The way Rose Gray tells it, hers is the “classic dropped out of college, thought I was gonna be a popstar within three months” story. After dropping out of school, having made the decision to go to college with the mindset of being a popstar, she juggled different jobs while making music. Her persistence paid off, but not with immediately perfect results.
“I fell into the industry quite young. But the kind of music I was making and where I was as a teenager, it almost repelled me a bit,” Rose says. She felt like music execs at the time were trying to mould her into “this perfect popstar, which didn’t quite suit me”.
Her latest song – the woozy slow-rave jam ‘Same Cloud’ – indicates a unified creative vision, but that didn’t come easy to Rose. “I know a lot of teenagers are ready to be stars, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say or how I wanted my music to sound,” she says. And that’s down to Rose seeing herself as more of a lyricist, and still does. “I write everything and am so involved. In every little element of my songs, I’m there.”
A couple of years ago, Rose was encouraged by her management company to “work out what we’re doing with the project”. To have that confidence and motivation was much-needed. But she soon found herself taking “a step back”. After releasing the sombre 2019 singles ‘Blue’ and ‘High Again’, Rose realised those songs didn’t really fit her personality or emotions, one of a naturally-funny, breezy Londoner. “I was making music that was really sad and, of course I’ve been through all that, but it’s not really me. I’m a bit of a party animal who likes to go out and about,” she says. “And I really wanted that to come across in my music.”
The tunes she’s ended up with are perfect to go out to but perhaps in a different era. Influenced by Britain’s explosive dance music scene in the ’90s (Primal Scream and Massive Attack, are key touch points) but “with a little modern twist”. In fact, the mixtape’s ‘Save Your Tears’ gleefully reworks the groove from Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ – a vibrant anthem full of youthful playfulness – while ‘Same Cloud’ is a head-in-sky wig-out of mammoth proportions.
The appeal of that era, Rose says, is the pop-leanings but also “really soulful – and those massive chrouses”, she gushes. As if to prove it, she breaks into singing NME the chorus of The Source and Candi Station’s mammoth ‘You’ve Got The Love’ down the Zoom call.
As an independent artist, Rose says “I’m always on my feet and have to work a little bit harder”, but that she’s “really proud of my story.” But where does a Gen Z kid making baggy 90s-indebted dream-pop fit into 2020 where that hedonistic streak has somewhat waned? “I know I’m playing in this ’90s world and that’s been done, but think I’m kind of different, actually,” she says. “I haven’t heard someone make this music in 20 years and bring it back to this really anthemic world.”
Rose’s upcoming mixtape, ‘Drinking, Dancing, Talking, Thinking’ and opening track ‘Save Your Tears’ – which showcases her incredible vocal range – provided the realisation of “this is where I wanna be, in this sort of world”. Her lyrics ring true with those still mapping out their path in life; ‘sometimes you’ve just gotta lose your mind; take a few wrong turns ‘til you get it right’.
The rest of the tracks are similarly vibey. The bouncing ‘Easy’ has tropical beats and unashamed rave piano chords, while fans of Arlo Parks will fall for the poetic ‘Billy’ – written about a classmate who took a wrong turn in their life. A timely reflection of the rollercoaster of emotions that come with everyday life in 2020.
“I want it to make people dance and cry,” Rose summarises; “for them to feel a release”. Optimistically, she hopes it’s “the type of record you could have on as you’re getting ready to go out. I’m so proud of it. I know that I put my heart into it”. And after the journey she’s been on, you sense that trusting her instincts might finally work out for her.
‘Same Cloud’ is out now. ‘Drinking, Dancing, Talking, Thinking’ mixtape will be released this winter