Rockabilly queen Rosie Flores’ latest album, Girl Of The Century, has been out on shelves for almost a month and she’s currently overseas promoting the record.
On the eve of her European tour, Rosie chatted with us about working with Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, hearing herself on the radio of her 1979 Camero and Gram Parson’s pants.
Q: What were some of the highlights for you in the making of the record?
A: In recording the record, what stood out to me was the wonderful experience of watching this material that I had learned for the record develop and grow into this new thing that it became. It was like watching a metamorphosis because of the people that were involved and creating it with me.
When you get to work with talented people who are innovated and everybody sticks their heads together things grow in a way that are surprising and delightful.
In putting the record out, the most surprising thing about it would be the songs that people are choosing to play on the radio might not have been the ones I thought they would play.
People seem to be drawn to certain songs on the record that are really different and the kind of reviews I’m getting seem to be, well, I’m flabbergasted by the choices of the songs that are being picked out as people’s favorites, like “Girl of the Century” for instance, that was one of the songs I thought “Woah, that songs kind of strange and let’s put it last and it doesn’t really fit with everything.” But suddenly people love it because they love the lyrics and the melody and they think it’s reminiscent of Patsy Cline.
I’m also surprised that so many people are loving the sound of the record, I’ve heard more than one person say that it’s the best record I’ve ever made and I didn’t think I’d ever hear that because the first record I made for Warner Brothers was great and I got a lot of press for it but so many of the reviews on like 8 other records behind that first one, ‘Well, this record is really great but it doesn’t hold a candle to her first album.”
I got so tired of reading that and now it’s been such a gift to read things that say “This is the best record she’s ever done, it even beats the first one.”
Q: How did you pick songs for the record?
A: That was between me and my producer Jon Langford who also performs on the record, he was the one who said, “Hey let’s do this, do you want to?” And I’d say, “Yes, I want to.” And then the process of “start sending me songs, start sending me ideas.” “Ok, I will. Well, you send me ideas, too.”
So we started trading ideas for about six months and then some of the other musicians that were involved with it, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts started sending their ideas too. We threw all the songs in a basket and picked them up and looked at them either kept them or tossed them out. That was basically how it worked.
Not all the songs that we recorded made it on the record, I think there were two that we left off that when they’re all done and mixed you say “how do they all fit together” and “what order do they fit in” and look at it that way.
They come from different places, Jon Langford had a bunch of tapes and CDs and albums that he was listening to, looking for me and he found one of the songs through a songwriter in the round thing.
And every time I get ready to do a record, I start delving back into my library which is a combination of cassette tapes, vinyl, notes that are half-written songs and CDs.
It’s a fun process and for some reason there always ends up being about 13-15 songs to choose from.
Q: Where were you when you heard yourself on the radio for the first time?
A: Oh, I’ll tell you! That was a really cool experience. My first single on Warner Brothers was a song called “Crying Over You” and it was starting to get a lot of airplay in Los Angeles and I hadn’t heard it on the radio yet, it had been out for a couple of weeks. And my car broke down and I was looking in the papers to find another car to buy and a friend of my was helping me look. He said, “Wow, this 1979 Camero, that was really great year for Cameros and that would be a really good car for you, I think you’d look great in that ’79 Camero.”
I went with him and we checked out the car, he was a mechanic and helping me check out the car. Not only was he a mechanic, but he was actually one of the songwriters that had co-wrote one of the songs with me on my album. We both decided I should buy this Camero, the price was right, it was a really great deal, great shape.
So I got the Camero, it was kind of a key lime green and I got in the car and turned the radio on and guess what song came out? The first song that ever came out on my brand new car, “Crying Over You.” I was like, “Lets see what the radio sounds like, lets see what the speakers sound like.” When I turned it on and it was me, you can imagine how amazing that was. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded on the radio.
Q: How have things changed since that first record?
A: The difference between the first album and now is that when you think back circa 1986 and you’re dealing with an industry that’s so different than it is now and people that have a major label mentality and rarely can you do just exactly what you want to do and have full creative control. There wasn’t very many females doing a rockabilly ting in those days so I was trying to break some ground.
They didn’t want me to be too edgy, you know what they called it in those days? “Left of center.” Everybody that talked about me would say, “She’s left of center,” and anything that was left of center was just a little too edgy. I was told to tame my hair down, take the fuchsia streaks out of it, don’t wear three belts – wear one belt. I was coming from such a Hollywood punk rock era and I had to really tone myself down and in those days, me toning me down was what you got with that album. That was me being a cleaner, toned-down version of what I wanted to be.
And now, when I do a record, I don’t have to tone anything down, I can just be me. Of course I’m not wearing my hair as high as I was or three belts but there isn’t anything I do now that anybody looks at me and says “You can’t do that because this isn’t the way it’s done and you have to prove yourself and then you can do things your way.” There isn’t any of that nowadays.
Now it’s like there’s a gazillion bands and a gazillion websites and everybody’s promoting their own music through the Internet and there’s no record stores per say – there’s a few wonderful record stores like Amoeba or Waterloo – but when I went in to do that record it was like freedom and relaxation, it’s very night and day. I feel like I had a boss that I had to listen to and account to and now I get to be the boss and I get to work with these amazing creative people and bounce ideas off them and say, “What do you think?” and it was really fun.
