Since releasing his debut album Little Giant in 2014, Dorset-born Roo Panes has been one of the stars of the UK folk scene.
Roo’s music has been championed by the likes of Annie Mac, Zane Lowe and Lauren Laverne, and he’s reached over 140 million Spotify streams and 13 million YouTube views. Earlier this month he released his third album, Quiet Man.
I spoke to Roo recently about the album, his recent US tour, his writing process and plans for 2018.
You’ve just released your latest album – can you tell us more about that?
I’m really excited about it. It’s basically been about two years in the making. After the last album I wanted to rethink my writing and stuff, so I took a step back to focus on other things in life and think about whether or not there was something else I wanted to do. And I ended up spending a year and a half just stepping back. I wrote all the songs on the album in that time. It was nice because I wasn’t sure if I was making an album and it just kind of came really naturally, so all the songs on the album are just kind of like songs that naturally came out of that period.
Has your writing process changed over time?
I think on this album I kind of wanted to try playing around with a few different things. A Message To Myself has a little more electronic ambience which I’ve never done before, so that was quite fun to explore. And then on other songs I used a lot of instruments I haven’t used before, like bass clarinet. I don’t understand why I love it so much [laughs] but it’s really fun to discover. It’s a really textural instrument. I think texturally we did quite a lot of new things on this album. The actual writing style I think is still very me. I tend to write kind of poetry. There’s a continuity between the way that I write for sure, but there’s some new things.
Were there any songs that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?
Quiet Man. The reason why I like it was it was a very fast song to write – it felt very natural, and that’s one of the reasons I chose it as the title track. I’m very fond of songs like that that just come at a moment in time and feel very natural.
You’ve got a couple of live dates coming up soon – what can people expect from those?
Well I’m gonna do some solo songs, and then on the other hand I’ve got a string quartet and stuff. It’s gonna be a mix of some songs being all-encompassing and then some songs being very naked. I’m just hoping people come. My guitar is kind of a character in the songs and I think it’ll be a lot of fun. So quite a lot of music and yeah, quite colourful.
You’re well-known for playing a twelve-string guitar – what drew you to that?
Well I went into a shop trying to find a six-string that sounded like the twelve-string I got. I didn’t even know that twelve-strings existed at the time – I was kind of pretty young and new to everything. So I went in this guitar shop and was trying out guitars and was like, ‘ah, that’s what I’m after’. So I picked up this twelve-string and played it ever since. I think at the time I was into drop tuning and twelve-strings sounded really amazing with drop-tuning – it gives you a very kind of wide and bold sound, and on the twelve-string it’s very warm.
You played your debut shows over in the US last month. What was that like?
It was actually amazing. It was such a good tour. I think it was pretty much sold out, which was nice. I didn’t have a clue what it was gonna be like. I think I was really struck by the fact that in LA people started singing along to encourage me, and the fact people knew the songs and sang along with me was really nice. In terms of difference between the crowds I’m not really sure, but they were very supportive. And they came from all over the place – some people came from LA, some people came from Utah. We had a bit of that in New York too. So I was really, really happy with how it went over there.
What’s the one thing you’ve learnt from being on the road?
Ooh, interesting. I think you’re always moving around really fast and you don’t get to stay in one place for a long time. So I think I’m learning how to be creative when I’ve got a disjointed routine. I don’t tour as much as a lot of people – some people will tour most of the year, and to be creative while you tour, to find space to read or write, I think that’s something I’m learning and how to use my time effectively.
You used fan-sourced footage for the My Sweet Refuge video – how did you come up with that concept?
It just kind of came to my mind. I thought it’d be really fun to appeal to the listeners and see what they had to offer. For My Sweet Refuge I wanted it to be quite intimate, but there was only so much I could do with regards to that. When you make a music video I think quite often it starts out with you having to work out what’s going to be effective or what will communicate what you’re trying to say, so having a big framework means it doesn’t always have that intimacy. But basically I kind of thought, ‘everyone will have an intimate sense of what this is, and if I could collect all those moments it would make a very intimate video even if it’s not just my interpretation of it’. I wanted to have this nostalgic feeling of your kind of family times when you’re young. And people started sending in their footage and we had about 200 people send stuff in and with stories attached to it. And it’s just really cool and it had that feeling. I was really happy with how it turned out – an intimate video made from a lot of other people’s moments.
What does the rest of 2018 look like for you?
Well I’m going to be touring in Europe – not a very long one. I don’t like to overplay so I think I’m doing a week or two in Europe, and then a few other shows in different parts of the world. It’s so busy in the run-up to the album so I’m gonna take a little bit of a break. And then I want to get back into creative mode – I always say that but it’s what I want to do [laughs]. I love writing, I love creating and I want to get back into that as soon as I can.
Roo will be performing at Larmer Tree Festival in Salisbury on 21st July 2018. For more information and tickets visit http://larmertreefestival.co.uk/.