Name: Roxanne de Bastion
Nationality: I don't like the concept of nation states, but am a holder of two passports (British /German)
Current release: My new single "Molecules" is out now (and my album You & Me, We Are the Same is available to pre-order.)
Recommendations: A serious Book ‘The Sea’ by John Banville; a funny book ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noha; Music ‘Mary Anne meets the Gravediggers and other Short Stories by Regina Spektor’ by Regina Spektor
If you enjoyed this interview with Roxanne de Bastion , visit her homepage for more information. For current updates and more music, head over to her accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you?
The impulse to create is what makes us human. For me, creating songs feels like a natural byproduct of existing. It’s how I make sense of the world around me and how I express myself.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I usually just sit down with my guitar, find a chord pattern that I like and wait for a melody idea to sort of present itself. Once I have a song idea, I definitely visualise the finished piece and often hear full arrangements in my head. The annoying this is that you can never quite perfectly replicate that and capture the purity of the visualised idea. We can but try!
I think the balance between planning and chance is simply how much time you spend “showing up”, taking the time to sit down and put in the work, so the craft versus the art I suppose. I’m not a very disciplined writer, although a silver lining of lockdown has definitely been more time to make music.
I wish I could be a bit more like Nick Cave, who treats his studio like a 9 - 5 office job, but that’s a bit of a luxury. One day!
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Inspiration can hit at any time, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s definitely helpful to have tools. That can simply mean having your phone at the ready to record a voice note when a melody finds you when you’re out walking. My main songwriting tools are definitely my guitar and my keyboard. I like the process of just playing music and seeing where it takes me. I enjoy researching a topic too, although I don’t do that very much at all as lyrics always tend to come very naturally.
There’s a song on the new album called ‘I Remember Everything’, which was inspired by the story of Kim Peak (who the movie character Rain-man is based on). I watched a documentary on him and was fascinated; moved to researching what it means to be neuro-diverse and to write a song about it.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating?
I like the late hours. No rituals, just habits I think. Mostly getting into certain moods, accompanied by my instrument, to tap into something I can capture in a song. It does help to have space.
I definitely prefer not feeling overlooked or overheard when making music …which is quite tricky in London! My upstairs neighbours are a tolerant older couple and hard of hearing, which helps!
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I find it really easy to start an idea … finishing it is the hard part. It’s quite easy to come up with a hook, a pretty chord sequence or a good lyric, but labouring it into a finished thing can be hard work.
I usually start by strumming away on a guitar, but sometimes it’s a turn of phrase that I hear and take note of for a future song, or even more abstract, just a feeling that I recognised and think “Ok, going to file this one away for later”.
I know people have said this before, but the best songs are the ones that just appear magically. It is such an incredible feeling when a fully formed idea presents itself to you, easily and naturally. It’s the best feeling ever and it’s what all songwriters get hooked on.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Rarely, I’ll write the lyrics first and put it to music later. That’s actually what I did for "Molecules". Super rare for me - I just heard a line about Molecules in an interview on Youtube, wrote it down and then immediately wrote the rest in one go.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Uff … that’s a great question! Lyrics are good when they are true or interesting (or preferably both). I think the best lyrics find that magical balance between being specific enough to be true to the individual creating it and vague enough to accommodate a universal truth that everyone can find themselves in.
Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday celebrations reminded me of how magical songwriting is and how amazing a gift it is that we can create a reflection of our collective experience. That’s what songwriting is to me, I guess that’s my ambition, to add my little part.
My challenges are mostly just time. I wish I had more of it to just play and make stuff!
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
It is a little bit like sculpting, you have an idea of what the shape should be, you’ve got a starting point and then you chip away at it. It’s a bit like writing the essay, once you have the theses, or actually cooking the meal once you’ve found an ingredient you like, or |insert favourite tortured metaphor|.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I don’t think I really have a process. I usually write songs on my own and am free to explore and see what happens.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yeah that happens! When I find a new tuning to play around with or learn a new way of playing a chord, I’ll often start writing one song, which turns into a different one, which turns into a different one … It’s survival of the fittest with songs, some rise to the top and others evaporate.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Definitely. It’s the closest thing I have to a religion. Whether you’re enjoying it passively, or creating it actively, we all know what it feels like to be entranced by music. It’s powerful.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
The recording is done when Bernard Butler says so! It’s good to have someone overseeing the project, a fresh pair of ears who can hear that take number 35 was the one and that we don’t need to go for take 36.
For me, the song itself isn’t really finished until it’s found its way comfortably into my live set. Songs tend to grow and change when you play them to an audience. I miss that!
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece?
For this album, we had a good couple of months where we set the recordings aside before we finished mixing them. That was down to circumstance, but I’m glad we had that time.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally?
I’ve just had the absolute pleasure of working with one of the best. Bernard is so good at creating soundscapes and knowing exactly where to prod and poke a song to make it the best it can be. So, the role of producer is hugely important! Musical history is full of great producers whose creativity contributed just as much, if not more than the writers and performers - George Martin is probably the best example of that.
Another silver-lining of the past year for me has been that I’ve finally had to learn how to record and edit my own demos properly. I quite enjoy that now and produce my own radio show every week for Boogaloo Radio, a new creative outlet that’s super fun.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this?
Massively. Creating things is such a high and highs are always followed by lows. I just announced my album and released the opening track, "Molecules". There was such an excited rush to get everything ready and to announce it, I definitely felt the post-release-blues on that Sunday. I had donuts. That helped.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
All creativity is good for us and making a great cup of coffee is definitely an art form.
Music predates coffee though. It predates language. It’s so deeply rooted in all of us and I think, for that reason, it’s the most accessible art form. Through music, you can express universal truths and create connection. That is the most important thing, I think. Connecting with others through something as positive and great as music.