Speaking to Baby Rose is a truly magnetic experience. Even through the screen, her smoky voice and full-bodied laugh are warm and genuine; she conveys a sense of being so full of the joys of life that her attitude is infectious.
NME catches her in the midst of this, just before the release of her second album ‘Through and Through’, a transformative album that stretches itself across and through genre bounds to convey a deep healing process. Her previous album ‘To Myself’ (2019) was, as she puts it, “a fourth quarter, back up against the wall” kind of project, using scraps of free studio time to get together as many songs as she could. It was more of a heartbreak album; fresh out of a relationship, and her ex, “on some wild shit”, had deleted all of her demos, so ‘To Myself’ was made in an effort to reclaim herself from that. “Literally, what I looked up, those were the last ten songs I had,” she says. “That was definitely God.”
Its follow-up ‘Through and Through’, out now, was made in the completely opposite way. Starting in the pandemic, Baby Rose had the time and space to spool out her creative resources and see what came back to her. The album was made across different studios in Atlanta, LA, and she was particularly keen to make music in Nashville, where she deeply respects the history of songwriting and music making. “I just wanted to be a student,” she says.
Based in Atlanta, Baby Rose’s soulful music draws on her idols (Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Chuck Berry) and her voice carries an uncanny, unique timbre that can’t help but recall the great voices of jazz, particularly Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. Working in studios with a host of musicians and team members around her, it was important for her to retain some of the more natural elements of the songwriting, which extends to mastering the album analogue on tape.
The songs on ‘Through and Through’ are humbling in how vulnerable Baby Rose’s performance is on them, not only in their lyrical content but how freely she allows herself to play with genre and texture. From the Isaac Hayes-esque roomy strings on ‘Love Bomb’ to the goosebump-raising theatricality of ‘Stop The Bleeding’ or the heavy rhythm section on ‘Fight Club’, Baby Rose has created a body of work that feels fluid and flexible, undeniably her own, and ready to stomp on any assumptions that people may make of her, particularly as a Black woman making music.
While playing with genre conventions was absolutely a product of Rose being led by her natural creativity and curiosity, she admits that there was also something conscious to it as well, a desire to not be boxed in by anyone’s expectations of her. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as an artist and as a Black woman to go crazy, to not hold back, because the artists that I looked up to went crazy and did not hold back. They lived very authentically in their truth and that took them in a lot of different directions. I refuse to be encapsulating myself. Why would I do that? I’ll leave that to the small-minded people to try and figure out.”
Throughout the interview, Baby Rose references and quotes from her idols all the time – Janis Joplin, Khalil Gibran and Mavis Staples all make appearances – so it makes sense when she mentions that she was directly inspired by Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (“if an alien was coming down to earth and wanted to know what was the human experience, listen to that!”), Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ when putting together ‘Through and Through’. What ties these albums together is their glistening core of authenticity and their expansiveness. With ‘Through and Through’, Baby Rose took that and ran with it, allowing herself to create and explore herself and her songwriting with as few limits as possible.
“I made the intention that, God forbid, but if this is the last thing that I have to offer, the last body of work that I do, ‘Through and Through’ is what I want it to sound like,” she says. “It’s all in – who I am, why I’m here, with what I have – with this blessing that I have, let’s give it all. It’s the chaos, the control, the release, the fear, the vulnerability.”
It’s abundantly clear that Baby Rose is just grateful to be here at all. Not in a physical sense, but grateful to be doing what she is, in the way that she is, with an audience to hear it. She was pushed to start making music by her mother, who took her to her first studio at the age of 12. Years later, with her mother in hospital dying of cancer, she was pushed to start releasing all the music that she had racked up. “I made a pact that day in the hospital that I’m going to put some shit out ‘cos there’s no way my mom, who’s been beside me this whole thing and believed in me, isn’t going to know that I tried, that I sat on all of this music and was too scared to show who I am,” she says. “If I look back from then to where I am now, it’s like: this is success. This is enough, more than enough, it’s beautiful.”
That’s not to say that she doesn’t have ambitions beyond where she’s got to; of course, all of the accolades and awards and trappings of success would be lovely, she admits, but her goal for this next phase of her journey is to be present. “Really, I’m just standing here with my arms open like, this is great,” she laughs. She’s even grateful for the things that worry her a little bit: NME speaks to her just before she is about to do a run of shows at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She is daunted by how many shows she’ll be doing in such a short amount of time. But, as she says, “I’m just in a space truly of gratitude and I’m hoping to hold on to all of that.”
If you’re looking for a way to apply Rose’s attitude to your own life, you could do worse than reminding yourself, in her words, that “no day is promised, anything can change in an instant, so let’s just be grateful and do the best that we can. Don’t hold back, go fucking crazy.” After living through many generation-defining events in the space of a couple of years, the best we can hope to be is grateful, and Baby Rose is a refreshing, graceful embodiment of this.
Baby Rose’s ‘Through and Through’ is out now