an interview with songmaker Rosali Middleman
Cordella Magazine is honored to feature the music of Philadelphia-based rock musician, Rosali. Direct and relatable, her songs integrate a strong guitar presence that supports her buoyant yet emotive vocals. Each song confronts a life of hard choices and pain that can’t be side-stepped. She handles her melancholy subjects with a calm, powerful resolve that guides the listener through the worst of it.
Cordella: I love the raw intimacy of your music. Your video, I Wanna Know, expresses this intimacy in a visual way. What’s it like for you to release these songs, and to be so emotionally exposed?
Rosali: Thank you so much. I'm happy to hear that that aspect of the music comes through. It's part of my intention to share that feeling, that vulnerability as strength. I think that to make this all work and to be sincere I have to get intimate and raw. I don't feel too exposed in a bad way I just feel like I'm making the work that I need to be making. Luckily I have the support of many talented collaborators. The video was directed, filmed and edited by women friends who can relate and understand what I'm feeling so it was a really incredible expereince.
Cordella: As a woman in the world, it feels nearly impossible to carve out creative space amongst all of society’s expectations. When do you find that are you most creatively productive? Does anything in particular inspire your creative practice?
Rosali: I go through fits and spurts of creative intensity and it's usually late at night. I hustle and work a lot of different jobs that allow me to have this weirdo lifestyle. I grew up really poor and think that maybe I was afraid for a long time to risk losing a steady paycheck. I used to work in a full-time creative position that really drained my ability to work on my own creative projects. Since leaving that position along with freely abandoning those expectations I've been able to do this thing that fulfills me more than any kind of "stability" ever could. It comes with a lot of sacrifice but I can't imagine it another way right now. Inspiration comes out of everywhere and nowhere - hearing new music, seeing art, reading, things I see go down on the street, funny things people say - so I write a lot of voice memos on my phone.
Cordella: You’ve released two back-to-back records later in life. Can you tell us a bit about the path that brought you to this place?
Rosali: Oh man, am I that old? Unfortunately, in this industry if you're not 19 or 20 years old it's later in life. I do know what you're asking though and it is something I am highly aware of. My musical path started from a young age, with a musical family. I've been in bands throughout my life and spent a decade making improvisational music that was really only available as performance. But I've also lived a lot of lives. I went to college, I worked on a farm milking cows and making cheese, worked in kitchens, in a corporate office. Maybe I'm living my life backwards? I've had a lot of life experiences that only enriches and it's broadens the appeal.
Cordella: Your new album, Trouble Anyway, features a more ambitious instrumental pallet than your first release, Out of Love. How did it feel to bring these elements into your songs? Is there something different about your new songs that lend themselves to this instrumentation?
Rosali: I have to say it felt really exhilarating to hear these songs bolstered by such amazing players. I had more time and patience with this second one and had built a lot of friendships with musicians that I greatly admire and wanted to play with. Out of Love was created by just me and my friend Gerhardt Koerner and I played everything aside from drums and bass from Gerhardt. I just wanted to get the songs out of my system. I have a big band that backs me up in Philly and we play a lot of the songs from Out of Love - but they transform into their own thing, a bit like Rolling Thunder Review.
Cordella: How would you describe the sound you created for the album Trouble Anyway? What musicians/genres were you hoping to channel with your music?
Rosali: Going in I knew going I wanted these songs to have a full-band sound that had a living quality. I didn't have particular artists or genres in mind really, instead I relied on the musicians that I worked worked with and they way that they played to help it take shape. There were references made when talking about parts - like Paul Sukeena and I both felt a Fripp style solo in I Wanna Know was called for and we called If I Was Your Heart "Chill Reggae." But really I wanted this all to have a timeless quality and I think part of that is going in without specifically emulating another.
Cordella: Along with your solo work, you play guitar for the band Long Hots. What are the virtues of playing in a group versus solo? Is one or the other more comfortable/natural for you?
Rosali: In Long Hots everything is created together in the moment, it's about our collective contributions and energy. It's ecstatic and cathartic. Solo works well for the singer-songwriter thing and allows me to be a bit more idiosyncratic. I enjoy both sides of it and as I've gained experience - knowing how to be in the moment with each.
Cordella: Can you tell about your relationship with the record label Spinster Sounds? Trouble Anyway is Spinster’s very first release. How’s it been working with these women producers, folklorists and fellow musicians?
Rosali: It's been great. They understand what it's like from a musician's point of view and what it's like to put out records, the stress and emotional aspect of it. It's also cool to be their label's first release and align myself with their ethos.
Cordella: You are currently living in Philadelphia. Have you always lived in the city? How has your place informed your music?
Rosali: I moved to Philly a little over a decade ago and became friends with a lot of musicians that I play with. I don't know if I could define how the city has specifically informed my music. It is however a raw, rough and real city and you see a lot and feel a lot just by moving through it. I've been spit on by strangers, kissed and hugged by strangers, and it's a rich place to draw from.
Cordella: You’re on a tour right now of the eastern/southeastern US. How’s it going so far? What’s a Rosali live show like?
Rosali: It's been so much fun. I've played a variety of venues like a laundry mat, bowling alley, art galleries, clubs; with a variety of bills. I love those situations! A Rosali live show is different if you see me solo - like I am right now - vs with the band. The solo show is minimalist and about the emotion that lies in the singing and subtle guitar playing. A live show is high energy with some extended jamming.
Cordella: What’s coming up next for you?
Rosali: I'm hoping to keep touring more to support Trouble Anyway. We're also finishing up some Long Hots recordings and will be touring in September. I've also been working on new songs. So I guess I'm just trying to put my energy into making the art and performances the best they can be.
Rosali put this mixtape together of women artists she digs- it's open and expansive, perfect for these late summer vibes.
Click on the playlist below to listen!
Rosali is the solo incarnation of Philadelphia-based musician, Rosali Middleman. Through songwriting and performances, Rosali shares resonant emotions and the authenticity of being, unveiling herself to connect with broad audiences. Rosali’s songwriting realizes life as rich and alluring melodies within the framework of traditional popular songwriting. Catch Rosali as the guitarist for Long Hots. Listen to Rosali at rosalimusic.com, and follow her on Instagram & Facebook.