“I want to feel everything — new levels, new devils,” Baby Rose said. “The one thing that we’re guaranteed in this life is death. And so while I’m here, I want to really be here.”
That’s the spirit of “Through and Through,” the immediate and unvarnished second album from Baby Rose, a 28-year-old singer and songwriter with an arresting voice. The songs on her new LP, due this week, juxtapose conflicting impulses and extremes of emotion: pleasure and paranoia, regret and resentment, estrangement and connection, self-affirmation and self-sabotage, mourning and healing.
“My superpower relies on my vulnerability — on me being very honest,” Baby Rose said in a video interview from the home studio in her apartment in Los Angeles. “I’m speaking to people in a real way. And I believe that that will have its own reward in the end.”
Along with her new album, she also has a song on the soundtrack of “Creed III”: “Heavy Is the Head.” Winning an Academy Award, she said with a laugh, is “on my vision board.”
Delivered in her powerful contralto, which echoes the melancholy gravity of Nina Simone, Baby Rose’s new songs hint at vintage soul heard from a contemporary, atmospheric distance. Using every element at her command — lyrics, inflections, chord progressions, arrangements, production — the tracks reach into difficult, unresolved situations, letting sounds and thoughts hang in the air.
“When I write a record, it’s to get an intention across,” she said. “It’s not to fit into a box.”
D. Phelps, who co-produced much of the album, called Baby Rose “story oriented.” “With artists like her, you hear the potential of a great legacy artist, but you have to create a legacy,” he said. “So let’s create some records that can really put her on a mountain and let people know that this voice is amazing.”
Baby Rose — her full name is Jasmine Rose Wilson — didn’t always appreciate her voice. It was already low when she was young, and other children made fun of her.
“I thought something was wrong with me,” she recalled via video chat, wearing a green Ralph Lauren sweater she had gotten at a flea market; a piano, a sampler and a Casio keyboard were nearby. “I remember feeling like I don’t want to speak up in class when it’s time to read.”
She turned to writing instead, encouraged by aunts who were English teachers. She wrote haikus, journals, anecdotes and stories. Performing at family get-togethers, she would read her poems. A great-aunt and a great-uncle also encouraged her to sing, and while she was reluctant to sing in church, she began playing piano and writing songs for herself when she was 9.
“I sat at the piano and something just clicked,” she said. “It was really a venting session. It was therapy before therapy.”
Baby Rose was born in Washington, D.C., but when she was 11 her family moved to Fayetteville, N.C., where she spent most of her teens. At 14, she decided to appear in a school talent show, playing piano and singing a song of her own, “Bonnie and Clyde.” She won first place; soon, classmates were calling her Little Alicia Keys. Her mother, who managed a local rapper, introduced her to recording studios.
She was drawn, she said, to artists who had been through personal struggles: Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Tina Turner, Maya Angelou. “These are women who have traversed many things and are not holier than thou and are very, very loud,” she said.
She moved to Atlanta to attend Spelman College, where she studied sociology, and she eased into the city’s busy recording scene as a songwriter. In 2017, she released a mixtape, “From Dusk ’Til Dawn.” Singers including SZA and Kehlani heard her music and praised it online, and she appeared on J. Cole’s project “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” sharing a track with Ari Lennox.
A bitter breakup with a longtime boyfriend was the genesis of “To Myself,” Baby Rose’s 2019 debut album, which was released through Island Records. Its title track, “All to Myself,” was a wrenching, gospel-rooted ballad she recorded on its first take.
The album brought her praise, fans, tour dates in the United States and Europe and more collaborations. She followed it up with an EP, “Golden Hour,” in 2020, and a song on the soundtrack of the HBO series “Insecure.” But amid the isolation and upheavals of the pandemic, Island dropped her.
“I remember being so afraid — what if I lose it all? What if I lose everything?” she said. “And then it just happened and it’s like, Oh, well, OK. And life goes on and what’s next?”
She signed to an independent label, Secretly Canadian, with her ambitions only expanding. “It’s not just OK to grow,” she said. “It’s imperative to grow.”
While her debut album was a confessional outpouring, “Through and Through” is more deliberate. She recorded more than 100 songs before winnowing them down to 11 tracks. “‘To Myself’ was my back up against the wall,” she said. “‘This is who I am — take it or leave it.’” She said the new album represents “not just thinking about me, but about a collective of consciousness. It’s me realizing how much we are more alike than we think we are.”
During the pandemic, Baby Rose took an online songwriting course from Berklee College of Music, learning about structures and rhyme schemes and thinking about classic pop. “I’ve always dreamed of making something like ‘Over the Rainbow’ or ‘What a Wonderful World’ or ‘Make You Feel My Love,’ like a standard,” she said. “A record that’s not about me — it’s about you. It’s about whoever the singer is.”
She also decided to try recording sessions in Nashville, citing country favorites like Ray Charles’s version of “Georgia on My Mind” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”: “I just wanted to go back and study the basics of a great song.”
She went on to record in Los Angeles at Revival at the Complex, a studio that was built by Earth, Wind & Fire. It has vintage analog equipment, including a rare 1970s reverb unit she’s particularly fond of, which was also used by Fleetwood Mac in its heyday. “She’s very technical,” said Phelps, her co-producer. “She learns every plug-in, everything that matters to the execution. You’d really be amazed by how meticulous she is about curating or building the experience she gives you.”
The songs Baby Rose chose for “Through and Through” sketch a clear narrative: a reluctant breakup followed by desolation, a new fling that starts in a club, a levelheaded reality check and the realization — in “Stop the Bleeding,” the album’s stark emotional peak — that she’s in “a cycle of sabotage” that she needs to transcend.
The haunted sound of the album — immediate but echoey, refusing to be crisply digital — was a careful choice. “The sonics I go for are very ethereal, because I want just that little subliminal energy,” Baby Rose said. “I like to bridge the golden age of eras that I tend to listen to a lot — the ’70s, ’80s, ’60s — and then also understand where we are, and how much things have grown, and how much autonomy we have these days.”
Instead of samples and programming, the album relies primarily on hand-played instruments, with songs that often grew out of studio jams. But analog or digital, Baby Rose is determined not to hold back. “When I was a kid, I was told the worst advice ever,” she said, “which is that you have to pretend to be something you’re not to get in the door. And then when you make it, you can pop out like a Trojan horse.
“But I always had this like innate calling to be very vulnerable and visceral in my writing,” she added. “And so I do this not only because it’s in me, but it’s showing little me that you’re making it, you’re connecting with people by doing you. You do you.”
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