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Interview: Roseanne Reid talks debut album, working with Steve Earle and touring with Kathy Mattea

We spoke to the rising Americana-folk star as she prepares to release her album Trails next month.

Roseanne Reid
Credit: Last Man Records

She may have a famous dad – Craig Reid of The Proclaimers – but Roseanne Reid is definitely carving out her own musical path.

Already she’s worked with legendary artists including Steve Earle – who appears on her upcoming debut album, Trails – and Kathy Mattea, who Roseanne toured with earlier this year. She’s also recorded a session for Jools Holland’s Radio 2 show and this month played her first London headline show at the intimate St Pancras Old Church.

As she prepares to release her album, I caught up with Roseanne to talk about the record, her songwriting process, working with Kathy and Steve, and her plans for the rest of the year.

How would you describe your music?

I usually go with Americana. I think it’s kind of under that umbrella. But I come from a lot of roots music and folk music as well, so I have a lot of Scots and Irish Celtic folk music influences too. So I’d say it’s under the Americana, acoustic genre. There’s a lot underlying there as well.

Your new album is coming out next month – can you tell us more about it?

Yeah, that was recorded at the end of 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. It was recorded over the span of a week, really – just over five days. It was really quick fire. So as a result the album has retained the kind of live sound that I really value. It was produced by Teddy Thompson, who pulled together a great group of musicians to play on tracks. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign as well, which I think is quite a common way for people to do it, particularly for a debut album now – it’s what people kind of look to.

Why did you decide to call the album Trails?

I think that came from just the connotations of that word. These songs were written over the span of a few years. They’re not just from one particular point in time. So they’re not restricted in that sense. And I think what I identify with trails is that you can go off and wander off and take different directions, and some things aren’t really what you expect. It’s what I hope is captured in the album [laughs].

Roseanne Reid

Credit: Last Man Records

You’ve mentioned that the songs on the album were written over a few years. Have you found that your writing style and approach has evolved over that time?

Yeah, for sure. I think the oldest one on there is near enough 10 years old now, actually, so I definitely noticed. You’re always kind of noticing a shift in how you approach songwriting, and as you say an evolution in how your songs are written. I’ve kind of got enough for the second album now already, so that’s gonna be, I think writing wise, completely different from the first one. Because as you say it does grow the more and more you do it, and you grow with it. So yeah, there’s definitely a change in the writing style throughout the album.

Were there any songs that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

I’d say ironically, the easiest one to write I think was Amy. I remember writing that at home in Edinburgh a few years ago. The whole thing came to me in half an hour, 45 minutes. I think it’s still one of my strong songs. It’s usually not the case. Usually the best ones are the ones that take days or weeks or months to perfect.

I wouldn’t say there were any on there that were particularly hard to write. I’d say the ones I’ve written for my wife came very naturally, as I’d hope they would! [laughs] I didn’t have to force that too much! But yeah, there’s none on there that were extremely difficult to write.

You’ve also got a song on the album with Steve Earle – how did that come about and what was he like to work with?

Yeah, that came about because I’ve attended Steve’s songwriting camp, Camp Copperhead, in the States for the past few years. He’s been a great mentor to me and a great support, and he’s the person I turn to for advice when I’m writing songs. I’ll send them to him and ask ‘what do you think? What would I change here?’ So he’s been an amazing figure to have involved in that sense.

But the actual collaboration came about because I’d had a couple of friends – it was actually Matt [Scott] who supported me the other night. Him and his girlfriend did a brilliant recorded duet of Sweet Annie, and I loved how that sounded. I had a couple of friends who said, ‘you’re about to put this album out, you’ve got that good relationship with Steve there already, it is a tough thing to put an album out anyway but having that sort of name on it could really help’. And for me it was a shot in the dark. I said, ‘I’ll ask him, but I don’t think he’d agree to something on that level’. But yeah, he said yes.

As I said the album was recorded within the span of five days, so with Steve’s schedule he’s on the road most of the year now. We did our parts separately. So I put down the vocals and the guitar and I think the cello that’s on there as well, then he came in to do his vocals a few weeks later. But yeah, he’s brilliant to work with. Super, super sweet kind of guy, so I’m very lucky.

You played your first London headline show last week – how did you find that?

Yeah, I absolutely loved it. I think it’s interesting for me, because I get most of my work in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Northern audiences are different. You go down south and it’s a different feel immediately when you step on stage. But you could hear a pin drop. It was amazing. The silence is so impressive, as a performer. For me, as I say, I’m up here most of the time and I’m not really used to that [laughs] – not heckling but a bit more to-and-fro from the audience. So it was a lovely change, and I feel it went well. Matt was a brilliant support, the audience were super, super-sweet and attentive, so I really enjoyed it.

Roseanne Reid

Credit: Last Man Records

During the set you mentioned you wanted to do some songs slightly differently from the album version. Is that kind of experimentation important to you when playing live?

Yeah, I think it is. As I say I get quite a few gigs up here, and there’s a very good appetite for what I do up here but a lot of the time you are playing to the same people. So I think you find very quickly it’s important to start mixing it up and to give those people something different to look forward to and different to experience. They don’t wanna sit through the same support slot when they’ve paid that money. So I think the onus is on the performer to mix it up a bit, particularly when you’re doing the singer-songwriter thing. It’s important to be a bit braver with it. So yeah, I really enjoy that side of it.

