Our next artist interview is with a very talented singer/songwriter who has done some of the most stunning and well-produced collaborations on mp3unsigned. I am very proud to welcome Ms Rosemarie Ashley, aka ‘tude vox Ro! ‘tude Vox Ro: Thank you Darth! MP3Unsigned is one of the first places I uploaded music, where I connected with fantastic collaborators and made good friends. I’m glad to be here!
mp3u: Thank you for granting us this interview; how are you today Ro, if I may call you Ro?
Ro: Yes, please. I’m great.
mp3u: Anyone familiar with your background is aware that you became disillusioned with a high-status white collar career-path as a management consultant, and you quit to pursue a career in music. It certainly seems to have been a more spiritually rewarding life choice for you than any amount of banknotes could seduce you with. Can you tell us a bit about how and when your epiphany came about?
Ro: Lol, sure. I loved to sing since I was a girl, continuing to perform through college. Soon after graduation, I accepted a position as a management consultant, specializing in productivity improvement. From there, I moved into corporate training then transferred into mortgage origination for what I expected would be a couple years field experience. That was 1991. In 1997 I saw a local casting call for “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I wanted to be in that show since first seeing the movie, decades earlier. Being in “Superstar” reignited my passion for music. I didn’t realize I could write original songs back then, but I knew I had to do something with my voice. After some soul-searching, I figured out that what I love most is singing songs with personal meaning and uplifting messages in popular music styles. In the early 2000s, I had a vision of community theater productions of original, inspirational musicals with spiritual (not religious) messages and began organizing a group that came to be known as “Heaven On Earth”. At one meeting, a guy on the planning committee asked what I thought about using the word “God” in lyrics. I said I’d use it sparingly, if at all. Religious music has already been done.
mp3u: That’s interesting. Reading the comments on your track Surrender I noticed that some people were saying that “as an atheist” they didn’t like the subject matter. It struck me that they had somewhat missed the point. To my understanding the song is not a religious paean to any external deity, rather to a kind of inner divinity within everyone, right?
Ro: Exactly. “Infinite Wisdom, that which I am” … I see us as multi-dimensional beings, all created with the essence of Source energy – what ever that may be; like every cell of our bodies has our unique DNA sequence but serves an individual purpose. In the many religions and philosophies I’ve studied, there seems to be a shared foundation from which they are built. I wanted to include messages of this universal wisdom, without limiting the audience to people who believe in God. The morning after the debate about religious language, I woke up with lyrics to my first song, “Heaven On Earth”. The group dissolved and I began professionally producing my own brand of Sassy Alternative music. Meanwhile, I continued to sell mortgages for income … until toxic loan entered the scene. I flat out refused to “do what it takes” to continue being profitable in the mortgage business when it meant failing to properly educate borrowers about terms and conditions of the mortgage and letting them bury themselves in what was sure to cause lots of foreclosures. Business declined to the point where I was no longer earning a living. Then in 2008 I decided “If I’m going to work for free, I’m doing what I love”. I closed my office, began seeking a corporate training position and treated my hobby like a business. Since then, I’ve had more success than I imagined in my wildest childhood dreams of being a professional singer. mp3u: It has often been noted that mp3u artists tend to be more versatile genre-wise than the average mainstream artist, and your music is no exception – it truly does cover a diverse range of genres. You’ve made a lot of extremely professional-sounding rock tracks with Rich Ramsey (aka iOD!NE), some very calm and sedated ballads (one which was even described as befitting a Disney movie!), a no-holds-barred down-and-dirty Hip Hop track with authentic guest rapping, and some very quirky, funky and upbeat tracks. Of course you obviously enjoyed making all of your songs, but is there any genre you feel particularly comfortable in?
Ro: Hmmmm … Not really. When I was young, most of the songs I sang were ballads. There were several learning curves as I branched into new genres but when the songs are done, I feel energized. I credit my patient producer/engineer/co-writer Scott Sumner for helping me to confidently perform new genres, as well as co-writers Andy Britton aka: James Oakwood, Rich (iOD!NE) Ramsey, Dave Meredith and Graham Barrow for giving me different styles of music.
mp3u: If I may break it into genres for the purposes of this interview, let’s start with Rock. You’ve had so many collabs with iOD!NE that users have coined the term “Rose and Rich” for your special sound Although there is a unifying sound, the songs are all quite different. Three songs in particular have a very epic sound to my ears – Morning Light, Bridge to Ever After and Sleepless Night. Did they approach you to put lyrics to epic music, or was it the other way around? Did you approach them to put music to epic lyrics?
