really important to me. I live not too far from the sea but if you drive for 15 minutes you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Listening to your music feels like permission to pause. Who does that for you?
Joni Mitchell is very special to me. I started listening to her because she was so important to my mum when she was my age. I started off with Blue and it’s still my favourite. It’s full of really sad songs. I love sad songs. Her style of piano playing has been a big influence. That’s one of those albums you put on and it’s like…[sigh]. Especially how it ends. The Last Time I Saw Richard is one of my favourite endings of an album ever. It stops on this amazing chord at the end, it’s so sad and then there’s this little CD stopping sound and it’s like: reflect.

You’re playing at lots of festivals this year. Any plans for a bigger set up?
I’m lucky enough to have these people who can play lots of instruments, sing and everything. I’m really enjoying gigs like this and I think I want to keep it small. It sort of suggests what the record is about.

Blue Roses’ album Blue Roses is out now on XL.


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