Q: After working with Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, who are some of of the other people you’d like to work with?
A: I think sometimes I look at people’s producers, looking at Jack White working with Wanda Jackson I was like “Oh! I’d love for him to produce a record for me.” I was telling my friend, “Maybe I’m not old enough.” He likes to work with these legendary country females, but I am getting old so many he would like to work with me. I thought of him as being a really cool choice.
I’d love for Jeff Beck to produce a record for me and help me find great songs for the guitar or Keith Richards – he loves country music – or maybe I’d love to work with WIllie Nelson and do a bunch of duets with him, he’s got this beautiful, velvety voice that I love and can only imagine how we’d go together.
I’d love to be involved with somebody like Lucinda Williams and sit down with her for a couple of months, because I love her head and her mind and her ideas, knowing her as well as I do, I know we could come up with a great studio album together.
I dream about it all the time, I’m always thinking about the next project. A lot of people don’t know that I’m writing a book right now, that’s kind of a hidden process I’m doing and i’ll be going to New Zealand in January to work on my book so I’ll get to check out how it is to be a writer and an author and hopefully get that book out in the fall of 2010.
Also, a lot of people don’t know that I love children and children’s music and I’ve been working on this story and trying to come up with the songs for that so I can teach them little stuff about life, how to be cautious and safe and yet have fun and draw their attention so they’ll be Rosie fans that’ll grow up and want to listen to the other stuff too.
I have all these plans for my musical endeavors that I’m trying to jump on and finish in the next five years.
Q: What will your book be about?
A: I already have the first chapter, the title is “Wacky Truck-Stop Candy and Road Stories” and it’s all about my experiences on the road. I’ve kept journals and I still have a really clear memory about a lot of stuff and candy that I’ve collected at the truck stops is phenomenal and I’ve got such a great collection starting back when I was in Screaming Sirens.
I’ve had such a fun time collecting the truck stop candy when you stop for gas and grab a drink an I’d go by the candy and I don’t know who’s coming up with the ideas, sitting in offices deciding “What kind of funny, wacky candy can we design and sell this week?”
Everything from lollipops that you press a button and it spins around so you just hold it in your mouth and you don’t have to do any work to eyeball lollipops that have an accordion under them that squeezes a red ghoulish syrup on the eye so you suck the bloody eyeball.
There’s crazy candy out there, I’ve collected it all for years knowing that this would be really fun to put in a book someday and mix road stories with it, so that’s what I need to finish. I’ve had an interesting life out there.
Q: What kinds of things do you bring with you on the road?
A: Music, something to read, a journal to write in, sometimes a sketch pad if I feel like drawing, some movies. Most of the time ends up being spent with people you meet long the way, it’s fun to go walk and take pictures, so a camera to capture the things you see, whether you want to send someone a photograph or maybe try to paint it.
Q: You have so many great stage outfits, what are some of your favorites?
A: My new favorite is a little $30 gold lamé trench coat that I found in Chicago, it’s bad-ass. But my favorites are the Manuel ones I’ve acquired through the years and Manuel is the tailor that’s worked in the country music industry for years and years and years and basically the rhinestone cowboy tailor.
When you put his clothes on you feel like a star. Even if you’ve never sang a lick in your life, you put those on and you feel like you’re somebody.
Q: What is your favorite suit that he’s made for someone else?
A: My favorite suit that he ever designed for somebody else was the gold lamé Elvis suit with the full-on rhinestone lapels. Rhinestones, gold lamé, oh my God that’s the most beautiful suit I’ve ever seen on anybody. That was when he worked for Nudie’s.
My second favorite thing that he’s ever done was the Gram Parsons suit with the embroidered marijuana leaves going down the coat sleeves and the bell bottom pants had some pills, drugs, and the cross that’s in flames.
I actually got to try those pants on, the very pants that Gram Parsons wore and I remember wearing them at a show in Los Angeles at the Palomino Club, they were doing a tribute to Gram Parsons and Manuel called me and said, “Hey, you want to wear the pants? I have them.”
I put them on and they fit me perfect and I got up on stage and said, “I finally got into Gram Parson’s pants!” That was really fun, wearing those and saying that.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
A: I’d hope that people know how much I appreciate how much other people have done for me in my career. people have helped me along the way so much, people like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin and David Lindley and all the people that have helped me.
You work really hard to get your name out there and when you finally get appreciated and helped by people you admire it makes you feel so grateful, and I want people to know that even though I’m still basically a struggling artist as far as I’ve never had a top Billboard album, I’ve never had a Grammy – although I do have a Peabody Award.
And even though I don’t have the high-end I’m not up there with the Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris success I feel just as competent and secure with my music because I’ve gotten so many of those kinds of people helping and encouraging me along the way and it’s been a really great experience doing what I do and there’s no reason to stop at this point and do anything else.
If by chance something broke open, that’d be great, but I’m completely happy with the way things have gone, I feel grateful for it.