Ro: Andy Britton invited me to write to music that became “Bridge to Ever After”. That’s how I met Rich Ramsey. Rich gave me “Sleepless Night” and we moved on from there. He usually writes the music first, as with the three you mentioned. When I have music first, I hear melodies that speak lyrics to me. I look at my job as articulating and vocalizing emotions the composer puts to music, through the filter of my own perspective.
mp3u: The lyrics in the “Sleepless Night” Rock Opera track so reminded me of bombastic Iron Maiden type lyrics that I wasn’t sure if you were a fan of that type of music or it was a tongue-in-cheek parody. So, is it the former, the latter, or a bit of both?
Ro: I’m not familiar with Iron Maiden (though I think I’ve been compared to them) and the song is not a parody. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of depression and the internal dialogue between the ego and higher self. Rich wrote “Sleepless Night” originally to be in a film about a guy in an insane asylum. He already had a melody, lyrics and title but wasn’t satisfied. I told him I couldn’t do insane asylum but I could do depression. I re-wrote the verses and modified the chorus.
mp3u: Either way, it’s a great track! Yet again defying conformity, the completely unexpected but somehow perfect saxophone break merely elevated it to new levels of originality.
Ro: He-he, I like defying conformity. Thank you! Actually I invited Scott Sumner to play the sax outro. I was playing engineer and forgot to mute the last take of Scott’s solo … when magic happened – the sax duet at the end.
mp3u: One other song you did with iOD!NE struck me as a song I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on a Bond movie soundtrack. Has anyone else ever said that, or is it all in my head?
Ro: If you’re talking about “Bridge to Ever After”, yes, other people have said that. I would love to hear my work in film! In fact, I see a musical/rock opera being written around my songs – going back to my community theater vision.
mp3u: Actually, I was thinking of Until My Dreams Come True, which reminded me of the synth sound in the Duran Duran theme for A View to A Kill. But now that you mention it, I can definitely hear a Bondian sound to Bridge too!
Ro: No one else has said that to me about “Until My Dreams Come True”, but cool!
mp3u: One other song that deserves special mention – frankly because it is such an original concept it defies pigeon-holing in any usual genre – is a song you wrote as a kind of musical application letter to join US President Obama’s team, Yes We Can! It would be so unlike his PR character I can’t imagine him just ignoring something so unique, so I have to ask – did he or his staff ever respond to it?
Ro: Not a word. Listening to that song now, I can see how it is almost a dare to govern in the spirit of his campaign. Three and a half years into his reign, that hasn’t happened. I’m not into lip service and therefore, glad I didn’t get that call.
mp3u: Remarkably, although you have had many top ten tracks on mp3u, you have only had two number ones, which were Prisoner of Conscience with GreyB and No One Said This Would Be Fun with Dave Meredith. [Correction: "Bridge to Ever After" also reached number one when it was released on the Blu Ice page, as pointed out by James Oakwood in the comments below, Ed.] Taking them one at a time, first “Prisoner of Conscience”. In stark contrast with the complex production on a lot of your other tracks, this song seems to have only piano, strings section, and your voice. Yet it clearly touched a lot of people. What can you tell us about this collaboration?
Ro: I heard another one of Graham Barrow’s tracks and fell in love. I asked him if I could write to it but someone else got to it first. So he wrote “Prisoner of Conscience” for me. Music comes to me mysteriously, just when I need to hear the message it brings. The first song was light and happy. This one told me I still had more inner work to do, so I got started. I don’t always keep the working title to compositions but I could hear the title in the chorus, so I went with it. Graham said to do whatever I wanted with the song so I changed the arrangement a bit and listened for lyrics. When I got to the studio, my producer, Scott complained that I wasn’t varying the dynamics enough. Graham played the piece with a march-like precision so Scott offered to play it differently. Usually, all parts are recorded separately. This time was different. Scott wanted me to sing with him playing. We had drummer Jim Orzel in a recently constructed recording booth, Scott in the control room, plugged into the keyboard and me in the other booth. Some kind of magic happened that day when we started playing. Scott and I worked off each other’s dynamics and Jim filled in with some light drums. There was a powerful energy flowing through us. Then a fire started in Jim’s booth and we quit for the day.
mp3u: That must have been some energy!
Ro: Indeed, lol. After some time, Scott recorded a final piano track, added strings (as on Graham’s original track), dropped the drums and then I recorded final vocals. When Scott got goose bumps, we knew it was a keeper.
mp3u: You’ve done three successful collabs with Dave Meredith – Greatest Gift and New Paradigm reached the heady heights of number 2 in the charts. The third track with Dave, “No One Said This Would Be Fun”, has a very 80′s vibe to me, with those slick synths and pads work. How did it feel when you found you’d hit the top spot, or were you guys kind of expecting it?