You’ve also recently been out on tour with Kathy Mattea – how was that?

Do you know what, that was my favourite tour I’ve ever done. Just purely because she is just the warmest person you could ever hope to meet. She’s just amazing, and her audiences reflected that. Her audiences were brilliant – really, really lovely, really warm, really generous. You could tell they were just happy to be there, and they came out early to see me as support which just means everything to me. That was my favourite tour I’ve done so far, without a doubt, with Kathy. She’s a superstar on stage – just so much charisma, so much presence. She’s hilarious as well. So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed that.

What have you learnt from touring and being on the road?

I’d say you’re always learning. I’ve been quite lucky in that I’ve been able to start off small, kind of open mic scene and the folk circuit in Glasgow and Edinburgh. That’s a good way to settle in without too much pressure and not too many people watching. You can afford to make a few mistakes. And now I’m getting these bigger shows and I’m prepared better for it because of that. You learn that you have to look after yourself and your health quite early on, particularly when you’re on your own. There’s no-one else to fall back on, so if you get sick or perhaps consume too much alcohol the night before [laughs] there’s no-one who’s gonna fill in for you the next day. So you need to learn to be responsible, I’d say is the biggest thing. But it’s a privilege to do it. It’s a great thing to be able to do.

Do you have a typical approach to your songwriting? And how has that changed over time?

Yeah, I’d say the process has definitely changed over the years. When I started out and even up until maybe two or three years ago, I was quite loose in my approach to it in that I didn’t really have a system. If the fancy took me I’d sit down and I’d get something. But now I’m much more disciplined with it because there is that album coming out on the horizon and I’ve got tours to do around that, so I take it a lot more seriously now. Which you should, I think, as a songwriter. As I say it’s a privilege to do it, it’s not something that I take for granted. So I can sit down and my advice from my dad is to try and write something every day, just a couple of lines, even if it’s terrible. And I try and do that. But I’ll sit down in the same place every day – I just write at home – and I can commit to two hours or I can commit to six or seven hours if it goes well. So quite a structured approach to it now. But I think that’s natural. I think when it’s taken the trajectory it has with me, I think that’s natural.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so how do you deal with that?

Oh yeah, for sure. I think everyone does. And it’s a terrible thing because you just feel the world is ending. ‘It’s over for me!’ [laughs] But it’s important to take a step back with anything. Because it’s so easy when you’re in that place and can’t get a line, let alone a song. It’s very easy to throw yourself in even further and put more pressure on yourself, and you can end up wasting your time, wasting your hours and your days on songs that are just not worth it. So I think it’s important to do the brave thing and take a step back and go, ‘I’m going to step away from this for a week, a fortnight, for a month even’. And it works every time for me. You go back refreshed and even if you’re not aware of it, even if it’s not a conscious thing, there’s things that have been bubbling and growing in the back of your mind, and they’re there when you need them, when you go back. But yeah, definitely, that’s a big thing for me, to take a step back.

How did you get into music initially, and what made you decide to pursue it as a career?

Yeah, I got into it fairly early. My parents have a really cool record collection so I remember listening to particularly their folk and their country albums – bands like Peter Paul and Mary, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson. I was listening to them when I was about 10. And then I was hooked on it from that point. I didn’t go and see my first live show until I was about 12, and that was Rufus Wainwright in Edinburgh, and his sister Martha was supporting him. It was seeing her for me that was the turning point. And that was just like, ‘that’s what I want to do, that’s what I connect with, that’s what makes me feel like a human’. So that was definitely a turning point for me. So quite early on, really.

What would be on your bucket list – venues you’d like to play, people you want to work with etc?

Hmmm, that is a good question. But I think for current people I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I think if you’re a songwriter you are a Springsteen fan [laughs] as far as I’m concerned, because that back catalogue, it’s ridiculous how good he is. If I could work with someone like that that’d be amazing. Jason Isbell as well, he’s a guy that’s really hot on the scene right now and he’s a phenomenal singer-songwriter. So I’d love to work with guys like that.

But bucket list wise, to be honest just to tour as much as I can and to do it as much as I can. I think the biggest thing for me is still the songwriting. That’s still the part I enjoy most. So even if everything else falls away for whatever reason, if I can still just write I think that for me is the end goal.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh, that is a very good question! [laughs] There’s so many, it is hard to pick one, but I’ll do one I know most recently, and it is a Jason Isbell one. I think If We Were Vampires is the song I wish I’d written. My wife and I had that as part of our wedding vows. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song. I think that’s the bar set for me! [laughs]

What does the rest of 2019 look like for you?

As I say, the album’s coming out next month, and that’s the thing I’m focusing on so far. Summer we’re looking at a few festivals – we’ve got the Hebridean and Celtic Festival on Stornoway to look forward to, and we’ve got a couple of other ones that haven’t been announced yet. So yeah, looking towards the album and the summer at the minute. And then getting on the road. I’ve got a couple of possibilities in America as well towards the end of the year, so we’re looking into getting that sorted. And then ideally for me, if I could I’d like to go back in the studio at the very end of the year. So yeah, busy, hopefully! [laughs]

Roseanne Reid’s debut album, Trails, is out on 5th April via Last Man Records.

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