Ro: I’m always excited to get in the top 10, so it was a very cool surprise to be number 1.
mp3u: Of all your rock numbers, Incite Social Revolution is probably the heaviest in terms of guitar sound. It has been described as being reminiscent of Linkin Park, and I tend to agree, what with the melodic vocals on top of the crunchy guitar sound, and the spoken/rap part that begins at 2:15. Love it!
Ro: Thank you! The creation of the rap section demonstrates how an ideal collaborative relationship works. Rich and I have mutual trust and respect, so neither of us is afraid to experiment. Both are willing to entertain the other’s ideas, but don’t feel bound to agree. If I recall correctly, I “heard” that spot as perfect for a little rap. When I mentioned it to Rich, he probably rolled his eyes and said something like “Really? Rap? Well, try it and we’ll see”. So I did, and he really liked it.
mp3u: Staying on the subject of rap, you’ve had a number of songs that experiment with this genre. Make It Through is a rap song with funky beats and an 80′s sound, and Until the Bliss also has an 80′s feel but with more rocky beats, and has been compared to both Salt ‘N’ Pepa and Neneh Cherry. Were those artists a conscious influence on you when writing these songs, or, were you ever a fan of those artists back in the day?
Ro: I don’t ever try to sound like anyone else, but I’m sure everything I’ve ever heard is stored somewhere in my mind and subconsciously used as reference when I’m producing a song.
mp3u: The song I referred to earlier as down-and-dirty is of course the pounding Do Me featuring Shane Capone. His rap is so rapid that you might almost get away with broadcasting it on radio, but to read along with the lyrics while listening? wow. Nuff said.
Ro: Lol! Shane is a pro. He used to work for me. My husband hired him over my objections because of his entrepreneurial success as a rapper. I couldn’t see how rapping would make him a good mortgage loan officer, and I was right – he ended up quitting to make a record in LA with Sony. But in the mean time, we became friends and he later introduced me to Scott – an exceptional and accomplished engineer/vocal producer/co-writer.
mp3u: So was this the first song you uploaded to mp3u? I noticed some comments on the song saying ‘welcome to the site’. If so, you certainly know how to make an entrance!
Ro: “Do Me” was one of 2 or 3 songs I had completed when I joined the site so yes, it was probably in the first upload. This song, one of my more commercially marketable, gets me in lots of trouble with my spiritually minded listeners – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sex and spiritually are not mutually exclusive. The message gets lost in the mix but the song is about refraining from acting out personally inappropriate sexual desires.
mp3u: There are many songs which refer to the non-religious but spiritual theme, such as Feel The Love, Into the Dream, Heaven on Earth, The Answer which seem to belong in your own original style, but you’ve also published some definite funk-genre tunes such as Pay Day Blues which was described as ‘sleazy’ (but in a good way), and the ultra-upbeat funky smiley Melted containing those cute yet genuine giggles which drew inevitable comparisons with Bjork’s style.
Ro: “Pay Day Blues” was written before the global economic meltdown and has proven to be prophetic. In 2005-6, metro-Detroit was already in a recession, with property values falling. The rest of Michigan, United States and the world were doing fine. The song calls for a globally cooperative solution through intentional co-creation. “Melted!” is the real sassy song, challenging people to select their intimate relationships without regard to socially acceptable parameters – and also to have fun, playful encounters, within a personally defined framework of acceptable liaisons.
mp3u: Finally, I think I’ll forego the old ‘what football team do you support?’ chestnut, as I’m pretty sure you fit the classic creative/artistic, non-sporty archetype (but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!), but to end on a light note, as these interviews tend to do, can I ask about one song I was completely baffled by – Fiat Drive. Is it a conspiracy theory about the carmaker?
Ro: Ha-ha. That’s “Fiat Greed” and conspiracy is only theory until it is proven to be fact. This song is a history lesson of sorts, about printing money backed on nothing of value (other than the “full-faith and credit” of the United States). An unconstrained fiat money system is like living on a credit card, bumping the limit until the economy crashes – like it is doing now. But to end on a light note, the song calls for personal empowerment and engaged right-action to create a monetary policy that works for the good of all. That is starting to come true, with discussions of alternative economic paradigms. I encourage other artists to recognize the impact a song can have, and be conscious of the message they are sending. My collection of work demonstrates how we, as artists, can share our perspective and use the power of music (in any style) to create a better world -while we’re entertaining the crowd and having lots of fun. Thank you so much for this interview.
mp3u: No, thank you! While doing my homework for this interview, I ended up listening to your entire mp3u catalogue and I have to say, you’ve found a new fan! Finally an artist who writes songs about the Force! (Albeit the wrong side of it…) Just kidding. Love your work, and so looking forward to hearing more. Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for ‘tude Vox Ro!